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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