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: