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
In fact, she’d probably not want us to think too much about her, but instead about the one she exalts in this song. Paris thought a long time as a teenager and then as a young woman before she decided music was her mission in life, but she knew that it had to be about Him ultimately. She started producing albums by 1980, and when she composed “He Is Exalted” in 1985 she obviously had not forgotten that God’s praise was still the primary focus of her music. Look at the rest of her song library and one can see that that divine hub remains firmly in place. In fact, she’s returned to this song to re-emphasize its point to an international audience, when she recorded it in Portuguese for Brazilian churches in 1992 (It’s on the album Sanctuary.). Wouldn’t it be something to hear God exalted in every language spoken around the globe? I think, in my corner of the world, that I need to begin with that attitude in my neighborhood and my workplace, how about you?
When I think about His exaltation, I couldn’t help addressing that this week, in a way I need to more frequently. I had to summon my courage with someone I work with every day, to remind him of my feelings. I was a bit apprehensive, I admit, although I am convicted that God is indeed worthy of my praise, and of my actions flowing from that conviction. Sensitively, but firmly, I broached this with my co-worker, and guess what? It was OK that I felt God’s name should be held in respect. None of us are perfect, for I too have been frustrated and overwhelmed in the office, with spleen-venting vocal tirades still occupying my memory. But, this episode reminded me that my God hasn’t moved, and He still occupies a position that I can applaud with renewed commitment. I don’t have to go being a world-class evangelist on Broadway to exalt Him. I did that, at least a little bit this week, in my 50 X 50 foot area in a pretty ordinary-looking building in Glen Echo, Maryland. I just need to keep singing “He Is Exalted”, wherever I am.
Some information on Twila Paris is from the following website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twila_Paris
Information on Twila Paris ia also available at the following website:http://www.twilaparis.com/
Information on the song story is in “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
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
The Coelho sisters were driving to and from a fun time in Newport Beach that summer, and doing what lots of teenagers do when on the road. Singing. I remember being on a bus with other teenagers in the 1970’s, and we sang lots of songs to pass the time, perhaps because we were all band kids and music seemed so natural to us. I cannot remember ever having sung spiritual tunes, though, so our singing never conceived nor brought to fruition anything that notable. Terrye Coelho seems to have somewhat the same attitude, saying that she was only the “vessel” through whom God worked that day. And, the song she helped God deliver that day was so simple, at least on paper it might look a little underwhelming. It contains some very simple thoughts about love and devotion, and transparency before the Holy One. One might say it’s summed up as ‘God, I’m open to you and I love and admire you’. That’s it. Indeed, the words of the song are just about that simple. Terrye says that’s what makes the song, and one other thing she and her sister did with it, such a winner.
Terrye and Cathy sang the song as a round, meaning one of them sang about the Father first, and then the other joined in singing about Jesus. With three people, a third person could join in on the third ‘round’ appreciating the Spirit. That makes it possible for a group -- like a church -- to sing to the Trinity all at the same moment. And, the musical harmony that Terrye heard the Spirit speaking to her was pretty simple too, but just as memorable as the words. Each voice sings a different part of the song’s chords, perhaps not unlike the unique, but complementary, voices of the Trinity. It’s a beautifully straightforward way to think about music – hear the chords, and just do a ‘do-mi-so’. It’s not hard, but one does have to listen and sense how one’s voice and notes fit into the overall scheme. Hmmm…kinda how one’s life fits into and around others in the kingdom, huh? Maybe God says something in music that we need to listen to and practice more intently.
One source for Terrye Coelho Strom’s song story is the book “Celebrate Jesus: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2003.
See also “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
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
(Dec. 2019 update): Another possibility is that the deaths in the summer of 1527 of three people close to Luther prompted the hymn’s composition, those three people being Leo Kaiser (a martyr for expressing his evangelical faith), and Hanna Bugenhagen (who died from the Plauge) and her daughter who was stillborn.