Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wonderful Grace of Jesus – Haldor Lillenas

If you’ve not heard the name Haldor Lillenas, you may in fact know something about him through a song that sounds familiar, perhaps one that appears to be written by Virginia Rose Golden, Laverne Gray, Richard Hainsworth, Rev. H. N. Lines, Robert Whitmore or Ferne Winters. They’re all pseudonyms that Lillenas used to publish his own songs. If you’ve ever been in a church (especially a Nazarene church), you may have sung one of his 4,000 hymns, perhaps the most well-known of which is “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”. Or, maybe you’ve sung from some sheet music that came from the Lillenas Music (Publishing) Company. He’s the same guy, a Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee in 1982.
Lillenas wrote the song “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” in 1918. He was in his early 30’s (32/33 years old), and the pastor of a Nazarene church in Auburn, Illinois. He and his wife Bertha Mae had little to no money after buying a home nearby, but that didn’t impede Lillenas’s productivity. With $5, he bought a rundown organ from a neighbor, and composed this song soon thereafter. His family’s strong faith had been evident in Lillenas’s early life, probably even before their emigration from Norway to the United States in the 1880s. But, it may have been the events in 1906 that set the stage for Lillenas’s spiritual growth and the genesis of the song. That year in Astoria, Oregon, Lillenas committed himself to Christian work, in the wake of his mother’s death and the fervor he felt hearing and singing the songs in that place. Particularly in Portland, Lillenas saw many people come to Christ, an experience that further solidified his decision to work for Him. The impact of God’s grace apparently stuck with Lillenas over the next decade-plus, as he studied and ministered in Oregon and California.
What would happen if I thought about God’s grace for more than a decade? How long would it take to say all that the subject deserves? Might it be something outrageous, akin to Jonah’s experience of being swallowed by a fish (see the picture above)? That was some grace, wasn’t it?! It seems like those were the thoughts Lillenas was mulling over as he composed the song, considering its words. The theme he dwells on is the grandeur, the extreme nature of this grace. One senses that what Lillenas had seen or felt by 1918 overwhelmed him. ‘Greater than all’, ‘the most’, ‘the uttermost’, ‘for all’, ‘matchless’…these are some of the phrases that Lillenas employs to express his feelings about God’s gift. A doubter might accuse him of hyperbole – after all, how great can a song be that was composed on a $5 organ? But, this is just how our God is -- nothing posh is required for Him. You think God will have this ‘cheap’ grace-song playing for us along the streets of gold?
Biographic information on the composer found in the following:
“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Can I Do ? (#2) – Paul Baloche and Graham Kendrick

Paul Baloche is not a brand-new believer, but he sings like one might in the song “What Can I Do?” that he and Graham Kendrick co-composed in 2005. He and Kendrick ask the question, as anyone who discovers God for the first time might. The Creator is also human, disgraced and crucified, the song emphasizes – a mystery that may confound us. But, for the one who wants to know how to respond to Him, the song has the answer too. I may keep asking the question over and over, year after year, trying to make sense of Him, yet the answer Baloche and Kendrick offer is the only one that makes sense, really. See if you think so. (A scoop on this song was orignally published on 26 July, 2009. This scoop # 2 on the same song connects you with Paul Baloche's own thoughts. You can see and hear the story verbatim from Baloche at the following link: )

Paul Baloche says that his collaboration with Graham Kendrick took place at the latter’s invitation for the two to spend some time in Britain (Kendrick’s home) in 2005. Kendrick already had the chorus written, which asks the basic ‘question’ and provides the ‘answer’ too, for the song. ‘What does one do, but say thanks, hallelujah (see the Hebrew text for this word in the picture), and live a life of praise?’, Kendrick had written. Baloche says worship for him is about revelation and response. ‘Revelation comes first’ he says, but perhaps in a way that has not occurred to us before, prompting a response. Take a sunset (verse 1 of the song), which Baloche shares he often uses near his home in Lindale, Texas to show his children God’s beauty. He’s like a great artist, painting colors in the sky for us to admire. It’s just one way, for when the sun goes down, the stars appear, allowing us to imagine Him on top of the vast galaxy. What kind of response makes sense toward One who paints earth’s sky, who has prepared the universe, and revealed Himself in this way? Baloche’s verse 2 sings of another revelation – greater and more personal for us – Jesus’ own life, sacrificed and then rejuvenated. Baloche offers me revelations on two levels, neither of which I can ignore if I’m really being honest with myself.

The creation I can see, and life from death – what can I do without God in either situation? That is the way Baloche has me position myself versus God, as I sing “What Can I Do?”. I cannot escape being here on Earth, can you? Oh, watching sci-fi films is one attempt to break away, but even in outer space I’d be where He’s already been. Are you troubled by thoughts of dying? ‘Don’t be morbid’, someone might say. Well, God-the-Son spoke of it, often. He was scared too, in the garden. But, he conquered it, and says I can too. I cannot escape the universe or the death that awaits. God’s created the one, and overcome the other. I’m sticking with Him. Singing praise, saying ‘Hallelujah’, living for Him…these are all He’s asking me to do in exchange!

Some biographical information on Paul Baloche:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thou Art Worthy, Great Jehovah (# 2) -- Karen Chandler Eagan Tynan

Karen Eagan has given us the real scoop on the song "Thou Art Worthy, Great Jehovah", a scoop first posted on this blog on December 13, 2008 ! See it in her own words below:
I wrote Thou Art Worthy ,Great Jehovah during a devotion. Some of my other songs have been recorded but it seems that God has truly blessed me through Thou Art Worthy. I shared the song with my then fiancee, Rex Eagan and (he) began to play it on the guitar for me. As we began to sing it in the van, the driver had to pull over because the Spirit of the Lord began to move and he was weeping. The next time we shared it was in a County Jail and as I began to share the line Abba Father with the inmates they began to weep. About a month later we shared the song at Church on the Rock and Pastor Larry Lea, prophesied and said, "Karen and Rex that song will be heard around the world" within 6 months..Dr. Yonghii Cho, Pastor Robert Tilton, Pastor Larry Lea satellited a New Years' service around the world. Guess which song the Pastors' decided they wanted led? "Thou Art Worthy, Great Jehovah" WOW! God had blown it around the world.
Years later...and many songs later, the Lord began to give me verses to Thou Art Worthy and said, this is where this song came from. I was an abused child and the Lord had healed and delivered me and when you read the verses you will understand a little more.
vs.1... Here I am alone in my room, thinking about what I've been through. Though the years of pain and fear have left behind the stains of tears, Still in my heart these words keep ringing and then my spirit begins singing.
Chorus:Thou art worthy, Great Jehovah. Thou art worthy, Mighty God. Thou art worthy, Abba Father. Thou art worthy, Lamb of God
Vs.2 Here You are, Your Presence is so real to to deliver cleanse and heal. And as my hands begin to raise, so my lips break forth in praise.
....That is the "rest of the story". After I began the verses I have had women tell me," the only song that I could listen to when I had to lock my abusive (husband) out of my room was 'Thou art worthy', now I understand". more precious story. I was ministering at a nursing home for Christmas one year. An elderly man wheeled his wheelchair to me and said, " I love all the old hymns you all are leading but I was wondering if you knew a song that I used to sing in church? 'Thou Art Worthy Great Jehovah'! I said, 'yes sir I know it, did you know it had verses? Let me sing them to you and you join me in the chorus.' By the time I had sung the 1st verse and he joined me in the chorus I really understood where Thou Art Worthy came from. A wounded heart, soul, body that was totally delivered and healed by Him.
The above was shared with the blog author on 11 December 2010 on Facebook.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Lord Is In His Holy Temple -- God

Habakkuk, William Kirkpatrick, and God. What do these people have in common? One being is timeless, another one lived some 2,600 years ago, and another is a relative babe compared to the other two (he lived in the 19th and early 20th Centuries). Yet, they all knew the words “The Lord Is In His Holy Temple”, a song that is one of the more unique compositions among Christian songs. Oh, the words seem pretty familiar, exhorting the audience (fellow Christians) to hold Him in reverence (perhaps as Solomon and the Israelites did, see the picture). But, who wrote the words? It might surprise you, as the exploration of the song did for me.

William Kirkpatrick wrote the music for the song in 1900, and the words first appeared in the prophet Habakkuk’s brief volume (Habakkuk 2:20) that was written in probably the 7th Century B.C (the 600s), but the words are not composed by the prophet. Instead, they are God’s. Habakkuk is sharing his angst with the Lord over injustice in the southern kingdom, and then his shock over God’s solution – sending Babylonia to punish the nation. The context of God’s song verse (2:20) is His discourse about idol worship’s futility, versus the True God. What has brought God to this point? Judah had survived the foreign invader longer than its northern neighbor, Israel, but by 605 B.C. (the approximate time of Habakkuk’s conversation with God) the Lord had seen enough. Idolatry, among other evils, permeated the nation. Habakkuk and his contemporary prophet Jeremiah could both see the approach of destruction. It came after decades of descent, telling us God was indeed patient with disobedience. Though resolute in His punishment on the people, He was not without compassion, for Babylonia would eventually be vanquished. ‘I am still GOD’, He seems to be saying with this verse. A nation will walk away from me, will be punished by evil invaders, and will be restored again – and I, the great I AM, am still here. Where have your idols gotten you?
Had God grown tired of Judah’s national waffle? Unlike Israel, which had a spate of evil kings for all of its 200 years (around 933 – 722 B.C.), Judah had been washed back and forth as bad and good kings reigned throughout its 350-year existence (933-586 B.C), first snubbing Him, then re-embracing Him. How would a volatile relationship like this work if it were person-to-person? I think it’s called divorce, usually, for most people who want stability and fidelity will tolerate nothing less. Think of it on God’s level, who regards time in eons, if you can. ‘Either choose me, or leave me’, He must have thought . And, this wasn’t the first era like this. Remember the 300 years of judges (roughly 1400 – 1100 B.C.) ? Can you hear Him saying ‘What else do I need to do to convince them? If they could just see things the way I do! ‘ Can you see the wheels turning in His head, later ? ‘Hey, what if I could get them to see me?’ I’m in heaven, my holy temple. Would it work if I visited them there, and became like them…? Hey, Jesus, I have an idea….’

See the following link for information about William Kirkpatrick:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

We Will Worship You – Scott Wesley Brown

What would I say to someone after 20-30 years of experience working at something? I might think about all of the things I had done, and count the awards – bask a little. Not the composer, Scott Wesley Brown, who wrote the song “We Will Worship You” in 1997 (which appeared on the 1998 album More Like You). He sings about things that have been lost in the song, but also more importantly what - or rather, whom – he has retained all that time. How does one worship, properly…kneeling before a stone and a flame (see the picture)? He’s been around the world, enough to probably have been jet-lagged and homesick, spreading a worship message. What else lies behind this worship song ?

Many things can be said about Scott Wesley Brown in 1997-98. In 1998, the same year the song appeared on the album, he was ordained into Baptist ministry. He was in his mid-forties, and had been producing Christian music on albums for 24 years already at that point. In fact, he’d been writing songs since the sixth grade in elementary school (about age 12), so he was what someone might call a veteran of the Christian music world. He would also compose a song “I Will Worship You”, so how is the song “We Will Worship You” different? ‘We’ tells us he was thinking about a group, about a body of believers, rather than just himself. Maybe he was reminiscing about all of the places he had already been at that point, spreading the message of Jesus in several countries, including behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany and the Soviet Union (in 1989). Was he encouraging new Christians in the song’s two verses to think about their temporal sacrifices, about ‘treasures’ (verse 1) and ‘all we’ve lost’ (verse 2) in exchange for Christ? His 1998 album Out of Africa suggests he visited that continent to communicate this Truth there too. This newly ordained, 40-something minister/musician must have had many impressions running through his mind in 1997-98.

The ‘we’ Scott Wesley Brown sings may include a swath of missions and activities that he has been supporting. He’s worked with nine different ministries listed on his website (see its link below), including the US Center for World Mission, in order to spread not just music and free musical instruments, but also food, health care, and the Word. He’s been active in ministry in the United States, as a pastor in churches in southern California and in Arizona. No one is an island, someone has noted, a perspective that Brown has adopted as a basic tenet in this song and more broadly in his life of worship. He notes in his biography that he’s visited more than 50 countries and every state in the U.S. His songs are about this journey, and are his confessions too, he says. ‘There is none beside You’, he confesses to God in the refrain of this song, quite a statement for a guy who’s been around the globe and seen so much. Maybe if we all saw as much as Scott Brown has, more of us would sing, and radiate these words. Time to get off the couch, and outta the pew, and worship.

The below links provide information on Scott Wesley Brown:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

He Has Made Me Glad – Leona Von Brethorst

She had plenty of reasons to be sad, yet she was glad. As Christmas approaches, this statement about the musical composer Leona Von Brethorst sounds like it comes straight outta the cartoon special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Remember the Grinch’s bewilderment on Christmas morning when he surveys all the joyous residents in Who-ville, following his nighttime raid on their village? ‘This sound wasn’t sad, but glad’, the Grinch notes as he listens for their expected wailing. Leona Von Brethorst’s countercultural reaction to life’s struggles, a la the Whos in the TV episode, might make one wonder if she saw their premiere (on television in 1966), and composed “He Has Made Me Glad” as a reflection on these characters. See what you think, after hearing her story. Leona would’ve had a lot more reasons than one stolen Christmas morning to dim her outlook if she had thought about her own life in 1976 when she wrote “He Has Made Me Glad”. She grew up poor in Tennessee during the Great Depression, then later on became a single mother, as her husband rejected her Christian faith. Consequently, she battled chronic gloom and overwork as she fought alone to support her family. Although she maintained her faith and even broadened her devotion as a worshipper through these years, she sank emotionally when her children left home after growing to adulthood. She says that it was at that point that her heart turned to Psalm 100. Something about Israel’s experience as worshippers dedicating the Temple, about their thanksgiving, got her attention. She didn’t know how to play an instrument, and admits she couldn’t even read music – none of which mattered. What mattered was that she wanted to be filled like the Israelites’ Temple, accomplished through a thankful spirit, a message that Psalm 100 spoke to her. Von Brethorst’s song caught on immediately at the church where she introduced it. Why was that? The answer seems pretty elementary, perhaps in the same, easy way a Christmas cartoon’s message works on us. The Who-ville residents had an infectious joy, one that when shared with others, swelled and overflowed – changing even the Grinch. The same idea is in Psalm 100 – ‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth’. This is a command, sure, but it also says something about what happens when a thankful, joyful sound is made. It spreads. Gladness overpowers gloom. After all, who chooses to be sad when they instead could be glad? Like the psalm suggests, singing “He Has Made Me Glad” helps the believer know something else about God-praise, too, particularly when it’s practiced with others. When He is lifted, we’re all lifted. God wins, and so do you and I. Kinda makes me wanna join hands in a circle of singing Whos. How about you? The source for Leona Von Brethorst’s “He Has Made Me Glad” song story is the book “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000. Also see “The Complete Book of Hymns-Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ,2006.

Monday, November 22, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful – Cecil F. H. Alexander

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander loved three things, if the song she wrote in 1848, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, is an accurate portrayal of her personality. God, nature, and children are blended into the verses of the song, weaving a message that was unmistakable. It would surprise no one if the song was said to have been written by someone with a child-like spirit -- she had been a poet from her childhood years. The song communicates something clearly, easily understood even by children. Each verse says something every human has experienced.
Cecil Alexander was 30 years old when the song was written, but adults like herself were not the intended audience. She wrote this song and others as part of the publication Hymns for Little Children. It is thought that she may have composed the words near Sligo, Ireland while at Markree Castle (see a picture of it above), suggested perhaps by one verse that speaks of a castle and its inhabitant, versus the more humble existence of a poor man. But, rich or poor, all experience equally some basic elements of our shared existence on planet Earth that Alexander mentions in this poem. Even children could identify them: little birds, mountains, sunsets, wind, fruit, tall trees, green grass. They all present themselves without my help. I might have planted seed for fruit trees or grass, but who made them grow? I can climb the mountain, but who put it there in the first place? Arguing about how these things arrived on the scene, while ignoring the wonder of Him who made them, is pointless. I, in my attitude of strict discipline and conviction about my faith, might have called the unbeliever impudent, if I had authored this poem’s conclusion. But, is that the way a child would say it? No, there is another message of the song that I have missed, until now.
The words of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” are gentle. They caress the mind and soul with images that remind the hearer of the power and grace and certainty of God’s creation. Alexander reminds me as a worshipper in the song’s last verse to testify confidently about the Creator, since He has given me eyes and lips to witness His greatness. But, if I do this like a child – as it seems Cecil Alexander suggests - I don’t need to be pushy or arrogant as I do this. I merely act, as I exist in the shadow of my Creator, like the other things He has created. I’m here because He made me, nothing more or less. I’m humble like a child, so that I can magnify Him. See the below link for all six verses that Mrs. Alexander wrote:
Information on the song was also obtained from “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
See this link for biographical information on Mrs. Alexander:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Are the Body of Christ – David B. Hampton and Scott Wesley Brown

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Exercise. Why do it? Because I want a healthy body, and it comes by exercising my muscles (see the picture). There’s a song about what a healthy body does…In David B. Hampton’s own words below, read and imagine what the body of Christ might do when it’s motivated, as he describes how the song “We Are the Body of Christ” was born. Thanks for the inspiration, David Hampton!
We Are the Body of Christ was written on a day that Scott Wesley Brown and I had just finished the first of two songs for Promise Keepers. We had the “theme song” of sorts for a couple of years and we had just completed the song “Godly Men” when I played Scott a melody. I had been playing around with this melody instrumentally on the piano for a couple of weeks but hadn’t had a chance to show it to anyone. I was playing piano and keys for Scott on the road at the time and we normally used sound check as a time to do some writing. This melody however, hadn’t even made its way to a sound check. I asked him at the end of the day if he had a second to listen to this melody. We had completed the demo for PK and I really only intended to play through the melody and go home. Scott sat and listened quietly and then asked me to play it through again humming the melody line. He began to scribble on his legal pad and then asked me to play it another time. He scribbled more and the last time I played it he began to sing the words, “One heart, one spirit, one voice to praise you...” At that point it was almost like the song wrote itself. I wish I could say all my songs came that quickly but this was just one of those “flukes”. When Scott finished singing it with me playing that last time we literally looked at each other and laughed. That song has since gone on to be included in a number of worship compilations and even a hymnal. I have had a number of stories about how churches experiencing division have been able to at least let down their walls with one another after singing this song together.… I think the lyric came to Scott the way it did because so much of what we had been focusing on for the PK songs were ideas about standing together, being for one another, creating anthems that men could sing in unity. So, I believe this song was just a natural outgrowth of where our heads and hearts had been focused for a few days already.
Great lesson in unity, huh? It makes me think of other questions – If a group (even just two guys) who are focused on unity can create a song, what could happen if a whole community were united? How about one nation? The globe? What would it sound like to hear the awestruck laughter of every believer in unison? Ahhh, heaven! The story for the song was accessed via an e:mail with David Hampton on 11-11-2010 and 11-12-2010: The below link provides a brief biography on David Hampton:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

God Is So Good – Anonymous

Does God care what I think of Him? He must, I hope, for Jesus the Savior would make no sense otherwise, right? Sending the Son must have been the Creator’s expression of concern. And so, a believer’s response to God’s outreach should please Him. There must be plenty of anonymous tunes, or even poems that never were paired with music, that believers have composed to honor our Maker, to please Him and to say ‘thank you’ that He extended Himself beyond heaven. The tune for today is one of those – “God is So Good”. It’s compact, and says something so elemental. Its simplicity, its common, ordinary message could have been invented by just about anyone. But, am I an anonymous nothing when I sing this to Him?
God is good –that’s an understatement. As are the rest of the declarations in the tune. He cares, and He answers me (although sometimes I cannot hear His answer), and hopefully I love Him in return. The song, though its origin is rather vague, is thought to have been perhaps an African-American folk melody. Does that mean it originated in the slave culture of the 1800’s? It would have been a very simple, easy song for slaves to cling to in the fields. But, it works in modern times too, when life can be very confusing and frustrating. (Just take this sometimes flaky, unreliable computer, for example!) According to one commentator on a hymnody website (see below), the composer of the tune was one Bobby Burnett, along with Videt Polk, in 1958, so perhaps it’s evolution has been more recent. But, this remains uncertain. Another name potentially associated with the song is Kevin Prosch, who composed a popular gospel tune by the same title. The mystery lingers, nevertheless.
‘Known but to God’, as it says on many markers in the military cemetery. He knows me, including when I sing. And, if I’m genuine in worship, I know the connection is real with Him, even if bystanders can detect nothing. I’m known by Him. He’s the only one who may know me. Is someone out there the composer of ‘God is So Good’? Even if you don’t identify yourself, you are known by Him. And, maybe someday He will let us in on the story, the episode that made this tune come to life in you. He knows every story, and so He must have a never-ending library of songs waiting to be born. Wow, can’t wait to get there! Awesome, huh?
The following link provides information on the song “God Is So Good”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Is How We Overcome – Reuben Morgan

‘Mourning into Dancing’ is one of the repeated phrases of Reuben Morgan’s 1998 song “This Is How We Overcome”. It’s a message that’s packed with meaning. We know it had meaning for King David in Israel - he’s the author, who wrote because he’d felt shame, been punished, repented, and felt forgiveness. Is it physical, emotional, or spiritual trouble that has me snagged today? There’s a way through the dark tunnel, Reuben says with this composition.
Rueben Morgan is the worship pastor at the Hillsong church in Sydney, Australia. Dispensing grace, as Jesus Christ’s bride, that’s the mission of any Christ-centered body. It’s a process that David did not know as we know it today, but he experienced the transformation. The Hillsong church’s work has no doubt touched many hurting people, with various ministries to reach people in need. Maybe some of them arrived in their condition as David and his nation did, by their own doing. David’s sin was pride, manifested in counting his army (1 Chronicles 21). Oh, he was warned, as many of us are today, that calamity ensues when we screw up, and that we deserve whatever happens. If I’m in tune with my conscience-spirit, I repent eventually. Was Reuben Morgan struggling similarly, and coming up the other side of a deep valley – a mourning into dancing, as David remembered in Psalm 30:11? Maybe he was witness to such an episode, not uncommon when you’re on the front line at a large church? Maybe he’d also seen something that resembled what David did, building an altar to honor God and so recognize His lordship and the expectation of His provision of grace.
The song’s words are few, inviting me to focus on one thing – the reason for my deliverance. ‘This is how we overcome’, but what’s ‘this’ ? If I feel overwhelmed in my life rather than ‘overcome’-ing at times, I could be asking myself how much I really believe what crosses my lips in praise as I sing Reuben Morgan’s song. How’s my mourning turned upside down? Perhaps the clue is in the title of the album on which “This Is How We Overcome” appears. “By Your Side” is the name the Hillsong church’s praise ministry gave the album, with “This Is How We Overcome” the final track on the recording. Am I with God, or against Him? If I’m ‘by His side’, as the album theme suggests, I can count on Him, here and in the hereafter. God is ‘this’ for me. The song invites me to address Him directly – ‘Your Grace…your light…your hand…your praise’. I need to stick with Him no matter what. The following websites provide some biography on Rueben Morgan, the Hillsong church where he serves as worship pastor, and the album on which the song “This Is How We Overcome” appears:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Give Thanks – Henry Smith

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

 It wouldn’t be a surprise if the above was a familiar verse to Henry Smith, especially in 1978 when he wrote “Give Thanks”. Had he just been hired to his dream-job? How about a healing, so that he overcame a dreaded disease? No, neither of those was true. Indeed, the opposite was Henry’s reality. Nevertheless, he had several reasons to assume an upbeat emotional posture, despite some of the melancholy circumstances that plagued his life. Perhaps when Henry Smith read the Apostle Paul’s admonition, the key word for him was the tiny three-letter adjective, ‘all’. What equation do you use when evaluating the sum of life?

Henry Smith must have seen life this way: God’s side of the equation outweighs whatever is on the opposite side. At least, that’s what the words he wrote indicate. God is the ‘all’ of existence, so that I am called to ‘give thanks’ six times in the song’s opening words. When I’m done here on planet Earth, all that will matter is what lies ahead – in God’s presence. That must have been alluring for Henry Smith, who was struggling to find steady work, despite having just earned his college degree. When he says ‘the poor’ are rich in “Give Thanks”, that’s an echo from his difficulty in finding work. His eyesight was also failing because of a degenerative condition that would eventually leave him legally blind, certainly a ‘weakness’ that he expressed in the song as his eyesight faded. Thankfully, theological training informed him that God’s side of the equals sign was what mattered. And other parts of his life further motivated the song that leapt from his heart. He’d found someone to love, his future wife. And, he was grateful to be through school, which his deteriorating vision had made difficult, and to be back home in a church he loved in Williamsburg, Virginia. If God was all Henry Smith had in 1978, He could be praised, and yet He provided even more. It’s no surprise that Smith’s heart overflowed in a song. And, the song resounds still in Henry Smith’s hometown and around the globe today.

On the opposite side of the globe, it’s said that “Give Thanks”, when hummed by strangers from the West, is recognized by Chinese Christians who are otherwise reluctant to reveal their faith. And, Henry Smith is able to play a bass guitar or the keyboard to offer songs at a church in the U.S. today, despite being blind. These two facts say physical circumstances may challenge me, but I’m the image-offspring of an unbounded God. Fasten your mind and spirit to this seminal fact, and give thanks.

The source for Henry Smith’s “Give Thanks” song story is the book “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000. Also see “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, October 16, 2010

There’s a Stirring – Annie Herring

Think about death’s moment. But, don’t be morose. If you think those two objectives are mutually exclusive, then you haven’t met Annie Herring. Was she ill, one might ask? Or, suicidal? According to her husband Buck, the answers would seem to be ‘no’. When asked what was going on in her life that compelled Annie to write “There’s a Stirring”, Buck Herring replies ‘The song is the story’ – nothing else. And, it is an inspiration, unlike what our secular world might coax us to think about this subject. Nevertheless, knowing what happened in Annie’s life by the time she was 25 might make you pause. Meet Annie Herring.
Annie’s parents, Walter and Elizabeth Ward, raised their children in a musical home in North Dakota. By late 1970, both parents had died, Elizabeth of a brain tumor and Walter of leukemia. These were undoubtedly profound milestones for Annie, as they would be for anyone with loving parents who are gone by your 25th birthday. Annie had married Buck by this time, and they raised her younger brother Matthew and sister Nelly. Their musical and Spirit-fed upbringing stuck with them, and the three siblings formed the singing combo 2nd Chapter of Acts, spending the next couple of decades singing to Him. 1988 marked the group’s retirement, but not the end of God-centered music in their lives. Annie’s song “There’s a Stirring” was written the following year. It had been 21 years since her mother’s death and 19 since her father’s, but did these episodes linger? Annie was 44 by this time, and a new page had turned in her music life. The song’s words tell us she also thought about another page-turning, about Eternity.
If you’ve been a 40-something, you know what it’s like to sense time’s passage, and to have a thoughts about mortality. Something deep inside whispers. Some might say it gnaws at the spirit, a foreboding that troubles a non-believer. But, to Annie, it must have sounded like an invitation. She’s not alone among God’s people. Many have said that life flashes before the eyes in a brush with death, but Annie’s song proposes that Eternity’s the real scene. The Bible’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all sensed life’s end. Moses sang a song. Stephen, Paul, and certainly Jesus knew what lay beyond, and told those close by about it. Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) welcomed death – because he had seen Christ. I think I’ll be a little afraid, despite knowing the bliss that approaches (and the resurrection, like Christ’s – see the picture above). That’s OK, really, isn’t it? What Herring wrote is supposed to rouse, not tranquilize. Her song also reminds me of these immutable facts for the Christian, which look this way: Death >>> Life, and God’s presence = Ecstasy. The following website provides the history of Annie Herring and the group 2nd Chapter of Acts:
See also: for Annie’s Herring’s biography.
Brief information on the song story was also obtained via an e:mail with Buck Herring on Oct. 15, 2010.

Friday, October 8, 2010

For the Beauty of the Earth – Folliot S. Pierpoint

I think a trip to Bath, England (see the picture here) might be in order. It must be a beautiful place, the inspiration for the hymn that Folliot Sandford Pierpoint wrote to proclaim its splendor, and even more the artistry of its Creator. Green grass, singing birds, blossoming flowers, a bubbling brook. ‘Ahhh’, you might sigh as you stroll along in Bath. Some might describe it as heaven on earth, because of its peaceful, healing influence. Pierpoint was a Bath native, who must have observed the bucolic scenery as a child and young man, but it was perhaps time away from his birthplace that helped motivate his words. Bath is in southwest England on the Avon River, almost 100 miles west of London. It’s a resort, well-known for the only natural hot springs in the British nation. Pierpoint left there to attend Cambridge University and obtain his training in classical scholarship. When he was 29, he returned to Bath, where one might say he rediscovered the scholarship and accomplishments of God. Maybe it was the time away that helped him appreciate more what he found one day. It was a spring day in 1864, and Pierpoint’s spirit was bursting as he took in his surroundings and considered the blessings of his life. And, he did more than sigh with contentment. He composed words that endure over 150 years later, so it wasn’t a ho-hum, accidental episode, huh? The nature Pierpoint recognized is still here. And, the composer saw other elements of his world that made him pause, reflect, and give thanks. Pierpoint saw beauties that included his own body’s design and his human relationships. When’s the last time you thanked Him for the divine gifts of the church and His messengers? Pierpoint did. In short, all that I can sense is because of Him. The beauty of a springtime scene is just one visible, flamboyant way for God to tell me I’m blessed. Pierpoint’s experience tells me what can happen if I slow my pace long enough to look around and dwell on what I’ve been given. It’s as if the song’s saying ‘Stop and smell the roses’. When you’re walking through the park some spring day, give yourself an hour just to spectate. Yes, I have so much already. And, it’s only gonna get better one day, a day when the spectacle will never stop. Thanks to Him for the preview… Information on the song was obtained from the books “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 link for the original eight verses of the song: See the following site for information on Pierpoint’s birthplace:,_Somerset

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Heart of Worship – Matt Redman

Jesus. That about says it all, according to Matt Redman. It was in the late 1990s, and Redman says “The Heart of Worship” was his reflection on what the pastor and the rest of that church discovered when they turned off the technology, and essentially became “unplugged”, with no microphones, no magnified sound from instruments. I suppose I could ask myself ‘Is He on my mind on Monday morning, as I wade through work assignments?’ But, according to Redman, the challenge that his Watford, England church’s pastor issued was not about the other six days of the week, but really Sunday. Sundays had apparently become an exercise in consumption, not offering. Apathy prevailed. Does that say something about the human psyche, about my nature as I reach out to Him in worship? Redman’s words say ‘yes’. I cannot watch, certainly, and no one can do this for me. But, even if I mouth the words myself, without musical accompaniment, it’s empty if the heart’s not engaged. Heart disease is one of the most common physical maladies, often treated with something called a bypass. Redman’s song suggests the spiritual dimension of this ailment can be cured too, but it’s not a bypass. It’s more like …what would you call it?
What’s inside? Deep down, stuff that maybe only a diary knows. Sharing one’s heart is intense, because you’re vulnerable. You can be wounded so easily. Sound familiar? Maybe that’s what makes worship so tricky. Sometimes my human relationships injure me, frankly, and so I’m conditioned to be cautious. ‘I might get stomped on’, I tell myself. What about God’s heart? His was wounded too. Did He do this, this exposing of His great heart, I wonder, because He knew the same would be hard for me? And so, my weak, timid, little heart reaches out for His. I need His courage. Everyone around me has the same affliction, I can remind my spirit, even as I cower. My heart to His heart, not a bypass, but a booster shot of the divine. Feel that? That’s worship. That’s the cure for apathy on Earth.
The entire story of the song “The Heart of Worship” is at:

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Worship You, Almighty God – Sondra Corbett Wood

Sondra Corbett Wood was really still just a youngster. All of 20 years old, and she was brimming with passion. It was a drive that some – even she, herself - might say wore off with time. The song “I Worship You, Almighty God” that she wrote reminds one of a love song, a longing for relationship that promises to be unique, special. To find one’s true love is the goal of the na├»ve, innocent young adult – and probably many older adults, too! And, though its expression might make the jaded person scoff, who among us doesn’t recall wistfully that high school or college yearbook, with the special message scrawled on the inside cover from someone who made the heart burn?

This is the way Sondra describes her feelings in 1983. He, God, was close. And, the words of the song’s chorus flowed naturally that day next to a piano in a school music room in Dallas, Texas. She was praying for the success of a worship service that she and others in Living Praise, a music group, would be guiding the next day. So, it seems that indeed God did inhabit the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3; KJV) that day. She says the chorus’ message, so simple yet deep, is its power. Just to focus on Him, and nothing else, sing right to God -- not about Him, but to Him. Later, after she’d left the Christ of the Nations Institute in Dallas, where the song was created, and graduated from college, Sondra walked away from her faith. For two years, it seems that she was like the cynical adult who grows weary of the old love ballad. But, she eventually reconnected with her faith in Kentucky, and over time rediscovered His grace and forgiveness. She remembered the call of her 20-year-old’s praise message. Remember that heady, young adult’s first love?   

If it feels uneasy or unnatural to act like a giddy kid, Amen! Love toward God feels like nothing else, and so it’s OK to think of it like that first time passion. The challenge, as Sondra Corbett Wood’s life underscores, is to preserve that relationship with God like the first days of love’s fervor. Is that realistic? Talk to even a few marriage partners, and the answer sounds like ‘NO’. I go through valleys, and then climb the mountain again – at least part way up it – but it’s basically a pendulum here on Earth. Sondra’s song reminds me that there will be a time, not too far off, when the praise I sing will share the same space with Him. Love will need no explanation there. I’ll just feel, exult, revel, and drink in Him. Start thinking like a young lover again.               

The source for Sondra Corbett Wood’s “I Worship You, Almighty God” song story is the book “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000.

An update on her true age at the time was provided by the composer in one of this blog entry’s comments. Thank you Sondra!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Doxology – Thomas Ken

Thomas Ken was a rebel. At least, some of his contemporaries probably thought so. He was fired from jobs in the pulpit twice, and even thrown in prison (the Tower of London, see the picture) for his penchant to say exactly what he was thinking. What would you think of a preacher today who had that kind of reputation? What would a rebel do today, something that pushes the envelope, making people squirm? Some of the counter-culturalists might actually cheer to hear someone blast away at perceived corruption of leaders, or of others in positions of authority. But, eventually, a person’s adversaries catch up to him. In Ken’s life, this might be one perspective, but not the only one.

Imagine living among people who thought that songs could only come from scripture, nowhere else. Now, the Psalms are great, and many of our contemporary songs emanate from them, so in one way this thinking makes some sense. But, take it further. Don’t be an independent creative worshipper, and don’t mess with the Lord’s music that He’s given us to sing, or we’ll call you a heretic! This was Thomas Ken’s world, in the 17th Century. So, being who he was, as Anglican Bishop Ken, but definitely with his own opinions, this fellow decided he would compose hymns on his own anyway. In 1673, he wanted to create something that his students to use at Winchester College, so he put together a prayer manual that they could sing to themselves every morning in their rooms. The hymns in it, from which the song Doxology comes, were for morning, evening, and midnight, and the song was originally named “Awake My Soul and with the Sun”. It’s a measure of Ken’s devotion, the background to this song, that he created not just for himself, but for those he was mentoring. The song itself was rather like Ken telling them, as they sang something extra-scriptural, intentionally, ‘your devotion to the Lord is your own business’.

Ken could have written a revolutionary song, one with a verse or two. This song when he wrote it had 11 verses! Still, he did seem to instruct his students to sing it only outside of the formal worship services, so Bishop Ken wasn’t completely out of touch with his culture. In a turn that even in his own death may have made him smile, Thomas Ken’s song, this one he instructed his students to keep to themselves, was sung at his funeral. Thomas Ken was in good company, in being a critic of the establishment, and yet in it. There was another, a long time ago, who also got in trouble with the religious elite. You’ve probably guessed who it is already. Jesus. That’s food for thought when you sing to Him. It’s between you and Him when you sing.

Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990. See also the following links for historical information on the song and its many verses:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise – Kirk and Deby Dearman

The Dearmans, Kirk and Deby, gave birth in their car in 1980, but not in the way you’re probably thinking! It was a song “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”, and you can read the entire story here at this link, rather than hear me re-tell it:
Like it? Wow, it’s really great to hear how a genuine effort to praise God in such a simple way has travelled around the globe. It also seems from the Dearmans story, and from Deby’s contribution of two new verses to the song in 1990, that their understanding, and now ours too, of what it means to offer a sacrifice to praise to Him has grown. I think Kirk and Deby would echo that, if you read their story. And, check out these verses, and think of ways to sacrifice your praise to Him today:
Psalm 50:23; Psalm 54:6; Hebrews 13:15

Update: See the site here for the story, as of October 2017:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Father of Mercies – Frederick Faber and Alice Flowerdew

“Father of Mercies” -- if ever a hymn could be called a hybrid, this one certainly would. Think of it kind of like a cross-breed animal…like a Zebra and a Donkey – a Zeedonk (see the picture). Its history is a cut and paste affair, with portions of the hymn being written by two different poets, from two different churches, with some words from the original poems changed to the words we know today. And, the poets were even born in different centuries, so it might be hard to fathom what forces worked to bring this song’s verses together. Perhaps it helped that both poets were English and that their poems were both 19th Century compositions, despite the poets’ birthdates. More importantly, this song-poem’s message reminds the worshipper that God is universal, that His goodness calls out to all people, across time and other dividing lines. Alice Flowerdew spent some time abroad in Jamaica, as the wife of a British government official, until she returned to England in the early 19th Century following the death of her husband. She was 44 years old in 1803 when she wrote the words of the six-stanza poem “Fountain of Mercies, God of Love”, the first word of which was later changed to ‘Father’ for the song; the resulting text for verses two and three of the song “Father of Mercies” came from the first and fifth stanzas of her original poem. She was the caretaker of a ladies boarding school and a member of a Baptist church when she composed the words. Could the other ladies at the school or people at the church be for whom she was writing when she penned the words ‘all creatures’, ‘our hearts’, and ‘our Father’s hand’ in the two verses attributed to her? It would be no surprise, if following the death of her husband, that a group of women and-or fellow believers had become especially important to her. On the other hand, Frederick William Faber’s verse indicates he felt God’s presence very personally, since he chose the phrases ‘my love’ and my way’ to express his devotion to Him. Faber’s experiences by 1849, when he was 35 years old, suggest his personal devotion to God. Though he began his adult vocation in the Anglican clergy in Elton, he had switched to Catholicism by 1845, along the way enduring dissenters in the church where he ministered and intensely contemplating the roots of his faith. Faber never married, and he and some of his friends formed a pseudo-monastery. Though he moved to Birmingham, England following his conversion to the Catholic Church, he moved yet again to London soon thereafter. He was kinda like a ‘rolling stone’, but throughout he maintained his love of music, upon which he leaned to develop meaningful Catholic hymns in the publication “Jesus and Mary” in 1849. This collection contained “Mother of Mercies”, which was eventually changed to ‘Father..’, an echo of what had happened to Flowerdew’s “Fountain of Mercies…”. One wonders what Flowerdew and Faber might have said had they known of their poems’ union years later. It shouldn’t surprise us, though, that God’s purposes can create something valuable out of seemingly disparate elements. The church itself is a hybrid-- not everyone’s an ear, or an eye, after all. I think the next time I sing this song, I’ll look around and wonder what other hybrids God just might be crafting for His use. Information on the hymn was available at: Information on the composers was obtained through the websites:

Friday, August 27, 2010

That’s Why We Praise Him – Tommy Walker

If you wanted to sum up in one word what Tommy Walker learned from writing “That’s Why We Praise Him” in the late 1990s, it would be ‘Obedience’. It probably is different for each person, for each of us is wired to easily obey some things, while other compliance calls are more demanding. Walker shares that resisting temptation can be toughest -- thus, making obedience essential --when fatigue sets in following a mountaintop-like experience. Think about Jesus’ life, and the same principle applied to Him.
Jesus was tempted on the mountain by Satan when He was tired and hungry (Matthew 4:8), and He obeyed His father, so He has the credibility to advise you and me, right? It was that reputation that spoke to Tommy Walker one night in a hotel room. You can read the entire story in his little book (see the reference below), but in short, Walker was tempted that night, following a Promise-Keepers gathering. And, despite his lonesome and weary state of mind, he resisted the thought of surfing through channels -- hotel room television channels -- because he wanted to respect and obey God. With lots of time on his hands, a self-imposed TV blackout, and his guitar in hand, Walker found a tune. It was as if God was saying ‘…here’s a gift’, and Walker relates he wrote the song on the spot, sensing it would resonate with those who would hear it. Is it an accident that Walker’s asceticism that night, mimicking Jesus’ attitude 2000 years ago in the wilderness, yielded a Divine gift? Perhaps it’s a recipe for song-writing that should be tried more often.
How would you show someone obedience in a one-look picture today? I think of a soldier offering a salute to his commanding officer (see the photo above). Walker was obedient, and he wrote words in “That’s Why We Praise Him” to remind believers that Jesus was too. ‘He came to die’, ‘He gave His everything’ remind us that He submitted, just as a private does to his C.O. And, I remind myself when I sing this song, Jesus never stopped doing so. He’s higher in rank than I’ll ever be, and yet He continued this obeisance. How? Why? He must have known something that I don’t. How did Jesus manage to be a servant? Oh, that’s right…His Father gave up Jesus to do all this, so He’s a servant-minded Father, teaching His son and all His earthly children the same lesson. Now, doesn’t it make more sense to salute Him, when you know all this?
Information on the story behind “That’s Why We Praise Him” can be found in Tommy Walker’s book Songs from Heaven, written with Phil Kassel in 2005, published by Regal Books.