Sunday, December 25, 2011

Let All That Is Within Me – Anonymous, or Melvin Harrell

Some songs lend themselves to innovation, so that the worshipper may intone whatever moves his or her spirit. Whatever is inside comes out. What would you say in the presence of God? That is the method suggested by the song “Let All That Is Within Me”. Perhaps some campers were around a fire (like the one shown here), challenging each other to deepen their commitment to Him. What one word comes from deep inside a worshipper when the Lord is encountered personally? Any two-syllable word will do in this song, so anyone can contribute to its authorship, as long as the feelings are genuine. 

Who was the song’s composer? Some sources indicate that Melvin Harrell wrote this song in 1963, while at least one hymnal (Songs of Faith and Praise, Howard Publishing 1994) shows its composer is considered ‘traditional’ (therefore anonymous). Another source (Praise Chorus Book, Maranatha Music 1983) shows Harrell as the translator, with the composer unknown, suggesting the song was in a foreign language at one time. Nothing further is known of Melvin Harrell. Did he associate with believers from another culture or language, allowing him access to this song? (UPDATE: In November 2014, someone commented on this blog entry [see comment 1 below] that Melvin had learned of the song in the native language of Ghana when he was a missionary there. Great stuff, which makes this a fresh scoop of information! Thanks for reading!)

The key words used in the different verses of this simple tune capture the basic responses of humans who contact the awesome God. ‘Worthy’, ‘risen’, ‘coming’, ‘holy’, ‘Jesus’, are just a few of them that have been recorded for us. What was it Moses and Peter said when they met the Almighty? You might call it worship, but the initial reaction seemed also to be of alarm, and recognition of their own deficiencies. So, if I’m honest and understand I’m in the same boat with these biblical characters, when I first meet Him I might instead say “Let all that is within me cry terror!”  Fortunately, that’s only the initial response, not where God wanted Moses and Peter, nor me, to remain.  

So, choose your emotional response, the song invites. Gather around the fire, and get in touch with what others might be seeing when they look for Him. Perhaps this was the goal of some believers or searchers when this song was born.  It’s never too late to discover something new about Him that someone else has encountered. Am I in trouble, crying out to Him for help? How about marveling at His nature…is that where I’m at? Do I expect Him to return one day, prompting me to sing with joyful anticipation? Perhaps my emotions are mixed up, and I only cry out with my spirit, unable to vocalize what I feel. Just call on His name. One of the verses allows that response too. ‘Jesus’ is all I need to say, sometimes. Just let Him hear from you.  
The below sites indicate that Melvin Harrell is the composer (possibly original?), copyright in 1963.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing – Charles Wesley

He was celebrating and feeling inspired by some words he heard another believer say. If you asked 42-year old Charles Wesley what he was feeling in 1749 when he wrote “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, that would be his short answer. You could also read the verses of the 19-stanza poem that he wrote if you wanted to imagine his feelings. What was it that moved the original speaker of the words, the ones that Wesley remembered for so many years? What did Wesley want with such a powerful instrument like the tongue (seen here)?

Wesley and his brother John met some Moravians in 1738, and got an eyeful and no doubt an earful too, leading them to choices they made that changed the rest of their lives. In short, they personalized their faith in Christ because of the influence of the Moravians. And, this sense comes through in the words that Charles wrote. Check out the link below to all 19 verses, especially verses 9 through 13, which are very personal words that Wesley records, but which we in the 21st Century rarely sing. It’s said that the first verse of Wesley’s hymn recorded in today’s hymnals-‘O for a thousand tongues…’-was actually the ninth verse when he originally wrote this poem. And, the hymn’s title was in fact “For the Anniversary of One’s Conversion”, evidently a way for Wesley to commemorate the day he realized Jesus’ sacrifice was indeed for him. So, maybe those verses actually came first, including verse 9 – ‘On this glad day…’.   The other verses of the hymn broaden the worshipper’s view to mankind, a perspective that Charles and his brother John had already adopted when they encountered the Moravians. The Wesleys were returning to England after a missionary trip to the American continent, and on board a ship and later in their own homeland they began to appreciate the Moravians’ spiritual depth. Moravians are a people noted for, among other things, missionary zeal and love of music. Reportedly, one Moravian leader, Peter Bohler, spoke the words to Wesley that inspired the hymn’s contemporary title ‘O for a Thousand Tongues”. They resonated with Wesley until they were recorded 11 years later.      

One might say that Peter Bohler’s words became Charles Wesley’s theme song. He played a key role in the Weselys’ lives, convincing them that faith must be genuine and passionate, a general movement in the Protestant world called pietism. Peter Bohler may not have had a thousand tongues, but Charles Wesley did his part to manifest that phrase musically, writing 19 verses in this one hymn, and over 6,000 other hymns throughout his life. What did Wesley hear when he imagined 1,000 tongues singing together? I might think that’s not too difficult, if I go to a mega-church, right? But, think like a Wesley or a Bohler, as a missionary might. Think about perhaps 1,000 languages, spanning the globe, reaching every human. Then, multiply that through the generations, perhaps just since Wesley’s time. That’s what this hymn and its message could do, potentially. Thousands become millions and billions.  Keep singing, and warming up for the hereafter.  

Information on the song was obtained from the books  “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1982, Kregel Publications; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

See the following website for the hymn’s 19 different original verses:

The following are links to the Moravian church and one of its followers, Peter Bohler, who reportedly inspired the composer’s words for the hymn:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Worthy Art Thou -- Tillit S. Teddlie

He must have been doing something that God wanted to extend for an extra long time. Look at the life of Tillit Sydney Teddlie, and that’s what you might say about him. Not that many people live 102 years, so that piece of trivia alone is enough to make one curious about him. What was his lifestyle that allowed him to live so long? Do you have some passion that would propel you every day, as something must have in Teddlie’s life? Everyone who knew this songwriter, teacher, minister, and publisher would probably echo loudly ‘yes!’ The song “Worthy Art Thou” that he wrote in his mid-40’s (in 1930) is a window into Teddlie’s character. Let’s see what he was like.

Teddlie was a lifelong Texan (although he did spend some years in ministry in Memphis, Tennessee), in several roles that allowed him to touch thousands of people with God’s spirit. His musical family imprinted on him this trait that he carried throughout his century of life. He dedicated himself to God as a teenager, and also was teaching singing that same year, 1903. Over the next six decades, and by some accounts even longer, he taught singing, wrote some 130 songs, published 14 hymnals, and ministered in at least six churches (of Christ). It is said he was still occasionally guiding singing in churches and preaching at the age of 94. Imagine that, still a fire for worship in his mid-90’s! This fiery devotion in studying and proclaiming God’s message is said to be how the song “Worthy Art Thou” came into being. Apparently, Teddlie was preparing a message for a church service in Belton, Texas one day in 1930, and was poring over Revelation. A picture of the 24 elders worshipping at God’s throne in chapters 4 and 5 struck him, prompting him to scrawl the song’s words in the note pages of his bible (perhaps not too unlike the one in the picture here).   

 You think Teddlie’s method for his spiritual life was the key to his temporal longevity? It seems in Tillit’s experience, he wasn’t just a note-writer, or a whimsy poet. No, his song-writing was an appendage to his personal testimony about Him, and the result of study. The Word was ‘life’ for him, and it’s no accident that communicating this seminal truth with his being converted more than a thousand people over his lifetime, according to one source (a fellow blogger).  Singing was a basic worship element that Teddlie must have recognized was key to a believer’s daily routine, a way to emotionally attach oneself to the worthy One.  Perhaps that’s why he kept it up for so long, at least into his 90’s. Whaddya think? Is he still singing? Maybe that’s why God has someone compose…so he can still be singing, even after leaving the earth.  It makes me wish I had met Tillit S. Teddlie before he departed. Hmmm, I think I might meet him anyway, someday. 

Biographic information on the composer found in the following:

Also, here’s a link to a celebration of the composer’s 100th birthday:
See the below link to a story that tells how he developed the song “Worthy Art Thou”:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oh How He Loves You and Me -- Kurt Kaiser

 Maybe he couldn’t remember where or from whom he’d heard it, but he thought about its profound meaning one day.  This phrase “Oh How He Loves You and Me” stuck with him, so without much effort (15 minutes, he says), Kurt Kaiser expanded on its import for us by fusing the words with some music. What was it that made him retrieve this compact message that he’d filed away? Does this song say something about human memory, telling us why I might recall something months or even years later?  Can memories be seen (as in this statue 'Memory' by Olin Warner) ? 

The 40-year old Kurt Kaiser produced the song about Jesus Christ’s love in 1975, probably the way he composed other songs in his career.  Kaiser apparently for years has developed songs by what someone might say is the ‘post-it note’ or ‘sticky’ method, otherwise known as the ‘scribble’ method. He scrawls a phrase that has struck him in some way, and files it away for future development. ‘Oh How He Loves You and Me’ was one like that in 1975, a time when the ‘Jesus’ movement was a phenomenon of American religious life. Is it possible that Kaiser encountered a ‘Jesus freak’ who’d been overwhelmed by this love-nature of Him? Notice the phrase is ‘Oh, how…’, not just ‘He loves you and me’. That’s suggests an extraordinary event someone was describing, which was either told to Kaiser or was something he heard. Perhaps it was similar to another experience that Kaiser relates about a worshipper who was sobbing by the close of an Isaac Watts hymn (At the Cross). This was a memorable occasion for Kaiser, one he recalled years later. Emotion – passionate expression -- that’s what burns a memory into the brain. It’s a medical-musical phenomenon too, as detailed in the book ‘Musicophilia’ (by Oliver Sacks).

Kurt Kaiser was raised on simple music, but he later developed an appreciation for classical music and hymns. The Plymouth Brethren church taught him early about acapella, what some call ‘unplugged’ worship. One of Kaiser’s passions, after his classical music- and hymnody-focused college education (at American University and Northwestern University in the Chicago area) has been preserving hymns, and their theological messages. So, maybe it was one of those ‘love’ hymns, sung in the Brethren tradition, that helped spur his creativity in 1975. Try this exercise. Look in any hymnal and count how many of the selections are ‘love’ themes. One of the more well-known, ‘Why Did My Savior Come to Earth’ (J.G. Dailey – 1892), is a musical question with an answer that sounds remarkably like Kaiser’s compositional statement. He loves me soOh, how he loves you and me. Now that’s worth a sticky post-it note, right? Make mine gold-plated.

“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J.  and Ardythe Perersen , published by Tyndale House in 2006, is the only source for this song story. 
See this site for biographic information on the composer:
Also see the book “Celebrate Jesus (The Stories Behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs)”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2003 for some biographic information on this composer.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Zion's Glorious Summit -- John Kent

John Kent may have seen or dreamed something extraordinary, or perhaps he just believed in something very fervently after reading about it in 1803. What made him write the words of “On Zion’s Glorious Summit” is unknown, though some of his background allows us to ponder his words and wonder about his life in light of this composition.  What would make you or me write strong words about heaven (see picture) and its inhabitants? 

In 1803 the 36-year old English believer John Kent was working, though his education and vocation did not clearly set him up with opportunities for developing his ‘second’ job.  He was a shipwright by trade, meaning he was a builder and-or repairer of ships to make his living, after having received minimal education. He had enough, and accomplished more in his song-writing - his ‘second’ job - than I might have given the same slate, however.  A penchant for bible study must have been one of his basic habits, based upon the words we can read in the hymn poetry. Evidently it was a skill he used to compose other texts, at least 200-plus efforts according to what is known of him, including the Collection of Original Gospel Hymns in which “On Zion’s Glorious Summit” probably first appeared. Its words are associated with scenes in Revelation (chapter 14:1-3), so perhaps the hymn is a result of Kent’s inspired thoughts after a period of study. Verse one is written in the past tense, so was Kent paraphrasing what he thought the beloved apostle might have wanted us to sing? We believers might try visualizing heaven’s scenes in Revelation while in the midst of a loved one’s demise also, so could that have been part of John Kent’s motivation? He lived until age 76 in 1843, so we can surmise he wasn’t yet struggling with his own mortality 40 years earlier, but maybe an older relative’s death made Zion’s summit more relevant for him.  It’s said that Kent’s poems also had a strong inclination toward Calvinism – an emphasis on the certainty of God’s sovereignty.  So, we could say that whatever Kent wrote, he felt quite confident in divine power. Perhaps his theology in part drove him to compose, to show this omnipotent power to others about him. 

John Kent wrote many verses about Zion that we don’t usually see (see link below). These verses allow me to muse more about heaven using imagery I often overlook. Its Revelation-like pictures tell me I can expect to meet the thief whom Jesus told about Paradise. Mary and Manasseh will also be there. I’m told to imagine my soul soaring with wings, and to prepare my hands for the palm branch I’ll lay in His path. Get the voice warmed up for all the different languages to be sung there…maybe I’ll even sing in some of these tongues for the first time, huh? I don’t tell enough people I know what I think about heaven. What about you? Maybe it’s also why we sometimes avoid Revelation – it’s too wildly imaginative for our earthbound minds to grasp. Got a bible? John Kent says ‘Go look up Revelation, and sing it loud and long!’

 See the following blogs/sites for information on the composer and the song:

See the following site for several hymnals that show extra verses (up to 7 total) for the hymn:

Additional biographic information on the composer found in the following:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing -- Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson’s biography is not an easy one to hear, though it has its high points. His story ebbs and flows, as you might guess if you pay close attention to the words of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that he wrote in 1758. He never forgot from where he’d come, and knowing what happened later on in his life, you wonder if he was trying to warn his hearers, that he was afraid of slipping back into old habits. The hymns he wrote must have been a reminder of what he had obtained, and the distance he had traveled to make his purchase of a new life. Did the fountain keep flowing for him, in impressive fashion (like King Fahd’s fountain in Saudi Arabia in the picture)?

Robinson’s was not an easy beginning. His parents could not offer much of advantage in his early life in 18th Century England, and his father died when he was just eight. His mother sent him to barber school in London when he was 14, but he befriended some local gang-members too, an apparently inauspicious turn of events for a future God-follower, preacher, and songwriter. He suddenly changed direction at age 17 upon hearing a George Whitefield tent meeting sermon, however, and eventually became a minister himself. Six years later, he wrote the words of this hymn “Come Thou Fount…”, perhaps his first, his reach for the God he must have felt he needed to cover many faults in his life. Verses two through five each express his spiritual hope in light of his own shortcomings, and the longing of his inner being for Eternity. What’s it like to leave an old life, making a radical switch like Robinson did? It would not be unusual for old acquaintances to scoff, reminding the newly clean convert of the dirt he once wore. Gangs are kind of like that. Robinson stayed true to his newfound faith; his “Ebenezer” (stone of help) expression in the hymn was as unique as his life. First a Methodist, then an Independent, and later a Baptist minister, he was known as a capable theologian and hymn writer, although only two of his hymns are known (the other was “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee, written in 1774 when Robinson was 39). Other accounts say he turned to Unitarianism late in life, showing his ‘wandering’ streak, of which he wrote in his first hymn.

It’s also reported widely that Robinson must have felt despondent late in life, particularly during an encounter with a woman in a stagecoach who was studying the hymn he wrote decades earlier. Had his passion waned from the time when he’d first penned the words of “Come Thou Fount”? Perhaps, but that would make him no more unusual than others of faith who have ups and downs. At least Robinson was honest and genuine with his hymn-writing, knowing and sharing his own foibles. Robinson died suddenly in 1790 at age 54, an apparent struggler and searcher, but someone whose authentic words over two centuries old still sound familiar today…at least if I’m willing to share the way Robinson did.         

Information on the song is in many publications, including the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications,1990; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982;“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and “A Treasury of Hymn Stories”, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House Company, 1945. 

Also see the following website for information on Robinson and the original five verses of the song:

See a more extensive biography of Robinson at :