Saturday, May 30, 2009

Soldiers of Christ, Arise – Charles Wesley

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes (Ephesians 6:11) What can one say about Charles Wesley, who filled volumes to express himself? Universities, seminaries, conferences, and hospitals are named after him, and his name is in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. If that doesn’t tell you enough about him, you can even read his journal online (see the address below). So, there’s no excuse for not knowing something about Charles Wesley. Pick up a songbook, find a Charles Wesley song...most of them are probably familiar, so it’s hard to imagine never having sung a Wesley tune, either. This Anglican and ‘first Methodist’ was prolific, producing by many estimates over 6,000 hymns.

It’s not surprising that a Methodist, a creature of obedience and godly habits, should turn out so many hymns. Charles Wesley’s adherence to a systematic lifestyle of worship and study earned him the name ‘Methodist’ in 1729. Like a disciplined soldier, following the orders of his commander, Wesley’s life-song mirrors what we can sing in his composition ‘Soldiers of Christ, Arise’. The song Wesley has given us was written in 1749. It’s said that Wesley wrote it with the original title “The Whole Armor of God”, and used it to confirm new converts. The song’s martial message is impossible to miss. Charles and his brother John, as notable a preacher as Charles was a hymn-writer, are jointly considered the founders of the Methodist movement, one which its followers joined in spite of its accompanying danger. Beginning in 1739, Methodists routinely experienced persecution because its ministers preached without being formally ordained or licensed by the Anglican Church. Many people were stoned, beaten, or threatened, and their homes vandalized. After a decade of this, Charles Wesley’s song shows how he must have steeled himself for the onslaught. Its 24 verses tell us the fight we’re in is lengthy, even exhausting (see them all in the link I’ve listed below).

How do I endure injustice? Do I arise and face my tormentors with resolve, with spiritual confidence in God’s providence? I must admit, I gripe too often. I’d rather not have troubles, and when I do, I have lots of venom to deliver to the nearest person, even if its an innocent bystander. I seem to need to vent my spleen. Wesley’s song reminds me that I need to be strong, that my faith is not about having an easy time. If I’m feeling vulnerable, and I yell ‘Ouch!’ a lot, maybe I need to reexamine my toolkit, the things God has given me for my protection. Is your armor on? Is God’s panoply at your disposal, through prayer and study? Do you lean on your fellow soldiers for advice and support? All these are yours and mine. I think I’ll go re-read Ephesians 6, and remind myself what a soldier should be doing…

Charles Wesely’s journal:

All 24 verses of ‘Soldiers of Christ, Arise’ are at the following website:

brief biographies of Charles and John Wesely:

longer biographies:

information about 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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus – Dennis Jernigan

Dennis Jernigan is a living example of a fresh start. He willingly lives, composes, sings, and retells his story for literally thousands and even millions of people. If you haven’t heard his testimony, find one of the websites or a book listed at the end of this entry…they tell it much better than I can write about it here. Look at one of his songs, “Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus”, with me for a few minutes, and his life experience and how he has reacted to God’s influence jumps, and even dances right off the music score.
He cannot help celebrating God’s mercy and grace. It’s a message that we can take to others whom our culture misleads, to people trapped in lifestyles that our holy and compassionate God can help them escape. Do you know someone, maybe even several people, who need that, people who feel hopeless? Read just a little of Jernigan’s story here, and pass it along.

Dennis Jernigan came out of a life of homosexuality in 1981 when he graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), a graduation in his life in more than one way. Although raised as a churchgoer , and schooled by his grandmother to play the piano – a skill which he honed at the church – Jernigan says he had became unbalanced in trying to please everyone, including his own father. He felt rejected by his father, which Jernigan says was the root of his gay lifestyle, even though his father’s (and his mother’s also) actions were not unlike most other parents of the time. Jernigan’s escape from homosexuality began shortly after his OBU graduation, when he went to a concert by the group Second Chapter of Acts. Jernigan was attracted to the group’s message, which he says was more genuine than what he had seen in other Christian entertainers. The group’s message was that God is real, and that He can lift burdens, even those we haven’t shared with another soul. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised Jernigan – after all, he was a musician - but the music’s words articulated something that he wanted deeply - - God’s love and hope. Other events turned Jernigan’s life around, in fact 180 degrees around (see the websites or books below), so that today Dennis and Melinda (his wife) have been married for 26 years and have nine children.

Dennis Jernigan could have believed our culture’s lie, that homosexuality is OK, that God made him that way. Instead, Jernigan is now one of the most vivid examples of God’s power to change a distorted life into a fruitful, exuberant existence. “Nobody Fills My Heart Like Jesus”, written in 1991, was one of Jernigan’s first songs in a recording career that was launched the same year with his first two albums. The song’s first few words ‘..from the start…’ hint that Jernigan was still celebrating his emergence into a new life. Although the precise origin of the song is not known, its words underscore his feelings of redemption about which he writes and speaks freely. His book Giant Killers echoes what we sing in the chorus-refrain, when he writes ‘Relationship with God fills our hearts and precludes relationship with any evil…’ (p. 134). It’s a very personal statement Jernigan makes in the song’s 2nd verse, which he also expresses in Giant Killers, proclaiming that God loves us even when we’re wrong, and that we can cry out to him, calling upon him and asking to hear what he says about us (p. 111).

 Other Jernigan songs communicate the message about his life reversal, and now celebration, too, so there may be other stories are out there to discover. Looking back, it might seem that even while Dennis Jernigan was in bondage, the Lord was preparing him to spread a message. That’s hope for even the hopeless, a place where Dennis Jernigan saw himself once.

Information on Dennis Jernigan obtained from the following: websites:

books: Giant Killers: Crushing Strongholds , Securing Freedom in Your Life, by Dennis Jernigan. WaterBrook Press, 2005. The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.

Friday, May 15, 2009

As the Deer - Marty Nystrom

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

Marty Nystrom has courage. He’s also human. Why? He admits that the song “As the Deer” he wrote in 1981 sprang from an incident in his life in which he was not spiritually motivated…at least not at its beginning. His song’s words make us think ‘this composer must have really been close to God’, as we sing of panting and longing for Him. But, this is where knowing the song story really helps me get in touch with how I, like others before me, can draw close to the Lord. It begins in a desert, in which I’m pretty distant from the Holy One. That’s where I must begin? That’s what Nystrom’s experience suggests. The Psalm he read (Psalm 42) that helped him vocalize his journey to draw closer is a “maskil”, a further lesson for us believers who hear his story and compare it to other ‘maskil’ Psalms. In short, from a pit where we may find ourselves, God can perhaps use us most effectively.

Marty Nystrom travelled to Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1981, because he was chasing…God? No, a girl. And, when his heart was broken over her, he bemoaned where he was stuck. It was a hot time of year (when is summertime in Dallas not hot?!), and he admits he might have gone home, except that “I didn’t have a ticket.” Amazingly, he took a friend’s advice to fast, to consume nothing but water as a way to draw himself back toward God. After 19 days Nystrom was in a pit, physically, not completely unlike what other Psalmists must have felt when they wrote ‘maskils’ (like Psalms 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142). It’s a cry out to God. Now, Nystrom’s hurt over a girl might not seem as serious as some of the life-threatening episodes in the maskils we can read. But, if you’ve ever been in his shoes, you know what it’s like to be in a dump, emotionally. That’s where Marty Nystrom was in the early summer of 1981, and then later, after being nourished for many days with only water and the Spirit, he sat at a piano and read the words of Psalm 42. Nystrom’s song story has another twist. The words and the melody that he composed, though he couldn’t have known this, resonate in a special way with people on the opposite side of the globe from the song’s birthplace. In Korea, for instance, a worship conference that Nystrom attended in the 1990s began with 100,000 Koreans singing “As the Deer”. Amazing, or just routine when God has someone’s attention in a pit?

Marty Nystrom’s experience shows me again that God, when he’s trying to speak to me, takes away things that distract me. He won’t shout above the noise in my life, which might even be another person that I think He’s directed my way. But, if I can isolate myself from my surroundings, even if it hurts, that’s where He is. It might be tough on this planet with billions of people, but Nystrom’s chronicle tells me solitude is a valuable, even sacred goal. Perhaps that’s what 100,000 Koreans were hearing in this Texas desert tune.

 Information on Marty Nystrom’s story obtained from “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000. A shorter version of Nystrom’s 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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Victory in Jesus – Eugene M. Bartlett

Eugene Monroe Bartlett was a very well-known gospel hymnist in the early 20th Century in the South. Besides teaching and writing music for several decades, he also founded the Hartford Music Company in 1918, in Sebastian County, Arkansas. Along with the company that published music , Bartlett formed the Hartford Music Institute that taught voice, piano, piano tuning, rudiments, harmony, and stringed instruments to students all over the South. One of Bartlett’s main objectives was to teach worshippers to sight read a song by using “shape” notes, a debt that many of us still owe him today. (An assigned shape for each tone on an eight-note scale makes it easier for the common person to “read” the music.) Check out many song books, and you’ll still see them with triangles, diamonds, half-moons, etc. dotting the music scores on the pages. Perhaps that legacy was one of the main reasons that Bartlett was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000. When you examine Bartlett’s composition “Victory in Jesus” however, you see he was more tuned into joining another association when he wrote this song in 1939. In 1939, Bartlett’s health suffered a serious blow when he had a major stroke. He spent much of the last two years of his life bed-ridden, so it’s surprising that he wrote his most well-known song “Victory in Jesus” at that time. Or is it? It’s said that Bartlett missed travelling and teaching, but he could still study the Bible, a study from which he gave us this song, his last. Is it an accident that Bartlett wrote about ‘victory’ in 1939? What was going on then? While much of the earth sat on the brink of World War II, Bartlett looked beyond that, to a victory none of us can know on earth. Though he could see an end to his life approaching, he also noticed something else about ends. Has it occurred to you that victory, though it’s something we strive for in all kinds of venues, can only be reached at the end of something here? A team never wins the game at its start, nor the championship during the season’s first few games. So, if you live for the competition, to play the game, then the end is bittersweet, even if it culminates in triumph and a trophy. Bartlett must have experienced some depression, if he was human like all of us. In fact, it’d be quite impossible to be as productive as Bartlett was, and not miss the life one has lived. But another part must have seen his physical descent as just a temporary blip, a normal part of the human condition. Though an earthly victory comes at the finish line, Bartlett’s 1st and 2nd song verses tell us that he had already experienced his eternal victory well before his earthly end approached. And, thank God that is the one that endures! Do you think Bartlett is now flashing the victory sign with two fingers, like a president we remember? Maybe he teaches shape notes in heaven, whaddya think? It wouldn’t be a surprise, since this method seemed to work here. Still, the only things we know of heaven are in John’s Revelation. He tells me that I’ll sing a new song (Rev. 5 + 14), a Moses song, and that I, as a winner -- a victor -- get to sing it (Rev. 15:2-4). It’s gonna be grand seeing Eugene Bartlett and so many other God-worshippers, with exquisite, perfect, musical bodies given by God, pouring out melodies and harmonies forever. Now that’s a hall of fame I want to be part of…how about you? Information on Eugene Bartlett was obtained 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 Additional information on Eugene Bartlett found at the following website: Information on the Hartford Music Company is available at the following website: