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: http://myhillsong.com/need-help http://www.fivelines.com/newindex.asp http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reuben_Morgan

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: http://www.annieherring.com/store/history.php?osCsid=75e7c9753f55d7c146c311b43e878f55
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Herring 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: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/b/e/fbeautye.htm See the following site for information on Pierpoint’s birthplace: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath,_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: http://www.crosswalk.com/1253122/