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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.”

“Helen Lemmel (1863-1961)”

“Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)”

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!


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.