Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Zion's Glorious Summit -- John Kent

John Kent may have seen or dreamed something extraordinary, or perhaps he just believed in something very fervently after reading about it in 1803. What made him write the words of “On Zion’s Glorious Summit” is unknown, though some of his background allows us to ponder his words and wonder about his life in light of this composition.  What would make you or me write strong words about heaven (see picture) and its inhabitants? 

In 1803 the 36-year old English believer John Kent was working, though his education and vocation did not clearly set him up with opportunities for developing his ‘second’ job.  He was a shipwright by trade, meaning he was a builder and-or repairer of ships to make his living, after having received minimal education. He had enough, and accomplished more in his song-writing - his ‘second’ job - than I might have given the same slate, however.  A penchant for bible study must have been one of his basic habits, based upon the words we can read in the hymn poetry. Evidently it was a skill he used to compose other texts, at least 200-plus efforts according to what is known of him, including the Collection of Original Gospel Hymns in which “On Zion’s Glorious Summit” probably first appeared. Its words are associated with scenes in Revelation (chapter 14:1-3), so perhaps the hymn is a result of Kent’s inspired thoughts after a period of study. Verse one is written in the past tense, so was Kent paraphrasing what he thought the beloved apostle might have wanted us to sing? We believers might try visualizing heaven’s scenes in Revelation while in the midst of a loved one’s demise also, so could that have been part of John Kent’s motivation? He lived until age 76 in 1843, so we can surmise he wasn’t yet struggling with his own mortality 40 years earlier, but maybe an older relative’s death made Zion’s summit more relevant for him.  It’s said that Kent’s poems also had a strong inclination toward Calvinism – an emphasis on the certainty of God’s sovereignty.  So, we could say that whatever Kent wrote, he felt quite confident in divine power. Perhaps his theology in part drove him to compose, to show this omnipotent power to others about him. 

John Kent wrote many verses about Zion that we don’t usually see (see link below). These verses allow me to muse more about heaven using imagery I often overlook. Its Revelation-like pictures tell me I can expect to meet the thief whom Jesus told about Paradise. Mary and Manasseh will also be there. I’m told to imagine my soul soaring with wings, and to prepare my hands for the palm branch I’ll lay in His path. Get the voice warmed up for all the different languages to be sung there…maybe I’ll even sing in some of these tongues for the first time, huh? I don’t tell enough people I know what I think about heaven. What about you? Maybe it’s also why we sometimes avoid Revelation – it’s too wildly imaginative for our earthbound minds to grasp. Got a bible? John Kent says ‘Go look up Revelation, and sing it loud and long!’

 See the following blogs/sites for information on the composer and the song:

See the following site for several hymnals that show extra verses (up to 7 total) for the hymn:

Additional biographic information on the composer found in the following:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing -- Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson’s biography is not an easy one to hear, though it has its high points. His story ebbs and flows, as you might guess if you pay close attention to the words of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that he wrote in 1758. He never forgot from where he’d come, and knowing what happened later on in his life, you wonder if he was trying to warn his hearers, that he was afraid of slipping back into old habits. The hymns he wrote must have been a reminder of what he had obtained, and the distance he had traveled to make his purchase of a new life. Did the fountain keep flowing for him, in impressive fashion (like King Fahd’s fountain in Saudi Arabia in the picture)?

Robinson’s was not an easy beginning. His parents could not offer much of advantage in his early life in 18th Century England, and his father died when he was just eight. His mother sent him to barber school in London when he was 14, but he befriended some local gang-members too, an apparently inauspicious turn of events for a future God-follower, preacher, and songwriter. He suddenly changed direction at age 17 upon hearing a George Whitefield tent meeting sermon, however, and eventually became a minister himself. Six years later, he wrote the words of this hymn “Come Thou Fount…”, perhaps his first, his reach for the God he must have felt he needed to cover many faults in his life. Verses two through five each express his spiritual hope in light of his own shortcomings, and the longing of his inner being for Eternity. What’s it like to leave an old life, making a radical switch like Robinson did? It would not be unusual for old acquaintances to scoff, reminding the newly clean convert of the dirt he once wore. Gangs are kind of like that. Robinson stayed true to his newfound faith; his “Ebenezer” (stone of help) expression in the hymn was as unique as his life. First a Methodist, then an Independent, and later a Baptist minister, he was known as a capable theologian and hymn writer, although only two of his hymns are known (the other was “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee, written in 1774 when Robinson was 39). Other accounts say he turned to Unitarianism late in life, showing his ‘wandering’ streak, of which he wrote in his first hymn.

It’s also reported widely that Robinson must have felt despondent late in life, particularly during an encounter with a woman in a stagecoach who was studying the hymn he wrote decades earlier. Had his passion waned from the time when he’d first penned the words of “Come Thou Fount”? Perhaps, but that would make him no more unusual than others of faith who have ups and downs. At least Robinson was honest and genuine with his hymn-writing, knowing and sharing his own foibles. Robinson died suddenly in 1790 at age 54, an apparent struggler and searcher, but someone whose authentic words over two centuries old still sound familiar today…at least if I’m willing to share the way Robinson did.         

Information on the song is in many publications, including the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications,1990; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982;“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and “A Treasury of Hymn Stories”, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House Company, 1945. 

Also see the following website for information on Robinson and the original five verses of the song:

See a more extensive biography of Robinson at :

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Sweeter Name – Kari Jobe

Music minister. Either of those words would be OK with Kari Jobe, but together they give her a mission. She might seem a bit like a youngster, so how could she advise or minister to anyone, you might wonder. After all, she was just 23 years old when she wrote “No Sweeter Name” in 2004. The truth is, she had been ‘minister’-ing through music for many years already, and by the time she’d graduated from college and became a professional, she’d known for over a decade what her calling was. This Jobe was in touch with her job, even before she attended school. Most children might think chocolate (see picture) is the sweetest creation, but Kari might have said something else.

Kari Jobe’s early life made an indelible mark on her.  She began singing in the church in Texas where her family took her when she saw just three years old. Perhaps her mother and father had spotted something special in their daughter, for Kari says she recalls worship music in their house that seemed to spawn her desire for praise. And, apparently the music was not mere words in the Jobe house. Its lyrics seemed to match what people they knew needed most, not surprising for a young girl whose father was a minister. You could imagine him spending lots of time with hurting people, exposing his family to their troubles, and to their cures too. Kari was taking a leading role in music ministry by high school-age, and her college study also steered her toward something she knew she’d wanted since the age of 10.  The words to “No Sweeter Name” are a reflection in 2004 of her already two-decade old experience.   She wanted to help broken people discover the therapy that she’d seen Jesus Christ use to mend others. It’s the psychology and pastoral studies degree she’d acquired in college being put into action.

Kari admits she likes being in touch with her emotions in music. There’s no mystery what emotion she’s driving at with “No Sweeter Name” – it’s love. But, that’s probably not enough to tell it all. Her aim seems to be imprinting Him on worshippers, to communicate that He’s everything. According to Jobe, He’s Life, Light, Hope, Truth, and not just one way, but the Way. Devotion, dependence on Him. It’s the life she seems to have lived since childhood, the experience He’s imprinted on her. She’s just trying to pass it on.

See these sites for information about the composer:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

His Name Is Life – Carman Licciardello and Bill Gaither

If nothing else could be said about the man named Carman, at least one could say he knew a winner when he saw it. And the same might be said of his collaborator Bill Gaither in 1983. The two of them composed something that neither of them could claim as his own, and even together, they could not assert that their thoughts were original. Much of the song’s lyrics are obviously taken from ancient texts. For both Carman Licciardello and Bill Gaither, that is OK. You cannot do better than what the poets said centuries ago, which their two contemporary counterparts have repeated some two millennia later in “His Name Is Life”. Together, Licciardello, Gaither, and the ancient poets define ‘life’ for us, though scientists might suggest it looks like an amoeba (see picture). 

The 27-year old Carman and 47-year old Bill must have been reading their bibles, like Christians you’d expect, and marveling at all the ways to relate to God’s son when they wrote this tune in 1983. They had been travelling musical companions in the early 1980’s, and so you can imagine they must have shared lots of time together discussing what each other thought about Jesus. He has lots of names, but they centered their thoughts on thirteen of them.  We don’t know what particular events brought about Carman’s and Bill’s creativity, but with gifted musicians, it doesn’t take much. Just a few well-chosen moments of study, of Spirit-led immersion and focus, mingled with plucking on a guitar or tinkling on the ivory keys. Maybe Carman and Bill were merely humming some notes when they ran across the names that struck them one day. Some of us are moved by his humanity, his compassion for His earthly children, and so we might favor ‘Teacher’ or simply ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, an identity we can more easily grasp. Not so with these two composers, at least not when they reached out to Him and to each other in this musical inspiration.  Most of the names they chose evoke images of Jesus the transcendent. Perhaps it’s a phenomenon of music, to reach for the highest rung with our hearts. Maybe it was also His way of drawing these two composers closer to Himself. 

Why’d Carman Licciardello and Bill Gaither choose thirteen names, not twelve or fourteen or more? Well, perhaps the syllabic tempo of the music they chose dictated that certain names were used. With their sense of musical pace, perhaps they just let go until it felt right, until that moment when they said ‘Yeh, that’s it.’ Is it ever an accident when the Spirit is engaged during songwriting? Was it for David when he strummed on a lyre while watching sheep? How does one touch creative musical genius? It seems two guys in 1983 might have found a method that worked for them.

Look at these two websites for information on the two composers: