Saturday, April 21, 2012

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus -- Helen Lemmel

Helen Lemmel had a moment in 1918 when she must have thought ‘this is it.’ Someone has called such a moment an “epiphany”. Webster’s defines it one way as “an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.” That Helen Lemmel thought she’d sensed such a moment was really a testament to its enduring power, first for a missionary named Lilias Trotter years before, and then later through a song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” that Lemmel wrote and which still is widely known nearly a century later.

“Focused…”  was the name of the written message Helen Lemmel read that stopped her in her tracks. As an English missionary to Algeria, Lilias Trotter’s whole life was a discourse about focus, the words of which spoke so powerfully to Lemmel that she made them the refrain of the song she composed. Trotter heard the Lord’s calling during a pivotal moment in her life in 1879, when she could have chosen a life of giftedness in art versus a humble ministry to the London inner city and later abroad  in north Africa. Later in life, she would capsulate her life experience in the “Focused” story that touched Lemmel so deeply. In effect, Trotter told Lemmel the mode of focus—looking at Jesus intently—and Lemmel described the reasons and results of the connection to that mode in her song.

Lemmel’s verses tell us she was tired, needed wise guidance, and found the solution in Lilias Trotter’s lifelong discovery, her epiphany. Lemmel must have been like many of us in our complicated, busy world, often lured toward what’s ultimately corrupt. What do you listen to most? Into what things do you pour your energy? How can one be certain of what to choose? Lemmel has us vocalize Trotter’s recipe for success, developed perhaps among some desert scene in Algeria. Examining some of Trotter’s artistry (see the link below) may help me walk in her shoes, at least briefly, to see in her handiwork what she saw of the Creator’s gifts to us in nature. They are stunning, these testimonies of His creation on canvas. In “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, it’s as if Lemmel is turning one of Trotter’s paintings into a musical poem, to show us Him. It’s reenergizing, and encouraging in its simplicity. It’s circular…He made all I see, Trotter painted it, Lemmel composed it, I sing it back to Him. Got it?     

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 this link to story of Lilias Trotter, the author of the chorus phrase in the song:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More Precious Than Silver -- Lynn DeShazo

She had figured out something by the time she was in her 20s, as the result of failure and guilt. Does that seem like an odd way to gather wisdom? Well, maybe not. But what if someone told you to go to a fast food restaurant (like the one the picture advertises) to find it? Or, go somewhere that will test your resolve and discipline and lead you to disappointment. Now, that’s probably not what Lynn DeShazo had expected when she stumbled upon this method one day after graduating from college, but it led her to compose “More Precious Than Silver”.

She was in a McDonalds at Auburn University in the late 1970s when it happened. Fasting and working at this common eatery one day was the crucible that spurred Lynn’s experience. If she really wanted to make her spiritual discipline of fasting that particular day successful, maybe she should have called in sick or found some other reason to avoid work that day, right? And, if she found the french fries she was supposed to be making too tempting, couldn’t she have asked her boss for different duties that day? But, she did none of those things, and soon after gulping down two fries and the accompanying guilt, she must have discovered something else that impacted her like it had never before. Despite having listened to her hunger pangs earlier, now she was listening to Him as he caused her to think of the food He provides. Maybe the taste of the fries lingered as she compared them to flavor of His word. If so, is that when great music can really happen?  My physical hunger seeks out satisfaction in something deeper and more enduring that He provides. If I deny my corporeal hunger, will that impassion what I find in Him? That’s what Lynn sensed as she reflected on His message to her in her bible (Colossians 2:3 and Proverbs 8:11). It was a method that Jesus certainly endorsed one day in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4).  

Did Lynn really stumble when she snagged some quick sustenance?  She doesn’t relate whether her boss ever discovered what happened that day. It didn’t matter, since she knew. That’s integrity, when someone can guard themselves, even against something that might seem pretty minor. Would I be trustworthy with no one around to convict me? Would I turn myself in, if I give in to the lure of physicality? Lynn must have pondered the same issues that day in the McDonalds and afterwards. What she found is not exclusively hers. A quick bite is just that. Since it’s so little, that’s why the body needs many more, usually. And, food can spoil, too. But, He doesn’t spoil. He doesn’t break after too much use, unlike other things I purchase to satisfy my entertainment cravings. Dust doesn’t collect on Him. So, how much would you pay for Him? That’s what’s different about this purchase, too. He’s already made it for me! Make sure you collect that prize He’s got waiting for you.     

The source for the 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; and also “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.

Here’s a link that takes you to more words to the song than are typically shown in a hymnal:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Majesty -- Jack Hayford

He was 43 years old, and doing what most tourists do when in England. Looking for the royals, especially in 1977 when they were celebrating in style, no doubt. It’s not really wrong to gawk at them, and utter ‘Wow, they really do look like they do on TV!” How often have you managed to actually see someone famous, or powerful, and photogenic? Did you cower, or feel your pulse race a little? Perhaps those were the thoughts that went through Jack Hayford’s mind that day in England when the song “Majesty” began to gestate in his consciousness. Think back to such an instant when you saw someone whose reputation preceded him or her – a star. Did that prepare you to meet the ‘star’ of the next life? 

Jack and Anna Hayford happened to be on vacation in Britain during the 25th anniversary celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. That, and seeing Winston Churchill’s birthplace, placed a seed-thought within them as they drove from place to place. ‘How awesome is the King Eternal?’, they pondered. They were moved to realize that the King they were serving wants us as believers to share his ministry, His purpose, and His life with Him. I’m His ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 6:20), granting me some measure of His power as I travel through my world. When they arrived back home in Van Nuys, California, Jack completed the thoughts that had germinated in England. He wanted believers to appreciate the strength we gather when in worship, to draw upon Him. That experience translates to me a confidence that propels me forward, meeting the world with buoyancy, a poise that otherwise I would not have. It’s not just a theory with Hayford, but an experience, undoubtedly flowing from his Pentecostal background, that he wants to convey.  Worship is God’s tool to remake me and energize me for His use, to communicate His divine authority. Do I always sense this?  What if I did?     

Who have you seen close up that makes your eyes widen in recognition and, yes, a little awe? Senators Richard Lugar, Chuck Robb, and Ted Kennedy, and there’s Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and football stars from the 1950s\1960s, Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns), and 1980s, Charles Mann (Washington Redskins). Those would be the names I would mention as American ‘royalty’ that I have actually seen close-up.  But, I’m still here to tell about it. Seeing God that way…that would mean death, at least in Moses’ time.  But, no more. I’ve never asked American ‘royalty’ for any favors, I guess because I’m too dumbstruck to think of what I could want from them when I see them. An autograph, maybe? What would they say if I asked for a little of their limelight, or some of their wealth? With the heavenly King, He’s anxious for me to really look upon Him, and to seek His Kingdom, and aim for the blessings that come through partnering with Him. Stargazing has its draw, but it’s always a one-way street. Try STAR-gazing, Hayford writes, if you want something really valuable in return.  

The book  “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, is the source for the story.