Saturday, March 31, 2012

Let There Be Glory and Honor and Praises – James and Elizabeth Greenelsh

It sounds like something a missionary might say, don’t you think? The words of the song “Let There Be Glory and Honor and Praises” might sound like a rather typical worship song, especially if all you hear is the first verse - -a common occurrence, since its words match the song title. But, check out the second verse. Did the composers, James and Elizabeth Greenelsh, want to communicate something more with those words? Does it give us who sing their words some window into their lives, providing a way for us to identify with them?

Could it be that this James Greenelsh is the same person as the guy associated with Empart USA, a Christian missionary organization, particularly to India (see the picture), for which he delivered a sermon on 30 October 2011 at the First Baptist Church in San Luis Obispo, CA? He has also been involved for the past 30 years in writing and film-making – a ‘media missionary’, as he describes himself in that sermon. It wouldn’t be surprising, given the words that the James Greenelsh the composer wrote back in 1978 with Elizabeth Greenelsh. At that time, they were intent on being forward-leaning with their Christian message, with conviction that comes through in the song’s second verse. That’s what missionaries do. They take what God has given them to do, and shine the light of their own apparent achievements back on the Giver. ‘Just use me in whatever way you choose’, they declare to Him. And, then they urge us to do the same. Why? As they tell us, so much of the world is dark, and for people groping about in the gloom, the light gives hope. What were James and Elizabeth seeing in 1978 that made them cry out in this second verse? One wouldn’t have to look very far to find darkness. But, the light can be just as pervasive, the Greenelshes suggest.

James and Elizabeth do in their song what each of us who want to be light reflectors must do. They see Him first. Take a good, long look. Give Him what He deserves from deep inside of yourself, because He’s worthy of your best. He’s the source of everything good. He’s not done creating, and He can transform even the stuff that appears to be rotten. You can spend your life telling others, once this light consumes you. Just ask James and Elizabeth when you see them…here, or up there.

Both verses of the song are at this site:
Sermon by James Greenelsh on 30 Oct 2011, at the First Baptist Church in San Luis Obispo, CA: 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

O Come All Ye Faithful -- John Francis Wade

 John Francis Wade was undoubtedly focused on the ‘reason for the season’ one year in the mid-18th Century when he is thought to have written the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful”.  Or, was he? Was he thinking of an earthly king, rather than the Christ-child? Providentially, perhaps, the words carry meaning for those of us today who choose to ignore the politics of the mid-18th Century Britain, and instead focus on someone eternal.

John Francis Wade probably could not help noticing what was going on about him and his countrymen in the 1740s. A struggle over religious freedom for Catholics was engaging the hearts and minds of British islanders, spawning something called the Jacobite Rebellion that sought to return a sovereign to the British throne who was sympathetic to their faith. Jacobus is the Latin (Catholic) translation of the name James, the name of the last Catholic king of England. Was Wade encouraging faith to a Catholic-leaning king (Charles Edward Stuart, commonly called Bonnie Prince Charlie) who had been exiled, when he wrote ‘come and behold Him, born the King…’? Some think so, based on the hymn’s Latin genesis (Adeste Fidelis was its original title, in the language of Catholics), and other potentially coded Jacobite references in the hymn. Not to mention that the king to whom Catholics pledged allegiance was born on 20 December, near the traditional Christmas holiday. So, as John Wade wrote the hymn around 1743-44, he might have thought about this earthly king’s December birthday, some 23 years earlier. But, the words also fit Him above, in fact more completely than they ever would any earthbound, created being. Could Wade have been thinking of a time when religious struggle would wane, a time that turned out to be not too far distant, a generation or two after his composition in fact? Can you sense his religious zeal, although struggling within a human conflict, calling out with hope in a greater Being’s intervention?    

John Wade must have recognized authority, and wished for peace among men as much as any man of his time. What is the way to peace? Wade tells us, a way that transcends any earthly events.”O Come All Ye Faithful” travelled to Portugal, becoming known as the “Portuguese Hymn”, and also was translated into English about 100 years after its birth, so it has something special that spoke to those who heard it, took it to other places, and took measures to preserve it. Its central theme: adoration of Him. Knowing that the hymn’s writer may have been thinking of quarrels as he composed doesn’t diminish its message. Perhaps it makes us appreciate its strength, in fact. Two-plus centuries since its origin, which prevails, the struggle of Wade’s time—perhaps the background for the hymn--or the babe some would call helpless?        

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 website for information on the composer:

See the following site for additional verses (total of 7), some only rarely sung:

See following sites for speculation that they hymn was written with political overtones:

See following site for explanation of Jacobitism:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned -- Samuel Stennett

Was he thinking of marriage at the age of 60, of matrimony like King Louis IV’s (see the picture)? The words he wrote near the end of his life seem to ring with what a wise poet had penned many centuries earlier as he gazed upon his beautiful mate. Samuel Stennett had fallen in love probably at least twice in his life, as he set about composing the words for “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned” in 1787. Like the poet whose words spilled out yearnings of devotion in the book with Solomon’s name on it, Stennett too wanted to express his deepest feelings. Some people might blush to say things that speak so openly of another person, but maybe that’s the gift of advanced age – candor – that permits one to share without hesitation.

Samuel Stennett was born of a minister father, and indeed a long family-line of ministers that probably imprinted his faith on him at an early age.  Five generations of Stennetts would be ministers in England, including Samuel and a brother who were among the 4th generation. Samuel inherited from his grandfather the penchant for hymn writing, and eventually wrote 39 in all, including also “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks”. The hymn “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned” also was originally known by two other titles, “The Chief Among Ten Thousand” and “The Excellencies of Christ”, and had up to nine verses, although we often have just four of them in published collections today. It’s said that the hymn has historically been a favorite for communion time among the churches that have favored Stennett’s hymns, so we can guess that perhaps that tradition was actually promoted by Stennett himself. It is further suggested that the Song of Solomon (5:10-16) was a relevant text that Stennett read to gather his thoughts, the passionate recitations of a man and his bride. ‘Wait, Stennett!’, someone might have said, ‘that’s far too mushy to describe us and our Lord”.  And, doesn’t it seem a bit of a contradiction to call someone ‘sweet’ and ‘majestic’ in the same breath?

Though it’s not discussed in historical records, Stennett must have experienced love himself while on earth, similar to what the writer expresses in Song of Solomon. Stennett had at least one son, who like the four generations before him, became a minister. So, we can presume that the composer-minister Stennett had also experienced earthly marriage by 1787, when he was pondering his spiritual marriage to Christ. And, having been a minister for nearly 50 years, he must have had significant relationships with members of that church. In fact, it’s said these close connections reached inside the English throne, to King George III and other government officials. Do you suppose Samuel was drawing a comparison between the Divine King and his terrestrial sovereign with the first few words of ‘Majestic Sweetness’? After 60 years, Stennett must have, like others before and after his time, grown weary of earth’s ways. In eight short years, he went to meet his ‘groom’, in 1795. Perhaps he was thinking of his own life up to that point as a betrothal, a prelude to a nuptials ceremony that would culminate above. Kinda makes you reevaluate death, huh?     

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 9 different original verses:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The New Song -- Jesse Randall 'Pap' Baxter Jr.

And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. (Rev. 14:3)

 He was 39 years old, but already was looking forward to his ultimate destiny, with relish. How many people could have said that at mid-life? Jesse Randall Baxter had just entered upon a brand new business venture in 1926, and would live a very interesting and successful life beyond the time when he wrote “The New Song” that same year. So, why would someone like him be so eager to die? After all, ‘why not grab all you can before you depart?’, someone might have asked him.  “Pap” Baxter must have really believed what he read about the afterlife, and imagined that the songs he sang and wrote were a mere warmup for something much bigger than anything he’d seen or heard.  

J.R. Baxter may not be immediately familiar to you, unless you associate the name ‘Stamps’ with his. The Stamps-Baxter Music Company became one of the most recognizable names in Gospel music in 20th Century America. Baxter’s and his colleague Virgil O. Stamps’ partnership by 1926 promoted hymns that live on into the 21st Century. Baxter was also involved in a music school and production of a shape-note hymnal. Besides all of this, Baxter apparently wrote a large number of hymns himself (see last site listed below). So, one element of his life stands out clearly. Pap Baxter loved music, and especially music to God. No doubt that’s why he was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1997. But, reading the text of the song he composed in 1926, you sense that J.R. Baxter cared little about fame. His words in the three verses of “The New Song” show instead what prize he was aiming to acquire.  ‘Thrill’ is in the first words of his song, underscoring how Baxter felt about this part of his life. He makes clear that he had experienced something special, perhaps even magical or synergistic, with a church that loved to sing. But, his verse two words show he was also a realist, with his mind’s eye sensing a weaker voice in his future. And, as he reminds us in verse three, songs and their mirth are really only an interlude during the rest of one’s life, with its troubles and intrusions – even in Jesus’ life. All the more reason to aim high, Baxter says. 

You see, what we can only practice here will never end in that faraway place. No tired worn-out voicebox, no stale, familiar, old tune. And, it won’t matter that I’ve never seen before this song I’ll learn up there. With a glorified existence - -body, voice, and surroundings – I’ll be able to sing it and experience it like I never could anything here on terra firma. Pap Baxter worked his whole life to make others love God through music, to experience just a pale version of heaven. Even at 39, he must have read Revelation, and wondered what it would be like to hear something unimaginable, 144,000 people singing together. The closest thing we have here on earth is a stadium full of sports nuts. I wonder what it would be like if they were all God-nuts? Can’t wait to see and hear that!

Biographic information on the composer found in the following:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jesus What a Friend for Sinners -- John Wilbur Chapman

 J. Wilbur Chapman knew something about what he wrote, when he composed the words for “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners” in 1910. He must have despaired at many points along the way  --  ‘What is this tragedy supposed to accomplish, God?’ Yet, looking back, and looking ahead, and involving himself in the lives of so much of humanity must have worked its therapy on him too. Maybe that’s what his words really say, a contemplative refrain about his life up until that point. Consider his other hymns, and think about this fellow. Step into his shoes, and see what you think you might have said if you were him. 

By the time the 51-year old Chapman was writing his hymn in 1910, he had experienced his share of heartache, but had also felt happiness and satisfaction many times over. His first two wives and an infant son died in the space of 21 years, leaving this widower with four children in 1907. Yet, Chapman’s evangelism focus and partnership with others in the early 20th Century throughout North America and Asia converted thousands to Christianity. Chapman’s collaboration and leadership of scores of evangelism teams in Philadelphia reportedly brought some 8,000 people to God.  What a contrast in experience for Chapman – deaths so close to his heart, but also the exhilaration of seeing thousands reborn! It was in this period following the death of his second wife in 1907, that Chapman wrote two hymns in 1908 and 1909. (He apparently wrote several others, and also published a hymnal in 1899.) Then, perhaps as Chapman prepared to marry for a third time in 1910, he composed this hymn about his friend Jesus. What must it have been like, to look back over 51 years, and see valleys and mountaintops, to reflect upon travels from one end of the globe to the other?  If ever anyone needed a friend, J. Wilbur Chapman, must have seen and felt for himself the hurts of life upon many he came to know. Many of these same people probably had come through difficult episodes to meet and trust Christ. 

Is it autobiographic what Chapman writes in his five verses? The first four verses are allusions to trials and disappointments, perhaps ones that its author had concluded only the Omnipotent One could resolve.  Is that what it means to become 51 years old? Wounded, but wiser. And, leaning…no, in fact clinging to your ally. Seeing the end coming, you grip Him tighter, and appreciate Him more and more. It’s said that Chapman once related that his life-theme was to turn away from anything that drew him away from God. So, evidently if you’re Wilbur Chapman, you tell people you meet who really matters to you, and you gather people about you who want to stare at Him too. Don’t let my gaze drift elsewhere, despite troubles. He’s not left me alone, I think, if I’m J. Wilbur Chapman. Hey, maybe that’s not just Wilbur’s story, huh? 
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.

“Turning Points – Moments of Decision in the Presence of God” (see 2 March entry), by David Jeremiah, 2005 Integrity Publishers. 

(This site also indicates Chapman wrote at least 17 hymns)