Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross – Fanny Crosby and William Doane

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Awesome! Have you ever read someone’s biography and had this reaction? That’s what draws me most often when I read…a great life. Try on some of these names: Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela…what would it have been like for the Great Emancipator to meet the first black South African president? Or how about Clara Barton, or Florence Nightingale….great humanitarians, and did you know they were contemporaries (Florence, 1820-1910; and Clara, 1821-1912) ? And of course, Jesus Christ, the most amazing life ever. How about Sally Smith…or Victoria Sterling…or James Black? Nope? Well, what about Frances Crosby? If this name still has no spark, maybe it’s because she’s more commonly known as Fanny Crosby, or ‘Aunt Fanny’ to some. Did you know that she was also Victoria Sterling, Sally Smith, and even James Black? She used many fake names, or pseudonyms, at least 100 in her hymn-writing career.

Crosby (1820-1915), who was also a contemporary of Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, presents no small task to a blogger trying to sum up her life. A three-paragraph blog entry just doesn’t make it, really. Here’s some links if you want to read more about and appreciate her more. But, if you want the short version, read on. One of the most loved of Aunt Fanny’s 8,000 hymns was “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”, which she co-wrote with William Doane. Doane wrote the music first, and then Crosby penned the words we know so well. Her words show the familiarity she felt with her Lord: from the ‘beams’ around her (verse 2), to the cross’ ‘shadow’ over her (verse 3), senses that were sharpened as she pondered the sight she lacked here on earth, but would inherit to see Him in Eternity. Perhaps you’ve heard this quote attributed to her: "when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!" Her glad heart shows in the song she co-authored with Doane, in way I never noticed, until I delved into this song story. Doane gets the credit for the song’s music, which is in 6/8 time, or meter. Any musicologist will recognize this form as a waltz, made most popular by the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss (1825-99), who was also one of Crosby’s contemporaries. Think she or her collaborator William Doane might have heard a Strauss waltz? It’s an upbeat, happy occasion, a celebration when a waltz is played, usually. Isn’t it odd, that someone would celebrate a symbol of cruel death, a cross of crucifixion? Not for Fanny Crosby, whose life is an example of someone who turned conventional thinking on its head, who exuded a positive attitude, even in the face of trial. How on earth does a blind woman learn to play two instruments (she learned the guitar, piano, and singing while a student at the New York School for the Blind), become a teacher and speaker, and one of the most well-known women in America in the 19th Century? Most would not prescribe the way Fanny began, blinded at six-weeks old by a substitute physician whose remedy for her eye inflammation was tragic. But, could her experience have made her that much more prolific? She, indeed, epitomized what Paul writes to the Corinthians about human weakness versus Godly strength.

Yes, there’s more than meets the eye when one looks at this lifelong Methodist, who was raised by her mother and grandmother. Fanny Crosby amazed and inspired – still does. So, what’s that say about the Mighty One who strengthened her? He’s still at work today, if I’ll just look for Him, if I use Him as my eyes. Aunt Fanny may have been blind, but maybe that’s what it takes to see my world the way God does. There’s a 4th verse to this song that you may have not heard…I had not. Here it is: "Near the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever, till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river. "

See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. Also, see: Amazing Grace: 36 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Faithful Love - Ken Young

He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it." (Genesis 15:7) 

I’d trust that guy about as far as I could throw ‘em! I think I’ve heard myself mutter those words as I walked away from the car dealership, or some other shady business establishment that made me suspicious, haven’t you ? I usually gird myself by reading Consumer Reports, ‘cuz no one wants to get ripped off…no, you want to get your money’s worth, the best deal. And, am I not being a good steward of God’s blessings when I think like this? I’m so glad that God is more trustworthy-infinitely more trustworthy, in fact- than a car salesman! Otherwise, we might all be wise to try jumping off this spinning top planet Earth he created, huh? Even so, did Abraham react like he thought God was reliable, that the Creator was offering him a good deal when he moved from Ur? Did he consult Consumer Reports, or examine God’s business references? Ken Young and his family admit they too felt some uncertainty in 1993, when they planned to move-- from Irving to, of all places, the desert of Midland. Ken wrote the song “Faithful Love” to tell us his feelings about his Lord, even as he wondered what lay ahead.

 Ken doesn’t seem to fret about the uncertainty, about our faith being invisible (Hebrews 11:1)…you see, he says Faithful Love has a face (see His picture above). Ken describes “Faithful Love’s” beginning: “It was August of 1993. We had lived in Irving, TX for only three years, but we were making final plans to move to Mid­land. Hallal’s ministry (the Youngs’ musical enterprise for worship renewal in churches) had really taken root and God was opening new doors of influence each day. What we were not prepared for, however, was the spiritual warfare that would accompany the blessings. It became so brutal we considered leaving full-time ministry. After much prayer and testing, it be­came clear God had called our family to a ministry in wor­ship and we could not run away, even if it meant going through the fire. He also called us to the desert. When friends heard we were moving back to West Texas, they thought we had lost our minds. To be honest, there were days when we thought they might be right. But what God did through Hallal from the desert over the next decade exceeded our greatest dreams. He is so faithful! “Faithful Love” was written during that move from the Metro­plex (our Ur) to the desert.”

 God told us that even a mustard seed-like faith has power (Matthew 17:20), so maybe that’s what Ken Young and his clan had going for them. Their experience suggests human faith grows as we draw upon the Holy One’s faith – allowing Him to change us, as the song’s words declare. If you check it out, “Faithful Love” has been like that – starting out small, and blossoming into more, from being the song of a stricken family in Kay Evans’ book, “A Song for Your Honor”, to going to distant lands like France and Costa Rica. Hallal’s growth, however, is probably less about Ken and his family, and instead more about God and the intimacy we can have with Him when we sing the words of the song Ken composed. When I take the words of “Faithful Love” to heart, I fathom God’s faith toward me with more confidence. You can sense that buoyant attitude from the Youngs, who’ve been taking steps out from Ur…to Tennessee in 2003, as well as to places around the globe. So, am I still hanging around in Ur? Are you? How might our mustard seeds sprout, if we just let Him blow them where he wants?

The above information gathered from the Hallal website:, and a Hallal newsletter that was posted at the same website in October 2007.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thank You, Lord - Gary Mabry

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

What’s your favorite holiday? Lot’s of people say Christmas, because of the gift-giving, or maybe because of the spirit it engenders. Others pick Halloween, especially if they like handing out candy to kids standing at the door in adorable costumes. Maybe it’s one of the patriotic days, and the holiday from work that you really relish. I know I like holidays because it’s then that I get to do what I like – sleep in a little and skip the traffic! How would it work, though, if you were ordered to take a holiday to do something you don’t really like to do, or told to do something you’re not good at? Consider Ebenezer Scrooge, that thankless Christmas-time curmudgeon who was finally compelled to be kind. We think of him usually just in December, but maybe his story would also fit well at Thanksgiving, whaddya think? The ultimate complainer converted at Thanksgiving…yeh, that would be poetic justice, right?  I have to admit, I have lots of reasons to be happy and grateful, but too often I’m forgetful about expressing my thanks sincerely…I’m Scrooge. If that’s you too, Gary Mabry has written us a song to remind us of gratitude, to draw this emotion out of us. He also shares how he came to compose this tune, and how God uses unlikely people to teach us profound truth.

Gary Mabry spent his high school and college-age years in Abilene, Texas, where he met Stanley Shipp, a Christian missionary who became a link to Gary and the song “Thank You, Lord”, though probably neither of them suspected how this would come about in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After his conversion to Christ, Mabry continued to grow in the Lord’s work at his local church in Abilene, becoming a song leader and then youth director through Stanley Shipp’s encouragement. Although Shipp moved to St. Louis to start a campus ministry, he and Mabry kept in touch. Gary sometimes was the song leader during National Youth Outreach Campaigns that Shipp organized, and on one trek to St. Louis Mabry began to write “Thank You, Lord”. In Mabry’s own words …” One of the men from Abilene who moved to St. Louis to work with Stanley Shipp was a cerebral palsy victim (although he never considered himself to be a “victim”) by the name of Robert Reid. … I drove Robert from Abilene to St. Louis as he relocated. He was such a positive, fun and funny person….His spirit gave new meaning to thankfulness to God. …I began to have an idea for a song and jotted down the words and melody on a pad I kept close by. Robert was the first person to hear it…” If he didn’t know it before, perhaps Mabry had discovered something about how God translates a song to a composer. Could it be that the Creator places special people – like Robert Reid - in one’s way to spur and craft something unique, something extraordinary and long-lasting?

God is bountiful. However, sometimes, given my circumstances, I could easily curse and wonder ‘where’s God’s blessings in my life?’Robert Reid could have brought gloom, but instead he brought cheer to others – was that providential? Mabry’s first verse in the song tells me to thank God for “making me whole”. It must have been something to hear Robert sing those words, and know he counted on God to make them true. Mabry’s song and its story remind me that our Father’s “whole” gift comes in heaven, and in an unexpected way here on earth too. I need to find people who have little, seemingly, but who still manage to smile. They have what I often lack, although to the secular world the opposite appears true. “Thank You, Lord” communicates something elemental about my God and me. If I dwell on the essentials – Godly love, His blessings, and the full life He promises here and in Eternity – I have all I need. My frown turns upside down, I cast off Scrooge, as I think upon the song’s message, and let its music indwell me. Thank the Lord for Gary Mabry, for Robert Reid and Stanley Shipp, and the musical Spirit that collaborated on this song!

The above story was acquired via an e:mail with Gary Mabry on 3/31/2009, and through his association with the University of Texas at San Antonio