Saturday, May 30, 2015

Jesus, Flow Like a River -- Dennis Jernigan

He was 30 years old, and had once felt out of control outside of Him, and then experienced being out of control with Him. How could Dennis Jernigan want to be in such a state, and in fact exulting in it as he wrote “Jesus, Flow Like a River”? It had been only a short time since he’d emerged from behind the proverbial curtain, and he was still discovering the clout that his own life’s story could have, even as he discovered how it intersected with God’s. How does one best describe the feeling he was having? It was a sensation that you might have riding in a raft down the rapids of a fast river (like this one shown here), yet not being spilled out of the boat. Perhaps it was an adventure like nothing he had ever imagined before. 

Perhaps Dennis would say 1988 was a ‘watershed’ point in his life, the completion of a break with his past and realization of what his future held. He keeps no secrets about who he was a decade earlier – a homosexual, though struggling with this identity because of his upbringing as a God-believer. With the help of a friend and a musical encounter, Jernigan confronted this part of himself and allowed God to work on him. His subsequent marriage and fatherhood to nine children are well-known, declared parts of him now, too. But, Dennis also shares in his testimony that his decision to share in 1988 his dark past with his wife and church caused a stir among others – like confessions, and healing that continue. The next year, he also discovered for the first time his grandmother’s intercession, through prayer, for him as a child, that his life in music would bless others. So, there was all this emotional torrent of joy rushing over Dennis when he composed “Jesus, Flow…”in 1989. Whether there were other events that spurred his words are not clear, but since DJ has written so much (over 2,200 songs) one could say the ‘raging river’ he describes riding might be a metaphor for the outpouring of musical praise that began professionally at that time. It’s continued for the last two to three decades. Perhaps he also read some of his bible for imagery of rivers – in John 7:38 or Revelation 22:1-2; or Psalms 36:8; 46:4; 78:16; 105:41; or Isaiah 41:18; 43:2; 66:12; or Ezekiel 47:9. If he did, he may have been reminded that God’s life surges like a river through those who seek Him out.  

Dennis Jernigan’s life and music speak for themselves. Or, it’d be more in tune with DJ’s sense of the truth that his life and music speak for God. It’s a personal Dennis-to-God conversation he’s having, if one notices the tense in which “Jesus, Flow Like a River” is written. ‘You’ and ‘Your’ relate that Dennis was addressing Him. If you’ve ever been in a raging river, it’s pretty exciting, capable of causing even the most composed, soft-spoken of us to cry out ‘O God!’ You just might address Him in those most desperate, heart-throbbing moments, when life seems to hang in the balance. Dennis might say that’s the place to stay.

Some biographical information on Dennis Jernigan:
And, see this book:  Giant Killers: Crushing Strongholds , Securing Freedom in Your Life, by Dennis Jernigan. WaterBrook Press, 2005.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Praise the Name of Jesus -- Roy Hicks Jr. and David

This pastor was going through a rough stretch, and so he resorted to a method that a spiritual ancestor had used many years before. Since he was a preacher, well-versed in the bible he held in his hands, Roy Hicks, Jr. must have understood the background to the verses and song “Praise the Name of Jesus” that he adapted to his own situation one day in 1976. Could he have known the spark it would cause, or was he really only expecting to find solace for the moment? It must have been the former, since he didn’t keep the thoughts and emotions of that time to himself. He shared them, perhaps in not too different a way than his ancient predecessor did.

Roy Hicks read his bible for inspiration and instruction as a 36-year old church pastor in Eugene, Oregon, and so he may have imagined himself in a very distant land nearly three millennia ago as he turned to the pages of scripture in 1976. He must have wanted to lean upon examples in biblical history, upon someone who had struggled and come through the other side of a challenge, even a spear-dodging episode (like the one shown here, by Jose Leonardo). Roy was watching as a church he was trying to lead shrank, and feeling discouraged, he sought out someone with whom he thought he identified. His example was David, the great king and psalm-writer, who endured many episodes that were not only discouraging, but in fact life-threatening. The metaphors for God that Hicks observed David using in Psalm 18’s opening verses spoke in a meaningful way to him. He needed strength for his church’s declining circumstances, so he called out to a God he needed to be his ‘rock’, ‘fortress’, and ‘deliverer’.  Roy must have felt this church in Eugene was in a life-threatening condition, a group of God’s people who were dodging the spear-throwing efforts of Satan and his demons. David’s song is probably the same one he sang as he reminisced about his rescue from Saul and the defeat of foreign adversaries (2 Samuel 22). Roy just took what David said and added one name – Jesus.  

Roy Hicks didn’t just repeat David’s praises. He updated them. It’s said that he taught “Praise the Name of Jesus” to the Eugene church a week after its words and tune made their way into his being. Perhaps Roy told them the source of his inspiration, stories of David’s hair-raising adventures and the protection he received. David knew not Jesus, but would probably have recognized Him, don’t you think? For the ‘man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), he would have had eyes to spot the God in Jesus. Roy must have concluded the same, and thus enhanced David’s original words without hesitation. The 1976-version of Psalm 18 is one that David, the original composer, can also enjoy. Maybe he’s already doing so.      

The source for the song story is the book “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.

Also see New International Version Study Bible, Editor Kenneth Barker, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985. 

See biographic information on composer here:,_Jr.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

We Will Glorify -- Twila Paris

She had a new career, a direction she had considered, so she must have had a few thoughts about an overarching strategy for this plan. Perhaps it was something she wanted to be the overriding theme of her latest project, her second album as a 20-something. “We Will Glorify” was a declaration that Twila Paris made early in her career as a singer-songwriter, as a 24-year old who probably wanted to convey not just a brief message about her own intentions. She evidently thought of this as her life’s approach, and sought to bring others along for the journey. I can glorify, but what’s it like when others join in (like the picture here by Charles Sprague Pearce suggests)?   

Twila Paris’ message would not have been a surprise to anyone who’d witnessed her life up until her 24th year, one bathed in Christian examples and habits that she continued to draw upon for her musical influence. She was an active part of her family’s evangelistic life, even as a child who before the age of 10 had recorded her first album that included hymns her father’s ministry used in his messages. She was accustomed to the group experience as a Christian believer, and must have heard God’s various names repeatedly. What would one expect to hear from Twila Paris on an album she was making in 1982 with the title Keepin’ My Eyes on You? Twila hasn’t shared exactly what made “We Will Glorify” spring from her consciousness that year, perhaps because it’s pretty obvious what motivated her. She was thinking of the various names, the multiple roles that God played in the life she’d led up to that point. ‘King of kings’, ‘lamb’, ‘Lord of lords’, and ‘Great I Am’ are just the ones she called out in the first verse. The Lord’s position as Jehovah, and as overseer of every created being above, below, and in the universe beyond was also on Twila’s mind. Could He be any larger or more omnipotent than how she describes Him in the song’s four verses? How can one believer acclaim His being even more? Maybe this song is Twila’s answer, as she uses ‘we’ to express the multiplicity of those who call out to Him. The way to magnify my joy at praising Him is to draw, to invite, others to do the same.

I can thank Him for taking care of me personally, but to see His hand on so many others around me is also reason to exclaim, to pump my fists in jubilation. Twila’s experience as a worshipper, among, inside, and around others must have made it very easy for her to think others would want to worship, to glorify Him. And, not just as a one-time ‘thank you’, either. ‘How does one keep her eyes on someone like God?’, Twila may have quizzed herself in 1982. He has so many names, it just makes a lot of spiritual sense to use them all and remind myself and others just how vast His being is. He has lots of names, perhaps because there are so many of us who need Him in so many ways.

Check out the following links to read about the composer:

See the book“Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000, for further background on the composer.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

We Bow Down -- Twila Paris

Twila Paris was a 26-year old star, with a number one hit, her very first one. So one could imagine that she might have felt she’d arrived at the top. Others might have understood, since she had already written dozens of songs and produced four albums, if she had acted a little cocky. Her life was set, and all she needed was to keep moving upward, composing more memorable, inspiring songs. But, that wasn’t what she must have been thinking when she composed “We Bow Down” at the same time in 1984. What’s the foundation for a successful worship tune? Twila is as much an expert as you might find, since she’s been at this task as an adult for over 30 years professionally.

Twila’s understanding of good music development by 1984 had been inside her probably for many years, even from her childhood before she reached double-digits in years. By the age of 7 she was known as ‘Little Twila Paris’ on her first album, a collection of hymns she’d grown used to singing with her family during evangelism campaigns. No doubt about it, Paris received her musical genes from parents Oren and Rachel and the Arkansas roots that nourished and shaped her. Success and recognition at so young an age could have been a burden to others, yet in Twila’s case it must have given her the recipe for healthy development. “We Bow Down” embodies an attitude of prostration to the God she calls Lord and King in the song’s two verses. Little people, even one at 26-years old, can say powerful things, she realized. This was also an idea that was the theme of the album on which “We Bow Down” appears -- The Warrior Is a Child. Jesus had learned to humble himself, Twila must have realized, and became everyone’s Savior as a result. We don’t know what minute-to-minute circumstances evolved to guide Twila’s hands to write “We Bow Down”, but her words tell us of a life that was tilted toward Him personally. She begins each verse with a personal declaration of her devotion to Him, and then does what must have come naturally since her childhood. She invites everyone around her to join in the ‘we’ that say they bow to Him. Let’s all be His children together.

Twila’s in her mid-50s by now (in 2015), and still composing songs, although she’s taken more time out for her family. She and husband Jack are raising kids, teaching them what it means to bow and sacrifice, and to whom. It’s a posture from which Paris has probably never left, really. She probably still sings those songs from her ‘Little Twila’ days, and the one she wrote as a 26-year old too, as reminders of the way she relates to her Father God. It’s a way of staying grounded, letting Him be in control. Try bowing a bit each day, and see if a childlike posture doesn’t make your life go better.

Check out the following links to read about the composer:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Oh How I Love Jesus -- Frederick Whitfield

What attributes do you associate with a person’s name, perhaps even God? Was that the question that someone had asked Frederick Whitfield during the mid-1800s that made him compose a nine-verse answer, his personal explanation in “Oh How I Love Jesus”? It might be a tough assignment, since none of us have ever seen Him in the flesh. But Whitfield must have seen enough of the Divine influence, even at a fairly young age, to make His impression indelible. How many verses one could write about our God might be a function of the number of people I see Him contact, if I’m trying to be true to His influence for each of us. Whitfield, because of his profession later on, might have had what could be called a front-row seat to God’s interaction with us…how many verses might he have composed after he was ordained, versus what he generated before he took on God professionally?  

Frederick Whitfield was a member of the British clergy by the time he was 30, which might be thought of as a postscript to this song he created in the mid-1850s. He wrote “Oh How I Love Jesus” as a 26-year old in 1855 prior to receiving his degree at a Dublin, Ireland college and proceeding into ministry in 1859. In fact, several of the handful of hymn texts he wrote were precursors to his formal work in the Anglican Church, indicating Whitfield’s was a heart bent toward God probably in his upbringing, a zeal that he wanted to take to another level beyond the words he composed as a young man. He must have experienced much by his mid-20s that drew him toward the God he extolled in “Oh How…”. God’s son reminded him of many things, a list he must have developed as a result of personal or observed experiences. Nine verses were his choice, to specify that the Holy Son was like music to him, that he was endeared to Him because of His sacrifice, care, guidance, and empathy (verses 1-5).  Whitfield leaned on Him for strength (v.6), and ultimately to overcome his own life’s challenges and gain immortality (vv. 8-9). Only twice, including initially in verse 7, does he actually verbalize the name that conjures up so much mental imagery. (The hymn’s chorus words with the name ‘Jesus’ are from a common folk melody, derived from an anonymous source, from approximately the same period.) Perhaps that is a good way to demonstrate the power of something like a special name – use it sparingly, but detail its effects on the human spirit. Perhaps Whitfield’s intention was to spark the worshipper’s curiosity. ‘What name does all of these things?’, one might ask.

Indeed, we’re all part of the same race, but each with unique parts and histories, so what name could manage all of the human species? It’s a fair question. Even the most powerful world leaders have never conquered every corner of the globe. And, the ones who have come closest (not really very close, though) have not been benevolent, inspiring worship that endures. ‘Dictator’ comes to mind as we consider their records. How about considering the One whose record is still being written? Maybe Frederick Whitfield’s example in song is God’s message, too. He doesn’t have to force me to say His name very often. His work in my life speaks His name. Is His name speaking in your life today?         

The following website has all nine original verses for the song:

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; and also, see Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

See brief biography of composer here: