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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 11.12.12.10 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)

NICENE CREED:


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 worshiped 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.



Sources:


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.'"https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/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

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.




Sources:

Graves, Dan. “Joseph Gilmore’s Memorable Hymn.” https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/joseph-gilmores-memorable-hymn-11630718.html

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

Hawn, Michael C.  “History of Hymns: ‘He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought.’”https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/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)

NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD

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.’” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-nothing-but-the-blood

McDavitt, Dan. “Rev. Dr. Robert Lowry: Professor, Minister and Composer.” http://www.unioncountyhistoricalsociety.org/OnceUpon/Article85.pdf

Hall, Jacob Henry. “Robert Lowry: Baptist Preacher and Hymn Writer.” https://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/blowry.html

“Nothing but the Blood: Theology of the Song.” https://www.austinstoneworship.com/nothing-blood-theology-song/

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus / Be Thou My Vision

This week’s blog is actually about two hymns, because I chose to do a medley on the Hallelujah album for track #13. (A simple way to squeeze in more hymns on the album and create some fun arrangements!) So let’s journey together back in time and discover the stories behind these two gems. I’ll first share a little of why I picked these songs! 


September 12, 2015 was the most beautiful, glorious day. It felt like a fairy tale dream come true—God’s grace was just radiant and the blessings were abundant. In a pine grove outside a historic church on the coast of Maine we said our vows, and committed our lives to one another, until death do us part. Our wedding hymn, led by my father-in-law, with voices ringing out in the wind a capella, was “Be Thou My Vision.” It was truly a holy moment; I may overuse that phrase, but I believe there are no better words to describe what took place as we lifted our voices in praise on our wedding day, sun beaming down upon us and our worship rising to the heavens. 

Fifteen months later, on December 7, 2016, our miracle baby boy was born. Every night since that night we have sung a special hymn together as a family before bedtime, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” These two hymns have become anthems for our family, their message the anchors in the waves of life. In this busy, distracted, stressful world, it is so good for us to quiet our hearts each evening and call to mind the true source of our hope—Jesus. It is vital for us to turn our eyes away from the things of this world—our selfish ambitions, our fears, our regrets, those things that seek to take precedence in our hearts over what truly matters, and to fix our thoughts and vision back toward Christ our Savior and Lord. Over a decade ago, when I was on the Power House worship band in college, I remember singing these songs together as a medley, so it just seemed to be fitting to do the same on this album. They’ve always gone hand in hand in my heart, and they are the two hymns that mean the most to my little family. 


If we travel back 1600 years, we will find one of my favorite heroes in history—St. Patrick. When most of the western world thinks of his name, shamrocks and green come to mind. However, St. Patrick’s story is one beyond incredible that every believer should know. I’m sad to say I first got to know his true story through a children’s book (it’s a fantastic children’s book by The Voice of the Martyrs, though, and I encourage you to read it with the kids in your life!) When I was in my recliner post brain-surgery, with icepacks on my head and could only hear out of one ear, I listened to St. Patrick’s autobiography, Confession, on audio book. I can’t tell you how much this ancient autobiography inspired me during that difficult time and lifted my spirits! (You can also read it online here.)


In the year 373 A.D., Patrick was born near the River Clyde in Scotland. Around the age of 16 years old Patrick was suddenly kidnapped by pirates who raided his town and burned down his home. They took him aboard a ship to Ireland, and it was there that he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. In his time of peril, he turned to the Lord with his whole heart and total trust. Patrick had a rich spiritual heritage, which laid the foundation for his faith (his grandfather was a priest and his father a church deacon), but faith had never fully taken hold of his own heart until this dramatic turn of events in his life.

This brave young man eventually escaped and returned home, but one night in a dream, Patrick was compelled to return to Ireland to share the gospel with his captors and the lost souls of that land. He was about 30 years old when he returned, sharing the gospel and carrying his Latin Bible across the vast countryside of Ireland. He was pursued and persecuted by both the Druids and King Logaire of Tara, as men hunted down his life. However, God used Patrick’s bold mission to baptize about 100,000 new Christians and plant an estimated 200 churches. 

No one is completely certain who the author of “Be Thou My Vision” is, but it is most often given credit to Dallán (Eochaid) Forgaill who lived in the 6thCentury A.D. Many believe that this poem ("Rop tú mo baile" in the original Gaelic) was a tribute to St. Patrick’s zealous loyalty to God. Forgaill is now remembered by Catholics as a Saint, along with Patrick. Although his story is more obscure and not as well known, with many legends surrounding his life and death, we do know that he was a devoted man to Christ and an avid poet and scholar of Latin Scripture.

Born around 530 A.D. in Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland, he was descended from Irish royalty. He went blind as a young man and that is where his nickname, Dallán came from: “little blind one.” People claimed that he lost his sight due to too much reading and studying. Helping preserve the Gaelic language in his time, Forgaill became chief bard and poet of Ireland in 575, around the age of 45 years old. In the year 598 A.D., Forgaill was beheaded and martyred during an attack by pirates on the island monastery of Inniskeel, County Donegal.

Over 1300 years later, in 1905, “Be Thou My Vision” was translated into English by a scholar in Dublin, Mary E. Byrne. In 1912 another female scholar in Manchester, Eleanor H. Hull, arranged it into the verses we recognize today. The music is set to the ancient Irish folk tune called SLANE. Slane was an area in Ireland where Patrick was particularly up against fierce persecution and a place where he unashamedly shared the gospel. St. Patrick’s legacy lives on in many ways, and just one of those is through this beloved hymn, which was written in Ireland about 200 years after he swept through the country with the Word of God, sharing the visionary hope of Jesus Christ. 

Helen Howarth Lemmel

A contemporary of Mary E. Byrne and Eleanor H. Hull, Helen Howarth Lemmel, like Dalláin Forgaill, faced the great challenge of being blind, but her blindness came later in life. Born in 1863 in England to a Wesleyan Methodist minister and his wife, their family immigrated to America when she was about 12 years old. Helen was a gifted young woman, and throughout her life she was known as a concert soloist, doing concerts at churches throughout the Midwest.

She studied voice in Germany for four years, and married a wealthy European man, but found heartache when he left her after she became blind. She struggled with heartache throughout her long life of 97 years, but she also poured herself into worshipping the Lord. She taught music at Moody Bible Institute and at the Bible institute of Los Angeles. She also wrote about music pieces for the Seattle Post. She directed a woman’s choral group which performed in the Billy Sunday evangelical meetings. Lemmel wrote somewhere between 400 and 500 hymns and poems throughout her life.


In 1918, Lemmel wrote “The Heavenly Vision,” which we know today as “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Helen’s inspiration for the song was the writings of Isabella Lilias Trotter, in her tract “Focused.” Trotter was a talented and ardent woman who laid aside her love for art and all the wealth and influence it afforded her, to pursue a life of 38 years in the mission field, sharing the gospel to Muslims in Algeria. Trotter wrote, “Turn full your soul's vision to Jesus, and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him." 

When we look back on the amazing lives of St. Patrick, Dállan Forgaill, Helen Howarth Lemmel, and Isabella Lilias Trotter, we see brave men and women who sacrificed everything to share the gospel around the globe and who used gifts of songwriting to worship the Lord. We are reminded that the riches of this world will leave us wanting, but that Jesus will always and ever satisfy. The light of His grace will fill us to overflowing, when we turn our gaze toward the Savior.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3)


Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)


Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

-----------------------

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all




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.


“Dallan Forgaill.” https://hymnary.org/person/Forgaill_D

“Helen Lemmel (1863-1961)” http://womenofchristianity.com/hymn-writers/helen-lemmel-1863-1961/

“Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/l/e/m/lemmel_hh.htm


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Blessed Assurance


Fanny Jane Crosby- she has always been one of my heroes and favorite hymn writers. Not just because we share a middle name and we are both female songwriters, but because of the depth of her lyric writing and the passion of her faith. Another reason she has continually inspired me is because of her joy in living for Christ, even though she was blind almost her entire life, from when she was just a few weeks old. I have no idea what challenges Fanny faced as a blind woman. I am not blind, and I am so thankful for the gift of sight. However, for the past four years I have experienced visual impairment due to the after-effects of the brain tumor I had. My brain just hasn't been able to get my eyes to function the way they used to and they haven't been able to work together simultaneously, leaving me with double vision.

I am hopeful for continual healing, but no matter what God's plan is for my eyes, I want to be an overcomer; I want to choose to see Jesus in all things. When I read about people like Fanny Crosby, I am reminded that my challenges are quite minimal in comparison, and yet my attitude is often quite lacking joy. It's all about perspective. A person like Fanny Crosby is someone we remember, because her story is one of perpetual hope, faith, and victory in Jesus. She didn't let her disability be the mark that defined her life, rather her God-given abilities and overcoming spirit gave her opportunities to use her gifts to touch this world in amazing ways. 

Fanny simply chose to not feel sorry for herself. She chose to use her time to relentlessly follow after Jesus. She chose to fill her brilliant mind with the constant truth of Scripture. As a child, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week. She was able to recite from memory the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and many Psalms. She chose to teach others who were blind and invest in their lives. She chose to use music as a means to worship the Lord and bring glory to His name. This woman who grew up fatherless, impoverished, and blind did not let her past dictate her future, but instead let God write His glorious plans for her life, and became influential around the world with over 9,000 hymns, many that are still popular today. God raised up young Francis "for such a time as this" and her influence extended to even congress and presidents- building friendships with many national leaders. 

Some wondered why God would allow such an amazing woman to become blind at only six weeks old...but Fanny responded to such doubts and questions with a simple statement: "Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior." Oh the depths of her faith! Oh her steadfast joy! I long to have that kind love for my Jesus. To be quite honest, sometimes I struggle with my own disability and can have days where it is so frustrating and difficult to see clearly. I feel like I am stumbling over everything, dizzy, head spinning, tired, and head hurting. Ok, I realize it's not that bad...I have friends who are blind or have visual impairment much worse than my own, but you know how it is...we all have pathetic pity parties for ourselves here and there, at times.

But when I recall the quote above from dear Fanny Jane, my whole heart perspective is rearranged and I remember Heaven. I think about the beautiful face of Jesus. I begin to cry tears of overwhelming joy. And my hope becomes so fixed and secure. It is often during worship on Sunday mornings when I imagine seeing Jesus face to face in all His glory and perfect presence. And I do imagine His face being the first that I see totally clearly, one face, no double, no dizziness, no blurred image. Totally clear, beautiful, holy, perfect, strong, radiant light. I'm crying now, even as I type this, trying to picture what it really will be like to be with Him in that moment, forever. No sickness, no pain, no questions, no frustrations, no hurt, no brokenness, no anxiousness, no darkness, no injustice, no sin. Only wholeness and healing and hope forever. Only relationship and closeness and knowing Him and being known forever. Only life and joy and peace and glory forever. Only love and victory forever. Only all our deepest longings met forever. Oh how I long to see the face of Jesus. 



Which brings me to Fanny's beloved hymn, "Blessed Assurance." You see, back in late 2014 and early 2015, when I was awaiting brain surgery and facing the very possible reality of death, I had many questions for God and many moments when I just sought His face, His presence. I didn't know what the outcome of surgery would be. I knew this brain tumor, left alone, could take my life over the course of the next several years, slowly. I knew God had opened up the amazing door for surgery with an incredible surgeon who might very well save my life. But I also knew that the stakes were high and the risks were beyond great. The brain stem was involved. An artery feeding blood supply to the brain stem was smack dab running through the middle of the brain tumor. I had to come face to face with my faith once and for all and ask myself, "Do I really believe what I say I believe?"

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)

It was in worship one early Sunday morning when that blessed assurance hit my soul like an ocean wave washing over me. I knew that I knew, that no matter what, my Jesus paid for my sins on the cross so I could be with Him in heaven forever. I knew that if I didn't wake up from surgery, that the first face I would see would be Jesus, and that truly death would bring life. I knew Who held my life in His hands, and I knew Who held my victory. I knew that to live was Christ and to die would be gain. I knew that if the worst happened, it would be the best. I knew that no matter what, my Savior Who spoke this world into being and breathed life into my lungs and created my inmost being and knit me together in my mother's womb- that very Savior and God had written every day ordained for me before one of them began to be, and He knew my end from my beginning. His plan and purpose for my life would prevail. 


These days, when I share my story with people all over the country, I tell everyone that there is nothing more important than to know Jesus. Dear friend, reading this blog today, do you know Him? Do you have that blessed assurance of your salvation? Do you believe with all of your being that He is alive and He has given you life? Are you confident that you will be with Jesus in Heaven forever? Please don't wait a single day. He is offering you life, and life to the full. 

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son...I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11,13)

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

I want to end by sharing the sweet story of Fanny and her good friend Phoebe Palmer Knapp. In 1873 both women lived in New York City. Fanny lived in the slums of Manhattan, working in rescue missions and often giving what little money she had away. Meanwhile, Phoebe lived in a mansion in Brooklyn, married to Joseph Knapp, the president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Phoebe was an avid and extravagant entertainer, and Fanny was often a guest in her home. Their friendship formed through attending the same church, the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church. One day Phoebe brought a tune she wrote to Fanny, playing it for her in her opulent music room. Fanny knelt in prayer while listening and then after hearing the tune twice, immediately exclaimed in her typical joyful fashion, "Why, that says, 'Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!'" With that, the new hymn came to life as Fanny finished writing the words. Among many other Crosby hymns, "Blessed Assurance," became widely popular throughout the country and around the world during the Moody/Sankey revival meetings of the 1800s. I don't see this hymns popularity fading anytime soon, over 200 years later, as we treasure the hope it holds still today. 


Phoebe P. Knapp & Fanny J. Crosby

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in his blood.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long!
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long!


Sources:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/poets/fanny-crosby.html

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

Peterson, RAndy. Be Still My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns. Carol Stream: Tyndall House, 2014.