Saturday, September 24, 2011

Have You Seen Jesus My Lord? – John Fischer

He was a founder. Of what, you say? Someone might say he found Jesus Christ, and helped others do the same. He was 23 years old, had been out of college for just a year, and was probably still feeling the effects of his experience on the American west coast as a young adult. Studying for ministry was probably also still fresh, along with the influence of his mentor.  These probably impacted his life for many years, in fact. What made John Fischer write a song with a question mark? “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?” The way he asks the question in the song initially seems rhetorical…’of course’, you want to answer. But, notice how he shifts gears midway through his composition, and see if he’s not asking you to look at yourself, too.

John Fischer went to college (Wheaton) in Illinois before he went to the west coast for mentorship in Christian ministry at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California in the late 1960s. You can imagine what the times were like, if you’ve ever heard of the 1960’s. Vietnam, Peace Movement, Jesus Freaks…all familiar ground for John Fischer, especially since he was a college student during that time. His mentor at the church in Palo Alto was Ray Stedman, a friend and adviser to many like John Fischer, with a reputation as a gentle, humble, and generous spirit. And, there was the central California coast, with its Pacific Ocean-front view. Can you picture the sunsets? All these factors no doubt contributed to John Fischer’s thoughts in 1970, as he composed his song with a question mark.  He hasn’t recorded if a particular incident or multiple circumstances compelled him to write the song, but its words give us clues. He was struck by His creation, the ocean he experienced and the magnificent California sky at dusk that he observed.  Could anyone deny the reality of deity when taking in such marvels, Fischer asks. The Jesus movement’s simple message also comes out in Fischer’s music. See Him, horizontally and vertically. The ‘get Jesus’ proposition with a folk rock beat cannot be ignored. It’s a love message straight out of the ‘make-peace-not-war’ times, with a divine streak in it. 

What’s common to you and me? John Fischer saw four things, all of ‘em free. There’s no cover charge for the ocean and the sunset, not for the others I have around me, nor for what He’s done for me.  John Fischer’s simple questions ask my elemental acknowledgement of the obvious. Nothing else is asked of me…it’s an evangelism that’s not pushy. He doesn’t even really tell me to worship Him, just see Him. Admit He’s there. Then, let my conscience take me in the logical direction. Is that so hard?  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

O Lord, Our Lord -- Horatio Richmond Palmer

Is music medicine? Would you call it salve, maybe therapy for a sufferer? In the case of Horatio Richmond Palmer, one might think music was a call from deep inside his consciousness, something subliminal.  Although his life was devoted to music, he’s credited with writing just a few songs, including composing the words and music for the hymn “O Lord, Our Lord” in 1874. Now, what was hidden about that song,  that might make you think he was concealing something? After all, he’s proclaiming to everyone through the song that there’s a great and magnificent Lord, the most important confession anyone can make. Look at Palmer a little closer, and see if you think there’s something else there.

Horatio Palmer began his musical life early on in New York state, a vocation and an obvious passion that we can assume lasted throughout his lifetime, given the number of musical ventures in which he was involved. Maybe his father, Anson B. Palmer, deserves the most credit for Horatio’s direction, for it was he who undoubtedly endorsed his son’s inclusion in the church choir (directed by the elder Palmer) at the age of just seven.  Horatio’s mother had died when he was just three years old, in 1837, leaving Horatio’s upbringing to his father, and perhaps not insignificantly to the church’s musicians too. For the next several decades, this son of the choir director studied, organized, and led numerous musical endeavors, including a chorus of many thousands at Madison Square Garden. What a sound that must have been! At the age of 40, Palmer wrote “O Lord, Our Lord”, a composition he must have envisioned a large chorus of angelic-like voices directing upward, if you’ve ever heard it. We know not the precise incident that inspired Palmer to write this hymn, but there are two things we can surmise, with a little exploration. Palmer chose words from David the Psalmist (Psalm 8) to echo his praise to Him, so Horatio had a palpable passion for his God that he wanted to convey in a grand way, worthy of Him. Looking at its construction, and comparing it to other songs that Palmer wrote, there is also an interesting pattern. Female voices alone begin the hymn, just a composer’s routine choice, or a habit? Two other earlier Palmer compositions (“Love One Another” [also known as “Angry Words”] in 1867, and “Yield Not to Temptation” in 1868) also exhibit this same tendency. Horatio obviously appreciated the female voice, and wanted to hear it without male accompaniment. Did he miss his mother’s influence in his early life, even into adulthood? Perhaps he did, even if his father and the church helped fill the gap. (Although a commenter [see it below] tells me that Palmer had a stepmother...thanks for the information!)

How did Palmer fare, despite his birth mother’s absence through most of his life? From all appearances, Horatio Palmer was a productive, God-fearing, positive influence. Maybe he never knew something was missing. Look at David, Horatio’s musical predecessor…who was his mother? We know his father was Jesse, at least here on earth. Perhaps the more significant parent for David was the one in heaven. It wouldn’t be too hard to deduce that Horatio Palmer had perhaps figured out that part too. I’m part of a family, and my goal is to be part of one forever. There’s only one place and one parent that can make that come true.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

He Is Able – Rory Noland and Greg Ferguson

Bill Hybels remembers the time well. The way a fragrance, or a picture, the taste , or even the touch of something can bring back memories of a special time, the sound of a song makes this minister at a large Chicago-area church remember what it was like there in the 1980s. Hearing Hybels speak, one senses that the song’s composers, Rory Noland and Greg Ferguson, must have been aware of the struggles of the church’s leaders. “He Is Able” is a song that stirs their thoughts of overwhelming challenges and mutual purpose among the members of that growing church, an experience Hybels indicates would have been difficult or even impossible to bear except for the truth of the song’s message. Its message is compact, right in the title.

Willow Creek Community Church was growing in the 1980s, but Bill Hybels says it wasn’t all roses. Sure, there were lots of people arriving to populate the church, creating energy and momentum. It must’ve been exciting. But, there was also anxiety and exhaustion. How would Hybels and the other staff of the church accomplish tasks too large for them? They were overwhelmed by obstacles, and ‘outta steam’, he says. It was then that two of the church’s members, Rory Noland and Greg Ferguson, wrote the song that seems like a blueprint for relieving those worried, overworked ministers. Just unload whatever challenge you think you cannot handle, the song says. Noland and Ferguson must have struck a special chord with Hybels, who still talks about the song a generation after it was first written. The church’s members sang it ‘over’, ‘into’, and ‘for’ each other, he remembers. It was used to comfort people when loved ones died, as well as in church staff meetings, so it captured people in various walks. It sounds as though it became a theme song for those people, a catch-all vehicle to transport them out of trouble, in their present and expected in their future.

The words Noland and Ferguson wrote suggest that the Willow Creek people sought God’s reassurance in four ways. First, they had daily needs, perhaps stuff that was considered trivial in the grand scheme of things. And yet, they knew that He cares. Second, they trusted that He would guard their future, come what may. Third, they needed God to make dreams become reality; after all, who but the supernatural One could manage all of the crises, both personal and corporate, among thousands of people, and vault a group beyond its mortal limits? Finally, the fourth way sounds like the people wanted change in themselves, a transformation desire expressed with a resolve that He would answer. ‘Only sinners allowed here’ the church sign says to the discouraged. That’s because transformation is His specialty. Time is His, too. To the non-believer, transformation and time might sound like the Twilight Zone. But, that’s not Rod Serling you’re hearing in the background. God has no desire to make me eerie, though His capabilities are startling. No, the chilling part of life is living it without Him, without His ability.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When I Look Into Your Holiness -- Wayne and Cathy Perrin

If you have trouble sleeping, with your mind going into overdrive in the graveyard hours of the night, you should take note of how Cathy Perrin managed her insomnia – in a productive, positive way. It makes me reconsider what to do the next time the dark ceiling stares back at me from a prone position on my queen sleeper. Do crickets speak to you from the dark, prompted by God? How about dreams…are divine messages slipped into one’s consciousness this way? What if the light was suddenly snapped on in the middle of the night, bright as the sun (see picture)? Would that be Him trying to get your attention? Listen to the story the Perrins (Cathy and Wayne) tell about the song “When I Look Into Your Holiness” that they wrote beginning in the wee hours one night.

Cathy and Wayne Perrin say the song’s story actually began six years before it was written, in 1974, and continued well past its 1980 advent.  A minister on a singing tour the Perrins took in 1974 predicted the couple would compose a song that would one day travel across the globe. In 1980, Cathy’s insomnia pushed her to write many of the words to “When I Look Into Your Holiness” at 3 AM. Though it was dark, perhaps a pitch black or moonless environment, Perrin evidently saw a light. It was God’s presence, His very nature that had her rapt attention. It might as well have been a prayer in isolation, in her own closet, as Cathy composed solitarily.  Little did she or Wayne know that this was the song the minister six years earlier had foreseen would travel so far. It took 10 years from that minister’s forecast, until 1984, for the Perrins to comprehend the song’s destiny. Through word of mouth, literally, the song had been in transit for many years, and was taking on broader wings to South Africa and Singapore by the mid-1980’s (albeit, with the words “…my will becomes enthroned\enthralled in Your love, versus “…my heart is enthroned in Your love” as the Perrins originally composed the second verse). Amazing, but not incredible when God gets involved.

With no other soul between herself and Him, we can be thankful that Cathy Perrin responded that night in 1980 with something other than a sleeping pill. How would you or I have reacted ? The song she began, and which Wayne helped finish later, captures a moment. Cathy says that the song puts in a nutshell for the believer a basic truth – I’m here to worship, and it starts with really looking at Him closely, not sleeping or trying to ignore Him.  The negative form of this kind of attention is labeled ‘obsession’. It’s a habit, an irresistible desire, an addiction. That’s how strong it is, when\if I really see Him, and then let it grow. He wants me to see Him in whatever place I am, to compare the creation to the Creator. Try it on, and see where it takes you …from a dark closet to the fantastic beyond.   
The Perrins’ song story link is here:    (article written by Melissa Hambrick [contributing writer], 21 September 2004)