Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
By 1986, both Dick and Melodie were travelling with “Let There Be Praise”, an effort that covered 150 cities over the next 18 months. Let’s see, that’s probably on average two cities every week, a really intensive way to pile up the frequent flier miles. It’s no surprise, then, that the song they wrote in 1988 might say something about this whirlwind. “In His Presence” tells us they found ‘comfort’, ‘peace’, and ‘assurance’ from the One they worship. It’s a brief, straightforward message they coax us to sing, a common thread all of us need to embrace at times. That’s really the only way to cope with turmoil – stop, and get help. No, strike that. Not help, which implies I need only assistance from God. Instead, the Tunneys asked Him to cover them, to envelop them. The next few years of the Tunneys biography tell us they took other measures also, perhaps listening to the Spirit’s call in the song they wrote. They relate that the touring had separated them periodically over a 15-month stretch, and that eventually, a decision had to be made. They returned home, to a quieter pace, after praying and listening to counsel. Their family took priority, albeit for a brief few years, and then they took their music on the road to 400 churches over a 12-year span. By the time daughters Whitney and Kelsey were high-schoolers, the Tunney parents once again slowed down.
Were they listening to the song’s message again, asking for the peace God provides? It seems to be a message well-calibrated for the Tunneys, and for me too, over the long haul. I don’t travel as much nor think I’ll write over 150 songs like the Tunneys in my life. (The Tunneys now also manage a seminar, based on the example in 1 Chronicles 25:7, to teach music and worship principles to others.) Nevertheless, there’s plenty in the space I occupy to consume this traveler’s time and effort, and so I identify with Dick and Melodie. With His presence, I don’t just exist, though – there’s more to me than the space I inhabit. I can think about transformation and renewal with the Tunneys’ song.
Information on the Tunneys was obtained from the book “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
Also see the following websites for information about the Tunneys. http://www.tunneymusic.com/about.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_and_Melodie_Tunney
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The song is said to be based on Jesus’ prayer about unity (John 17). And, it was His uttering of a word (or a form of it) several times that got Donna’s attention: Glory. Glorify. Jesus sure knew His Father, and longed to be with Him in all His splendor. That’s what He prayed first, when He was alone in prayer. Jesus went off to pray in solitude other times, including in Gethsemane where He prayed for relief, yet ultimately was submissive. The other ‘alone’ prayers are mostly a mystery – maybe He’ll tell us more about their subject in eternity, huh? But, the prayer the beloved apostle records for us in such detail is revealing, and inspired Donna Adkins. She took her cue from Him about what to say to God when she was alone. She doesn’t wring her hands, with a downbeat whimper for help. No, her prayer-song soars with a potency that comes from this great truth – God’s name is worth my reverence.
Donna Adkins first sang publicly when she was two years old, because her parents were travelling singers. Singing in a church was nothing new to her then, when she wrote “Glorify Thy Name”. After more than 30 years as a singer and churchgoer, she might have tried to compose something really unique and involved, something that would occupy and consume the vacant space in her life in 1976. Instead, the song’s words and chords communicate that she still bowed in His presence like a child. The song invites a special feeling, if I let it happen. Nothing terribly complicated, but so often a child’s prayer says - in its innocence and trust – something too obvious to deny. Simple is better, and less is oftentimes more. Leave the complex to the Creator, I sense as I sing, ride on His wings, and enjoy the view.
Information on the song was obtained from the book “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006. Also see the following website for information about Isaac Watts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Watts
Monday, November 23, 2009
The ‘father of English hymns’, as Watts came to be known, lived three centuries ago, and many of his 750 poems are still sung today. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” is still a standard in churches today, and its history tells us how Watts might have been considered a father in a second way. In 1715 Watts put together a songbook, which doesn’t really sound that unusual, right? Except that this was a songbook for children, gospel songs, in which “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” appears. Kids are usually heard singing fairy tale rhymes, or some other ditties us grown-ups think of as cute, but not especially instructive for adults. The Divine Songs for Children is thought to be the first-ever hymnal published for children, a testimony of Watts’ care for children that is so well-known that it is memorialized on a statue of him in Southampton, England. Through his compositions, Watts put into action Jesus’ directive to allow children to approach the Lord, rather than ignoring or ‘shushing’ or ‘shooing’ them away. One can imagine him guiding personally small minds with his songs, and so endearing himself to kids -- although not his own -- as a father-like figure, or perhaps a gentlemanly uncle.
The song’s text is pretty simple, with few words to confuse or bewilder the mind. It seems to come straight out of Genesis, with plain words that all humans can fathom – our mighty God made everything in the universe. It’s not a time for theological, hair-splitting debate, just worship. Look on God with awe. Honor Him. Trust Him. Just like a little child, which is, by the way, how God seems to want me to regard my relationship with Him (Matthew 19:14). I think I’ll sing Watts’ song with a newfound appreciation for what he was thinking when he wrote for someone about three or four feet tall. Maybe the position on my knees would be about right the next time I sing these words.
Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006. Also see the following website for information about Isaac Watts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Watts
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Chisholm grew up in a log cabin, was only minimally educated, and suffered from ill health, a chronic problem that made his lifelong income pretty limited. If that sounds like a recipe for disappointment, Chisholm must have ignored it, because he shares his ‘astonishing gratefulness’ at God’s work in his life. So grateful was he, that we know of 1,200 poems that Chisholm wrote in his 94 years. Can you think of 1,200 worthwhile things you’ve done in your life! Nevertheless, the Lamentations-origin of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” hints that Chisholm was aware of his own life’s regrets. After all, aren’t we all at times, when dealt reverses? Did he perhaps subconsciously identify with the background of Jeremiah’s message, and so compose from a visceral vantage point? The weeping prophet did not make Chisholm the weeping poet, however. No, the words of his song are no less upbeat than the few optimistic verses in Lamentations that the prophet gave us. Even a cursory, ten-minute reading of the book leaves one seeing the verses Chisholm focused on as an oasis, a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak outlook. It’s pretty heartening that a piece of Jeremiah’s song, composed 2,600 years ago, was renewed in 1923, and still has power in our century too. Does it say something to you today? It’s 2009…have you been suffering? Have you lost a job, maybe your home? How’s your health? Some of us might even feel like we’re at war, depending on where we live, or where we’ve been. But, the glimmer we all can get from Thomas Chisholm’s tune is this: God’s faith cuts through the gloom. Chisholm saw the light, despite what happened to him. So did Jeremiah.
Chisholm’s song reminds me that the Lord’s faith may be compared to His creation (verse 2), so that if the seasons persist, the stars still shine, and the sun rises and sets each day, I know God is still near. Despite the misery I may find here, God’s promises are for me. He controls. The world still turns. The Son’s life-offer endures. What a God! What a deal!
Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
See the following sites for information about Michael W. Smith’s biography: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3430200066.html http://www.americansongwriter.com/2001/03/michael-w-smith-smiths-songs-reach-diverse-audience/
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (Job 11:7)
William Cowper (pronounced Coo-per) had evidently experienced in a personal way, and probably on more than one occasion, the mystery of God. If I had struggled emotionally as Cowper did throughout his life, perhaps I would have thrown in the towel, so to speak. After all, who would choose to worship someone he could not understand, whose ways left one feeling lost, maybe empty. Have you been there? There have been times when I’ve been blue, wondering what to do with myself. To be alone, without hope, is a pit. It’s at that point that most of us would, hopefully, be coaxed to talk to a friend or in a more serious case perhaps even a professional. Whatever the course of action, its objective would be therapeutic. Take a few moments and consider William Cowper’s therapy, which is revealed in his life-hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” that he wrote in 1774.
Cowper had occasional depression much of his life, probably rooted in early life when his mother died when he was six years old. He also struggled with memories of teasing at school and his father’s interference in a relationship with a woman as a young adult. As a young man, his father also urged him to study law, from which he suffered such mental anguish that he attempted suicide. As a patient in a mental institution, he recovered, and discovered therapy that had three legs – Christianity, poetry, and friendship. He discovered his need for God, and fused that with the poetry he began to compose, and with the camaraderie of Christians. One of them was John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, his collaborator throughout the remainder of his life. Together, they produced the Olney Hymnal in 1779.
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is, some believe, the last hymn that Cowper wrote, and though he fought the gloom, one senses in the song’s words that he had at last found a method for peace. Some believe the hymn was composed after Cowper was providentially delivered from a suicide attempt one evening. It’s said that his carriage to the Thames River became lost on the way to the place where Cowper intended to take his own life, and instead returned him unexpectedly to his home. From that incident, he may have written this great hymn. He rose above his pangs of despair with this formula: God can decipher the things in my life that perplex and trouble me. It’s said his last words were “I’m not shut out of heaven after all”, a hope-filled testament for anyone with lingering doubt about salvation’s assurance. God may often be inscrutable, but it seems as though Cowper had discovered that’s OK. If I feel mystified by things in my life, Cowper says in his composition, ‘Give it to the One above’. Who better than the Mysterious One can make sense out of riddles?
The following website has all six verses: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/m/gmovesmw.htm
Information on the life of William Cowper is found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cowper See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. Also, see Amazing Grace: 36 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.
See the following blog and another website on the song’s specific and inspirational story of how it was written: http://wordwisehymns.com/2009/11/15/today-in-1731-william-cowper-born/
Friday, September 4, 2009
‘Come, Thou Almighty King’ sounds like an order, and a compliment in one statement, doesn’t it? In fact, read the words of all five of the song’s verses, and there are many statements that sound like orders for the Almighty to prove Himself, intermingled with praise offerings to the Holy One. There’s a command in almost every line, in fact, of the first four verses. The song makes one think of a Davidic battle psalm, a warrior’s shout to the Lord, a stirring appeal for God’s vengeance to come. The song’s composer is generally considered to be anonymous, but the words in it give us a hint of the songwriter’s situation, who he might have been, and of his abiding faith in the Almighty.
Many music historians think Charles Wesley composed the words to “Come Thou Almighty King”, since its call to God for protection from enemies is a familiar theme in his songs. It first appeared in 1757 in conjunction with a message by John Wesley, Charles’ well-known preacher-brother. The Wesleys were the first Methodists, who endured incredible persecution in Anglican England. So, the song’s message matches what a Wesley might have been pouring out of his soul, somewhat like what King David expressed in his psalms while on the run from his enemies. On the other hand, alert musicologists also note that the song’s meter is unlike most of Wesley’s compositions, and since he was a Methodist, he was usually predictable. The song’s arrival nearly coincided with a well-known tune “God Save Our Gracious King”, which was meant to honor England’s royalty, but was especially abhorrent to Methodists. Instead, they latched onto “Come Thou Almighty King”, which was sung to the same music for a time, but sung to an entirely different king, with gusto. (Today, the tune for “God Save Our Gracious King” matches “My Country, Tis of Thee”, but is not the tune used for “Come Thou Almighty King”. Instead, “The Italian Hymn” is the tune tied to “Come Thou Almighty King”.)
The song was also composed to remind Christians of the Trinity. In many renditions of the song, however, this original intent is blurred, an effect that would have offended its early advocates. Verse 1 is to the Father; verse 2 (and in some versions, also a third verse) recognizes the Incarnate Word – the Son; the following two verses call out to the Spirit as our Comforter, and finally to the three in one, the great mysterious Trinity. Did Charles Wesley in fact write “Come Thou …” ? Somehow, if what I can read of his life is true, I doubt he’d want us to debate it for long. He’d want us to think about the sentiment in the song. My God in His three persons is called upon with requests from the worshipper for 25 things in these five short verses (actually the last four are reminders of what we as worshippers do, with His help). (You can try counting them in the following link: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/c/t/ctak.htm). It might make one wonder ‘does He get weary of my neediness?’. Is that why there’s the three-in-one God, because I’d exhaust Him out if He were only one? No way, right? If nothing else, the song reminds me that God exists to hear my constant cries, to be my Savior in all things. Wesley (if he’s the author) had much he needed from God. Don’t we all?
See the following website for information on Charles Wesley:
The following books were also used to gather information on the song:
“The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.
“Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.
“101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
See the following websites for lotsa history on Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”:
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
How many times have you sung a familiar song, and then later discovered it has more verses, new thoughts that make it new all over again? Most of the time, Francis of Assisi’s song “All Creatures of Our God and King” makes me more aware of nature, of the Lord’s creation. As it should. Francis was known as a great nature-lover, so it’s no surprise that he wrote something to heighten my appreciation for all that God has made. The wonder and beauty of God’s creative genius radiates from this great song. Yet, is that theme so appealing to us as worshippers that we want to avoid thoughts that deviate from that? I wonder if that’s why I haven’t heard some of the thoughts of this song before.
One verse in particular (see the link below for the seven verses of the song) is rather different from the creation theme that Francis stresses in the other verses of this hymn. One verse gives us insight into his state of mind as he wrote – he was preparing to die, early in the 13th Century (about 1225 A.D.). It’s said that Francis was suffering tremendous pain in the last months of his life, and perhaps that explains the words of the sixth verse that begins, ‘And thou, most kind and gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath…’. It’s safe to say he welcomed death. Though this may be true, it’s not something that’s easy to dwell upon when one is focused on God’s creation, of the living things He has authored. What a window we have into Francis’ heart in this song! Though his life was fading, Francis still regarded God as creator of life. Others might have been embittered at pain, following a life serving Him. Not Francis.
Saint Francis was born Giovanni Bernardone, and was anything but a saint early in his life. He led a pretty normal early childhood life, as the son of a wealthy family in Assisi, Italy, until his late teenage years and early adult life. He renounced his position and wealth, and willingly became poor, a beggar and the founder of the Franciscan order – or Friars Minor, a term applied to them because they chose to live simple lives of deprivation. At least, it might have seemed deprived to us. But, perhaps Francis’ humble, simple life allowed him to see what I often cannot, to reap a reward that escapes most of us. If I see myself as but a created being, from God’s hand, then the avenue to return to Him shouldn’t bring me dread, for I go to the One who knows how to re-create me. He’s trustworthy, and the body I’ll become is unimaginable. What a creature I’ll be then!
A great video of the song “All Creatures of Our God and King is at:
The following site shows seven verses of the song:
The below site tells of Francis’ life:
Books used to capture some details of Francis’ life and this song he wrote are: “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories about 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 2006.
“Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27)
Rob Still was writing from a personal experience when he wrote “A New Anointing” in 2000. He’s been involved in music since he was twelve, and has been making it his career for some time. Rob has written advertisements for lots of corporate giants like Nike, Hardees, Wal-Mart, and General Tire, but 1996 was a turning point for him, when he felt the call of a different giant -- God. “I began experiencing personal revival,” he says. He likens it to a light switch, which lit in him a desire and the ability to compose worship music, including in the church where he now ministers, the Belmont Church in Nashville, Tennessee. His song-writing and worship renewal efforts extend far outside the confines of Tennessee, really testifying to the power of God’s influence when He chooses to touch people. Have you ever thought of yourself as anointed by God? How does it happen?
Rob Still thinks God’s anointing is something you and I can participate in, when other people receive this touch from God. Isn’t that compelling? Rob believes and acts upon Romans 2 – that people can be transformed during worship. His music lyrics convey this conviction too, that something special happens when worshippers are driven by a common spirit to ‘seize the day’, as someone else has said. We not only take advantage of God’s gift each day, but we also deal Satan reverses, Rob says -- “as His sons and daughters (we) participate in destroying the works of darkness". ‘This is the day’, ‘I will rejoice’, his song drives us to declare. I doubt that I have ever thought that I actually anoint others when I sing in worship, but perhaps Rob Still is right. If I sing the song and worship the way God intends, I know I always feel better. And the Spirit’s movement should be a positive experience, right? But, it’s something else to think that my singing, that my encouragement actually confronts and defeats evil.
I suspect that Rob Still has captured something that he’s seen repeatedly as he’s travelled to spread his God-given worship and song-writing expertise. He’s used his abilities to bridge divides culturally and generationally, in places like Argentina, the Philippines, and in Eastern Europe, including at the Sozo Music and Arts Festival in Baja, Hungary. Joy and positive anticipation about the future – those are things that universally energize human beings, so it’s no accident that Rob Still’s “A New Anointing” has a global appeal. I was initially intrigued to know that Rob Still ministers at a church named Belmont, because I grew up in another Belmont, in Ohio. As I read about him and the Belmont Church in Nashville, I’ve also wondered if there’s a special anointing experience there, since that’s where the song was born. Is the ‘new anointing limited to Belmont, or to people who have lots of talent, like Rob Still? It’s sometimes (truthfully for me, most of the time) difficult to totally, with complete abandon, rejoice in each day that God gives me, to feel His touch. But, I think now, this ‘new anointing’ entreaty isn’t just about putting on a happy face. It’s a determination that I engage in a deeper, more meaningful slice of life, and that I help others in this life-fight – we propel each other forward – as we sing to ourselves of God’s provision, both here and in the great New Day to come. God has anointed us with that promise too.
Information on Rob Still can be found on the following websites:
Sunday, August 9, 2009
It’s hard to believe, since this hymn has been sung for so many years, and one almost doesn’t need the words in front of the eyes to sing it, but Fanny Crosby’s hymn “To God Be the Glory” was not well-known in American churches for the first 80 years after it was written. What? Hard to believe, huh, especially since it’s listed as one of her most popular, according to Wikipedia. She wrote this song in probably 1872, but the first English-speakers to adopt and sing it widely were British Christians. Perhaps it was because she was so prolific – consequently, many hymnbook publishers were uncomfortable with Crosby’s songs being so prevalent and actually avoided some of her creations. What was it in 1872 that made Crosby compose this tune? The short answer is ‘we don’t know’, but Crosby was renowned for her positive, eternity-inspired outlook on life, despite being blind. And, Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody were heading for England for an evangelism campaign. Their trip and Crosby’s talent combined, and as the historian says, ‘now, you know the rest of the story’.
I submit that maybe there’s more to discover, and I plan to ask her this in heaven! Did Fanny know about other news events of the time? Would they have affected her, as today’s news stories affect us? Fanny Crosby was a New Yorker, so in 1872 she might have heard about the Great Epizootic epidemic, a mosquito-borne virus outbreak that killed a large portion of the nation’s horses, especially in urban areas. Besides felling the horses, the disease virtually incapacitated cities, which heavily depended on horse-power for basic services. Historians indicate it so damaged the American economy that it helped precipitate the Panic of 1873, a depression that lasted for six years. Yellowstone National Park, a great creative wonder of God’s hand, was established that year (see the picture of Yellowstone River above). On the other hand, the Credit Mobilier scandal, a scheme by railroad men to defraud the government and the general public, was evidence of evil’s endurance in the world. The federal government granted amnesty to 150,000 Civil War combatants, allowing them to vote once again – an act of grace. Conversely, the U.S. government sued our British cousins - - no grace given here -- for damages, claiming that they had covertly assisted the Confederates (including with a warship named the Alabama) during the Civil War. Finally, 1872 also saw Ulysses Grant re-elected president, and one could speculate that Crosby might have known the Grants, since she played one of her songs,"Safe in the Arms of Jesus" at his funeral 13 years later. So Fanny might have heard plenty that was a reminder of God and His power and grace, but also lots that probably made her yearn for the afterlife, too.
It’s really interesting to step into the time machine, and wonder what was going through Fanny Crosby’s mind in 1872. And, thank God American relations with our British friends didn’t ride on the Alabama claims court case! Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody, with one of Fanny Crosby’s songs, helped promote a different relationship the following year. Eighty years later, Billy Graham re-discovered Fanny’s song during his own campaign in Britain, and brought it back to the U.S., where it had started several generations before. It makes me wonder if there are more of her songs that many of us have never sung. Probably so, right? Discovering something new about someone who’s so amazing already is like taking a sip from an ocean of fresh water…there’s just no way on earth I’ll ever be able to completely appreciate her talent. And, the same goes for God. Ah, something more to look forward to in heaven.
Information on Fanny Crosby’s story obtained from “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotion”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990, and from “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.
See also the following websites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Crosby
Monday, August 3, 2009
… O Jehovah, I have heard the report of thee, and am afraid: O Jehovah, revive thy work in the midst of the years … (Habakkuk 3:2)
I wonder if William Paton MacKay ever heard the phrase ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ It would come as no surprise if this Scottish doctor who turned to ministry was in fact thinking of this phrase when he wrote the hymn “We Praise Thee, O God” in 1863. It’s said that MacKay’s song is based upon the Habakkuk 3:2 section of the Bible, in which the prophet asks for God’s regenerating power. And, this song is often called by a different title -- ‘Revive Us Again’ -- that makes one wonder if MacKay was really thinking of healing, rather than praise, at least when he composed the words to the song’s final verse. Indeed, the story of MacKay’s conversion to Christ gives us insight into his life, and may say something about what motivated him in his song-writing life too. As a doctor in the 1800’s, MacKay no doubt must have encountered more than a few patients whom he could not help, eroding his confidence in physical healing. Ironically, MacKay’s experience with a dying patient, and a gift-book that he sold, must have spoken volumes to him as he considered what really revives the body. In fact, it changed his career and his destiny in this life.
According to his MacKay’s testimony, his mother had given him a Bible, her last gift to him before she died. Unimpressed, MacKay evidently sold it when he was struggling financially as a young man. Years later, MacKay futilely ministered--as a physician--to a man whose last thoughts were of a book that had been his faithful companion. MacKay and the man’s landlady were given the task of settling the dead man’s affairs. To his shock, Doctor MacKay discovered that the man’s favorite book was in fact the Bible MacKay’s mother had given him -- which he sold for a pittance -- years before. His name was still in it, written there by his mother… MacKay then relates that the incident “…was the cause of my conversion.”
Have you been revived like this? I admit I haven’t experienced something that potent. Even today, 21st Century medicine cannot deliver, cannot revive as we, or Doctor MacKay in his time, might have wished. But, maybe the doctor had learned by the time he became Minister MacKay that in the spirit-world, things work just a little differently than our conventional minds might allow. MacKay’s song begins with three verses (in many songbooks, four) that praise God. Fine, that’s not really too peculiar, is it? But then, MacKay culminates this hymn by asking God for revival. Doesn’t it seem a bit backward to laud Him and then ask for His help? I’d be more apt to cry for help, and then extol Him after the help arrives. But perhaps the doctor had stumbled upon a different formula for life in relationship to the Holy One. I muddle through my earthly existence the same as anybody else…grieving the injustices in physical pain, those times that even ‘good people’ suffer grave illnesses and untimely death. But, as a believer, I also know that MacKay has it right. My praise should be a herald, a shout of confident assurance that tranquilizes other emotions. The end is known, and everything else before it is mere preamble before the real show. Praise God, and then expect His reviving power!
Information on William P. MacKay and his song may be found in the following resources:
“The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006
“Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.
William P. MacKay’s testimony of his conversion is at the following website:
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Some observers in the 1930s said Birmingham, Alabama was America’s hardest hit large city, so Alabamians had plenty of reason to complain, if we can assume the rest of the state was similarly struggling. If you had been in Alabama, where Cleavant Derricks was in the 1930s, names you might have called upon for help included Governor Bibb Graves, a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, and Lister Hill and John Bankhead, your U.S senators. You might have clung to hopes for better times, because William Bankhead, another Alabamian, had just become the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936, a powerful person you could solicit for help. Hugo Black had also just become a Supreme Court justice, and Jesse Owens from Lawrence County had won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, two reasons to make Alabama natives recover a little pride. Cleavant Derricks’ local newspapers told him all these things.
But, it’s safe to say Derricks really didn’t get his inspiration from a newspaper, nor from well-known Alabamians in 1937. Derricks song says talking with the Savior is a reliable endeavor. If you were to ask Derricks ‘Is God trustworthy?’, without hedging he says ‘Yes’. In the 1930s, that must have been a resonant theme for struggling people in the South. Despite our government’s alphabet soup of experimental programs (CCC, CWA, WPA, PWA, SEC, NRA, etc.), sometimes they failed, futile attempts at reviving hope. Derricks may have experienced this personally, and certainly felt the pinch of scant finances. It’s said that his church had no money to buy songbooks to replace the few tattered ones they had. Derricks took his only collateral – his songs – and traded a few of them, like “Just a Little Talk…”, for 50 songbooks. Is that why Derricks addresses his eternity – the most enduring and reliable state one can ever inhabit - in verse one of the song? The Great Depression may swirl about me, but so what? I’m dealing with my God, first and foremost, he says. Verses two and three hint that earthly worries intrude, yet Jesus is still dependable, he sings in defiance. My elected officials may be fallible, my government cannot always bail me out, but my Jesus is still there. It’s a theme that runs through Derricks’ three verses – just talk to Jesus.
Cleavant Derricks was a multi-tasker, whose world included church choirs, poetry, and song-writing. He reportedly wrote over 300 songs in his life, some like “Just a Little Talk…” that he sold to the Stamps-Baxter publishing company in Dallas, Texas. It’s said that Derricks did not think much of his own efforts in the 1930s, but times being what they were - no money in depression-era Alabama –this hard-working, black Baptist didn’t rely on FDR’s New Deal, nor his Alabama brothers in Washington to help him out. He didn’t call Jesse Owens, asking his neighbor-athlete for a few bucks. What did the Stamps-Baxter company see in Derricks’ tune? Perhaps they saw something that spoke of hope, hope in a timeless, Depression-proof God. It’s now 2009, some 70 or 80 years after the Great Depression, and soon there will be no one left who lived in that time. Have we learned from our parents and grandparents how to manage a flagging economy? How much has really changed here? More importantly, how much do you think He’s changed?
Information on Cleavant Derricks and the Great Depression obtained at following sites:
A version of Cleavant Derricks’ song story is in “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Eliza Hewitt became a Sunday school superintendant at the Northern Home for Friendless Children, and also at the Calvin Presbyterian Church, but her song-writing career contained perhaps her best teaching. She didn’t live in despair, nor in the past as a ‘once’ person. Notice the words she uses in the song “When We All Get to Heaven”. Her words, when put to music by her friend Emily Wilson at a summer camp at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, instruct us, as well as move us emotionally about our eternal home. From her words, we find that we can be confident, that we can look forward to many things up there. ‘Mercy’, ‘grace’, a home with Jesus, never-ending happiness, glory and splendor of our Master, and His divine beauty -- these are all the mental images that flowed through Eliza Hewitt’s spirit in 1898.
There’s something else, too, another small word that captures my attention…will. Hope comes through in Hewitt’s song. That seemingly insignificant word ‘will’ is pretty important, because it lets me lean forward, to vocalize my yearning for something more, particularly if life here has been hard. I have to admit, I don’t yet get this one. My life hasn’t taken an ugly, unexpected turn…yet. Eliza came at life, and this song, from an experience that makes me cringe. But, knowing that she didn’t crumble, but in fact thrived and rejoiced in anticipation of her future gives me pause. I need not be overwhelmed by physical challenge, even aging. Sure, I and my family and friends won’t always smile as we decline. I expect that I’ll creak (I already do, in some ways), and curse my own body’s discomforts at times. But, I think I’m beginning to detect a wry smirk on my face, reserved for Satan’s darts, knowing he cannot lay a hand on my future. Is that overconfidence talking, a chutzpah that hasn’t yet been tested? Maybe, but Christian examples like Eliza Hewitt help gird my faith, and I’m counting on God helping me discover more ‘songscoops’ like her. Here’s a 4th verse to Eliza’s song: “Onward to the prize before us! Soon His beauty we’ll behold; soon the pearly gates will open, we shall tread the streets of gold.”