Saturday, June 24, 2017

Unto Thee O Lord – David

He was a powerful king, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). So, how did he come to contemplate shame when he considered his conversations (prayer) with the Almighty? David had many moments of which he was not proud, so when he called out “Unto Thee, O Lord” in one of his songs, he felt the need to ask his Creator to help him with this particular emotion. It’s a sensation we believers still find disturbing, so it’s not surprising that a 20th Century composer (Charles Monroe in the early 1970s) crafted his own tune to David’s poem, thereby permitting Christians to vocalize musically what was first expressed some three millennia ago. Its history tells us its theme hasn’t waned. In fact, its words are some I probably should sing every day.   

David’s life had plenty of valleys to keep him humble, in spite of the mountain-top peaks he also experienced. Whether it was being on the run from a jealous predecessor, or committing a series of heinous errors while stealing another man’s wife, to mishandling his family relationships, David had lots that gnawed at his psyche. At what point in David’s life did he consider his disgrace when he wrote Psalm 25, the text for “Unto Thee…”? Biblical commentators offer no insight, but there might be clues in what he wrote to suggest David’s circumstance. He indicates ‘sins of my youth’ as a concern (v. 3 in song; v.7 in Psalm 25), so is it more likely these are the penned words from an older man’s hand who's looking back with some regret? It may have been a series of errors, or those made over many years, that this individual recalled, since he uses the plural ‘sins’ rather than a solitary misdeed in his confession. Guilt is a powerful inducement to confession, an avenue to a profoundly deep mood that the Psalmist initiates with the song’s opening words. David wants to ‘not be ashamed’ before other people, perhaps his most pressing disquiet, since he uses this phrase twice in the first three verses of the Psalm, and then again near the Psalm’s conclusion (v. 20). That sounds like a king aware of his need for a merciful God, and yet conscious of his public image, too. How does a man look at his own warts and ask God to remove the stain of ignominy? How does one overcome humiliation? You can sense David’s soul search in the psalm has found an answer – God’s teaching, and His nature (vv.4-6, 8-10, 12, 14-15). David’s still human, with his own situation seemingly paramount (vv. 15-21), but does v. 22 indicate King David perceived his own flaws had brought trouble on his people (‘Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles’)? On both planes – his own, and that his people – David seems to know where to reach for help.   

Where’s that reach for help begin? David might have said it started for himself when he acknowledged in his own inner being his iniquity (v.12). Doing this somehow does not disallow his calling upon the Holy One. This act, in fact, draws David toward Him, perhaps mostly because he doesn’t enjoy the consequence of his wrongdoing. It’s enlightening to see this king exhibit this propensity for straying, and yet returning to God like the thirsty man needing an oasis in a desert. My body needs water, one of the most fundamental of His creations. But, I need Him, the creator of that water, most of all.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

There's a Garden -- Eleanor Allen Schroll

She was a 42-year old woman originally from northern Kentucky (see map picture, on the Ohio border, perhaps near Covington), and was evidently an ardent pray-er. That much we know about Eleanor Allen Schroll, among only a few other details. We can surmise that she loved to pray, and imagined “There’s a Garden” (alternatively known as “The Beautiful Garden of Prayer”) as the spot where she most cherished this communication with her God.  Was it because that’s where she was most drawn to Him, where He had prayed so poignantly? (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22) Did she see in His own garden episode a Divine hurt that drew her trust, a presumption that He would be available to bear her emotional loads too? What is it the believer seeks most often in prayer, and could the same have been said of Eleanor?

Eleanor Allen Schroll is fairly anonymous but for a few details and the two songs attributed to her. Both songs came within a four-year span, including one (“He Lives”) in 1916 and her thoughts about garden praying in 1920. Whether she developed her faith as a consequence of the influence of parents (Isaac Allen and Ella Ros Allen) or through her husband (Henry Clay Schroll) or both is unknown. She may have had at least one sister, also (according to a picture showing perhaps her husband and a female that resembled Eleanor very closely in 1951). Many teachers of praying methods have proposed at least one way to think about a conversation with the unseen God, contained in the acronym ACTS. Adore Him first, Confess to Him next, offer Him Thanks after that, and then conclude with Supplications or requests for His intervention. Eleanor’s poetry indicates she had issues—‘burden and care’ (v.2)--she wanted Jesus to tackle, and that she felt He indeed offered ‘comfort’. Though undefined, Eleanor’s weight as a 42-year old woman could have been any of a variety of things – health, family, finances. So, she had the ‘S’ in ACTS in her mind apparently, but that wasn’t the entirety of Eleanor’s prayer. Instead, what comes across most in her poem is the desire to be with Him. Feel His presence in a beautiful, peaceful setting, knowing that the Creator longs to be a friend and protector there. We can assume the this poet-composer Adored, Confessed, and Thanked Him also, but her focal point seems to be His availability, His welcome to the person whose vision responds to Jesus’ contact.

‘He opens the gate’, Eleanor says. That’s not quite as illuminating as the God-son’s decision to wash feet, perhaps (John 13), but it presents Him in a light where I as a believer too infrequently see Him. I initiate prayer with Him every day. I need stuff; I need to tell Him I feel guilty; I want to express my gratitude, and tell Him I admire and am amazed at Him. What Eleanor says is that He coaxes me toward Him, as He pushes on that gate. He’s interested in me calling Him. He’s the Almighty, but He’s delighted to see me, as He waves me in and puts His arm around my shoulders. His invitation makes me feel valued. His attention is on little me! What a God, huh!   

The few biographic details of the composer were discovered at this site:   

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My Eyes Are Dry -- Keith Green

He must have been voicing the words of someone he knew who was much older, right? That might be what someone would ask, if they read the words of “My Eyes Are Dry” and knew Keith Green in 1978 in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California (see its seal here). After all, he was just 25, and some of the song’s words include ‘old’. What did he mean by that? Knowing Keith’s personality, you could instead surmise that he was talking about himself. Old doesn’t have to be physical. And how does one become rejuvenated, if the wrinkles on your skin or the tedium of life make you feel worn out? Just looking at Keith’s life – a radical take on the Gospel – would be a solution, albeit incorporating it into one’s life would require the Keith Green energy and personality, a rare commodity.

‘Life is short…make it count.’ That sums up what Keith and his wife Melody Green used for the Last Days Ministries (LDM) they formed just about the time that “My Eyes Are Dry” was gestating in Keith’s imagination. Both he and Melody had come out of the late 60’s-early 70’s generation searching for a genuine spiritual foundation. Their newfound belief in Christianity was so energized, that they readily reached out to house the needy in their neighborhood -- drug addicts, the homeless, prostitutes, unwed mothers, and others tossed aside by the culture. Faith was supposed to be real, and the Greens put it into action. Keith’s concerts reflected the same authenticity that he urged audiences to sing in words as if they were theirs. He must have been contemplating times when he’d felt stale and insensitive, even while knowing God was present. Keith’s method was not to cover up his valleys, but to expose them, confess them, and share with others how Jesus had refreshed his spirit. ‘If you’re in a low place right now, that’s where I once was’, Keith would tell them in so many words during an interlude in “My Eyes Are Dry”. Last Days Ministries– formally established in 1977 --  was fresh proof  that Keith and Melody were advocating this message not just to music fans, but to dozens of people they were lodging in their own home and other dwellings they’d acquired. If you feel dry (empty), old, hard, and cold, God is your oil and wine, according to Keith’s lyrics. He can make your life count again.

In keeping with their ministry’s motto, Keith Green’s life was indeed impactful, although tragically short. LDM is still operating, under Melody’s leadership, following the death of Keith and 11 others who were attempting to take an airborne tour of the LDM campus in 1982. This 28-year episode – Keith Green’s lifespan – is noteworthy, and still speaks of his zeal for Christ through words like those in ‘My Eyes…’. If I went to my eternal home today, have I left evidence of an inner conviction like Keith’s? Maybe I should make certain there’s some external portion to that internal piece, huh?          

See the following websites for information on the composer and the ministry he and his wife established:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On Bended Knee -- Robert Gay and Jimmy Orr

‘It was a humiliating experience’, someone says. Another says ‘I was humbled…’. Is there a difference between feeling humiliated versus humbled? If my Webster’s Dictionary is accurate, the answer I would infer from its multiple definitions would be a ‘yes’. While being humble is a position or attitude I can adopt for myself, being humiliated is most often something that is imposed upon someone, either due to a situation or by other people. How do people who’ve curtseyed in the presence of earthly royalty feel? (See one example in the picture here, in which Queen Elizabeth II receives flowers from a young girl in 1954.) Which one was Robert Gay proposing when he wrote “On Bended Knee” in 1988, or how about Jimmy Orr when he added a second verse four years later? And, if I don’t willingly accede to a prostrate position, could something else that will utterly disgrace me transpire? Perhaps admitting one’s own warts are there is what Robert and Jimmy were thinking, but not necessarily just to avoid a harsher treatment. They both thought there was an outcome rather pleasing and beneficial flowing from humility. Yeh, let’s ask them someday.

Neither the originator, Robert, nor his friend Jimmy who added some more thoughts, have evidently shared what inspired their respective verses for “On Bended Knee”. Their circumstances are unknown, but they both thought about what it was like to be needy before the Holy God, and what it would be like to find rejuvenation in the wake of humility. Who Robert Gay was in 1988, even something as basic as his age, is a mystery. And, if Jimmy Orr is the British-born citizen from Northern Ireland who died in 1987 in North Carolina, how was it he crafted a verse attributed to him in 1992? Perhaps he’d written it just before his departure from life. Nonetheless, their respective verses tell something revealing about them both. Gay’s and Orr’s messages begin from a position neither was too proud to occupy. Getting on one’s knees must have been familiar, but not disagreeable. Love and respect flow effortlessly hand-in-hand with the humility with which they present themselves. You can imagine this was something they’d done many times, knowing they could count on rekindling an intimacy with God that begins with submissiveness in His presence. Admit I don’t measure up – He knows it anyway. He wants to bless those who seek Him out in truth. And, the most basic truth is this – He’s holy, I’m not. Robert and Jimmy help the Christian own up to that, and thus draw strength from Him in that reality. It’s only through Him that I can elevate my life. But it has to begin from a low position. I need not know what other pieces of Robert’s and Jimmy’s lives spurred “On Bended Knee”. They were lowly mortals, just like me.    

The pathway starts from down below, but with God I don’t stay there. He could fold His arms and scowl that I’m a mess that pollutes His presence. But, seeing Him in scripture informs me that He doesn’t feel that way. Oh, He’s disappointed when I fail, but He thinks I can choose not to stop there. Why did He choose to look directly at Peter when he denied Him (Luke 22:61)? Was it to humiliate Peter interminably, the way Judas evidently felt? Perhaps Jesus was just letting his friend know He’d seen his human, mortal side yet again. And, Peter’s response showed he realized where he stood, in comparison to his Lord, and especially to the truth. Only with this downfall did he stand up again. Are you Peter today? Don’t deny it. Admit it. You’ll feel better, once you purge yourself of that pride.        

See this site for information that potentially refers to one of the composers of the song: