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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Precious Lord, Take my Hand!

        We are born to a God-given Journey of Life.  This Journey becomes our story.  We are unaware our Journey has a purpose from God and becomes our Legacy for those who follow after.  Slowly we learn, through a lifetime, what is important, what is refreshing, and where to serve God and others on our way. 
         My husband, of over sixty-five years, and I listen to older gospel hymns and drink in the truths of God.  Even though Ed is unable to remember me as his wife, he remembers Jesus and the comfort of His Presence.  His Journey will come to an end when God beckons and takes him by the hand.  His legacy is a quiet faith, gentleness, and always serving in the background. 
         This man never played an instrument or sang to be heard, yet he encouraged his children in learning, playing, and singing songs. Now the strong pull of a hymn comforts and communicates God’s goodness to him in his dark confusing world of dementia.  Now he often mouths the words of the songs as he listens.
         As I listen beside him, one song captures my heart.  I remember learning this same hymn, never understanding the deep compassion and adoration of our Lord in the words sung.  After a week of visiting Ed, becoming a year older, watching and wondering what is next, I sing.  Precious Lord, Hold my hand, lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light. Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
         With a start, I realize this is my prayer, and I am filled with wonder.  I wonder who wrote these words in such a way he seemed to know my heart.  I began searching and read of one man’s journey and how his story became his legacy of hope in Jesus Christ to many generations.
         Thomas A Dorsey was born in Georgia in 1899. His father was a preacher.  When Thomas was twelve years old, he left school and became a professional pianist, drawn by jazz and blues music.  In the early 1920’s, he moved to Chicago to study composition and arranging.  He began to play in nightclubs, writing one thousand blues and jazz works…only 200 of these were gospel songs.  He brought blues and hymns together and is often called the Father of Gospel Music.
         In 1925 Dorsey married Nettie Harper.  A year later he experienced a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for two years.  Nettie took a job in a laundry.  Thomas was later spiritually healed in a church service.  He committed himself more fully to God and Christian music.  He wrote “If You See My Savior, Tell Him That You Saw Me.”  It continues – “Ah, and when you saw me, I was on my way.  When you reach that golden city, think about me, and don’t forget to tell the Savior what I said.”
         In 1932, Dorsey became the choir director of Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, and continued for forty years.  He saw how the Great Depression wore down the spirits of the American people.  He viewed songwriting as his ministry and a way to give these people hope.
         In August of 1932, Dorsey planned to travel to St. Louis to sing solos at a large revival meeting.  His wife, Nettie, was pregnant with their first child and he didn’t to leave her in her ninth month.  He kissed her goodbye, and left to sing.  The second night of the revival meeting, after he sat down, he was given an envelope with a message.  It contained four words…”Your wife just died!”
         Dorsey remembered that evening as a surreal moment.  “People were singing and clapping happily, and I wanted to cry out in pain and grief.”  He hurried back to Chicago, and found Nettie had given birth to a baby boy.  Joy in seeing his son, turned to a double-grief when his son died that same night.  Dorsey buried them in the same casket.  After the painful funeral service, he withdrew from music, his family and his friends.  “I felt God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well,” he said.
         In the middle of his despair, a friend visited Dorsey and brought him to a music room with a piano. Dorsey remembered, “It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.  His fingers began to browse the familiar keys. He said, “I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard of played before, and the words, Precious Lord, Hold my Hand, came into my head – they just seemed to fall into place.”
         The second verse describes growing weary during a journey near the end of life or a difficult trial.  The pull of ‘going home’ becomes strong and our words call out to our Lord with Dorsey…Hear my cry, hear my call, Hold my hand lest I fall. Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me Home.
         The third verse begins – When the darkness appears…..Guide my feet, hold my hand. Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.
         Where is home?  Where is comfort? How can we find the assurance Thomas Dorsey found when he wrote such a song under immense grief? 
         Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;  your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.  How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.  Psalm 36:5-7
         Thomas Dorsey’s journey in this life ended in 1993 in Chicago.  His legacy continues wherever people sing the songs God gave his Child, Thomas Dorsey. 

Link to the  Concordia Chamber Choir, directed by Thomas Dorsey, singing Precious Lord –

 C. Michael Hawn has written the background to many hymns, including Precious Lord.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Count Your Blessings!

What is our first thought as we open our eyes in the morning?  Is it the first cup of coffee, the job, the kids, or a never-ending list of ‘to-do’s”?  Or perhaps pain, the dread of coming separation from loved ones or an impending change in life?  The author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp says, ”The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is!”
         In a new town, my Mother’s life changed significantly with no close friends and days to fill with activities.  She confided in me one day, “When I wake up in the morning, I ask God what He has for me to do today!” Mother continued to teach me until her death at ninety-one years old.  Her vibrant faith was her strength then and mine now.
         After a Bible Study in our home church, (Rogers Christian Church), our Pastor Jack asked for prayer requests.  They poured forth for fifteen minutes like a waterfall.  Pastor Jack asked, as the flow slackened, and how about praises? An awkward silence ensued until one lady spoke almost apologetically, “My honeysuckle bush is beautiful and its scent is glorious in the early morning while I pray.” 
         A praise is an everyday happening, God-given, blessings we may have not noticed. He gives us blessings every day. Are we aware? Poets wax enthusiastically about the sunsets and the sunrises. Honeysuckle bushes, too.
            It's a Honeysuckle Day when....
         ...The sun shines and breezes rise
         ...The clouds play peek-a-boo in the skies
         ...I give God all the praise
         ...For each gift in all my days.

         It's a Honeysuckle Day when...
         ...My family is all around
         ...And God's joy abounds.
         ...I sit as quiet as can be
         ...And all His glory I see.

         …It's living for Jesus
         …Serving Him, with Him I stay
         …Though darkness clouds my way
         …I give praise for my Honeysuckle Days. (EAC – Thank you, Phyllis Bishop)
         It’s not the miracle-praises, but the everyday day things such as the chorus of the birds in the morning, the warmth and the cold that enhance the season, the food we eat, the shelter we enjoy as we lay our heads down in slumber.  Laughter with loved ones, the feeling of belonging, and the sweetness of being able to talk to God all day and into the night.  Unexpected interruptions turn into blessings.  The sweetest joy I know is seeing a friend or loved one grow in the grace and joy of the Lord with a changed heart and a zest for Jesus. And I count my blessings!
         As I read about Johnson Oatman, Jr, born April 21, 1856, near Medford New Jersey, I ‘find’ a boy eager to be like his father.  His father possessed a booming singing voice and preached eloquently. When Johnson, Jr. was still young he often stood on the pew to see his father’s hymnbook when the congregation stood to sing. Johnson, Jr. had a love for church music, and studied for the ministry and was ordained to preach.  He wanted to preach, and he continued to seek God’s will for his life through prayer.  When he was thirty-six years old, he realized he could not sing like his father, nor preach.  This is when he picked up a pen to write his first lyrics of praise to God.  In five years he wrote an average of two hundred hymn lyrics a year – resulting in over five thousand hymns.
         Some of the hymns he wrote are, No, Not One, Higher Ground, He Included Me, I know He’s Mine, Lift Him Up, My Home is on the Rock, The Last Mile of the Way, Alone with God, and in 1897 – Count Your Blessings.  The composer of the music for Count Your Blessings is Edwin Othello Excell, born in 1851.  His father was also an excellent singer and preacher. 
         What is Johnson Oatman’s legacy?  Did he become great singer and a preacher during his lifetime?  No. One writer wrote about the hymn, Count Your Blessings - “It is like a beam of sunlight that has brightened up the dark places of the earth.” Another suggested that Johnson Oatman reached more through his sermon-hymns than he could have through singing and preaching the Word during his lifetime.  His daughter, Miriam, wrote music for some of her Dad’s hymns.  Johnson’s great grandson is also a writer.  God truly answered Johnson’s prayer seeking the will of God for his life.   
         When we are young, our mothers often nudged us after we receive a gift with, “What do you say?”  This is our blessing – to Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  I Thessalonians 5:18.
         Counting our blessings from God with thankfulness, not complaints or angry words. Giving our hearts wholly to our Lord Jesus is our way to a flood of blessings and joy in this life and we have the assurance of His everlasting love in the next.
         For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.  Zephaniah 3:17. 
         But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.  I Peter 2:9
         All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Ephesians 1:3

         The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!  Psalm 29:10-11


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

My Tribute (To God Be the Glory!)

         Have you ever tried to write a tribute of love to our Father God?  Many tributes have been penned for people or things. A banquet of delightful words to feast on for someone who made a difference in their lives often is disguised as an obituary.  Yet, how can one write a tribute for our Father God? 
         When I first sang ‘My Tribute’, I could not understand the title. As I read the life of Andraé Crouch, the composer, I understand.
         One day I rushed through my morning. I glimpsed God’s sweetness through the window. Sometimes a colorful sky, a new bloom in the Spring, a bird trilling a song God wrote for him to sing, a squirrel flitting here and there, or geese slicing the air in formation.  I stop and realize these sweet sights and sounds were  created for our delight by our Lord God.  
         I began singing from my heart – How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me, things so undeserved, yet you gave to prove your love for me.  These words humbled me, for I knew in that moment, how great our Lord God is. My plans are nothing beside the greatness of our Creator, who made each of us in His own image to live in the world He created.  How can I say thanks, indeed?  There are no words to describe His grandeur, Might, and His great Love!
         Andraé Crouch and twin sister, Sandra Crouch, were born July 1, 1942, to a godly couple, Benjamin Crouch and his wife, Catherine.  The twins, plus a brother, Benjamin, Jr. were raised in Los Angeles.
         When Andraé was nine years old, he became a Christian, learning about Christ Jesus through the preaching of his father.  His father was invited to take a full time pastorate in another church. He was undecided as to what decision he should make.  This church had no one who was able to play the piano for the services.  Andraé recalls, “One day in the service, Dad called me up front, laid hands on me and prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t know what you want me to do.  If you want me to be a pastor full time, give Andraé the gift of music’.   His Dad then asked, ‘Andraé, if the Lord gives you the gift of music, will you use it?’  Andraé assented and two weeks later the father sat the youngster at the piano.  Andraé started playing and his father kept his promise to take the pastorate. Andraé said he played for all the services and later started a choir.  Andraé formed a homespun singing group with his brother Benjamin, Jr. and sister, Sandra. to sing in local churches. 
         At the age of fourteen, he composed his first song.  God put a burden on his heart for people.  He kept his promise to use his gift of music in reaching many young people for God. 
         When he was eighteen years old, God called him to work in the Los Angeles Center of Teen Challenge, founded by David Wilkerson. He helped people with problems such as substance abuse. His first day, he met Larry Reed, and they became friends.
         Years later, Andraé contemplated his experiences and praised God.  His father and mother died of cancer, and his older brother died within a short period of time – from1992-1995.  Andraé had four different forms of cancer and the Lord delivered him. Andraé knew he could depend on God.  Andraé explained, “It’s where I have been – experience. I remember a lot of fear of losing my mother and my father.” The Lord allows us to go through things because we depend on our parents. He brings healing and makes us aware of where only God can take us. This knowing developed into a song – Through It All. “Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.” During these years, Andraé wrote many songs praising God.  Soon and very Soon, We are Going to see the King, Bless the Lord – O my Soul, Always remember Jesus, The Potter Saw a Vessel, The Blood that Jesus shed for Me, Way back on Calvary, and many more.  He was known as an arranger for many of the recording sessions in Los Angeles that wanted a Gospel sound.  The last years of his life, he also ministered in the church his parents began with his sister Sandra. 
         His friend Larry Reed called, and told him of his dream.  “You will write a song that is going to go around the world!” 
         Andraé asked, “what do I have to read?”  His friend replied, “Read John, chapter 17.” This passage includes: I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John17:4-5. Andraé read that chapter, and didn’t feel inspired to write anything.
         The next morning he arose, singing ‘to God be the Glory.’ Andraé asked himself, “Where did that come from?”  He went to the piano and wrote ‘My Tribute’ in about 10 minutes. That evening he and his friends gathered to sing, and Andraé exclaimed – “It is all about Glory!”
         To God be the glory, To God be the glory; To God be the glory for the things           He has done.
     With his blood He has saved me; With His pow’r He has raised me.
     To God be the glory for the things He has done.’
         Like Andraé Crouch, our tribute to our Father God comes from our  faithfulness to our Lord and service to others in His Name.  How we live our lives is our story. Each day is a new chapter and with Andraé, we learn to praise God. Andraé said, God puts the praise in you even before you feel like it.  To God be the Glory!

         O God, we give glory to you all day long and constantly praise your name.               Psalm 44:8
     With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your         name forever, for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me         from the depths of death. Psalm 86:12-13.
     No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light         by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your         God will be your glory. Isaiah 60:19
     Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God         is pleased.” Luke 2:14

       Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News         says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you         Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. Romans 16:25