Sunday, August 27, 2017
He was a 54-year old, who knew the end might be near. And so, Henry Francis Lyte wrote for all of us “Abide with Me”, allowing us to imagine what was in his soul as he pondered the conclusion of his mortality. What would you or I record, if granted the opportunity and the calm demeanor to pen meaningful words for others to read? Would it matter if the approaching finality was sudden or expected? Perhaps Henry’s version might have been considered a curse by some, since he had to bear for a pretty long period the ill health that ultimately cornered him. But, on the other hand, maybe it gave him the proper perspective, and helped gestate his poignant words over time. Perhaps death should be something you and I consider carefully.
Henry Lyte was a sickly minister in the Church of England throughout all of his adult life, but it’s said that he didn’t let that diminish his effort to serve. He’s the one who would have preferred to ‘wear out, rather than rust out’, and so is it ironically possible that this desire drew him to an early grave? He ministered energetically, despite his chronic asthma and the tuberculosis that ultimately caused his demise. It was only as his health reached a new low that Henry decided a temporary move to a warmer climate in Italy was a good idea in 1847. Nevertheless, he gathered himself for another sermon as he prepared to depart, delivering a final message to the crowd to whom he’d ministered for some 20 years in Lower Brixham. His words reportedly stuck with his hearers, who remembered his admonition that they consider their own mortality with great care. Was his sermon in fact based upon the eight-verse poem that he composed about abiding? Some have said his thoughts were, at least in part, from the perspective of two 1st Century disciples who encountered Jesus after He arose, but did not immediately recognize Him. These Emmaus travelers (Luke 24:13-35) were glum, initially, because of death – Jesus’ death. But their spirits rebounded in His presence, especially when He prepared to eat the evening meal with them. Is that what Henry imagined – perhaps a bit cheated and down in the dumps, but then deeply satisfied and hopeful because of the promise he possessed as a believer, too. He called out for God’s abiding presence, knowing this was not in vain. Some historians have speculated that Henry may have in fact composed much of the poem decades earlier, and then polished it as he prepared to depart for Italy years later. No matter – thoughts of eternity and its import for many years or even decades would not have been unusual for someone in Henry’s circumstance. In fact, the fog of ill health likely would have compelled the composer’s entreaty to God from an early age. Perhaps it was a fog that he felt was lifting, as he earnestly sought his hearers’ attention with his last sermon and this poem.
He was thinking about Jesus, but not about His death. Instead the moments after life began anew for Jesus may have been on Henry’s mind. My favorite of his eight verses is number seven. It’s where Henry paraphrases what Paul writes to some Corinthians about death’s sting being muted (1 Corinthians 15:55). The potency of the old apostle’s words weren’t worn out, unlike Henry’s body. They’re from Paul’s spirit, and therefore from the Spirit above. It seems that Henry found something there that gave his own spirit an injection of life. Plug into somebody that cannot die, and abide with Him! That was Henry’s solution to his own situation…how about yours?
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945; and Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
See this site for all eight of the original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/a/b/i/abidewme.htm
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Anastasis=Resurrection (ancient Greek)
If you, in your curiosity, investigated this song’s subtitle, you’d probably need no further examination to guess the song’s essence. From its meaning springs a reaction to an event, contained in the main title of the song. Perhaps that’s how the three Christian friends in Australia thought about “O Praise the Name”, when they decided to place this phrase in parentheses in the song’s label. Marty, Benjamin, and Dean are their names, associates who were evidently pondering the centerpiece of human history – resurrection. And, they must have wanted to reach back toward that special day by using an ancient word that would have been recognizable in the ears of many. Place yourself in the shoes (or, more likely, sandals) of someone who might have witnessed the Divine rising from the grave.
Marty Sampson was a 36-year-old worship minister at the Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, who, along with Benjamin Hasings and Dean Ussher, co-wrote “O Praise the Name” and introduced it to others in 2015. It’s not a surprise the reaction its words generated, as “O Praise…” was sung for the first time at the Sydney-based church, according to those who were there at Easter of that year. Its impact was what the three undoubtedly felt would naturally flow from imagining being at Jesus’ tomb that first morning in the first century. Sometime in the next few years or at least in that generation, someone in the ancient Greek world wrote ‘Anastasis’ (correctly pronounced ‘ah –nas –ta –sis’) to convey to a wider audience that the incredible was credible. Jesus rose! Marty and his two friends, 20 centuries later, wanted to recapture the eyewitness viewpoint, and so they take us to the bloody hill of His execution (v.1), His lonely tomb – later transformed into a dazzling scene of joy (vv.2+3)– and finally to the future rebirth of His saints (v.4). Marty, Ben, and Dean made it the headliner of the album “Open Heaven/River Wild”, appropriate for the unbounded emotion the song stimulates. It’s impossible to ignore its words and implications, the same way it was impossible for contemporaries to evade Jesus’ reappearance, and how impossible it will be for any of us to hide during His return at the end.
What other circumstances motivated the three composers? Does it matter? What else matters the way Anastasis does, when you mouth its words? Would anyone want to escape this aura that Jesus has spurred? These are lots of questions, perhaps rhetorical for you or me. If they’re not in the abstract for you, it’s not too late to hunt your answers. What Marty, Ben, and Dean have written is too electric to dismiss. Some writer long ago said ‘praise’ would be on everyone’s lips in heaven (Rev. 5, 7, 19). Maybe you’d better check this out, before it’s too late.
See the following sites for information on one of the composers, and the song:
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/anastasis (for definition of the song’s parenthetical subtitle)
Saturday, August 12, 2017
An October morning in 1989 in the basement of her parents’ house was the scene. Birmingham, Alabama (its flag is shown here) was familiar to Lynn DeShazo, but she’d been gone awhile, and was feeling that her surroundings didn’t quite recapture everything she needed that day. So, 33-year old Lynn asked God to “Turn My Heart” in a way that He’d done before. She found that He was listening, as the next few months transpired. Moving from one place to another was more difficult for Lynn than she had imagined, even though she’d pondered this episode for many months and felt certain she was taking the right path. Could it be that the turning had started many months prior to that autumn morning when her thoughts actually coalesced into the words she sang for the first time? It seemed, as she reflected on the events 20 years hence (in 2010), that she was still approaching him with the same expectation – letting Him turn somebody isn’t an isolated incident.
Lynn DeShazo had been on an eight-year journey during a time in her post-college years in the 1980s that finally led her to “Turn My Heart”. From Alabama to Michigan, and then back to Alabama, Lynn may have concluded that God was doing some directing before she asked for his guidance a bit more directly the morning she wrote her ‘Turn…’ song. She helped plant and lead a church in worship for several years in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in what she might have thought was the epilogue to her college and post-college career in Auburn, Alabama that had concluded in 1981. By 1989 Lynn was headed back to the Deep South where she’d begun. Landing in her parents’ basement, working in a UPS store, and engaged in a nascent – and still somewhat uncertain – songwriting career, Lynn felt uneasy. She no longer had the church in Ann Arbor to lean upon, where all her friends and life’s purpose had been centered for the better part of the previous decade. True, she was indeed a songwriter, a calling that had been gestating for several years, indeed since her high school days. But, she felt the ambiguity of this calling’s future. Would she find a church where she could minister, particularly with this gift for music? Her unease had actually been ongoing for a couple of years, beginning in Michigan, so this visceral sensation upon which she focused one October 1989 morning wasn’t new. But, as she read about a king in Proverbs 21:1, the words resonated, spurring the words of “Turn My Heart”. Lynn wanted to be part of His river, like water He directs down a path. She evidently wanted to live there, not just ride a raft through it and then jump out. That’s why she uses the word ‘surrender’ in the song’s vocabulary to express her desire to be one with His spirit. The next few days and weeks, Lynn’s life was indeed blessed, as she finished the song, found a church, and moved into a place to live (not her parents’ basement!). She’d begun a new chapter, one she’d been working on, perhaps unconsciously, since Michigan.
Lynn was probably used to making turns in her life before she actually wrote some words to that effect in 1989. She describes at least two other choices shortly after graduating from college, shared in her book (see if referenced below) that were ‘turns’ she took to grow in reliance on Him. (I won’t share them here – she does a better job of it in the words she wrote in her book!) So, by the time she needed more direction in 1989, she was already used to seeking Him out for this purpose. She relays that her ‘turning’ was still continuing in 2010, when she looked back over the previous 20 years. Lynn’s still swimming in His river!
The book, More Precious Than Silver, by Lynn DeShazo, WinePress Publishing, 2010, is the only source for the above song story.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
A poet-preacher was he. The Englishman John Keble was still a young man, practicing his craft and building upon his faith when he wrote “Sun of My Soul” as a result of some study in which he had been engaged in 1820. He was no doubt thinking about the congregation he served, and how his discovery of something in scripture could be a stepping stone for their worship. He eventually would roll this poem and many others into a collection for use by his audience seven years later, but claiming credit for it was not one of Keble’s objectives. He tried to maintain his anonymity, but his reputation as a poet while at Oxford – where he’d been educated – made his fingerprints on “Sun of My Soul” too apparent. His subject in the poem was also a mystery – for a while. (The “Light of the World” painting by William Holman Hunt [shown here] hangs in the Keble College at Oxford today, a physical reminder of the Son-light of whom he wrote.)
John Keble had a background that served him well and contributed to his poetic nature and the ministry he inhabited for the rest of his life, and even beyond. John’s father was in professional ministry in England’s church, giving John his foundation of faith and later his study at Oxford. His outstanding performance in school somehow contrasted with a humility in John that translated into a position at Oxford for the following decade, where he most likely was when “Sun of My Soul” was penned. “Evening” was the poem’s original title, which enlightens its readers as to its setting – a nighttime scene. John had evidently been reading about Jesus’ post-resurrection encounter with two despondent Emmaus travelers (Luke 24), and their desire to have Him remain with them for the evening meal. Though His identity was hidden from their eyes for most of that episode, the two disciples knew Jesus in due course, remarking that his presence had enlightened them—‘(their) hearts burning within…’, like a sun. John’s poem was among the many published by 1827 in “The Christian Year”, a volume that Keble , incognito, wished to use to further church worship, in tandem with the Anglican Book of Prayer. So, his poem was not projected originally as a hymn, yet its widespread popularity dictated otherwise. Over 100 editions of this poetry collection were published by the end of Keble’s life in the 1860s, and a college at Oxford was named for the poet in 1869, testifying to his influence. By 1873, 158 editions of his poetry volume had spread throughout Christendom. Keble College at Oxford still exists today, along with the Evening hymn – “Sun of My Soul”—that he wrote there.
John Keble was evidently imagining what it must have been like for those two Emmaus travelers to see and talk with the Lord, to finally recognize who this was that had brightened their outlook so profoundly. His six verses convey the consolation, and moreover, the exhilaration that we believers experience in knowing that Jesus is not dead. Though at times I feel as those two did at first on that resurrection day, Keble reminds me that everyone’s eyes can open to the reality, incredible though it may be. It’s not just any other day, it is indeed RESURRECTION day. As big and as enduring as our sun in space, and more, is our God.
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.
See this site for all six of the original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/s/u/n/sunosoul.htm
Short biography of the composer: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/k/e/b/keble_j.htm
See this site for a more lengthy biography of the composer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keble