What Will We Do Tomorrow?

Each Friday I have been posting about an old hymn or gospel song of the church.

This week as the news have been so full of the coronavirus and all the disturbing news associated with that, I thought of an old gospel song I have not heard in years.

There is so much misinformation out there, so much panic.  In the midst of the questions of what will the next few weeks/months bring, this song is a comfort to me.

At 72 with diabetes and a minor heart issue I’m told I am in the group that is most susceptible to a fatal outcome if I should get the virus.

I am doing what I can to be wise and avoid crowds.  Certainly I don’t want to get the virus.

I confess I worry about friends who have contacted the virus, about the young couples whose income is gone, about the elderly in nursing homes who cannot have family visitors now.  I pray for the pressures of families with small children who are shut in 24/7.

But when fear begins to arise I remember this song.  Whatever the future holds, I know the one who created all eternity.

Hope you also find it comforting.

 

Were You There?

I have been posting each Friday on one of the old hymns/gospel songs of the church.  The hymn selected this week is very appropriate as we are in the Lent season looking forward to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Almost every hymnal published in the last 50 years or so has this song in its collection.  No one knows exactly who should get credit for the song but it is believed to be rooted in the African-American spirituals.

Each stanza asks a question:

  • Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
  • Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
  • Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
  • Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
  • Were you there when the stone was rolled away?

These questions are, of course, rhetorical questions.  Obviously none of us were there when Jesus was crucified or rose from the grave.

These questions are meant to help us recall those events that the disciples wrote about.  At this time of year, these questions are good for us to ponder as we remember what this season is all about.

For slaves in America, this song carried even more meaning.  It comforted them to remember that Jesus Christ knew their suffering and just as God was with Jesus on the cross, He was with them in the midst of their great suffering.  They could truly relate to the pain and sorrow the first verses of this song portray.  The hope that Jesus rose again no doubt gave them hope that some day the chains of slavery would be lifted and they would know true freedom.

Many music stars have recorded this song including Johnny Cash, Phil Keaggy, Marion Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Neil Tennant.

As you listen to this song, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on the questions asked and remember the great price Jesus paid for our spiritual freedom.

“Salvation is free, but it came at a great cost.”

If you have missed them, check out my other posts on the old gospel songs/hymns.

My Mother Sang Southern Gospel!

5,000 Songs – Or More!

Even a Sparrow Matters

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

What’s Your Picture of God?

It’s Friday – time again for a post on the old church hymns.

This week as I thought about what song to write one very old hymn came to mind.

So I ask – What picture do you see when you think of God?

From reading the Bible I have found some unusual pictures.

  • A hen covering her chickens with her wings.  (“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”)
  • A giant rock rising up high from the earth.  (“God is my rock in whom I take refuge.”
  • A shepherd tenderly holding a baby lamb.  (“The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”)
  • A might warrior with shield and sword.  (“I have come as the commander of the Lord’s army.”)

The writer of today’s hymn saw God as a mighty fortress – a place of protection and shelter from those who would seek to harm us.

It is believed the writer based the song on verses from Psalm 46 that say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”  Twice in the Psalm the writer says “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

The writer of this song, Martin Luther, was hiding in exile from Pope Leo X after nailing a list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.   Given 24 hours to renounce his 95 Theses, Luther apologized for any disrespect he may have shown the Pope or the church, but refused to renounce his beliefs.  Tradition is that Luther said “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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Photo by Baltimore Sun

Forced into hiding after the trial, Luther lived for over a year at Wartburg Castle.  Few knew where he was – many thought he was dead.  When you look at pictures of the castle, you can see where his experience in hiding there might also have contributed to the words of this old hymn.

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Perhaps he had this castle and his stay there in mind as well as the Scriptures as he wrote this hymn.

Although few churches sing this hymn now with no doubt the exception of the Lutheran churches, its verses still encourage us when we realize that God truly is our source of strength in times of trouble.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

No doubt today’s church goers probably have no idea what Lord Sabaoth even means.  When speaking of God as a mighty fortress this title is very appropriate.

It means “the LORD of hosts.”  It speaks of God’s military strength.  It was the name David used when speaking to the giant Goliath.  David told him “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts (Lord Sabaoth).”

Although the song is no longer used much in our churches, I hope you will take a moment to listen and be encouraged that our God is able to deliver us, to give us strength in times of trouble.

 

5,000 Songs – Or More!

It’s Friday and time to take a look at another gospel song.  As I thought back over the many gospel songs I grew up singing, I noticed how many had the same name listed as the author….Fanny Crosby.

Songs I have loved:

  • Blessed Assurance
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Rescue the Perishing
  • Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
  • I Am Thine O Lord
  • Near the Cross

The list goes on and on.  I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many songs she wrote.  In my research I found articles giving numbers from 5,000 to 9,000.

For anyone to write so many songs – with so many becoming favorites – is amazing.  When you realize this woman was blind it is even more amazing.

Born in 1820 she became ill and a man who was later determined to be a quack prescribed hot mustard poultices for her eyes.  The treatment left her blind at just a few weeks old.  Shortly thereafter, her father died leaving her mother to support the family.  Fanny was then raised by her Christian grandmother.

She quickly showed signs of high intelligence, memorizing large portions of the Bible.  She had a positive attitude about her blindness, writing a poem at age eight expressing her outlook on life.

Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!

Often asked how disappointing it must be to have been blind since a small baby, she replied:

“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.”

She attended the New York Institute for the Blind in New York.  After 12 years as a student, she then became a teacher there for another 11 years.  She met her husband there, Alexander van Alstine.  An accomplished organist, he wrote the music to many of her hymns.  While she wrote the words to these many songs, she composed the music to only a few of them.  Rather, many musicians would bring their music to her and ask her to compose words to fit the music.

The contract she had with the music publisher require her to submit three hymns a week.  However, she usually wrote six or seven a day.  Writing that many songs naturally meant that many were simple, sentimental verses – but she did also compose music with a more classical structure.  When Dwight Moody began holding revivals in the late 1800’s with the musician Ira Sankey they introduced many of Fanny’s songs to the masses and from there they became popular.

Her songs were especially popular with the Methodist denomination and they used to hold an annual “Fanny Crosby Day.”

Today she has been all but forgotten by the modern church and as the last of the baby boomers die, her songs will probably be remembered no more.

But for those baby boomers who loved her songs here’s one of my favorite for you to enjoy.

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

The last two weeks I have shared stories of old hymns and gospel songs of the past.

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

Today I share the song that I call “my” hymn.

When my husband and I made our wedding plans over 35 years ago, we wrote our own vows and selected the songs for our ceremony.

Looking at the different hymns the words of one seemed to leap off the pages and directly into my heart.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

The previous few years had been tough.  My husband had died in an accident and I had struggled trying to be both mother and father to my two girls.  Struggling to make financial ends met without my husband’s salary.  Struggling to handle the lonely nights I spent after putting my daughters to bed with no one to talk to, no one to share concerns, no one to laugh with.

On this day as I rejoiced that I had been able to find love again and someone to share life with, I found the words of this hymn so appropriate.  Although the years had been difficult, God had provided all I needed.  Somehow – sometimes in amazing ways – my financial worries had been met.  In the lonely nights God had given me peace.  Now He had brought a great man into my life, not only to be a husband to me, but a father to my daughters.

We had this beautiful hymn sung just before we took our vows.  Over the years of our marriage, we have found the message of this song continues to be true.  We have experienced sorrow – death of three grandchildren and our oldest son.  We have dealt with painful moments – my husband’s heart attack and my battle with cancer.  But in all these circumstances God has given us strength and peace.

Written by Thomas Obediah Chisholm in 1923, the author based his song on scripture found in the book of Lamentations.  Those words said:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words during a time of great disaster for the nation of Judah.   The nation had been invaded by the great Babylonian empire.  There was great pain, suffering and destruction.  Jeremiah wrote this great statement of faith that God is faithful and even in difficult times, He is with us.

Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. Becoming a Christian at age 27, he became a Methodist minister.  When ill health forced him to give up the ministry he became an insurance broker.

Although no longer an active minister, he retained his love of God and wrote hundreds of poems about his faith.  Although he was never successful in financial matters and suffered ill health, he also, like Jeremiah, found God’s grace was sufficient.

He said:  “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

In 1954 George Beverly Shea introduced this hymn at evangelistic meetings held by Billy Graham in Britain.  The song immediately became popular and has been a staple of hymnbooks every since.

 

For All the Beauty All Around Me

Today is the third week I have not been able to make it to church.  Two weeks ago I was in too much pain to go.  Last week we were all snowed in and church was cancelled. Today I am suffering again from pain.

Feeling a little down – I miss my church family, I miss the corporate worship and most of all I miss hearing the sermons my pastor shares.  Although I am sure I am a little prejudiced because my pastor is my daughter, she is one of the best speakers I have ever heard and I always seem to find something to encourage me or challenge me when she speaks.

My husband and I did our own devotions.  As I thumbed through my Bible afterwards I came across this beautiful old song.  It reminded me that whether I am in church or at home,  whether I am in pain or not, whether my spirit soars or descends – there is so much beauty around me.

So I choose to remember all the goodness of the Lord and reflect on these words:

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.  For the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise, this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of the hour, of the day and of the night.  Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.  Friends on earth and friends above.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given.  Graces human and divine, flowers of earth and buds of heaven.
Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: JOHN RUTTER
For the Beauty of the Earth lyrics © WORD MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC INC (CHRISMON MUSIC DIVISION), OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS UK

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

A new songbook called Olney Hymns was published in 1779 and one of the songs in the book became perhaps the best loved and well known hymn that is today known by another name.

Guess what song it is!

This song was part of a section in the hymn book that contained songs based on passages of the Bible.  The passage that was listed with this song was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.

 “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God.”

The tune we use to sing this song was not the tune used then.  Today two of his stanzas are no longer used and there have been two added by two different writers.

Guess what song it is!

It is believed that this hymn was written to go along with the writer’s sermon which he preached for the New Year service January 1, 1773.  His sermon notes for that day fit with the scripture that was placed alongside the hymn in the Olney Humns book.

His sermon notes included this thought:

grace

Guess what song it is!

This verse which was part of the original hymn is not usually found in hymnbooks in the USA today.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When the movie Amazing Grace about the life of British abolitionist William Wilberforce was made, popular contemporary Christian musician Chris Tomlin was asked to write an additional verse.  He was reluctant to add to this well loved hymn but when researching he discovered that someone had already added a verse years ago.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing His praise
Than when we first begun.

I have sung this hymn for years not knowing that this verse was not part of the original hymn.

Guess what song it is!

Tomlin added a beautiful addition to the song.

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood, His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.

In his research, Tomlin found another verse that was part of the original hymn but had been left out for years in our USA hymnals.  He added it back into the song and like many others I thought this verse was one Tomlin had added.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Bet you have guessed what song it is!

Yes – somewhere along the way Faith’s Review and Expectations became Amazing Grace.  Writer John Newton had been the captain of a slave ship.  After receiving Jesus Christ as Savior he became an Anglican priest.  Although he was slow to take a stand against slavery he did become a strong voice speaking out about the evil of the slave trade.  His tract, ‘Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade‘, described the horrors of the slave trade and his own role in it.  He called it “a business at which my heart now shudders.” 

He encouraged William Wilberforce and others to fight against the slave trade.  As he began to lose his age and age some suggested he should retire but he told them, “I cannot stop.  What?  Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?”

The act to abolish the slave trade finally was passed in February 1807.  By that time Newton was nearly blind and nearing the end of his life.  It is said that he “rejoiced to hear the wondrous news.”