Saturday, May 31, 2014

It Is Well with My Soul – Horatio Gates Spafford

Most guys would have thought of themselves as utter failures, if what befell Horatio Spafford had been their lot in a similar three-year stretch. Some might have tossed themselves overboard, a cry to purge the soul of torment. Spafford instead dealt with his tragedies with poetry that survives, in contrast to the deaths he mourned. “It Is Well with My Soul”, he wrote. Huh?! How could he say that? His method, juxtaposed to the events that caused his composition, speaks volumes, even a century and a half later. It must have been his own inner beliefs and experiences that girded him, and allowed him to navigate the grim events that he met…kinda like a life preserver.

Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna had their share of hard experiences, the aftermath of which showed their resilient spirits, particularly Horatio's, must have been rooted in something pretty special. One or two might have been sufficient to embitter the average person, but the third calamity seemed to have grown in intensity for these 40-somethings. They lost a young son to scarlet fever in 1871, but that was only the first of two earthquakes in their family’s life that year. A massive fire in Chicago nearly ruined the Spaffords, whose resulting real estate losses were overwhelming. Had he relied on his secular reputation as an attorney, Spafford might have reacted differently. But, he was also a Christian believer who had active friendships with the noted preacher Dwight Moody and the composer Ira Sankey, among others. His faith, mingled with his own grief, was reportedly what stirred him to work in the wake of these twin tragedies to help homeless Chicagoans burned out by the fire. By 1873, this 45-year old and his family needed rest, however, so they planned a European journey, in concert with an evangelism campaign that Moody and Sankey were pursuing. Spafford’s third calamity—a shipwreck at sea—cost him all four of his daughters, which he learned of remotely by his surviving wife’s telegram. While his anguish was palpable as he sailed across the Atlantic to reunite with his wife, there must have been other thoughts that were therapeutic for him on that voyage. He couldn’t throw himself into work as he did two years earlier. Instead, he turned his deep inward faith outward with the words he penned, reportedly as the ship passed near the spot of the first ship’s sinking. In short, he said ‘God has authored something that can subdue even this misery today’. 

Though “It Is Well...” was one of only a few compositions by Spafford, the story of its conception compels its use by other like-believers today. What human will escape death’s sting, as it robs him of someone, even many people he loves? There may be other episodes of disappointment or more punishing incidents, like Spafford’s real estate losses. Was Spafford coaxed to wear a life preserver as his ship crossed the ocean, lest he be lost like his daughters if a disaster struck? It seems he was in contact with something that kept him afloat. Have you found something that buoyant today?     

Information on the song was also 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, Kregel Publications, 1982; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What the Lord Has Done in Me – Reuben Morgan

What can God do? What cannot He do? These must have been some of the thoughts running through the mind of Reuben Morgan in 1998 when he composed “What the Lord Has Done in Me”. Or, more precisely, it was actually a family member whose changed life he was celebrating with this song. If you’ve ever seen someone’s life turn completely from a wasted mess to a positive, affirming model for others, then you may know emotionally what the exclamation ‘Hosanna’ means. Picture the biblical episode that inspired people to use this word (see Palm Sunday picture here).  It was an intensely personal and powerful episode for the Morgan family, one with which you may identify.  See if you agree.

Reuben Morgan relates on a video (see link below) in just a few seconds that “What the Lord Has Done in Me” was written at the time of his brother’s baptism. To say it was a special time would be an understatement, because his brother had just come out on the other side of a life of addiction. It was obviously a very tough period, made all the more special when his brother wanted to give himself to God, to start anew. Indeed, Reuben says his brother is now a pastor (as of 2006). Reuben doesn’t provide any other details, but from the song’s words, it sounds as if 23-year old Rueben (in 1998) and his brother had had at least one conversation, one with words exchanged like those in the song. Can you hear them? ‘Brother, you can be strong with God on your side. You might be weak, but He’s not. Just give Him the chance, and see what He can do for you. Wash all those mistakes away, in baptism. ‘ And when his brother agreed, what a moment! Hosanna ! It’s the cry only someone who’s messed up so much, and who’s nevertheless given the greatest gift – a new beginning—can make. It’s reaching out to cling to something infinitely more valuable than oneself.  It’s the criminal who’s finally discovered how ugly and perverted his existence has been, and wants desperately to change. ‘How can I?’, he laments, when he owes so much to pay for his wrongdoing. He owes millions or even billions, if his life’s mistakes could be calculated in dollars. The compassionate God says ‘I’ll pay it’. In fact, He already has, so just cash the check in that watery grave, and watch the sins go down the drain. They cried ‘Hosanna’ when they saw Jesus (Matthew 21), perhaps because they saw themselves in perfect clarity. It was a stark relief next to the purity of Him. Can you sense how Reuben’s brother felt at that moment?

On this same video, Reuben Morgan also shares with other believers his encouragement to persevere – a characteristic that’s so important for those people who’ve had difficult challenges like addiction.  That also sounds like good advice for those of us who share the same life with someone who needs to change, but doesn’t yet know it. Reuben’s journey as a Christian began when he was 17, he relates in one video interview; so, he was six years into this Christian adventure when his brother’s conversion compelled “What the Lord…”. He must’ve been praying and hoping all that time, right? How long do you think God’s been watching and waiting for believers to come to their senses? Maybe He’s able to persevere because He knows how great the reward is. Think….really think, about His reward. Isn’t that worth at least one little ‘hosanna’?

See following video site for interview of the composer, and a few biographic details:

A small portion of the video at this link (minute 4:45) tells the circumstances of the song’s story:

See this site for composer’s biography:


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Into the Heart of Jesus -- Oswald J. Smith

These were the thoughts of a young man who was experiencing the wonders of growing intimacy with the Creator. As Oswald Jeffrey Smith prepared to speak to a crowd of believers, the tune for “Into the Heart of Jesus” presented itself internally, but there were no words until years later to accompany the melody that had come so easily. This 21-year old preacher was not discouraged, but noted that the eventual words he wrote were worth the wait. Waiting on Him affords one the opportunity to do just what Smith’s prose would express – the believer explores the many facets of God, and grows more aware of his need for Him. Smith’s words are therefore more than a moment’s reflection; they’re like the audiotape of a multiyear journey.    

Oswald Smith had been asked to speak to a large church in Woodstock, Ontario, and he was experiencing something that would endure for the rest of his life. It was a bright day in 1911, and a tune had captured his heart, giving him two immediate sensations: he was in high spirits, and he hoped that he’d remember the melody after the worship service. Both of these would in fact remain with Oswald, for he wrote out the music that very afternoon, and later said the hymn’s joyful effect never grew old over the years.  What a gift, to be able to remember the joy God can place within oneself! Yet, if one were a skeptic, you might ask why the words for “Into the Heart…” took another three years to show themselves. Was Ontario the wrong setting for the words? Was there something that Smith learned along the way between 1911 Woodstock and 1914 Chicago, where he finally crafted the words?  The five verses that this preacher-hymnist composed suggest he did indeed learn many things, or at least searched for answers to many questions along that three-year path. God’s heart and love and His will would be three elements of Smith’s focus. His words tell not what logic God makes to the believer, but instead what his ultimate answer to Him was – devotion. Smith also considered the opposite poles of Jesus’ human experience – the cross and joy’s source. He has a guilty conscience at the cross – who of us doesn’t? But, he also finds Divine joy that allows him to rise above earth’s miseries. Smith would eventually write some 1,200 hymns over his life of ministry, so what this 21-year old did in 1911 he evidently continued, investigating many other facets of God and how he felt about Him.  

How deeply have I gone with Him? This was a search that Oswald Smith made for three years, so I shouldn’t fret if my own, perhaps brief, quest has been so far unexceptional. Smith doesn’t indicate he was afraid to go to difficult places, particularly if God himself had gone there. But, I have the feeling that He understands if I’m wary and unwilling to get close sometimes. Even the 12 resisted, sometimes. It takes time…three years for the verses of the song to coalesce for Smith, and three years for the Apostles to follow Him around. Is there something about three years’ time? Try giving Him the three years, and see what happens.

See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.  Also, see Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.

See following site for all five verses:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Take the World But Give Me Jesus – Fanny Crosby

By the time she was 58 years old, she had lived enough to say something to a neighbor who had his own opinion of life’s rewards. Francis Jane Crosby, most commonly known as Fanny, was also opinionated about life and bold enough to express herself, not just to those within earshot, but to the whole world. That must have been on her mind as she penned the words “Take the World, But Give Me Jesus”, the declaration of a woman who had much to draw upon for that expression.  What made her say them on that particular occasion? What would it be like to have the ability to ignore the world (see picture here), particularly when it abuses you?

There could have been any number of inspirations for the advice that Fanny mouthed to a neighbor that day in 1878. She was a walking fountain of sagacity, when it came to life counseling. She stuck with one central theme – Jesus Christ -- throughout. Blinded at six weeks old, the mother of an infant who died, living many of her days in poverty-stricken areas – Fanny could have said many downbeat things about the events of her life.  But, here was a poetess-hymnist who would eventually write some eight thousand hymns, even though she reportedly began composing only in her 40’s. That would mean she was writing a poem that would be set to music about every other day of her life, on average, from her middle age up to her death at 95. By 1878, she’d been deeply engaged in mission work in difficult circumstances, including in the heart of America’s largest metropolis, New York City, where she probably was when “Take the World…” was composed.  It was a place where she apparently listened to the deep hurt and complaint of one neighbor, day after day. He reportedly had grown bitter about what he lacked, and dreamed of being a man of means and notoriety.  Fanny told him what she thought, and her own words stuck with her, perhaps a clue to her musical spirit that this was one message she should record. If you’re disappointed with life’s offering, just tell yourself that the world can keep itself. You have an alternative, one that cannot be stripped from your grasp, Fanny says repeatedly in her verses.  

Did the neighbor miss Fanny’s prescription for happiness In spite wealth’s abandonment? She delivered it without hesitation or expectation of compensation.   Obviously, she was trying to tell him that his poverty should be driving him to the other-world riches that God provides. How many poor could be fed with what He is capable of providing? Do we think His feeding thousands in a wilderness is just a fable?  Or, have we just not really experienced the vast sum of His benevolence, the potential He can bring to bear? What would it mean to be in contact with the One who has no limits? Whoa…see if you can imagine that one. That’s a message us earth-dwellers have a hard time embracing, until our vision sees past, around, or through this globe’s prism.  See like Fanny could, for that’s the way to contact the infinite God.  

See the following sites for information on the composer, and the very brief account of the song’s story: