Archives

Who Was “Queen of Gospel Songwriters”?

Fanny J. Crosby #4If you have gone to church all of your life (as I have) or if you have only attended a few times for special services or events you, no doubt, have heard some of the following songs sung:  “Blessed Assurance”, “Near the Cross”, “To God Be the Glory” or “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior“.  What do they all have in common?  The lyricist to these and nearly 9,000 other Gospel songs and hymns is a woman whose name you may have heard; she was Frances Jane van Alstyne, and she went by her maiden name, Fanny J. Crosby.  She is known as the “Queen of Gospel Songwriters” and the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America”, with more than 100 million copies of her songs in print.  Perhaps no one has seen more of their songs included in church hymnals than Fanny Crosby.  But, what you may not know about her is the fact she was blind from shortly after birth!

 

Fanny J. Crosby was born on March 24, 1820 in the village of Brewster, New York, about 50 miles north of New York City, and traced her ancestry from Anna Brigham and Simon Crosby who arrived in Boston in 1635 and were among the founders of Harvard College.  When she was just six weeks old, she developed an inflammation of the eyes resulting in total blindness for the rest of her life.  Her father died when she was only six months old and she was raised by her devout Christian mother and maternal grandmother, who grounded her in Christian principles and helped her memorize long passages from the Bible.  She memorized five chapters of the Bible each week from the age of ten, and by age fifteen had memorized the four gospels, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), the Book of Proverbs, Song of Solomon and many of the Psalms!  Fanny later stated, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation.  If perfect earthly sight were offered  me  tomorrow I would not accept it.  I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

After her 1843 graduation from the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB) where she was a student for eight years and another two as a graduate pupil, learning among other things to play the piano, organ, harp and guitar, as well as sing, she lobbied in Washington, DC for support of education for the blind; was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate; gave a concert for Congress; spoke before a joint session of Congress; and recited original poems for several presidents, including John Quincy Adams, James K. Polk and Grover Cleveland, whom she had met while teaching at the NYIB, when he was only seventeen years old!  The two spent many hours together at the end of each day and he often transcribed the poems she had written as she dictated them to him.  In 1858 she married Alexander van Alstyne, Jr., who was also blind and had been a student at the NYIB.

Fanny J. Crosby #3

 

Fanny J. Crosby was a committed Christian who was a member of several different churches during her lifetime, including the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, where she served as a consecrated Baptist missionary, deaconess, and lay preacher, writing one of her most famous hymns, together with her minister Robert Lowry, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”, as well as many others.  Although Fanny wrote many political, patriotic, and popular songs, as well as three cantatas, (one written for the choir at the Mercer Street Presbyterian Church in Manhattan), she is best known for her Gospel songs and hymns which have endeared themselves to the hearts and souls of millions through the years.  Although she was criticized by hymnologists as writing “very weak and poor” lyrics which were considered “crudely sentimental” or “gushy and mawkishly sentimental” (attacking both her writing and theology), Fanny persevered with the gift God had entrusted to her.   The informal ballad style broke away from the staid, formal approach of earlier periods, touching deep emotions in singers and listeners alike; audiences thrilled to the genuine, heartfelt Christianity of her songs, placing a heightened emphasis on the conversion experience through Jesus Christ, with the emotions that accompany it, and the testimonies that reflect a genuine change of heart and lifestyle!  I believe they were anointed by the Holy Spirit!  She always asked the Lord to be her inspiration before writing a song, often composing six or seven hymns in one day!  Her poems and hymns were composed entirely in her mind and she worked on as many as twelve hymns at once before dictating them to an amanuensis (one employed to write from dictation); on one occasion she composed 40 hymns before transcription!

 

Over 8,000 of her songs were purchased by major publishing companies of the day (nearly 2,000 of them actually published in their hymnals),  and Fanny gave the majority of her earnings from her songs (often only $1 or $2  per song as a lyricist) to the poor and disabled. She truly had a heart of compassion and love and spent most of her adult years working in rescue missions and living near the slums of New York City.  It was her involvement in the city missions and a Manhattan prison that gave her the inspiration for “Rescue the Perishing”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (used worldwide by Ira Sankey in his crusades with Dwight L. Moody in Britain in 1874), and “More Like Jesus”.  Even though Van and Fanny could have lived comfortably on his income from playing the organ at two churches in New York City and giving private music lessons, and hers as a poet and lyricist, the couple “had other priorities and gave away anything that was not necessary to their daily survival.”  The couple organized concerts with half the proceeds given to aid the poor.  Truly they personified Jesus’ words to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven….” Matt. 19:21

In 1859, the van Alstynes had a daughter names Frances who died in her sleep soon after birth.  The cause is not known for sure, but some believe she became ill with typhoid fever, and others have given SIDS as the cause.  As a result of this tragedy, Fanny was inspired to write the beautiful hymn which has been a comfort to so many in time of bereavement, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. Towards the end of her life, she would remark, “Now I am going to tell you of something that only my closest friends know.  I became a mother and knew a mother’s love.  God gave us a tender babe but the angels came down and took our infant up to God and to His throne.”

Another hymn which is one of my favorites is “My Savior First of All” which says,

“I shall know Him, I shall know Him, And redeemed by His side I shall stand; I shall know Him, I shall know Him; By the print of the nails in His hand.”

During times of great tragedy, as after the loss of her daughter, and even in challenging times caused by her lifelong blindness, Fanny could write such words, looking forward to the day when she would see Jesus and know Him by feeling the print of the nails in His hand!   The only way she knew how to “see” things, was by feel.  Think about the profound statement she made in that hymn…to “feel” the print of the nails in His hand!  She made the statement once, “When I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”   For the first time ever, she saw Jesus with eyes that were no longer blind!  This touches me deeply.

 

Fanny J. Crosby wrote so many, many more wonderful songs, some of which are basically unknown, and many which you and I have probably sung multiple times, such as “Jesus Is Calling”, “Will Jesus Find Us Watching?”, “Saved by Grace”, “He Hideth My Soul”, “I Am Thine, O Lord”, “Redeemed”, “Near the Cross” and “Close to Thee”.  She collaborated with numerous composers of melody including William H. Doane, an industrialist who composed melodies for an estimated 1500 of Crosby’s lyrics;  Ira Sankey, D.L. Moody’s song leader who made her basically a household name throughout the world by singing many of her songs in their meetings; and Robert Lowry, an American Baptist minister who also wrote “Shall We Gather at the River”, “Christ Arose!” and “Nothing But the Blood!” among others.

 

I think one of the most interesting stories is her collaboration with wealthy Methodist socialite Phoebe Palmer Knapp, whom she met in 1868, and who was married to Joseph Fairchild Knapp, co-founder of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company!  The Knapps published hymnals for the Sunday School of Saint John’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, where Knapp was Sunday School superintendent for 22 years.  Fanny co-wrote (lyrics) for 21 hymns in their hymnal “Notes of Joy”; Phoebe provided music for fourteen of them.   The best-known of all of these songs which the two women collaborated on is one you have probably sung many times, “Blessed Assurance”, which Fanny wrote the words to in the Knapps’ music room to Phoebe’s music, while staying at the Knapp Mansion in 1873.  I find it so interesting that the beautiful song which says, blessedassurance”, Jesus is mine was composed by an “insurance” man’s wife.  The two remained friends for life!

In her latter years, Fanny J. Crosby continued to be actively involved in her work with the missions of Manhattan and greater New York City, including speaking engagements, support and missionary work among America’s urban poor almost until the day she died in 1915 a month before her 95th birthday after moving to Bridgeport, Connecticut to be closer to her family.   Although her hymn writing declined in these last years of her life, the popularity of her lyrics as well as her winsome personality catapulted her to fame.  In 1975, Fanny was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Fanny J. CrosbyOne of my favorite Fanny J. Crosby songs is the well-known hymn, “Praise Him, Praise Him” which I recorded a few years ago in a bit of an up-tempo jazzy version; I hope she would have approved!  The melody is composed by Chester G. Allen.   I hope you will enjoy my arrangement as we celebrate the life and music of a remarkable woman devoted to God in spite of her challenges, and who was determined to write lyrics that would lift up Jesus and win people to Him!  Fanny had set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote a hymn she prayed it would bring men and women to Christ; she kept careful records of those reported to have been saved through her hymns!  I believe that goal has been surpassed many times over throughout the years as people of all ages continue to be blessed, inspired and changed through listening to the words of Fanny J. Crosby set to music!

 

 

The Story of “Silent Night”

The beautiful and much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, has a very interesting story behind it….I thought you might enjoy hearing how this most famous carol came to be written!

The year was 1818 and a roving band of actors was traveling through the Austrian Alps performing their re-enactment of the story of Christ’s birth in towns all over the area. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, where they were scheduled to perform that evening in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the church organ was broken and unable to be repaired until after Christmas. Undeterred, the acting company simply moved their Christmas drama to a private home. In attendance that evening was an assistant priest of the church, Josef Mohr, a young man who had been born an illegitimate child on December 11, 1792 in  Salzburg.  He had become a Catholic priest in 1815 after he obtained a special papal dispensation that was required for illegitimate persons entering the priesthood. That night the beautiful presentation of the actors put him in a meditative mood, and instead of walking straight home, he took a longer route which included a quiet path up a hill overlooking the village below. As he looked down from the hilltop on the peaceful, snow-covered village, he reveled in the majestic silence of the wintry night and, gazing upon the picturesque winter scene, remembered a poem he had written a couple of years before about the night the angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on another hillside far away in Judea.

Mohr, who was very determined to introduce music in the mother tongue of the Austrian and German people, instead of insisting they sing songs and hear sermons in Latin which was not understood by anyone, decided that the words he had written might make a good simple carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The only problem was he had no music to which the poem could be sung! So the next day Father Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber. The organist had only a few hours to compose a melody for Mohr’s poem, and due to the fact the organ was inoperable, he had to come up with an extremely simple melody and chord pattern that could be sung with a guitar. Gruber managed to do just that, and by the time of the Christmas eve service, he had composed a simple but beautiful musical setting for the poem, one which could easily be sung by the common people and whose accompaniment could  be strummed on the guitar. They had just introduced a Christmas carol that could be sung without an organ!

On that Christmas Eve in 1818, the congregation heard for the very first time the beautiful carol, “Silent Night”, sung by Mohr and Gruber, who also accompanied them on his guitar.

Weeks later, when the organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived to repair the organ, he heard Gruber play his composition as he tested out the newly refurbished instrument. Deeply impressed by the beautiful, melodious carol, Mauracher took copies of the music and words to “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village of Kapfing. Two well-known singing families, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard and were captivated by the beautiful new song, putting it into their Christmas season repertoires.

The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, after they performed it for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, he ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve! Twenty years after it was written, the Rainers brought “Silent Night” to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside of New York City’s Trinity Church.  Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber had maintained their church work in relative obscurity through the years.  It was not until people began asking years later, as its popularity at Christmas increased, “Who wrote this beautiful song?” that  Gruber’s son spoke up and said, “I know the story of this song!” and produced a copy of it after his father’s death.  Josef Mohr died of complications from tuberculosis when he was not quite 56 years old, and is buried in the courtyard of a school he started in a small town in Austria during his priesthood.  Neither man ever knew the worldwide scope of the song they had penned that Christmas Eve in a small town in the mountains of Austria, but God used their talents in a remarkable way.  Even though Josef Mohr was a man who came from a less than desirable background at the time, God chose him to herald the message of the birth of the Savior through this beloved song!

In 1863, “Silent Night” was translated into English from the original German, and today the words of “Silent Night” are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world!  It has been recorded musically by over 740 artists all over the world, making it the most recorded song of all time!

The original German lyrics go something like this:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schlaft, einsam wacht;
Nur das traute heilige Paar,
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar;
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’, Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’.

Did God in His sovereignty allow a simple church organ to “break down” and be out of commission at a most important time so that someone would compose a simple song, one that ordinarily would not be thought of as nearly complex enough for the traditional organ masterpieces of the day, later sung around the world as a best-loved rendition of His birth? Did God anoint two men who were moved by the events recorded in Matthew and Luke to compose perhaps the most famous of the carols that are sung all over the world to this day? I believe He did! I am thankful that they were obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to pen the words and music that will go down in history as one of the greatest songs ever written!

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright;
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild;
Sleep in Heavenly peace, Sleep in Heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight; 
Glories stream from Heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing, “Allelujah”;
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!

Please enjoy my arrangement of this beloved carol from my Christmas album “Proclaim the Joy!” (available also on Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, CD Baby and others)

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part II

Worship[1]

Yesterday we discussed how King David called upon the singers and instrumentalists to accompany him in bringing the ark of God to its tent home…the Tabernacle of David!  I want to continue this story by pointing out several very interesting things that happened during this journey!

In I Chronicles 15 we are told of the musicians who were called upon to accompany the ark on its way to the tent David had pitched to house it until the building of the Temple could occur years later under King Solomon.  Verse 19 speaks of three singers, Heman, Asaph and Ethan, who were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze, as well!  Verse 20 details some who played psalteries (which is similar to today’s “zither” which looks somewhat like an autoharp; it is a stringed instrument, possibly a forerunner of the piano); verse 21 speaks of harps; and verse 24 mentions blowing with trumpets.

I Chronicles 15:27 says,  Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers.  David also wore an ephod of linen.  An ephod was a priestly garment or vestment for the high priest, so in essence David was acting as a priest in bringing the ark of God to its home, as he worshipped!  Verse 28 reads, Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres. (NASB)  Chapter 16, verse 1 tells us, And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. (NASB) It seems that the musicians were very jubilant, shouting, playing their instruments and really “having church”!

II Samuel 6:14 & 15 adds this note,  And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. (NASB)  I believe they were all worshipping, feeling the presence of the Lord very strongly, as they journeyed to the waiting tent, many dancing and shouting. Some played musical instruments, including  two of the priests who blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God! (I Chronicles 16:5 and 6 paraphrased)  In short, they were “getting happy” in the Lord!

How many musicians were there among the Levites, you ask?  I Chronicles 23:3-5 gives us the answer:  The Levites were numbered from thirty years old and upward, and their number by census of men was 38,000.  Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the Lord; and 6,000 were officers and judges, and 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise. (NASB) The number 4,000 indicates skillful musicians who had been trained and played instruments made by David in order to lead the singers and others in worship!  I find this to be very exciting!  Many of these ancient instruments are forerunners of those we have today, and some of them are still made in much the same way.  If David designed them, perhaps he had others who actually made them from a prototype.  Who knows?  He probably did not personally manufacture them all.  It would be interesting to know how the instruments really came to be made!  We do know that David and others accompanied those who sang the Psalms, as is written above many of them in the Book of Psalms.  There are 150 of them there, but more appear in several other Old Testament books; Jesus and Paul quoted them in the New Testament, as well, so it is assumed the Early Church also sang psalms, as the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:16,  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (KJV)

In I Chronicles 25:1 & 3 we read, Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;….six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the Lord. (NASB) Musicians were even used in warfare! Today, prophetic music is a powerful thing, and can be used in spiritual warfare!  The Holy Spirit releases His anointing which in turn can bring about deliverance and healing as a Spirit-filled musician plays on an instrument.  Case in point:  Remember when Saul called for a musician when he was tormented by demons and David played for him on the harp and the evil spirit departed from him? (I Samuel 16:23)

In addition to (or perhaps a part of) the 4,000 mentioned above, I Chronicles 25:6 & 7 tells us about others used in the house of the Lord to minister in music:  All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God.  Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king.  Their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288. (NASB)

And in conclusion, don’t forget Jehoshaphat, the righteous king who ruled hundreds of years after King David.  He also knew the power of anointed worship music, sometimes even sending the musicians and singers into battle before the army of Judah!  How would you have liked to be in that choir and orchestra?  Here are the words of II Chronicles 20:20b-22,  “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established.  Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.”  When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. (NASB)  The dictionary says “rout” means “to defeat decisively or disastrously”!

Is there power in anointed music?  Absolutely!  God has used musicians time and time again for His divine purposes, not only to destroy the works of the enemy, but to bring us into His presence through the oil and sweet savor of the music He has created…a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness!  Come into the Holy of Holies and be refreshed as you play and sing before Him!  Truly God has given us this beautiful gift, so be encouraged today, fellow musician.  You are very special to God!!

I, as a musician, want to be a woman God can use in His Kingdom!  I want Him to say of me, as he said of King David of old, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”  Acts 13:22 (NASB)  Is that your prayer today?

Listen to this song I wrote and recorded a few years ago based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23 & 24…. I hope you will pray this prayer with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part I

Worship[1]

Let me tell you a story about the singers and orchestra that led God’s people, the children of Israel, on many journeys, including battles and a journey to place the ark of God in a permanent home!

The story begins in I Chronicles 15:1 and 2:  David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (NKJV)  The story continues through the chapter with verse 16 stating, Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. (NKJV)

It is important to remember that as we study the Torah and the Law of God (primarily in the books of Exodus and Leviticus),  we become aware that the Levites were one of the twelve tribes and the only one of the tribes to be “priests” of God and minister to Him in the Tabernacle, which at that time was portable and could be carried.  It was a tent-like structure made of animal skins, rich tapestries and other coverings, curtains, ornate wood overlaid with gold, and beautiful furnishings.  The ark of God (often referred to as the Ark of the Covenant) was housed within the Holy of Holies and only the priests (Levites) were allowed in this area.  The Tabernacle was carried with the children of Israel during their many years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the “Promised Land”.

David desperately wanted to find a permanent home for the ark of God.  He desired to build a house, or temple, for God, but the Lord denied David this honor, telling him that because he had been a man of war, He would only allow it to be built by his son at a later time.  Solomon, David’s son, became king after David ruled for 40 years and built the temple, much of it planned out by his father!  But God allowed David to house the ark in a tent, as we read above, and that is where it remained until the completion of the temple at a later date.  This is where we get the terminology “The Tabernacle of David” because it refers to the glory of God brought into our lives through praise and worship! God is restoring this type of worship today, a spontaneous, non-structured, joyful “entering into His presence” experience.  Holy Spirit anointed instrumental and vocal musicians lead the way into the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant used to be located, but is now located within us as we enter into His presence!  We can come boldly before the Throne of Grace today as we enter in through our worship! (Hebrews 4:16)

What is interesting to me, as a musician, is the detail recorded in I Chronicles regarding the musical instruments the musicians played.   In chapter 15, verse 20 we read about several musicians playing “harps tuned to alamoth”, apparently a tuning scale of the day.   Verse 21 mentions six other musicians would “lead with lyres tuned to the sheminith”.  The Hebrew Interlinear Bible interprets this as, “with lyres on the octave” indicating a scale similar to ours today.  I find this fascinating!  Verse 22  says, Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful. (NASB) (A footnote says he was “trained”). This indicates that a portion of the Levites were musicians who apparently even taught music!  So, being a music teacher is very scriptural!  Psalm 33:3 says, Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (NASB) and Isaiah 23:16 says,  Take your harp….Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. (NASB)  I spent nearly 35 years as a music teacher, and I am glad that God found this to be important…stressing the need for playing skillfully!

These verses should give music directors, teachers, singers and instrumentalists cause for joy in their profession!  Now, let’s see how the musicians who were of the tribe of the Levites were supported on a day-to-day basis.  I Chronicles 9:33 reads, These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night. (NKJV)  They were obviously engaged in singing and playing instruments, as well as teaching, in the house of the Lord.  Nehemiah 11:22b & 23 tells us,  ...the singers in charge of the service of the house of God.  For it was the king’s command concerning them that a certain portion should be for the singers, a quota day by day. (NKJV) The ESV puts it this way, For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required.

So, music must have been extremely important to God, for He provided for the musicians in His House, not only as singers and instrumentalists, but as instructors of future musicians!  They were a part of the Levitical priesthood and as such, were provided for financially! Nehemiah 12:44-46 reads, On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites;….For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon.  For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. (NASB)

But, unfortunately, some had not been paid.   Nehemiah 13:10 & 11 tells us,  I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.  So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”  And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.” (ESV)  The NASB says, “Restored them to their posts.”  Nehemiah then speaks in the next verses about restoring the tithes and appointing treasurers over the storehouses so that the Levites and musicians could once again serve, being supported financially.  Verse 12 says,  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  Nehemiah put several “in charge of the storehouses” (in verse 13) for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.  Isn’t this fascinating how the tithes were distributed to also include the payment of musicians?

I will conclude this fascinating study with Part II tomorrow….Please don’t miss it!

A few years ago I recorded my arrangement of the beautiful praise song written by Fanny J. Crosby, “Praise Him!  Praise Him!”…it has a bit of a “jazzy” twist.  I hope you will enjoy this as you worship today!

 

 

 

 

Lessons I Learned from a Bird

In Job 35:11 (NASB) we read, “Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?”  Could God use a bird to deliver a spiritual lesson to us?  My husband, Russell Bafford, had a chance to experience this very thing and I invited him to share it with us today on my blog:
Several years ago, I had this encounter with a bird….
While walking along the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky one sunny morning I saw a bird standing still at the edge of the river.  He had long, skinny legs and a long, narrow beak … probably a heron of some kind.  He remained motionless for the longest time.  I became mesmerized at the sight of him standing there, and focused on him wondering what was going to happen.  Then, all of a sudden, bam!  He poked his long beak down into the water just a few inches in front of his legs, and he came up with a small fish which he promptly swallowed.  Shortly after that he flew off.  After reflecting on what I had just seen, here are the nine things I learned from that episode.
1. This bird knew where to go to find what he needed.  Not to a junkyard… not to a barnyard…not to a desert…not to a mountaintop … not to a mall parking lot … not to a football field … not to a rooftop … but rather to the river.  Are you looking for a job in the wrong place?  There aren’t many cowboy jobs in downtown New York.  If you want to make surfboards, you better not look for a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  If you are looking for a Christian companion, go to where those Christians hang out … probably not to the local taverns and bars.  (He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.   Prov. 13:20)
2. He had to leave his resting place to find what he needed.  This took some effort on his part.  It would have been easier for him to stay in his bed, and hope the food would come to him.  But even this bird, with his bird brain, knew better than that.  He knew he had to go out and look for himself.  Do you wish you had a job, but wish someone would come to your door to offer you one?  Do you wish you had more friends, and wish they would come to your door offering to befriend you?  Get a bird brain … go look for what you desire!
3. He didn’t know the exact location of where his food would appear, but he did know the general vicinity of where it was most likely to appear.  Even though the river is about a mile wide, he only went to the river’s edge.  A fish that was 20 feet beneath the surface wouldn’t do him much good; he had to have something just a few inches down.  A 50 pound fish would be too much for him to handle, but a one ounce fish was just about the right size.  Could you really handle a million dollars right now if it was dumped into your lap?  Would a thousand dollars be easier for you to manage?  Our Lord told us to pray for our DAILY bread … not a year’s supply!  There must be a reason for that.
4. He looked for his needs using the physical characteristics, senses, skills, and attributes with which God had endowed him.  Those skinny legs look an awful lot like another reed growing up out of the water’s edge.  His eyes were several inches above the water giving him a pretty wide view of the water around him.  Be real with yourself.  God gave you much more than a bird’s brain!  Make a serious assessment of your skills, talents, attributes, and interests keeping in mind they are a gift from God proportioned to you in just the right amount according to His divine will.  Don’t be surprised if others don’t have the same exact mix of attributes … that’s because God made you unique!
5. He had patience… he stayed at it until his needs were met … he never gave up.  This took time.  He was willing to spend the time needed.  How long are you willing to wait on an answer to prayer from the Lord?  Look at some examples we have from scripture … when Moses went up Mount Sinai to seek the Lord, he was more than just a new believer.  He was more than a neophyte in spiritual things.  After leaving Egypt the first time, he spent 40 years biding his time in a foreign land most likely gaining some maturity in his spiritual life.  Then God finally told him to go back to Egypt, and bring His people out.  Moses saw and participated in some mind-boggling miracles brought about by God’s own hand.  And now this giant of the faith was summoned by God himself to ascend Mount Sinai for further instructions.  But once he was up there he waited … one hour … two hours … three hours … then one day … then two days … then three days … still no response from God … (How patient are you when you pray?  If we were really spiritual, we would all get an immediate response from God, right?) … Moses waited another day … then another … then after seven days had past, God finally spoke to him.  If this spiritual giant of the faith had to wait a full week before God answered him, how long should we be prepared to wait on our sovereign Lord?
6. He was focused on the task at hand … not distracted by other things going on around him.  There was a lot of background noise around him.  There was a lot of other activity by animals and people going on around him while he was trying to stay focused.  These other distractions did not care about his needs; they were unconcerned about his goals and objectives.  The distractive influences had their own agendas that were different from his.  Do you start with good intentions only to take your eye off the ball when the first distraction comes along?  Then, once distracted, do you go back to the task you started?  Did you ever begin a discipline of regular prayer & devotion time only to be distracted?  Did you go back to resume the practice?  There is a reason they are called DISCIPLES … because it involves discipline.   Let us learn from this bird and resolve to emulate his focus and his discipline.
7. He recognized what he needed when he saw it.  He had a pretty good idea of what his goal looked like.  Things that did not match his goal were ignored.  It has been said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.”  People often struggle for years to get a goal established in their lives.  Most Christians want to know what God’s will is for their lives.  This is a good place to remember Romans 12:2 which says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)  Are you looking to the celebrities in America’s popular culture for advice and direction?  Look somewhere else.  The key to knowing God’s will is to renew our minds to think His thoughts, to look at things the way He sees them, to respond the way our Lord would respond, to embrace and exercise the same value system our Lord has demonstrated for us.  This is not easy, but it is something to which each serious Christian should aspire.
8. He took what he needed when it got within his reach.  Even if he spotted a perfect fish 10 feet away it wouldn’t do him much good because it was beyond his reach.  It had to be within his reach.  Is it a surprise to you when God provides that for which you have prayed?  Should it be a surprise?  It should be a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving, but should it really be a surprise to us when God answers our prayers?
9. When his need was met, he went on to something else … as if he was confident God would meet that same need again on another day in a similar way.  Remember how Jesus told us to pray   “… give us this day our daily bread …”
I really learned a lot from that bird.  How about you?

Some Things Should Never Change!

images[5]In my last blog post I mentioned a number of negative things I believe are going on in the church world when it comes to music, which do not lend themselves to a productive worship experience for many people.  Today, I would like to take a positive approach to worship by sharing a couple of scriptures from the New Testament, written through the hand of the Apostle Paul, about what, ideally, our corporate worship should look like.  The Bible says “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established”, so I have chosen two verses which say nearly the same thing.

The first is found in Ephesians 5:19 and 20, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The second verse is in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

It is pretty clear from these verses that the Early Church used this pattern of worship in its services.  Psalms have been used since the time of David as poetic themes from the Word of God set to various musical patterns.  Many churches, as well as synagogues, use these to this day.  Some use them exclusively in worship.  Psalms are simply passages of scripture dedicated to praise and worship of our Father which, when set to various melodies, can be extremely conducive to entering into His presence in the corporate worship setting.

Last night I attended a choir rehearsal of a world-famous and highly renowned choir.  They were rehearsing the familiar old tune from the 1800’s, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, which is a musical adaptation of Psalm 23.  The associate choir director, a young man in his 30’s, related the story of how four years ago he had been experiencing severe trials in his life which had led him into a sort of depressed state.  One Sunday, as he walked into church, he heard the choir sing the words from this psalm,

“My table thou hast furnished

In presence of my foes;

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

And my cup overflows.”

He said that immediately a peace came over him and his whole outlook and attitude changed as he thought about our Lord who gives us so many blessings that our cups overflow with them!  It was a major turning point in his life that he never forgot.  God used a simple hymn to transform the life of a young man from feelings of depression to victory!

The second form of musical worship mentioned in the above verses is “hymns”.  These anointed works containing much scripture, worship of God and theologically sound doctrinal themes, have been penned by men and women for centuries as expressions of their love for their Lord, often mentioning the omnipotence and majesty of God, as well as the themes of crowning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, now and in Eternity!  I could go on and on, naming such great hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and so on.  To omit these mighty works, which have endured in the church for literally centuries, from our modern repertoire in favor of some light, fluffy tunes with words that copy current pop or rock lyrics, simply substituting the word “Jesus” for “you, my lover” is missing a sacred opportunity to enter into the presence of the Holy One!

The last type of music mentioned by the Apostle Paul is the term, “spiritual songs”.  I think we all are aware of what “spirituals” are…the African American people learned hundreds of songs by rote, which we still sing, as they were working in hard labor in the cotton fields and wherever they happened to be.  No doubt these songs were a great comfort to them in their physically agonizing times of stress and strain and probably “got them through” much pain and suffering.

Even if we today are not enduring the trials of the American slaves of old, we still have trials and tribulations that cause us to turn to our Creator for peace and help.  This is where many “spiritual songs” have sustained men and women, boys and girls for centuries.  These are “testimony” songs about God’s sustaining grace and power to deliver in time of need; songs about how God rescued us from the pit of despair and put us on the path to Eternal Life; testimonies and praise to Him in upbeat, as well as quiet and worshipful, tunes; and songs simply expressing our heartfelt love and gratitude to the One who has changed our lives!

I believe the Church collectively would do well to consider including music from each of these three categories in our worship services.  Surely this admonition from the New Testament is just as important for us to observe today as it was back when it was written.  Some things are not meant to change!

 

 

A Word About Worship

Worship[1]Perhaps all of us have memories of walking in a forest or looking up at the stars on a clear night while worshipping and praising God for His creation!  However, how many times have we sat in a church pew on Sunday morning being critical, apathetic or “just there” physically, while our minds wandered to other subjects?

Even ministers, experts, and worship leaders have admitted they have had this experience, so should the rest of us be surprised if we also have trouble worshipping at times?  We face many obstacles in today’s active lifestyle and, in addition, Satan does his best to distract us and obstruct our true worship.  His desire to receive our worship instead of God results in his best efforts to distract and stop us from truly worshipping our Lord!  If successful, he has won half the battle. (Isaiah 14:12-14)

In 1961, the late A. W. Tozer rebuked evangelicals of his generation for their inadequate worship, in his book “Worship:  The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church”.  In 1982, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror published a response in “Worship:  Rediscovering the Missing Jewel”.  They wrote, “The jewel is still missing, but at least now many of us know it, and miss it, and want to find it.”

For years some churches have prided themselves on free and spontaneous worship, while others have been equally proud of their staid and reverent attitude towards it.  Perhaps both have a point.  Could the ideal worship encompass both ends of the spectrum?  God is a God of balance and symmetry, and yet we as human beings tend to be off-balance on many issues, swaying first to the right and then to the left, when God is saying that somewhere in the middle we often find the ideal!

In a 1996 issue of “Moody” Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Bruce Shelley wrote an article titled, “Then and Now:  How Have Cultural Changes Altered our Expectations in Worship?”  In his informative article, Mr. Shelley details the explosive issues faced by churches attempting to change musical styles in their worship in order to improve their worship experience.  Although the need to do this was basically acknowledged by most, making it a non-controversial issue of the time, the difference of opinion as to how this should be accomplished was considerable.  In addressing the feelings that stir older members when churches change music styles, he told of the sanctified outrage he met with when he mentioned having drums in a service…”like a match dropped on a haystack!”  The room erupted in a corporate groan, followed by an outburst of laughter.  Remember, this article was written nearly twenty years ago when the changes in contemporary church worship were in their infancy.  Shelley went on to elaborate that churches across the country are “torn between the tug of tradition and the pull of style”.  Seniors want harmony; boomers want beat.  “What can be done to relieve this tension?” he asked.

Today, nearly twenty years later,  the “boomers” are the seniors in churches and the “millennials” have undertaken an even more radical approach to worship, shunning nearly all inferences to traditional church hymns or music of any sort, and imitating only the latest songs from the top “Christian” rock bands of the day or trendy pseudo-pop artists.  No matter that the music is absolutely “unsingable” to the average congregation (it sounds great on the radio where thousands of dollars have been spent to sync, digitize, loop and process each song); the lyrics trite and shallow; not to mention that the keys are pitched for high-voiced rock singers, not your average housewife or “man on the street” with zero musical ability.  Is it any wonder that when a person chances to look around the congregation, most of the audience is standing in silence, not even trying to sing?  Is this the way those attempting to come into God’s presence through corporate worship are encouraged to participate?

It is a fact that “loud cymbals” and “high sounding cymbals” are mentioned as a part of worship in Psalm 150:5 and elsewhere in the Psalms.  However, many other musical instruments used in praise and worship to God are mentioned, as well, such as the harp, lyre and ten-stringed instruments.  Should these be toned down and smothered in favor of the cymbals?  Could there be a musical balance that is pleasing to God that makes way for many instruments and styles of music?  Does the Psalmist speak about jubilant shouting in one psalm, as well as “waiting on God” and the “stillness of His presence” in another?  Are some of the anointed older hymns and songs of the past being shunned in favor of trendy fluff  with little or no theological or Bible-based soundness… not to mention, being poorly written from a musical standpoint, generally limited to three chords?  Who decided this appalling trend in music?

Perhaps, as “boomers” reach old age and “millennials” mature into middle age, there will be another generation that will emerge, seeking balance and wondering whatever happened to the hymns of old or the worship songs anointed of the Holy Spirit to bring people into a place of worship not readily experienced anymore.  Will they, then, return to the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” mentioned in Colossians 3:16?  I pray they will!

%d bloggers like this: