Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Mighty Fortress – Martin Luther

The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7)
There's not much one could add to the story of Martin Luther, and his great hymn "A Mighty Fortress". It's said that it's based upon Psalm 46, which many believe Luther sang often with his compatriot Philipp Melancthon when they felt their cause was in great distress. There's four theories regarding exactly when Luther wrote the song -- all were when Luther and his fellow strugglers faced a test, a confrontation with the government, or were remembering those who gave the supreme sacrifice in the struggle to reform the church. See the websites below…they will inspire and inform you. And, the next time you sing Luther’s hymn, thank God that his servant Luther stood firm, that he was girded by God’s promises – that our God is a ROCK.

See the following websites for lotsa history on Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Mighty_Fortress_Is_Our_God

http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Poetry/A-Mighty-Fortress.html

Saturday, August 22, 2009

All Creatures of Our God and King – Saint Francis of Assisi

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSb1-9i-fDA

The following site shows seven verses of the song:

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/a/c/acoogak.htm

The below site tells of Francis’ life:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi

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

A New Anointing - Rob Still

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:

http://robstill.com/

http://robstill.typepad.com/worship/insights/

Sunday, August 9, 2009

To God Be the Glory – Fanny Crosby

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

http://www.trivia-library.com/a/united-states-and-american-history-1872.htm

Monday, August 3, 2009

We Praise Thee, O God – William P. MacKay

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:

http://maranatha777.wordpress.com/2008/06/28/william-paton-mackays-testimony/