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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Hallelujah CD RELEASE!

Hallelujah: A Collection of Hymns
Available Now!

Track Listing:
1. Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God)
2. Nothing But the Blood
3. It Is Well With My Soul (feat. Krista Dengler)
4. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
5. How Great Thou Art
6. Holy, Holy, Holy
7. For the Beauty of the Earth / Amazing Grace
8. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
9. He Leadeth Me
10. Blessed Assurance
11. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
12. Be Still My Soul
13. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
14. Of the Father's Love Begotten (Evermore)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, between the hustle and bustle of the holidays, between the baking and the shopping and the school pageants and the decorating and the tree-finding and the hallmark movies and the glow of lights...this is such a perfect time to pause. Pause and pray and consider who God is and what God has done. We give thanks, and we remember how Emmanuel first came and entered into our world as a baby boy, bringing light into the darkness, bringing hope into our mess. And it was not just for one moment or one generation, but for all of humanity, for all of eternity. He is Savior, He is Giver of Life and Giver of all good gifts, and most of all, He is faithful.

You may be facing an insurmountable trial in your life right now that seems to be draining all of your hope and joy. Or you may be in a season of sailing smoothly on the high seas, enjoying the journey. Or you may be just about to embark on your greatest adventure yet. Or you may feel lonely, weary, and just dull. Or maybe the pressure is mounting at work and at home like never before, and you don't know how much longer you will be able to stand. Or maybe you are experiencing blessings abundant, and yet in the midst of all the good, you don't seem to have one spare second to yourself to just be still.

Whatever season you and I find ourselves in this Christmaswe can all rest in one common promise:

"The LORD's loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness."
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

The writer of one of the most beloved hymns of all time, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," knew deeply and personally the faithfulness of our loving God. Some may say his life was unremarkable. Nothing incredible happened that would put his name in lights in the pages of history. There is no extraordinary story behind this hymn. But it was in the ordinariness of life that Thomas Obediah Chisholm learned of God's great faithfulness. His hymn was simply inspired by the foundational truth that God is always working in our lives in His sovereignty and goodness. He is faithful in the highs and in the lows, in the interesting and in the dull, in the colorful and in the bleak, in the painful and in the joyful, in the expected and in the surprises.

Just as on a wedding day, when two lovers commit to fidelity until death do them part, our God has committed His steadfast and firm faithfulness and love, unmovable and unshakable, until He completes that which He began in our lives and brings us home to eternity with Him one day. The wedding analogy doesn't even come close, however, to doing our God's love or faithfulness justice, because as humans, even with our best intentions and even in a good marriage, we let one another down and we fall short of perfect love. However, God's love and promise and commitment will never let us down or let us go. He is faithful until the end. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Alpha and the Omega, our Good Father, and the friend who never fails us. 

Thomas Obediah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. Although he lacked any formal education, growing up on a farm, he became a teacher at the age of 16 and by age 21 was the associate editor of the Franklin Advocate, his local newspaper. At 27 years old, his life was changed as he began following Christ. Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, had a huge influence on Chisholm's life and conversion. (I find this fascinating, because my Grannie, Sylvia Grant Elliott, attended Asbury and graduated from the college in 1938, just 45 years after Morrison led Chisholm to faith in Jesus Christ). Because of Morrison's encouragement, Chisholm decided to move to Louisville and there he became the business manager and editor of the Pentecostal Herald.

Thomas Obediah Chisholm

In 1903, at age 36, Chisholm was ordained as a Methodist preacher. However, due to poor health, he only served for one short year at a church in Scottsville, Kentucky. Sadly, he had to retire from the ministry. He moved his family to Winona Lake, Indiana, to help in his recovery from illness. After that, they moved to Vineland, New Jersey, where he sold insurance for the next 37 years (1916-1953). He lived out his last years in a Methodist retirement community in Ocean Grove, New Jersey until he went home to be with his Lord Jesus in 1960. Although Chisholm was unable to stay in ministry, as his heart had desired, he wrote over 1200 poems and hymns- 800 of them were published and many were set to music. These poems and hymns were often featured in well-known Christian periodicals in his day, including Moody Monthly, Alliance Weekly, and Sunday School Times. He was purposeful in his writing to interweave Scripture throughout, keeping his texts Biblically based and far from frivolous or sappy topics.

Chisholm sent a number of his poems to his friend, Rev. William M. Runyan (1870-1957), who was a talented musician and composer, as well as one of the editors of Hope Publishing Company in Chicago and co-editor of The Service Hymnal. Runyon remarked later, "This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer." Runyon wrote the tune in 1923 and published it first in his private song pamphlets. But we all know it's impact has been far and wide.

William Marion Runyan

Runyon was first an ordained Methodist minister at age 21, pastoring several churches in Kansas. At the age of 45, he started writing gospel songs, after D.B. Towner from Moody Bible Institute encouraged him to do so. Later in Arkansas, he pastored a church and was editor of the Christian Workers' Magazine. Throughout his studies and career, he attended Northwestern University, had affiliations with John Brown University, worked for Moody Bible Institute, received the honorary Doctor of Letters from Wheaton College, and was a professor at Baker University. Quite an accomplished man in ministry and work, we can all be thankful for his gift in writing the tune to "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and the legacy of faith handed down through that song.

This hymn has always been a favorite of mine, but there is a reasons I was especially inspired to include it on the Hallelujah album. As the world said its fair-wells this past year to the Rev. Billy Graham, the great evangelist, many remember this particular hymn from his crusades around the globe. George Beverly Shea, the Canadian-born singer, introduced "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" in 1954 during the Billy Graham crusades in Great Britain. From then on, it has been a favorite hymn to thousands upon thousands...

Billy Graham with George Beverly Shea on his left and Cliff Barrows on his right
(the two musicians who worked alongside Rev. Graham during the Evangelistic Crusades)

One of the beautiful themes found in this hymn is God's immutable nature, which is found in the first verse. He is never-changing, always the same, always good and compassionate.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
Who does not change like shifting shadows."
(James 1:17)

Verse two celebrates the predictability and continual cycle of the seasons, year after year. Creation declares not only the glory of God, but the faithfulness of God.

"Praise the LORD, my soul.
LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He set the earth on its foundations;
It can never be moved.
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knowns when to go down."
(Psalm 104:1, 5, 19)

The third verse points to God's personal presence in our lives- His abiding peace through all circumstances and His perfect forgiveness for our sins. No matter what happened in our past or what our future may hold, He is with us at every moment and eager to bless us and provide us with hope.

"He who calls you is faithful;
He will surely do it."
(1 Thessalonians 5:24)

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
(1 John 1:9)

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess
for He who promised is faithful."
(Hebrews 10:23)

The Biblically-rooted theology of this hymn, and the way that it can connect to almost every believer  in a very real, intimate way, makes it one of the most simply profound pieces of worship handed down in history.

Chisholm reflected late in life, "My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness." 

May we, too, as we look back on our lives and look ahead to the future, bear testimony and witness to God's great faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been,Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!


Hawn, C. Michael. "History of Hymns: 'Great Is Thy Faithfulness.'"

"'Great Is Thy Faithfulness'- The Story Behind the Hymn."“great-thy-faithfulness”-story-behind-hymn

Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I have been overwhelmed with thanksgiving this week, as my producer, Glenn Barratt, finished all the mixing and mastering for the Hallelujah: A Collection of Hymns album. I’ve had the opportunity to hear all 14 tracks while he put the final touches on the songs, and I’m at a loss for words…it feels like every dream I had for this project has come true. Glenn is an incredible sound engineer and has such a gift for bringing music to life and drawing out everything in such an exquisite way. It is a true honor to work with him—he stretches my musical ability, teaches me so much, and he is also patient as I nit-pick the finest details (details which no one else can probably even hear, but we musicians can be perfectionists!)…Jamie and I are forever grateful for all that he has poured into this album, and we believe that God has used his experience and talent in a mighty way. To be honest, a music artist is really only as good as their sound engineer, whether at a live show or on recording. I can sing my little heart out, but if the sound isn’t “up to par,” listeners’ ears will be hurting! So it is a true honor and blessing to work with a Grammy-Award winning engineer who has years of expertise beyond my own, lifting the bar on every song. 

As I’ve been listening to the songs, it’s been fun to discover which ones are my favorites that I didn’t expect! The song that has surprised me the most this week is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Of course it is one of my favorite hymns, that’s why it is on the album, but I didn’t think it was in my top few for the recording…but when I heard it all come together, I was truly overcome with emotion and just felt so inspired to worship. I fell asleep that night with the tune running through my head, and it’s like I’ve come to love this hymn all over again! It may be my #1 favorite on the album, I'm not sure! 

Years ago, the Lord placed a dream inside my heart, which I had just set aside and almost forgotten about…Sometimes the Lord gives us a vision, yet we know not when that vision will come to reality. We have to trust and believe and wait. I had written an arrangement for “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” with a musical interlude between the verses. I remember exactly where I was after writing it and I remember singing and playing it for my mom on my keyboard, telling her, “Someday I want to record this on an album, and this interlude part will have lots of strings. It will sound so stirring!” Well, that little seed of a dream that God placed in my soul was left to sit for several years, in fact I hardly thought of it since, with so much that has gone on in my life since then (this was probably over 5 years ago). However, God didn’t forget it. He gave that idea and dream to me for a reason, and when I heard the final mix and master of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” this past week, part of the reason I was so moved was because the Lord reminded me of that very dream I had! 

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
It will surely come; it will not delay.”
(Habakkuk 2:3)

The life of Robert Robinson, the writer of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” was also a testimony of a vision that came to reality—a dream and prayer of his poor, widowed mother. In September of the year 1735, Robert Robinson was born in Swaffham, Norfolk. As a boy of only eight, tragically his father passed away. His mother, a woman of strong faith, was left in a state of poverty, so when the strong-willed Robert was about 14 years of age, she sent him away to London to be an apprentice to a barber. Her dream for him was that he would become a priest in the Church of England, but she couldn’t afford the education.

In London, although he often had his head in books, he also got himself into trouble, drinking and gambling with a rough crowd. In 1752, 17-year-old Robert and his comrades decided to go to a fortune-teller. Something unsettled Robert, so he then suggested to his friends that they go hear an evangelist, where they could jeer and jaunt at the preacher. George Whitefield was the man, who was famous throughout both England and America for his powerful, intense sermons, and passionate message calling all to be born again. As Whitefield spoke on Matthew 3:7 and the wrath to come, the thunderous words penetrated Robert in such a personal way. Yet, het was not ready to give up his life of sin and receive salvation that night. He was haunted by the sermon for the next almost three years, living in anxiety and still running from the “Hound of Heaven.” Finally, on December 10, 1755, Robert surrendered his life to the love and grace of Jesus Christ and was forever changed. He found that sweet and true “peace by believing.” 

Robert Robinson

Robinson penned in Latin his testimony of conversion: “After tasting the pain of renewal for two years and seven months, I found full absolution and grace through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.” For the next few months in London, he listened to other renowned preachers, including John Wesley (the brother of Charles Wesley, who wrote “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”) It didn’t take long for Robinson to enter into the ministry. In 1757, at age 22, not quite three years after his conversion, he served as the preacher at a Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Mildenhall, Suffolk, where he wrote the hymn we now so treasure, “Come Thou Fount of Every Belssing.” He wrote this hymn for his sermon on Pentecost Sunday (which is quite interesting, as Reginald Heber wrote his famous hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” for Pentecost Sunday service as well!) The tune that we now know is referred to as NETTLETON, composed by the great American evangelist, Asahel Nettleton in 1813, and published in John Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second. 

What is so beautiful is that the dream Robinson’s mother had for his life did come to pass. Her son not only eventually came to turn from his selfish life of debauchery to follow the Lord, but also devoted his entire life from that point on to the ministry. It is safe to assume that his mother was a woman of prayer, as she was deeply committed to her faith. What a reminder for each of us that “the vision awaits its appointed time…if it seems slow, wait for it; It will surely come.”(Habakkuk 2:3) We can trust God’s promises. It is so important for us to look to Christ first and not just look to the outcome of our prayers, and hopes, and dreams. We must wait upon the Lord and His goodness, His timing, and His perfect way. Things don’t always turn out exactly the way we imagine, but when God gives a promise, and when He is the author of a vision or dream, He is true to His Word. May we look to Christ and look to Scripture, the Word of God, for continual hope and truth. We know not what tomorrow holds, but we do know that our Savior holds the future, and He always knows every detail! 

Robinson continued to preach, moving to an Independent church in Norwich and eventually a Baptist church in Cambridge. He lived out his life in ministry to the Lord. He only lived to be 54, but 34 of those years he walked in faith, preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. For us, his legacy lives on in a very real way through the exquisite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

Let’s just look for a minute at some of the deep theology found in this hymn, along with the honest cry of confession. I think one of the reasons why so many people love this hymn is because of it’s lyrical authenticity—we can relate so well to Robinson in his human struggles…In verse three, he confesses, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Even for those of us who have been walking with the Lord for years, isn’t it true that every day, our hearts are prone to wander? We are prone toward temptation, sin, selfishness, and distractions and idols of this world. Sometimes it is just the mere busyness of life that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ.

I have noticed in my own life lately that it seems I make time for everything but the Lord. Yes, I give Him some of my time, but He seems not to be the priority. It’s only if I have time, instead of making time. So I ask Him again and again to please “tune my heart to sing Thy grace”—tune my heart back to Yours, Lord! Please “seal my heart for Thy courts above” and “bind my wandering heart to Thee.” Just like a piano needs constant tuning, my heart needs to be tuned daily to be in key with the Lord. I need that time to be still, to be in His presence, where He can convict, grow, mold, and transform me to be ever like Him. Sometimes tuning can be painful and costly, but the end product is so exquisite when the notes of my life are in order and I sing His song with every breath I breathe…Oh Jesus, please tune me back to You, no matter what the process, no matter what the cost. Please allow the song of my life to echo Your praise and Your truth, O God! 

In verse three, Robinson wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be…” We truly are debtors daily to the grace of Christ. It reminds me of the theology of cheep grace versus costly grace, which the holocaust martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote about in 1937 in The Cost of Discipleship. The grace of Jesus Christ is so costly, so perfect, that we are indebted daily to that grace to live for a higher calling—the calling of true discipleship. In verse two, Robinson wrote of “His precious blood,” which reminds us of many of the great hymns of our faith that also speak of the blood, including Robert Lowry’s mighty, “Nothing but the Blood.” As we discovered in that hymn, the words blood and grace are often interchangeable, both displaying the costly gift that was given for our Salvation by our Savior Jesus. Verse two also has the famous line, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I particularly love this portion, as Ebenezer is defined as a rock or stone of help. We see time and again in the Old Testament when God would call his people to raise an altar of remembrance after He gave them victory or passage…the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12 specifically named a stone "Ebenezer" after victory over the Philistines. When God gives us victory in our life—victory over sin, victory over struggles or trials or battles, whether physical and spiritual—it is important to remember what He has done for us by His power and grace. Often songs of praise themselves are our great Ebenezer!

May we, like Robert Robinson, allow our hearts to be tuned daily to the grace of our Lord Jesus, and may we continue to remember to raise our own Ebenezer in remembrance and honor to the God of our Salvation. May we hold onto the promises of His Word and trust that He is faithful until the end, perfecting the work of faith that He began in our lives, and bringing to completion the vision of eternal hope which he has shown us. 

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love…
Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above

Below is a stanza that is not often included, but speaks of profound theology on Heaven:

O that Day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely Face
Clothed then in blood-washed linnen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace

Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransom’d Soul away
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.


Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

Peterson, Randy. Be Still My Soul:The Inspiring Stories Behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns.Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.

 “Robert Robinson.”

Hawn, C. Michael “History of Hymns: ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.’”

Friday, November 9, 2018

Holy, Holy, Holy!

I was trying to decide which hymn to write about this week, and my sweet son decided for me. He has been singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" for the past couple days, and it sure warms my mama heart. I didn't realize how many of the lyrics he had memorized from this song! This particular hymn will forever hold special meaning and memories for me. When I sing it, I often picture all the saints and angels singing together in Heavenly Glory one day. It almost takes my breath away. As Stanton Nelson points out in his article about "Holy, Holy, Holy," this song is unique in that it doesn't initiate praise as most hymns do, but rather draws us in to "join in an endless song" for all eternity.

Back in 2015, after my brain surgery, I held onto the promise that one day I would be able to sing God's praise again. Although the surgery left me with a daunting recovery, with so many of my cranial nerves temporarily damaged, one of the incredible miracles God did was to spare my vocal chords. The brain tumor was only millimeters away from the nerve which controls the vocal chords. This nerve was at high risk along with all of the other nerves, yet God guided my surgeon's hands so perfectly. Before surgery, I had to be ready for anything, including the possibility of never singing again. I had to surrender that especially to the Lord, and trust that He would have another calling for me if singing was not in my future. I wrestled with my identity being not in what I do, but rather in who I am in Christ- a beloved child of God. I had to trust that even if my life held challenges or disabilities, that my life would still have purpose here on earth. Every life matters, even when there is suffering. Nothing is without purpose. There is redemption and beauty, even in pain, when we trust that God is Sovereign and good.

When I awoke from surgery, even though I couldn't see anything clearly and the hearing was gone in my left ear, I knew immediately that my voice was going to be okay. Although my head was spinning and throbbing in unbearable pain, I had no pain at all in my throat. Even the anesthesiologists took so much extra care with my vocal chords (I remember during other minor surgeries in the past waking up with so much pain in my throat). As I made my way through the journey of recovery, and then was walking with Jamie through his own cancer battle, I eventually began to sing quietly at the piano again, months later. For some reason, God just put this old hymn on my heart. I fell in love with the lyrics and tune like never before. The Lord inspired a short bridge that I wrote in-between the verses. I was ecstatic to be arranging music again and writing, while also treasuring an old hymn. It felt so right to praise the holiness of God. It was a reminder that God was and is and always will be on the throne, and that to worship Him is truly an honor and joy. Every morning is filled with His mercy and hope. The darkness can never stop His glory and power from shining through.

Six long months after my surgery, it was August and week seven of Jamie's chemotherapy (just three weeks before our wedding day). I had the joy of singing on Sunday, August 23rd at my home church in Delaware, Brandywine Valley Baptist. It was my first Sunday to sing again in church. That morning was raw emotion. The Holy Spirit was so present. We were in the thick of the battle still, yet the victory had already been won. The last six months had been filled with such pain and joy, and around the corner was the promise of a new journey- marriage. To be there with my church family and to give God the glory for all He had done and all He had yet to do, and to magnify Him for Who He is- forever Faithful and completely Holy- that was a gift beyond measure. To be able to open my lungs and sing His praise...something I didn't know I'd be able to do again...I was overwhelmed in that moment.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God
You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who wert and art and evermore shalt be.

You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God
You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see,
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow'r, in love, and purity.

You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God
You are Holy, my God
Thou art Holy, Lord God

(Arrangement by Caitlin Jane © BMI)

The words of this old hymn were written by a man named Reginald Heber. Young Reginald was born in 1783 to a minister and his wife in Cheshire, England. From what we know, his childhood was a happy one in the small English village of Hodnet. Later, he went on to study at Oxford and became close friends with Sir Walter Scott. An avid poet, Heber won the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Palestine" at age twenty. He eventually took on his father's role as vicar at the parish where he grew up in Hornet.

(Reginald Heber)

His gift of poetry turned into a passion for hymn-writing. During an age when most parishes were only singing the metrical Psalms, Heber dreamed of publishing a hymnal that would correspond to the church liturgical calendar. However, his Bishop disagreed and turned down his idea. In fact, hymn singing was prohibited by the Church of England (it was the Methodists who brought hymn singing to life, and other "dissenting" churches who sang the hymns of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and the likes). Heber actually eventually helped change the common thought that hymns were only something that "extreme Evangelicals" and Methodists could sing... (It is quite sad how style of worship has always been a cause of contention between Christ-followers down through the centuries. Unfortunately, we often idolize the songs and style instead of giving true worship and preference to Christ himself, the Person of our Worship). 

Heber did not give up writing hymns for his parish as he felt so convicted to do so, and he wrote a total of 57 hymns during his 16 years as vicar. With a heart to carry the gospel throughout the world, Heber eventually went to India as a missionary in 1822. From 1823-1826 he oversaw the Anglican Church's mission to India as Bishop of Calcutta. There, he visited mission stations and churches throughout the country, preaching the gospel, confirming new believers in Christ, and building a training school for local preachers. He died suddenly, only a few years into his service there. He was in Trichinopoly, India the day he died, and had just preached to a large crowd. Afterward, he took a swim to bathe and cool off from being out in the hot sun, and ended up drowning due to a stroke. It was the year 1826. His dear widow found his 57 hymns in a trunk and eventually made his dream come true. The next year, in 1827, she had them published in Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Church Year.

Heber specifically wrote "Holy, Holy, Holy" for Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) and his intention was that this hymn be sung before or after the congregational reading of the Nicene Creed. This trinitarian hymn celebrates the mystery, the beauty, the power, and the holiness of the God-head: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This hymn magnifies the name of the Lord and puts God in His rightful place. 

In 1861, 35 years after Heber's death, a publisher discovered the lyrics to "Holy, Holy, Holy" and took them to John Bacchus Dykes to write a tune. He was a good candidate to come up with a tune, as Dykes wrote over 300 tunes to hymns throughout his life. Dykes was the choir director of the Durham Cathedral and co-founder of the Cambridge University Musical Society. As young vicar of the St. Oswald Parish, Dykes's service to the church began at just ten years old when he started playing organ. He very much embraced the "high-church" tradition, appreciating the Church of England's roots in Roman Catholicism. He was one that believed in the divine rights of the monarchy. His Bishop disagreed sharply with these views. (Heber and Dykes had at least one thing in common in ministry- their overseeing Bishops distinctly disagreed with some of their strong views about church worship...)

Within just 30 minutes of reading the text, Dykes wrote the tune NICAEA. It is safe to say, and few Christians would argue, this tune was truly Holy Spirit inspired. The tune he wrote was majestic and striking; one's soul cannot help but be stirred by it. The meter is in the rare form, which is quite long compared to most hymns of its day. Also, the rhyme scheme so unique in that all four lines of each verse rhyme with the word "holy."

(John Bacchus Dykes)

The tune, NICAEA, was named after the council of Nicaea, which took place in 325 A.D.. At that particular council, the Biblically-rooted theology of the Trinity was embraced and agreed upon by the early church leaders, who wrote down this belief into clear words. The Nicene Creed has continued to be held as true doctrine throughout all centuries since then, all over the world among all believers. These early Christian creeds have been so vital in keeping true to Scripture and unified as believers over the past two thousand years. The Nicene Creed, in particular, has been able to denounce heresies that claim that Christ was merely a man, and not Divine. 

Something that is so special about this hymn, in particular, is that it celebrates the "Trisagion" (Greek for "thrice holy") that is found in both Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. Isaiah's vision dates back to the 8th Century B.C. and John's revelation is from the 1st Century A.D. The passage in Isaiah speaks in language that indicates clearly the existence of God's triune nature. God asks Isaiah, "Who will go for us?"  Dykes tune brilliantly interweaves themes of three to highlight the triplet of God's holiness and the trinity of God's being throughout the hymn. One of the ways he did this was using a rising third in the finale of the song. The tune is paired so exquisitely with the text- both radiate the truth of Scripture as well as the hope that we hold onto in the Holy, Everlasting Triune God, who is the glorious object of our eternal worship.

"In the year that King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne;
and the train of His robe filled the temple.
Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings...
And they were calling to one another:
'Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of His glory.'"

"After this I looked, and there before me
was a door standing open in heaven....
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me
was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it...
A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne...
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder...
Also in front of the throne there was what looked like
a sea of glass, clear as crystal. 
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures...
And they do not rest day or night, saying:
'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!'"
(Revelation 4:8)


We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His Kingdom  will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. 

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

Peterson, Randy. Be Still My Soul:The Inspiring Stories Behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns.Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.

Nelson, Stanton. "History of Hymns: 'Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty.'"

Friday, November 2, 2018

He Leadeth Me

It was July of 2015.  Jamie was finishing his first round of chemotherapy, starting to feel the wind knocked out of him as his strength was waning.  His brother and 1 ½ year old nephew came up from Arkansas for a visit, which was a big boost to his morale and strength. Then, later in the week, his sister-in-law and their two girls traveled to meet up with us in Delaware, too. I was slowly but surely meeting each of his family members over time during our engagement…with many of them at a distance. I met his two little nieces, blonde haired girls with twinkles and fiery joy in their eyes. The two of them stood in my parent’s living room and sweetly sang for us. Their soft, high voices soared as they sang an old hymn. It was one I wasn’t as familiar with, but it became one of my favorite hymns instantly, in that holy moment. Their angelic, young voices were so innocent, so filled with peace and beauty as they sang out “He leadeth me, O blessed thought…”

It was during a time when it seemed like we couldn’t see even one step in front of us, let alone 6 weeks ahead, when it would be our wedding day. The year had hit us with the reality of difficulties, great unknown, plans thwarted, and pain, yet it had also sent a clash of unbelievable joy and ever deepening faith, our love story unfolding amidst a reckless trust in the Lord like we’d never known before. What an incredible reminder this song, “He Leadeth Me,” was—to trust in our Heavenly Father, who leads us beside quiet waters and in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. He Whose Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, His gentle, yet strong hand leads us faithfully to the end. That good work which He began in us, He will bring to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. Oh the glorious promises, packed with power, from His Holy Word! What comfort it was, and still is, to know that He has a plan beyond what we can see here and now, and that He is faithful to complete that which He started in our lives—the Author and Finisher of our faith.  

The Holy Spirit spoke comfort, courage, and compassion to my soul on that hot summer day when the girls sang for us. I will never forget that moment in our journey—it was as if time stood still and for a few seconds, God just held us close and gifted us with beauty and joy in the voices of children. So simple; so significant.

Fast forward with me 2 ½ years later, to early 2018 when I was picking songs for the Hallelujahalbum. It wasn’t even much of a question whether this song should be on the album—it is a part of Jamie’s and my story, a part of our faith strengthening. However, I knew I couldn’t sing this song alone, but I needed some very special girls to sing on the album with me. Through some crazy juggling of schedules and reserving of studio time, and a few adults jumping through hoops, we got our two nieces to fly up from Arkansas with their dad. We drove up from Virginia, and one of my nieces from Delaware joined us for the day. All of us spent April 14that MorningStar Studios, just 23 miles away from First Baptist Church and a home down the road in Philadelphia, where Joseph Gilmore penned the words to this hymn 156 years prior. Incredible.

Leah, Campbell, and Mary Ann walked into the studio, each one with such humble confidence. They wore smiles all day, and couldn’t help but giggle and chatter between singing. They sat on their stools, headphones on, microphones in front of them, and their young voices resounded with glory only Heaven could surpass. What an honor to have three of my nieces join me on this recording journey, and have their voices recorded on this album, singing praise to our Heavenly Father, who leads us on His good and faithful path. It was one of the happiest days ever for all of us! They absolutely nailed their part of the song, recorded a few takes for layering, and then got to explore the studio and how the soundboard works, while Glenn showed them tricks and buttons and how he does the engineering for the songs! We celebrated with barbecue and brownies.

I gifted the girls these sweet necklaces from The Thankful Sparrow as a reminder that forever and always, He leads us. Through mountains, through valleys, through storms, through sunshine, through pain, through joy, through suffering, through glory, our Good Shepherd leads us. 

Let’s travel back now to 1862, at a time during our nation’s history that was filled with difficulties, great unknown, plans thwarted, and pain. War had broken out between the North and South. Brother was fighting against brother, father against son, neighbor against neighbor. Friends and family members had turned into foes, and the trauma and loss was unimaginable. It was a deep, dark time in history, yet light seems to shine ever brighter during the darkest nights. A young pastor, only 28-years-old, was asked to preach at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia on March 26th,during their mid-week service. Joseph Henry Gilmore recalled, "I set out to give the people an exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm. I had given this exposition on three or four other occasions; but this time I did not get beyond the words 'He leadeth me.' So greatly impressed was I with the blessedness of divine guidance that I made this my theme. It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact—that is, I don't think I did—but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.”

After the service, Gilmore went to the home of a deacon. He recollected, "There we continued our discussion of divine guidance. While I was still talking and listening, I wrote on a piece of my exposition manuscript the words to this hymn. I handed the paper to my wife and more or less forgot the incident." It wasn’t until three years later, when he was invited to preach at the Second Baptist Church in Rochester, where he would later become lead pastor after his time leading a congregation in New Hampshire, that he stumbled upon the greatest of surprises.  

Gilmore wrote, "I picked up a church hymnal to see what songs they sang and was surprised to have the book fall open to the very song I had written three years earlier.  When I returned home, I related this experience to my wife. 'I do not understand it,' I said. 'My words had been set to music by Dr. William B. Bradbury; yet I had not given the words to anybody.' My wife smiled and said, 'I can explain it, Joseph. I felt that the words would bless the hearts of people in these troublesome times; so I sent the poem to The Watchman and Reflector. I am glad to know that they have printed it.'"

Gilmore went on to be a professor of Hebrew, logic, and English literature at Rochester Theological Seminary after pastoring churches in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and New York. However, he is best remembered for his beloved hymn.

The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He taketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the sill waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anoints my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(Psalm 23)


He leadeth me! O blessed thought
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught;
What e’er I do, where e’er I be,
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content what-e’er my lot may be
Since tis My God who leadeth me

And when my task on earth is done,
When, by Thy grace, the victory’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God thro' Jordan leadeth me!

He leadeth me! He leadeth me!
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.


Graves, Dan. “Joseph Gilmore’s Memorable Hymn.”

Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

Hawn, Michael C.  “History of Hymns: ‘He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought.’”

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Nothing but the Blood

One of the reasons I love hymns so much is the rich theology found in the lyrics. It is good, as the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 96, to sing a new song unto the Lord, but it is also good to remember the heritage from which we have come and to remember the songs of old. It is so important to stand on the unchanging, undefiled Word of God that is incorruptible and immutable—the cornerstone and bedrock of our Christian faith, rooted in everlasting truth. Truth is not the newest, latest, and greatest, buthas always been andalways will be; truth needs not to progress nor modify nor conform, but rather stands alone in it’s absolution. Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)He is the Word that was from the very beginning (John 1:1).

Robert Lowry’s classic hymn, “Nothing but the Blood,written in 1876, is exemplary as it stands on the unchanging Truth of God’s Word and basic Christian theology, founded in Jesus Christ alone. This hymn, like countless hymns, is simply timeless in it’s message. It was profound when it was written, and it’s words still ring true today. In the original publication which the hymn was printed,Gospel Music(1876), the publishers, Robert Lowry and William H. Doane, put the following verse right above the song: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). It’s that simple. Our sins are stains on our souls that cannot be washed away without a perfect sacrifice—and the only perfect sacrifice is the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. 

“Blood” is an interesting word that is found in many beloved hymns of the faith. With blood we often picture war and gore. And that is true here also, but this war that was won by Christ Jesus was the battle for our souls, the greatest battle in human history, and the victory is so amazing and life-giving we must sing about it! C. Michael Hawn brings up an interesting fact in his article about “Nothing but the Blood” by noting that in most hymns, when the word “blood” is used, the word “grace” could also stand in place there and be sung instead, keeping the song still true to the Gospel. Lowry was not the only hymn writer who spoke of the blood of Jesus so boldly—Wesley, among others, used this word time and again in hymns to depict the truth of Scripture and the weight of our salvation. It is because of the blood that we have grace, and it is by grace we are saved.

One of the beautiful aspects of this particular hymn is the call and response form in the stanzas. The multitude of questions and the continual same answer, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” truly force us to pause, to think, to consider the depth of what we are singing. What can wash away my sin? My guilt. My stains. My chains. My filth. My mistakes. My wrongdoings. My shortcomings. My imperfections. My regret. My condemnation. My failures. Only the precious and perfect blood of Jesus Christ, only the power of the blood of the Lamb, can take away the entirety of all the sins of the world. The blood of the Lamb is the answer to our every question, our every need, our every sin, our every longing and hope. The blood of Jesus somehow, mysteriously, perfectly, beautifully makes us whole again. It gives us hope and life and peace. It allows us one day in the near future to go home, where we will be free of sin and death and we will come fully alive and be with our Savior forever. Like many gospel songs, Heaven is the destination and the goal here, the final peak of complete hope and the promise of that to which we look forward.

So many of the world’s religions and philosophies embrace the general idea that humans must give their greatest efforts in this life, and if those efforts are good enough, then the reward of afterlife will be theirs. So most people go around comparing themselves with others, thinking, “Well, I’m better than he is or she is, so I must be good enough, right?” But the truth is, none of us is good enough, no one, ever, because the standard isn’t other sinful people, but rather the standard is a perfect, holy God, in whose presence we do not deserve to stand. It’s impossible to come before His throne in our imperfections and iniquities. So God made a way—divinity took on flesh, He came down for us, met us in our muck and mire, and in His perfection, shed His blood as the sacrifice for us to be cleansed and made completely whole and holy by His love. Wow. The greatest love story ever told is the story of our Savior and the greatest gift ever given was the shedding of His blood, by His grace. 

So who was the man behind “Nothing but the Blood?” Robert Lowry was his name, and he wrote both the words and the original music to the song. Lowry was one of those men in history who was faithful, steadfast, and authentic in his faith. He lived a life that honored the Lord, and it seems that although he was quite talented and intelligent, he was humble and always worked to serve the Lord Jesus. While he had no formal music training, he sat at his organ at home every Sunday evening and wrote hymns. (I’m thinking I may adopt this habit! I have been, of late, devoting myself with more intention to keeping the Sabbath holy, focusing on the Lord, family, and rest. But how beautiful would it be to just set aside Sunday evenings for simple worship and songwriting for His glory?) 

Lowry was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1826. At age 17 hebecame a member at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia and began serving in the Sunday School ministry there. At age 22 he enrolled in Lewisberg University (known as Bucknell University today). As a Baptist minister, he pastored churches in West Chester, PA, Bloomingdale, NY, Brooklyn, NY, Lewisberg, PA (where he was also professor of Rhetoric at Lewisburg University and later Chancellor), and Plainfield, NJ. He was known for being an excellent speaker, inspiring audiences with his great enthusiasm and oratory skills. Along with editing many hymn collections in the 1860s and 1870s (Gospel Melodies, Bright Jewels, and Pure Gold), he also wrote tunes to go along with song written by other famous hymn lyric writers, such as Fanny Crosby. His “melodies and songs were but the expression of the man’s heart and his character, and they attracted all men to him,” stated Lowry’s eulogy, written by an unknown man who went by “H.”

A fascinating fact about Robert Lowry has me marveling. It has nothing to do with his ministry or the vast sum of hymns he wrote, except for the fact that this man used his brilliant mind and musical ability to the highest standard, with only the sky as the limit. During his time as editor for the various hymn collections, he tried to reduce music to a mathematical basis. Because Middle C has 256 vibrations per second, Lowry formed a scale and attempted to work off the number three. He made countless attempts experimenting with calculations, until he finally concluded his theory did not work. Honestly, this is all above my head—way above my head! I’ve never been good at theory or at reading music, so this just impresses me so that this man would take music and math that far!

I wanted the song “Nothing but the Blood” to be first on my Hallelujah: A Collection of Hymns album, after the Gregorian chant intro, “Agnus Dei,” because I wanted the album to start off literally on the right note. And that note is to confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. I am a sinner, very much in need of a Savior. I desperately need grace. My longing is for this album not to be about me, but rather be about my Savior, Jesus, and to tell the story of the cross and the resurrection and the only hope that can anchor our souls. I am reminded continually of how much I sin, in what I’ve done and left undone, in what I think and what I say. But I am also reminded continually of what Christ has done on my behalf, and that His blood speaks a better word (Hebrews 12:24). Because this great hymn is so theologically rich, I decided to write a new tune that would wake up our hearts to the fullness of the lyrics and the message. Sometimes we sing hymns over and over and we forget the profound message behind them. Something fresh and new musically can often remind us of the depth of unchanging truth lyrically.I still love the old tune that Lowry wrote, and I hope this new tune I wrote honors him as the original hymn writer. The new tune I composed is a more haunting melody that really paints a musical picture of the mystery and power of the blood. I hope that it resonates with your heart, my friend, when you hear it and sing along. 

Let us meditate on the beauty of these Scripture passages below and celebrate the saving grace we have received through our Savior’s blood. 

“…having now been justified by His blood,
we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
(Romans 5:9)

“Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’”
(Luke 22:20)

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things,
like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ,
as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
(1 Peter 1:18-19)

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
 (I John 1:7)

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their testimony…”
 (Revelation 12:11)

“In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of sins,
according to the riches of His grace.”
(Ephesians 1:7)


What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Hawn, C. Michael “History of Hymns: ‘Nothing but the Blood.’”

McDavitt, Dan. “Rev. Dr. Robert Lowry: Professor, Minister and Composer.”

Hall, Jacob Henry. “Robert Lowry: Baptist Preacher and Hymn Writer.”

“Nothing but the Blood: Theology of the Song.”