Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jesus Meek and Gentle -- George R. Prynne

This 38-year old minister was an educated, intelligent man, and therefore most likely aware of the history of the area where he’d begun his work some years before. George Rundle Prynne had been in Plymouth, England for about eight years in 1856, and would eventually die there some 47 years later. Evidently, he was struck by the peaceful demeanor of the heavenly Savior, and so began his composition that year with the words “Jesus, Meek and Gentle” to underscore this impression. This contrasted with the nature of Plymouth, one of England’s most notable military bastions along the nation’s southwestern coast (see the historical picture here, depicting this to some degree). Was Prynne pondering how his leader’s security guarantee differed from the fortifying values of secular Plymouth?

George Prynne had been ordained as a priest in a church in England by the early 1840s and assumed his duties in Plymouth several years later, duties that included writing a few hymns and publishing at least two compilations of hymns to serve the people there. Though he apparently was aware that most people thought “Jesus, Meek and Gentle” was intended for children, he indicated that was not so. He did suggest some modification of the words in the fourth verse to encourage its usage by children (see second link below), but his own comments about the song indicate he must have been thinking of an adult audience originally, perhaps what they should seek in prayer. So, if someone like Prynne wanted to write something that would be relevant to adults of that time in the Plymouth area, what would he say? Plymouth’s location made its history as one of England’s defensive bulwarks for many centuries very notable, a fact that George would have certainly appreciated if he was close to his church’s members and knew of the livelihood of people in that coastal region. How does the Christian secure himself, and on whom does he rely for protection? It must have been something that this ambassador for God asked himself, as he viewed the famous forts enveloping Plymouth Sound, some of which had been present for centuries. Prynne’s words told his hearers to trust in a being focused on love (verses 1 and 3) and grace (verse 1), but One who was nevertheless capable of freeing them from captivity (verse 2) and guiding them through darkness (verse 4). Who’s better at securing my life than Him? That seems to have been George’s reminder to Plymouth residents.   

George Prynne lived the rest of his life in Plymouth, and according to historical records is buried there. Plymouth’s geography and its utility in England’s security haven’t changed, so what George Prynne would say to residents there today might be pretty similar to what he said in 1856. You can try standing behind the walls of that fort, but there’s another method that he’d recommend. Nothing’s better than someone who can take you through and above the enemy’s challenges.    

See brief biography of the composer here:

Scant information about the song is here:

See this link for history of Plymouth:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Listen to Our Hearts -- Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman

These two best friends must have had plenty of opportunities to tell one another some details about how they each felt about his life before the Creator. So it wasn’t an accident that Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman would write some songs together to explore this facet of their lives, including in 1992 in Nashville when they collaborated to ask God to “Listen to Our Hearts”. It was one track on Geoff’s band’s (The Distance) album A Friend Like U, on which Geoff and Steven co-wrote two of its 10 tracks, including the album’s title tune. They were musical poets, able to inspire and motivate one another, yet also comfortable admitting that they lacked some of the words they would have liked to have said. In doing so, they must have taken some of their notes right out of another author’s text.

Geoff and Steven were early 30-somethings in 1992, who had connected while looking to make careers in the Christian music business in Nashville in the 1980s. What they wrote for “Listen…” suggests they may have been studying together at some point, or had both independently noted something that caught their attention.  Perhaps they were taking notes from what the apostle Paul had to say while preparing to meet some Romans (chapter 8), or about how this ancient writer had marveled about God’s deep well of love (Ephesians 3:17-18). That first-century Christian acknowledged that he came up empty when trying to vocalize his feelings (Rom. 8:26-27), using phraseology that Moore and Chapman echo in their poetry about their own conversations with the Lord twenty centuries later. Although the specific circumstances that motivated Geoff and Steven when they crafted “Listen to Our Hearts” have not been confirmed, their authenticity as songwriters and as men of faith, and their activity in other ways with their beliefs, indicate that they were hearing something pretty clearly, even as they asked God to inspect their insides and draw it out. Examine them and their family’s biographies, and you will find one way that the Chapmans and Moores extend their hearts is toward worldwide assistance for orphans and their  adoption via Show Hope, an organization that Steven and his wife founded. It’s not just talk either, for both the Moores and the Chapmans have adopted multiple children into their own families. Their hearts evidently have been speaking even when they haven’t been singing the words of the song they co-wrote in 1992.         

If you’re uncertain how to talk to the One above, Geoff and Steven might suggest you begin to investigate this by first asking Him to listen to your heart, and then admit to yourself what is there. Are you OK with Him listening and knowing what’s inside? You can’t hide it, only change it. It’s also been said that what’s in a person’s heart comes out in his actions (James 2:14-24). He once said something about being fruitful (Matthew 12:33), and one of his followers eventually listened and said something similar (Galatians 5:22). It’s interesting that that Galatians writer was once listening to another voice. I just have to get better at listening to Him, and tuning out the rest. Then, I might start to sound more like Him.

See the following two sites for biographic information on the two composers:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Jesus, Lover of My Soul -- Charles Wesley

He was a 31-year old, feeling grateful but also thinking of himself as a fragile and vulnerable creature compared to the God upon whom he reflected. Many stories contend for the specific circumstance that spurred Charles Wesley to call “Jesus, (the) Lover of My Soul”. None of them have been verified, yet the five verses he drafted have lingered for close to 300 years since their inception around 1738, about the time of an experience the composer evidently had at a place called Aldersgate (see picture). Perhaps the words are a patchwork of events that coalesced in Charles’ consciousness, or among other believers that inspired him to record what a desperate person might say to Him who can rescue. Charles evidently had already seen, or anticipated in his own future, various episodes that prompted this ageless poetry.     

Charles Wesley was an Englishman who’d ventured across the ocean to America and then back again, finding along this journey or in his native land, perhaps, the roots of “Jesus, Lover…”. Charles and his brother John initiated the Methodist movement along with others, including George Whitefield, while at Oxford in the 1720s. They later traveled to the American colony of Georgia in the mid-1730s, though a rugged and brief tenure there led Charles to return to England in 1736. Perhaps it was the rough ocean voyage, or a brush with an angry crowd, or a small bird that sought refuge in his room that nestled in his spirit and caused Charles’ reflective thoughts. He had not actually made a deep commitment to God until 1738, at a place in London known as Aldersgate, and that too may have played a role in what he wrote about Jesus’ love for him. Was that period a watershed for Charles? His conversion was apparently genuine, and he devoted himself to ministry for the remainder of his life, so yes, Charles had indeed found something that revolutionized his outlook. And, he wrote about it, probably not just in “Jesus, Lover…”, but in various poems that illuminated his spirit for the next several decades, giving Christendom some 6,000 hymns to ponder and employ in worship. But with this hymn being in such proximity to Aldersgate, it provides a window into the newfound sense of spiritual freedom that Wesley was feeling. What were his thoughts, so close to that moment? He sensed the imminent danger, and like someone still breathing heavy with alarm, sought help from the most certain source. At such a moment, not just any haven is acceptable; in fact, Charles saw no others (‘other refuge have I none’ – v. 2). Then imagine being Charles, sinking, and being saved by God, the ultimate shelter (‘…dying, and behold, I live’ – v.3). It must have been quite an experience, one perhaps like Paul’s (on a conversion road to Damascus), to motivate Charles’ life over the next half-century.

Verses four and five could read like a microcosm or epilogue of Charles Wesley’s life after Aldersgate. He spent the time up until 1788 in England, ministering and raising a family with three children, two of which followed in his musical footsteps. He certainly knew personally the grace of God that he wrote about in those two verses, and must have felt fulfilled, in an earthly sense, because of the choice he’d made. He wrote in a portion of verse 4 ‘…thou O Christ are all I want…thou art full of truth and grace’. And, in verse 5: ‘Plenteous grace with Thee is found…’. If you’re still young, think about what Charles might say to you, if you are standing at a moment of choice. Think about where you might want to be in 50 years. Or, if you’re further along, can you still change something, before it’s too late? Read some of Charles’ words about Jesus’ love – it’s never too late to grasp for Him!  

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945; and Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003. 

See the following site for biography of the composer:
See this site for all five of the original verses:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Abide With Me -- Henry F. Lyte

(Luke 24:29)

He was a 54-year old, who knew the end might be near. And so, Henry Francis Lyte wrote for all of us “Abide with Me”, allowing us to imagine what was in his soul as he pondered the conclusion of his mortality. What would you or I record, if granted the opportunity and the calm demeanor to pen meaningful words for others to read? Would it matter if the approaching finality was sudden or expected? Perhaps Henry’s version might have been considered a curse by some, since he had to bear for a pretty long period the ill health that ultimately cornered him. But, on the other hand, maybe it gave him the proper perspective, and helped gestate his poignant words over time. Perhaps death should be something you and I consider carefully.

Henry Lyte was a sickly minister in the Church of England throughout all of his adult life, but it’s said that he didn’t let that diminish his effort to serve. He’s the one who would have preferred to ‘wear out, rather than rust out’, and so is it ironically possible that this desire drew him to an early grave? He ministered energetically, despite his chronic asthma and the tuberculosis that ultimately caused his demise. It was only as his health reached a new low that Henry decided a temporary move to a warmer climate in Italy was a good idea in 1847. Nevertheless, he gathered himself for another sermon as he prepared to depart, delivering a final message to the crowd to whom he’d ministered for some 20 years in Lower Brixham. His words reportedly stuck with his hearers, who remembered his admonition that they consider their own mortality with great care. Was his sermon in fact based upon the eight-verse poem that he composed about abiding? Some have said his thoughts were, at least in part, from the perspective of two 1st Century disciples who encountered Jesus after He arose, but did not immediately recognize Him. These Emmaus travelers (Luke 24:13-35) were glum, initially, because of death – Jesus’ death. But their spirits rebounded in His presence, especially when He prepared to eat the evening meal with them. Is that what Henry imagined – perhaps a bit cheated and down in the dumps, but then deeply satisfied and hopeful because of the promise he possessed as a believer, too. He called out for God’s abiding presence, knowing this was not in vain. Some historians have speculated that Henry may have in fact composed much of the poem decades earlier, and then polished it as he prepared to depart for Italy years later. No matter – thoughts of eternity and its import for many years or even decades would not have been unusual for someone in Henry’s circumstance. In fact, the fog of ill health likely would have compelled the composer’s entreaty to God from an early age. Perhaps it was a fog that he felt was lifting, as he earnestly sought his hearers’ attention with his last sermon and this poem.     

He was thinking about Jesus, but not about His death. Instead the moments after life began anew for Jesus may have been on Henry’s mind. My favorite of his eight verses is number seven. It’s where Henry paraphrases what Paul writes to some Corinthians about death’s sting being muted (1 Corinthians 15:55). The potency of the old apostle’s words weren’t worn out, unlike Henry’s body. They’re from Paul’s spirit, and therefore from the Spirit above. It seems that Henry found something there that gave his own spirit an injection of life. Plug into somebody that cannot die, and abide with Him! That was Henry’s solution to his own situation…how about yours?    

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945; and Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.  

See this site for all eight of the original verses: