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.

 

My Mother Sang Southern Gospel!

It’s Friday – time for another post on old church hymns.

Many of the old hymns I love are found in the old hymnals from mainline churches like Methodist, Lutheran or Presbyterian.

However, since I am a country girl at heart with some southern roots, many of the old songs I love would probably never be sung at the churches with more formal worship.

One of my favorite southern gospel songs is one my mother used to sing.  She had a good voice and was often asked to sing at regular Sunday evening services and at revivals held in our area.  Everyone who knew her always associated this song with her for she loved it and sang it often.

Accompanying her often on this song, it is one of the songs I memorized and it is one often requested when I play for the “old folks” in the assisted living facilities.  What really makes me smile is when I play it the folks from the more “formal” churches clap their hands and/or pat their feet right along with the song.

Recently I made contact through FB with a friend from years and years ago.  She asked about my mother and said she always thinks of her when she hears this song.

Written by a prolific southern gospel song writer, Mosie Lister, it is only one of his songs that I love.  Anyone who loves southern gospel will recognize this list of songs by Lister:

  • His Hand in Mine
  • How Long Has It Been (one of my favorites)
  • I’ve Been Changed
  • Til the Storm Passes By

So – sit down, relax in your chair, get your hands ready to clap (and maybe tap your foot) and enjoy this southern gospel music!  And yes, if you notice the piano player, I can play it just as lively as he does!

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.

Even a Sparrow Matters

It’s Friday and time for a post about another old gospel song.

I have shared several now and hope you have enjoyed them.

This week’s song is one of my husband’s favorites.  He has often performed this song in church services and at “gospel sings.”

The song starts with a question:

Why should I feel discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?  

The song quickly gives the answer:

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

This thought is based on the scripture in Matthew 10:29-30

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows.”

While this song was made famous by two different African-American singers,  Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson, it was written by a Canadian lady living in Elmira, New York.

In her own words:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We developed a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair.  Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day, while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The song ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

Ethel Waters was born to a teenager who had been raped.  Although she was raised by her grandmother, she took the last name of her father.  She demonstrated her musical talents while very young, singing at the age of five at church.  On her 15th birthday she won an amateur night and began performing in vaudeville in 1917.

In 1953 she sang this song in the movie “Member of the Wedding” and brought the song to the attention of the world.  She loved the song “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and in her later years she often sang it for the Billy Graham crusades.

Mahalia Jackson made the song even more popular when she sang it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.  The song became associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said Mahalia did not just sing the song, it was her life story.

Mahalia spoke of the song and its meaning to her:

“When our savior came, now he didn’t come down here just to tell people to believe on him, he healed the sick and he healed the blind, he raised the dead. He did things for people. So salvation and the Word of God can do things for you. It can open doors for you. And I know it can, Studs. Look what it done for me. And my people have–we’re coming along, but my God, we’ve come along so slow till we chokin’.”

For my husband and I, the song has always been a comfort.  No matter what the circumstances of life, we can sing and find joy in the knowledge that God truly loves us and is aware of all we face each day.

 

My First Solo Performance

Continuing my posts on the old gospel songs we used to sing, today I remember the first song I ever performed in public.

As a young girl I took piano lessons and when my father, who was a minister, had speaking engagements he often would have me play and sing something before he spoke.  Although I was shy, I think this experience gave me confidence in appearing before an audience that helped me later as I became a speaker for women’s events and a pastor’s wife.

Just how good my voice and piano playing was remains open to question, but with my red hair in banana curls, I was a hit.

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The first song I learned to play was an old song born in the slave fields of  the southern states.  Although the original author of the spiritual is unknown, it is acknowledged that the song arose from the oral tradition of songs passed from person to person and generation to generation among the plantations of the South.

Imagine being a slave and totally at the mercy of the slave owner.  What kind of life could it be when you were forced to work from dawn to sunset?  When you could be beaten or sold to another slave owner without a chance to even say goodbye to your family?   No promise of freedom – how easy it would be to despair of life.

But somewhere in that life of sorrow and pain many slaves found hope in God.  In spite of their circumstances they clung to the belief that God was in control and they found courage in that belief.

They sang:

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The song was first published in 1927 in the hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New.  Later it was introduced in the USA and became popular with the folk song crowd in the 30’s and 40’s.

Laurie London, a young British singer, released the song in 1957.  It quickly became #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Since then many artists have made recordings of the song, but perhaps one of the most famous (and my favorite)  is Mahalia Jackson’s version.

The verses have changed depending on who was singing the song but this verse was not in my version of the song.  ♥

He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the sinner man in His hands
He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

As I grew up and became more proficient in my music, I left that song behind.  But recently as I have played for the residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, I have added it back to my selection of songs.

While they sit and listen to the songs I play – when I play this one I am guaranteed that many will join in with me and smiles will be in abundance.

Since I began singing this song again, I added my own verse for the senior citizens.

He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks  in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Psalms 19:1

“Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens.  Isaiah 48:13

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

Check out the other gospel songs I have written about here:

“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”