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.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Come Into the Holy of Holies – John Sellers

John Sellers wouldn’t be surprised if you think about what it’s like to be in a Temple (see the picture of a Temple room) when you listen to or sing the song “Come Into the Holy of Holies” that he wrote in 1984. He might also approve if you think about your commitment as a believer in ways you haven’t considered before. Both of these themes helped trigger his creativity as he wrote the song. Like another composer decades before himself, an experience in an army also played a part in Sellers’ makeup and the development of the song he wanted to express as a turn in his faith. Like George Bennard (composer of “The Old Rugged Cross” – see this blog’s March 7, 2009 post, or click here decades earlier, John Sellers’ early Christian experience was with the Salvation Army. He learned the basics of music there, while his parents were officers in the organization. Later in life, Sellers found he wanted to experience more, and he discovered a church that worshipped more energetically than he had experienced before. A personal connection with the Lord was also a stirring idea to which Sellers was introduced at the same time. His creativity in music was stimulated, while he was concurrently studying about the ancient temple practices versus what Jesus’ death did – ripping the temple veil. Soon, the words to “Come Into the Holy of Holies” were spawned. The revolution in the human-to-God relationship had jumped off the pages of Sellers’ bible, and onto the musical score he wrote. When was the last revolution in your life? No, not the rebellious kind, not one that made you abandon wisdom and good sense. But one in which you knew viscerally that something was missing, and you needed a new beginning. John Sellers felt this, and it led eventually to his writing this song with a revolutionary invitation. Maybe the old rules and methods have become ends, rather than means, blurring the true objective. What if you disregarded time-worn, accepted, stale standards, and threw caution to the winds? Be sure, someone or group nearby would surely sound the alarm - - you’ve certainly lost your mind! Can you imagine if someone had walked into Jerusalem in 33 A.D. and said ‘Hey, let’s just walk into the Holy of Holies, whaddya say’? Someone did. But, the way He took down the veil hiding that room was most unsettling. His method doesn’t allow the easy, safe turnaround. If I decide to link myself to His example, I accept this fact, this potentially hazardous duty. Has God’s seminal act that ‘Good Friday’ touched me the way it did John Sellers? If it does, I join Him for the adventure, the ride of a lifetime. It leads me places I wouldn’t otherwise go…including heaven. The source for John Sellers “Come Into the Holy of Holies” 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. 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, August 7, 2010

Lord I Offer My Life – Don Moen and Claire Cloninger

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

What am I doing here? Ever ask yourself this, as an awareness test, or a gut-check? Today is one of those kinda sleepy, dog-day, dull August ho-hums. I’m a lump, just waiting for something to make me say, ‘OK, I’ll go for that, since there’s not much else happenin’. I’ll offer up myself, but it had better be good, I think. That’s a confession, for it’s not really the kind of effort I should be eager to offer. Instead, consider the words of a song that Don Moen and his friend wrote during one late night phone conversation. Their song “Lord I Offer My Life” sounds more like someone making a conscious, determined decision to point oneself in a direction -- no matter what. That’s purpose, which isn’t captive to feelings or whim, but to something - -someone -- that lasts.

You can read in Don Moen’s own words how the song came to life that night in 1994. Here’s the link:

If you don’t have the link, here’s the trim version of the story. Moen was pondering a song he wanted to include on a record; something that he thought needed to say ‘Lord, I Offer My Life’, because the project (Firm Foundation, by John Chisum) was about how people are healed from hurt. It was 10:30 PM, but he knew who he could call, even at that late hour for just the right words to an unfinished lyric. Claire Cloninger, his friend and collaborator, readily offered some thoughts, and by Moen’s account, the song was complete 30 minutes later. What? There must be a story behind the story…ever get that feeling after hearing someone’s account of an incident like this? Sure, Moen’s story indicates he had had the song’s familiar chorus rolling around in his consciousness before he called Cloninger. And, he and Cloninger must have had some life episodes upon which they drew for the song’s thoughts. But, perhaps their stories are no more telling than yours or mine. Maybe what’s more key is how the words make me think about myself and the One above. Maybe the song’s worthy objective – pointing the believer toward Him – is what hastened its birth. If God wanted a message to get out, wouldn’t He bless its fruition?

If I really mean what I sing in Moen’s and Cloninger’s song, I give Him not just the good stuff, but the ugly, vile things too. Not just what’s already been, but what’s yet to come, too. A guy named David did this, over and over, as he wrote poetry that we now sing (perhaps while strumming on a harp – see the picture). What’s enlightening in Psalms is how brutally honest are the feelings, these expressions of torment. There are lots of evenings when I lay down to sleep, and I don’t. Stuff bugs me – at work, at church too. Or, I’m too upbeat, excited and expectant about something to wind down and relax. I haven’t learned how to give it to Him, yet. Have you? I’m still experimenting, and one thing I do to try to manage my mind’s nighttime obsessions involves two small tools -- a pen and a pad. I write something down, hoping it will exit my brain through my fingers, and stay on the paper. Maybe, in a way, that’s what Don Moen was doing at 10:30 one night too. He took a thought he had been pondering, and tried to write about it. If my mind won’t rest, give Him my attention, give it to Him. Maybe David had some 10:30 PM sessions too. …hmmm, is a song in my future? How many others out there write song offerings to Him in the night?