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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!

 

 

Peace in the Midst of a Pandemic

Can it be possible?  We are literally experiencing a global pandemic…a new virus previously unheard of in humans, although veterinarians have been vaccinating cattle against a strain of it for many years!  Perhaps the fear and media hysteria surrounding this new Corona Virus have created more panic than reason, largely because this event is unprecedented.

 

One thing we as Christians can be assured of:  This event has not taken God by surprise!  He in His ultimate sovereignty has allowed this crisis to take place and as His children, we can believe Romans 8:28,  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (NASB)  We know God is at work and has allowed this to happen!

Let’s take a look at a few facts:  Global pandemics are not new; the term means, “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”

In 1918, the most severe pandemic of influenza in recent history took place.  It was the H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin, and it is estimated that about 500 million people (1/3 of the world’s population at that time) became infected with the virus.  At least 50 million worldwide died; in the United States there were 675,000 deaths.  This dwarfs the current pandemic by huge amounts!  My grandmother’s sister sadly lost her one-year-old twin sons to this horrible plague.  In 1956-1958 the “Asian flu” caused 1.1 million deaths worldwide, 116,000 here in the United States.  The flu epidemic of 1968, the “Hong Kong flu”, caused a death toll worldwide of over 1 million; and most recently  the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic of 2009-2010 infected 60.8 million worldwide, with nearly 13,000 U.S. deaths.  Do you remember this one?  Our Federal government passed a supplemental funding aid bill of $350 million dollars.  It seemed life went on pretty much as usual, although it was obviously horrific for those affected.

The Corona Virus (Covid-19 is apparently a bit different than the flu in that the bacteria attack the lungs instead of the stomach and is extremely contagious.   Also, the death rate is a bit higher than that of the flu, although most cases range from very mild to severe with a death rate a bit over 2%, and the vast majority of people with it recover.

Some people feel this is God’s judgment on people who have refused to repent of their sin.  There are a number of passages in the Old Testament where God sent plagues, pestilence, famine, wars and thousands and thousands were killed, because the nation of Israel refused to obey His laws and keep His commandments, preferring instead to worship in idolatry and  commit acts of debauchery.  You may want to read about some of these instances:  II Kings 17:6-20; II Chronicles 34:24-27; Isaiah 24:4-6,10; Amos 4:6-12.  In these cases either prophets were predicting horrible events in the future if they did not repent of their sins, or God Himself was explaining why He had done what He did… if they would not obey and serve Him instead of other gods, He would do thus and so; and then He would end by saying, “Yet you have not returned to me!”  But He continued to love them.

It is easy to see why God might want to send judgment on wicked people.  However, this is something that we must leave up to Him and not proclaim judgment if He has not directly stated that this is the case!  Of course, during the great tribulation on earth before His second coming (when the Church has already been raptured out), He will pour out His wrath on the earth by sending mighty plagues such as boils, hail, fire and other judgments.  These are detailed in Revelation 16.  Does the Word of God say that the people repented?  On the contrary it states that “they blasphemed God!”

 

So, you say, if this is not a judgment at this time, just what is it?  While we do not always know everything God is up to, I promise you we can trust Him!  He is at work and is allowing this pandemic not only to wake people up, giving them a chance to turn to Him, but to give us as His people a chance to show the world we do not fear these things, but our trust is in the Lord God! Our reaction during this time is so important!

When Habakkuk turned to God and asked the question, How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear?  I cry out to You, “Violence!” yet You do not save….Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld….”; God answered Him Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days—-you would not believe if you were told.  Habakkuk 1:2-5 (NASB)

 

Wow!  If God really told us everything He is up to, we would probably not be able to handle it!  He truly knows the end from the beginning and all He asks of us, His children, is to “trust, obey and leave the results to Me!”  That really frees us  from worry, doesn’t it?  So, in these trying days where you are perhaps feeling a bit inconvenienced, perhaps stressed because of the constant barrage of negative information flowing from the airwaves each day, afraid for what lies ahead, perhaps worrying that your finances will be drained, not to mention the fear of you or your loved ones succumbing to the virus itself, rise up in faith and stand on the promises of God!  II Timothy 1:7 says,  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)   Philippians 4:6 &7 tell us,  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (NASB)

Psalm 91 is one of the best psalms I know of to read, memorize and quote each day!  It speaks of God delivering us “from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence”; “a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you”; “no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling”, and on and on!  What beautiful words to live by!  Verses 1 and 2 start out,  He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” (NKJV)  What is there to fear when God is on our side?

I would like to close with a song I wrote several years ago called “In the Secret Place“….I took the title from Psalm 91 and I pray it will bless you in your worship time today!  Remember:  “For the child of God, as believers, the best is yet to come!”

 

 

Rebecca’s music is available on Pandora and Spotify, and by going to the link to the right on this page to “purchase Rebecca’s 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!

 

 

 

 

What Does “Palm Sunday” Mean?

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One of thousands of beautiful groves of palm trees in the country of Israel!

 

Perhaps you have sung songs with the words “Hosanna” or “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” contained in them…there are a number of these songs that are sung in our churches today.  They are used in our praise and worship to bless the Lord and exalt His Name!  Do you know where these phrases originated?

 

Not long ago my husband and I were privileged to visit the country of Israel for ten days and tour many of the historic sites where God manifested His power to the children of Israel, and where Jesus walked, taught and performed many miracles over 2,000 years ago!  One of the streets on which we walked was believed to have been the very road that Jesus traversed riding on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem with the crowds waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks in the road before Him and bestowing the greatest honor upon Him.  We read of this event in the Gospel of Mark 11:1-10, where verses 7-10 read,  They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it.  And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.  Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord; blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the Highest!” (NASB)

 

John 12:12 & 13 recounts the story in a similar way:  On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast (the Feast of the Passover was just five days away), when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (NASB)

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Here is a photo my husband took a few weeks ago when we walked this very road from the Mount of Olives down into Jerusalem, a very steep incline!  I had such a feeling of awe, knowing that my Savior had no doubt ridden a donkey down this same path, hearing words of adulation and praise from the people who had observed His miracles and were sure He was their long-promised Messiah.

 

Alas, the praise and honor they were giving to Jesus (Yeshua, in Hebrew) did not last long!  Five days later, after observing the Passover meal (the Last Supper as we call it) with His disciples in the upper room, Jesus walked in the same direction to the Mount of Olives on that very road…Mark 14:26 says,  After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  On the way, at the base of the mountain, is a beautiful garden called Gethsemane, which we also visited.  Verse 32 says,  They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.”  The chapter then goes on to detail His great agony as He prayed throughout the evening prior to His arrest, knowing full well what awaited Him in the coming hours.

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Here is a portion of the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane as it looks today.  It is still a very sacred and moving place to visit.  To me, the irony of the whole story is that as you read further on in Mark 14, in three places Jesus asks His disciples to pray with him and three times He comes back to find them sleeping.  Only a few days earlier, they had been with Him shouting out “Hosanna!” in praise to their King, but when He asked them to pray with Him for a few hours, they were unable to stay awake.  Instead of being critical of the disciples, I ask myself, “Can I pray when the Lord asks me to intercede for someone?  Can I crucify my flesh and stay awake long enough to pray until the burden is lifted and I know that I am victorious in the midst of the situation or crisis?”  Jesus understood our humanity and fleshly inadequacy when He spoke to His disciples, not in an angry manner, but as a father would lovingly correct a child. He told them in verse 38,  Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (NASB)

 

So, this Sunday as you wave palms branches and sing “Hosanna to the King of Kings!”, may you be aware not only of His great love for you, but of the fact that Jesus experienced the pain of rejection, of people turning their backs on Him, and of those closest to Him being unable to “stay the course” when He needed them most.  Let His healing balm cleanse and soothe your deepest feelings of rejection and hurt, knowing that He experienced it all before we were even born, and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Throne of God!  Hosanna!  Praise be to God!

Could a Christmas Song Stop a War?

Nativity sceneYou have no doubt heard the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night, which is played and sung around the world, beautifully proclaiming the night our Savior was born in a manger in Bethlehem!  But, when I searched more deeply into the origins of this beloved carol, I was somewhat surprised by what I found.

Here is how the story goes:  A parish priest in a small town in France commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass.  Placide Cappeau read the account of Christ’s birth in the Gospel of Luke one night while traveling to Paris, and finished the poem “O Holy Night” by the time he reached the city.  He asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adam, to compose the music for his poem, and three weeks later, the beautiful song was sung for the first time in the village on Christmas Eve 1847.

Initially, Cantique de Noel, the song’s French name, was widely sung and loved by the Church in France, but when some of the leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist, and the musical composer, Adam, was a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services.  But, as is the case so often with truly great music, the common French people loved the song and continued to sing it!

The song came to the United States via John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War, who translated it from French into English in 1858.  He was greatly moved by the line in the third verse:

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother;

and in His Name all oppression shall cease….

Dwight published the words of the song in his magazine and quickly found favor with the people in the North during the war.

Even though the song was banned in France, it was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve, 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and started singing the song’s first line in French.  After he had sung all three verses, a German soldier emerged and started singing, “Von Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her….”, the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day!   Soon afterward, the French Church re-embraced the beloved song, Cantique de Noel, known to us in this country as O Holy Night.  It continues to be sung around the world and will no doubt remain on the list of most beloved Christmas songs!  I believe wherever this song is sung, a quiet, reverent atmosphere of praise and worship to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is created.

I love to play this song each Christmas and have combined it with the Italian carol, Gesu Bambino, in this live performance I did in Utah at Canyons Church a few years ago.  I hope you will enjoy this and worship the King of Kings with me!

 

(For more of my music videos, including this one, please visit my You Tube channel, Rebecca Baker Bafford).

Where Did Christmas Carols Come From?

DSC00671.jpgWhat would Christmas be without those all familiar and beautifully sung carols we have undoubtedly heard since childhood? Did you ever wonder how they came to be called “carols” and what their origins are?

In France, these songs are called appropriately “noels”, from the French word meaning “Christmas”. Perhaps that explains the title of one much-loved carol, “The First Noel”. The first known Christmas hymns may be traced to fourth century Rome, where Latin hymns were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation in opposition to Arianism. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the Christmas “sequence” or “prose” was introduced in northern European monasteries, and in the twelfth century monks began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something much closer to the traditional Christmas carols we take for granted.

Soon a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in regional native languages developed, particularly in France, Germany and Italy. Christmas carols in English first appeared in 1426 in a book of twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of “wassailers”, or carolers who went from house to house singing and indulging in a brew called “wassail”, a hot drink made from wine or cider, spices, sugar and usually baked apples. It was traditionally served in a large bowl to warm the carolers. Many of these traditions continue to this day, especially where snow and ice make wassailing so inviting!

Many Christmas carols popular today were first printed in “Piae Cantiones”, a collection of late medieval Latin songs first publichsed in 1582. Some of these include “Christ was born on Christmas Day”, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”, and “Good King Wenceslas”. Another favorite, “Adeste Fideles” (O Come All Ye Faithful), may have originated in the thirteenth century. Carols gained popularity after the Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence and as well-known reformers like Martin Luther authored carols, encouraging their use in worship. The Lutheran reformation warmly welcomed music.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought several more well-known carols, including “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church; “Joy to the World” written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, to a tune attributed to ideas of a work by Handel, and based on Psalm 98, first published in England in 1833; “Silent Night” written in 1818 by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber (see my blog on the history of “Silent Night”) and first performed on Christmas Eve in Oberndorf, Austria; and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” written in 1868 by a Philadelphia Episcopalian priest, Phillips Brooks, who had been greatly inspired after traveling on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865. His organist, Lewis Redner, added the music.

The publication of Christmas music books in the nineteenth century helped to widen the popular appeal of carols and in the twentieth century composers and arrangers such as John Rutter and Benjamin Britten have continued to broaden the tradition with more beautiful songs of the Savior’s birth! As recently as 1865, Christmas-related lyrics were adopted for the traditional English folk song, “Greensleeves”, becoming the internationally popular Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” These beautiful hymns, known as “Christmas carols”, can be sung at anytime during the year, because they present so majestically and lyrically, the truths of the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, who came to bring hope and salvation to every person who believes on Him! He truly is the “reason for the season” and can bring “joy to the world” to all who trust in Him! May you have a blessed and Christ-centered Christmas!
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His Eye Is On the Sparrow!

house-sparrow-791726[1]Recently I observed something so sweet I just had to share it!  We have a backyard bird feeder, designed especially for the smaller songbirds, and, not surprisingly, finches, sparrows and other small birds come daily in droves to enjoy its contents of seeds and small nuts.  I was standing by our glass door watching, when a small sparrow flew to the porch and just sat there for a moment.  Soon another larger sparrow, apparently its mother, flew up to the little bird, who opened its mouth widely, and deposited some seed acquired from the bird feeder in its little mouth!  This happened several times and I have observed the same thing with finches, as well.

Now, this may not seem that important to the casual observer, but to me it was a lesson in provision by our Heavenly Father.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” (ESV)  He later went on to say, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29, ESV)

I walked out the door into our beautiful garden and observed many new lilies that were all decked out in assorted, brilliant colors!  Then I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:28, “And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (ESV)

The Father gave me an object lesson while I observed the sparrows and the lilies.  It went something like this:  If God is concerned about a little minute sparrow, one of several trillion birds in the world, and the lovely lilies growing so spectacularly in a pageant of splendor, not to mention the countless doves that have made our backyard home, cooing and chasing each other around the terrace, will He not care for me and my needs and desires?  Does He not know what I need before I ask?  Does He not see each crisis, not only in my own life, but in the world in general?  Does He not have everything under His control and is He not aware of the evil that seems to dominate this world until His Son, Jesus, comes again to take us to be with Him forever?

Well, I was humbled and repented of ever worrying about anything!  Years ago I had a nationally syndicated TV program of music, praise and worship, and special guests.  I interviewed a lady who had actually died while on the delivery table in childbirth, during which time her spirit actually left her body and entered into Heaven for a brief time.  During this awesome experience, she related how she actually saw Jesus and was unable to stand in His presence, bowing before Him in adoration and worship!  The one thing I vividly remember from the interview, were her words:  “All I could think about in His presence was, ‘Oh, why did I worry so much about everything when I was on earth?  Now none of it matters!’ ”  Although the Lord was not ready for her to die permanently and be with Him forever, returning her spirit to her body and helping her deliver a healthy baby, this experience changed her life dramatically.

So, why do we worry about everything?  As the beloved song says, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He’s watching me!”  Even as I write this article, I hear the sparrows, finches and other songbirds glorifying God with their chirps, warbles and trills.  It gives me great comfort and a sense of security to know that God has everything under control, particularly the things concerning me personally.  I know the world is in tremendous chaos, that the financial markets worldwide are crumbling; governments throughout the world are corrupt as evil men and women defy God and His Word by propagating their own agendas; that rulings and laws designed to promote secularism and progressive ideologies are completely contrary to the way God has designed for humanity to live.  However, I know that only with a “heart change” on the inside can men and women truly live according to God’s law and plan for us!  This can only be accomplished by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the only way to salvation, “the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14;6, NKJV) Contrary to popular opinion, there are not many roads or ways to salvation, only One Way, Jesus Christ!

So, what do we fear?  God has everything and everyone of us in His Hand and all He asks of us is obedience to His Word and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior from our sins.  I love Revelation 3:10 and 11, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming soon.  Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (ESV)

This pretty much sums up the reason I am not worried about the future as long as I am serving my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  He will keep those who love Him from the Enemy who is out to get them, and bring us all safely home!  Next time you are tempted to worry, just sing “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and know He really is watching over 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!