PRAISE-Our Weapon of Mass Destruction!

“At midnight Paul and Silas began to praise God. Suddenly there cam a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, opening all the locked doors and shaking loose the chains of every prisoner!”. Acts 16

If you follow this blog you will know that I often write from the eye of the storm in a very transparent perspective.  This is intentional for a couple reasons-one, to identify with those who are going through similar trials and challenges, and two, so that in our struggles, together we can cling to the hope and promises left for our benefit, our life-savers, if you will.  Through each of the challenges I’ve encountered over the past several years, I have always tried to find a way to continue to offer up praise, even if faint, and even if less than totally sincere.  I have always known it is the best and often last weapon I have if I was to overcome the latest challenge.  I am simply amazed at how effective a weapon praise can be!

There is a story in the Old Testament about a King of Judah named Jehoshaphat.  Our 70’s band Resurrection, did a song about his story.  A vast army was about to attack Judah and understandably, the people of the city were terrified.  So King Jehoshaphat didn’t gather all his fighting men, horses and chariots to plan out a defense.  Instead, he declared a mandatory fast and all the people gathered together to seek an answer from God. Entire families, including children, waited before the Lord.  Then God gave them a message through a man named Jahaziel.  The message, so powerful and complete, was this;

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the size of this army.  For this battle isn’t yours to fight, but God’s!”

You don’t know how many times I have relied on this verse over the years!  The story continues that King Jehoshaphat mounted up the next day and did something unexpected-he had the Worship Team lead the army out, his weapon of mass destruction!  Instead of beating their swords against their shields, they sang out;

“Give praise to the Lord for his love and mercies endure forever!”

As the King’s men sang their praises the Ammonites and Moabites became so confused they began to attack each other until not a single soldier was left standing.  The army of Judah won the battle and annihilated the enemy without drawing a single sword or firing a single arrow!  Praise is a powerful and effective weapon.  I am still learning how devastating it can be against unseen attacks! The victory experienced by the army of Judah was so devastating and complete that news traveled far and wide that God was their protector and they enjoyed peace for many years because anyone who heard the story was too fearful to challenge their God!

It is so easy in life to be intimidated by the size of the enemy waging war against us.  We see through human eyes that we are surrounded by a vast army getting ready to attack us on every front and we see no way out.  I believe that sometimes we forget that the armies surrounding us that we too easily see, are themselves surrounded by an even greater, heavenly, unseen Army of fiery chariots of heavens angels who are saying to us, “don’t be afraid-this battle isn’t yours but God’s!” What we envision as being a battle to big to win, is in fact, just another day of deliverance at the hands of a heavenly host, ready to go to war for us, and just waiting for the command, our release through the most difficult of circumstances of the praise from our hearts and lips-our weapon of mass destruction!  When we praise and worship God we are in essence giving the command and permission for heaven’s armies to unleash its power against all other weapons formed against us in such a way that the enemy is left defenseless and in ruins!

Paul and Silas were chained and sent to prison by the very people they were trying to save.  After being stripped and severely beaten and flogged, they were chained by their feet in the inner prison.  At midnight when it’s the darkest, in chains, bloodied and suffering pain from the open wounds from their flogging, they lifted up their praise and sang hymns to God, so openly that all the prisoners who were jailed with them could hear their praises.  Surely they must have thought that Paul and Silas had lost their freaking minds-how could anyone under such dire circumstances possibly worship God?  What they didn’t realize is that Paul and Silas knew the power of praise in tearing down strongholds and breaking chains!  As their praise ascended God sent an earthquake so violent that even the chains of those who heard the worship were shaken off and fell to the jail floor.  The jailer, seeing and feeling this phenomenal event was so moved he and his entire family accepted their message and were saved.  When God moves and responds, people are changed and set free!

There are so many promises of complete victory for those who follow Christ;

“All thanks to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”

“In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us”

“Thanks to God who in Christ, always leads us in triumphal procession…”

“For the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies and to assure you receive victory”

“What else is there to say-if God is for us, WHO can come against us!”

So far 2019 has been an amazing year of victories and turn around for me.  I am seeing prayers answered so dramatically that I know it is nothing but a God thing.  And I can’t claim any glory except to say that in my weakest moments, I found a way to still worship Christ even when there were no words left to offer up.  I am simply in awe of his goodness in my life and his faithfulness in responding, not on my time but in his.  I am humbled and speechless before Him.  Can I offer some heartfelt advice?

I have heard it said that the worship time of a church service is intended to allow stragglers to get to their seats before the sermon or homily.  I’ve even heard some say they just come for the message and not the worship time.  I can’t emphasize enough how wrong that approach is!  To me, that’s like going to a fine restaurant just to pay the bill without enjoying the food.  When believers come together in one voice or concerted effort to praise a holy God together as one church family, there is a power, a restoration, a healing, a battle cry that gives you more deliverance and strength than the greatest of sermons.  Scripture tells us that God inhabits, or simply put, takes his residence in the praises of his children.  That corporate time when we gather simply to worship and revere our Father and his holiness-that’s where our power comes from-that’s our secret weapon against the attacks against us, not the ear-tickling sermon.  I win when I worship-I receive when I praise-I feel closest to God when I am reaching out to him in song and I stand no taller than when I’m on my face before His throne.  He is my weapon of mass destruction, my salvation, my victory.  “Praise be to God-His mercies endure forever”.

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Stories Behind the Songs We Love

hymns

I have always loved the progression of Contemporary Christian Music and the impact it has had on sharing our faith with music that appeals to the younger crowd.  Just this past weekend I attended a Worship Experience here with Tenth Avenue North and Chris Tomlin, the Bill Gaither of our generation and had an amazing time of praise and worship. However, I grew up on the Hymns of the church and they are ingrained into my memory as much as the multiplication tables I learned in school.  While I may never relinquish my love for Contemporary Christian music, I am finding that the older I get the more I love and appreciate the hymns from my past.  It’s funny how I can be going about my daily business and out of nowhere an old hymn that I haven’t sung since I was a kid will start playing in my mind as if I had been singing it over the past weekend. Some would call that dementia; I call it wisdom.

There is a purity and an integrity in the lyrics of songs written before our days that is hard to find in their modern successors.  You can almost hear the intensity and the depth of the relationships these authors had with their God, one that is envious to me.  But even beyond the depth of their faith are the stories and the tragedies behind some of the most popular hymns that make the songs even more inspiring if possible.  I wanted to share a couple with you on this post.

Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago Attorney with a successful practice in the mid to late 1800’s. He was a devout Christian and counted among his friends Dwight Moody. But money doesn’t protect one from tragedy.  Early on he and his wife Anna lost their young son, devastating to the most faithful of men. Shortly thereafter in the Great Chicago fire of 1871 Spafford suffered a great financial loss when most all of his real estate investments went up in smoke.

In 1873 Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe for his wife and four remaining daughters where they could relax and recover from their recent losses. Spafford would be joining them and then helping Moody with an evangelistic campaign but last minute business detained him in Chicago. About 4 days into the trip the Ville du Harve collided with a Scottish Iron vessel and within 12 minutes the ship sank into the deep Atlantic taking 226 passenger down with her, including all of Horatio’s daughters.  A fishing boat near the scene spotted a woman clinging to some boards.  It was Spafford’s wife Anna-she had survived. She sent a wire to Spafford which simply said “I alone survived.  What shall I do?”

Devastated and in mourning Spafford boarded a ship to meet his wife in Wales.  About 4 days into the trip the Captain of the ship came to Spafford’s cabin to tell him they were over the area where the Ville du Harve had sunk. Spafford went to the deck to view the spot and reflect on his loss. It is there and at that moment that Horatio Spafford penned these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet and trials should come

Let this blessed assurance control

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate

And has shed His own blood for my soul

Chorus:

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul

It would be the only hymn Spafford would ever write but one that brings hope to everyone who hears it haunting but beautiful lyrics. What an amazing and incomprehensible testament to the faith of a truly Godly man, to compose such a timeless classic in the midst of the most horrific tragedy.  This is the purity and integrity of lyrics to which I referred.

Louisa Stead was born in 1850. At a very young age Louisa felt a call to ministry but she suffered from frail health and was unable to go into the mission field. At age 25 Louisa married the love of her life and later gave birth to their daughter Lilly. But just a few short years later her beloved husband was attempting to save the life of a drowning child and in his attempt lost his own life.  Louisa was devastated beyond grief.  It was in her sorrow that she penned these now famous words:

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus says the Lord!’

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Chorus

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Who was the “wretch” in Amazing Grace? John Newton, born in 1725 grew up with no religious training or conviction and was often in trouble.  he was forced involuntarily into the military and the service of the Royal Navy where he learned his navigational skills. After leaving the Royal Navy he became a major figure in the Atlantic Slave Trading business.  During one of his trip his ship was hit with a violent storm off the coast of Ireland that battered his boat so severely he instinctively cried out to God for rescue. It is while his boat was being repaired that he penned the first verse to this Anthem of the Faith;

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found

Was blind but now I see

In 1755 Newton gave up slave trading and entered Seminary. He went on to a vocation of Christian ministry and completed the song Amazing Grace.  It is estimated that this tune is sung more than ten million times annually in churches across America yet today. It’s a story of redemption from past sins, of hope for the lowliest of creatures and of our future glory, When We’ve Been There Ten Thousand Years.  It has truly become one of if not the most recognizable hymns in history.

There are so many more stories like these of the circumstances behind the hymns we love-not all of them as tragic but just as inspiring. They say the greatest love songs ever written come from a broken heart.  It can truly be said that the most inspiring hymns of the church today come from tragedy and broken spirits.  But oh how we are the benefactors of the situations that birthed these awesome anthems that we relish and still sing today.  I’m not getting rid of any of my contemporary CD’s just yet, but When the Roll is Called Up Yonder and With a Thousand Tongues to Tell we sing Holy Holy Holy and How Great Thou Art to our Fairest Lord Jesus, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to contain the overwhelming joy and gratitude, or express any better our adoration to Him than these and others have already done decades ago.  The older I get, the more precious these hymns.

Oh Holy Night-an Unlikely Composition Makes History

o-holy-night

All who know me know that Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year. Being a native of the snowy mid-western state of Indiana I cherish the memories and traditions of Christmas past and have tried my best to create similar memories for our family in Las Vegas, sans the snow and cold temps. For me Christmas was always ushered in by the seasonal carols-I knew the holiday was close when the radio began playing Joy to the World, White Christmas, Silver Bells, Silent Night, and all the carols that have survived through the decades.  But no carol moves me to this day more so than Oh Holy Night. Of all the carols this song does more to transport me back to what must have been a magical night all over the earth as God the Son and Creator became flesh to dwell among us. This carol has been covered by the best voices in the world, each adding their own touch, from Celine to Groban to Crosby, and my favorite, Transiberian Orchestra.  There is no carol that sets the mood for Christmas among believers more than Oh Holy Night.

What many people don’t know is how God orchestrated the most unlikely characters and unusual circumstances in the composition of this song.  The lyrics were written by a man who would later walk away from the church to join the socialist party, and the music by a Jewish man who did not believe in Jesus the Messiah.  I was fascinated when I first read this story.

Placide Cappeau was a well known poet and commissioner of wines in France but not so well known as a church attender.  It was in 1847 that the priest of his parish asked him to compose a poem of religious origin that would be appropriate for Christmas Mass. Cappeau relied on texts from the Gospel of Luke and his imagination of what that blessed night must have been like and penned the words to Cantique de Noel on a stage coach ride to Paris. Upon its completion, Cappeau was so moved by his own composition that he decided these words should be put to music but music was not his strength.  So he called upon his good friend Adolphe Charles Adam, equally well known for his musical compositions.  Adolphe was Jewish. It was miraculous how the words to Cappeau’s poem moved Adam so much that he composed perhaps the most beloved and recognizable hymn about an event he did’t celebrate and personally didn’t believe in. Oh Holy Night, words by a socialist and music by a Jew!

The score was performed for Mass just three weeks later and quickly accepted across France.  However its fame was short lived as Cappeau joined the Socialist Party and the Catholic Church discovered that a Jew composed the music.  Oh Holy Night was banned for lack of content and musical taste for decades after, that is until John Sullivan Dwight, a struggling Unitarian minister and publisher of Dwight’s Journal of Music found the words and was moved by the composition.  You see, Dwight was an abolitionist and when he saw the lyrics, “for the slave is our brother”, he was inspired. It was Dwight who translated the lyrics into English and first introduced it to America.  But wait, there’s more!

In 1906, six decades after the song was composed by the most unlikely sources, another miracle was about to take place. The alternator-trasmitter had recently been developed allowing voice to be transmitted to ships and newspaper publishers by radio waves produced as a result of the high spinning alternator. Radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden, a former employee for Thomas Edison, first tested this new radio device by reading the first few verses from the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter two. Fessenden, also a musician, then picked up his violin and played Cantique de Noel, Oh Holy Night!  This beloved Christmas carol made history and is acknowledged as the very first song ever broadcast over radio, and all at the hands of a socialist, a Jew, a failed Unitarian minister and an Anglican through the orchestration of events by an all inclusive God!  Awe inspiring and yet, not at all surprising-He is after all, God!

Christmas is all about inclusion, and in light of recent events revolving around police actions and injustices, what a better time to reflect on the commonalities of our races and status and not the differences. Dwight, being a witness to the evils of slavery, fell in love with the lyric “change shall He bring for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease“. Paul would write in Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ”.  You see, if you read the story carefully you will see that the young are represented by Mary, thought to be no more than fourteen years old when she gave birth, and the old are represented by Simeon, who would die shortly after seeing his Messiah. The rich are represented by the Wise men from the east bearing gifts for the Savior, and the poor by Jesus own parents who could barely afford doves for their sacrifice at the temple. The women are represented by the Theotokos, Mary, the bearer of God and her cousin Elizabeth who bore John the Baptist, while the men are represented by Joseph, a hard working everyday man chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus. And the outcast are represented by the shepherds, the lowest of the low deemed indispensable enough to guard the flocks against bears and other predators. This was God’s plan all along-unity through love and a common hope and equal inheritance.  We are to blame for creating the racial, societal and even the religious divisions among us. God’s gift of His son was to unite us and reconcile all of us, each different but all the same in Christ, to Him.

So this Christmas season, when you hear or sing this beautiful and beloved hymn Oh Holy Night, I want to challenge you to consider each other as you sing, the poor, the homeless, the black or the white, the Republican or Democrat, the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Atheist, the immigrant-those who would never come to mind normally, and imagine a time and a place two thousand years ago when the world for one night was at peace and as one as they ushered in with great celebration and Holy awe the creator of us all, the Christ child Jesus.  Surely, it must have been one holy night!  When you do, I can promise you that the spirit of Christmas past present and to come will dwell richly within you and the world around you will seem just a little less hostile, and each other a little less different.  God Bless you and Merry Christmas.