Call To Worship
Holy Ground: 932 & 933
“Holy Ground” was sung on Jan. 8, 1994, during the memorial service for Virginia Clinton Kelly, President Bill Clinton’s mother. A famous singer, who attended the service, fell in love with the song and later recorded it. Five million copies were sold. The song has since continued its meteoric path, circling the globe.
“I started making up songs as a small child,” was a statement made to me in an interview with Geron Davis, a songwriter born into a pastor’s home in Bogalusa, Louisiana, in 1960. He taught himself to play the piano at a very early age.
Davis continued, “When I was 19 years old, my dad was pastor of a church in Savannah, Tennessee. As we were nearing the completion of the construction of a church auditorium, my dad asked, ‘Son, would you write a song for us to sing during the first service in our new building?’ I said, ‘OK Dad.’ Well, a couple of weeks went by and I had not written the song. My Dad asked, ‘Son, how about it? Do you have a song for us?’ I said, ‘No Dad, but I’ll write one.’”
“He kept bugging me. In my mind I was thinking, ‘Dad, just chill out, I’ll write a song.’ Saturday night came, the night before the first service in the new church auditorium, and I still had not written a song. My dad and I were finishing some last minute chores at the church when he turned to me and asked, ‘Do you have a song for us?’ I quickly answered, ‘No sir, but I’m fixin’ to.’”
“I went into the sanctuary, dimmed the lights and sat down at the new grand piano. I asked myself, ‘What do we want to say when we come into this building tomorrow to have a service for the first time?’ I began to hum a bit and softly sing some lyrics that were entering my mind. I wrote the lyrics on paper and they kept coming, about as fast as I could write. Within 15 minutes I had finished the entire song. I then went home and to bed.”
“Later, someone asked me, ‘Did you realize you had written something powerful?’ I answered, ‘Are you kidding? I was 19 years old, it was midnight and I wanted to get to bed.’”
“I’m the oldest of four kids, so I awakened Jeff, age 17, and Alyson, 11, early the next morning. I taught them my new song, “Holy Ground.” They learned to sing it by rote because I had no music written on paper. We sang it, as a trio, later that morning in the church service.”
“My mom cried because she thought her kids never sounded better. My dad was just happy that I had written a song. The congregation responded unbelievably to ‘Holy Ground.’”
Today Geron, his wife, Becky, his sister Alyson Lovern and her husband Shelton, comprise the touring musical group, Geron Davis and Kindred Souls. They are on the road most of the year, bringing “Holy Ground” and other exciting music to America ‘s churches.
Welcome and Opening Prayer
On Bended Knee: 961
It was a humiliating experience’, someone says. Another says ‘I was humbled…’. Is there a difference between feeling humiliated versus humbled? If my Webster’s Dictionary is accurate, the answer I would infer from its multiple definitions would be a ‘yes’. While being humble is a position or attitude I can adopt for myself, being humiliated is most often something that is imposed upon someone, either due to a situation or by other people. How do people who’ve curtseyed in the presence of earthly royalty feel? (See one example in the picture here, in which Queen Elizabeth II receives flowers from a young girl in 1954.) Which one was Robert Gay proposing when he wrote “On Bended Knee” in 1988, or how about Jimmy Orr when he added a second verse four years later? And, if I don’t willingly accede to a prostrate position, could something else that will utterly disgrace me transpire? Perhaps admitting one’s own warts are there is what Robert and Jimmy were thinking, but not necessarily just to avoid a harsher treatment. They both thought there was an outcome rather pleasing and beneficial flowing from humility. Yeh, let’s ask them someday.
Neither the originator, Robert, nor his friend Jimmy who added some more thoughts, have evidently shared what inspired their respective verses for “On Bended Knee”. Their circumstances are unknown, but they both thought about what it was like to be needy before the Holy God, and what it would be like to find rejuvenation in the wake of humility. Who Robert Gay was in 1988, even something as basic as his age, is a mystery. And, if Jimmy Orr is the British-born citizen from Northern Ireland who died in 1987 in North Carolina, how was it he crafted a verse attributed to him in 1992? Perhaps he’d written it just before his departure from life. Nonetheless, their respective verses tell something revealing about them both. Gay’s and Orr’s messages begin from a position neither was too proud to occupy. Getting on one’s knees must have been familiar, but not disagreeable. Love and respect flow effortlessly hand-in-hand with the humility with which they present themselves. You can imagine this was something they’d done many times, knowing they could count on rekindling an intimacy with God that begins with submissiveness in His presence. Admit I don’t measure up – He knows it anyway. He wants to bless those who seek Him out in truth. And, the most basic truth is this – He’s holy, I’m not. Robert and Jimmy help the Christian own up to that, and thus draw strength from Him in that reality. It’s only through Him that I can elevate my life. But it has to begin from a low position. I need not know what other pieces of Robert’s and Jimmy’s lives spurred “On Bended Knee”. They were lowly mortals, just like me
The pathway starts from down below, but with God I don’t stay there. He could fold His arms and scowl that I’m a mess that pollutes His presence. But, seeing Him in scripture informs me that He doesn’t feel that way. Oh, He’s disappointed when I fail, but He thinks I can choose not to stop there. Why did He choose to look directly at Peter when he denied Him (Luke 22:61)? Was it to humiliate Peter interminably, the way Judas evidently felt? Perhaps Jesus was just letting his friend know He’d seen his human, mortal side yet again. And, Peter’s response showed he realized where he stood, in comparison to his Lord, and especially to the truth. Only with this downfall did he stand up again. Are you Peter today? Don’t deny it. Admit it. You’ll feel better, once you purge yourself of that pride.
Thank You, Lord: 975
A hymn which expresses thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has enabled us to obtain salvation is “Thank You, Lord.” The text of the original stanzas and of the chorus was written by Seth Sykes, who was born in 1892, possibly at Springburn, Scotland. Early in his life, Sykes worked as a conductor and motorman for the Glasgow (Scotland) Corporation Tramways, based at the Possilpark Depot. He was also Secretary of the Tramway Christian Association, and received permission from the department’s chairman James Dalrymple to hand out Christian literature and Bibles. In 1929, Sykes left his job to become a full-time evangelist based in Glasgow, Scotland, the third largest city in the United Kingdom, traveling to mission churches throughout Great Britain and abroad. Seth preached, telling stories from the Bible, and wrote lyrics to many hymns. His wife Bessie provided the music for most of his songs. They used lantern slide shows to illustrate their message and draw people to their meetings.
The Sykeses also accompanied their meetings with rousing songs. “Thank You, Lord” was born in 1940 in a railway carriage between Edinburgh and Glasgow. First, the simple chorus was written by Seth, and the tune for it was composed by Bessie (1905-1982).
This World is Not My Home: 684
Regarding this song, a story is told of a preacher named Ray Stedman who traveled across the country for a week of meetings. The only problem was, his baggage didn’t make it. He needed a couple of suits so he went down to the local thrift shop.
When he told the salesman, “I’d like to get a couple of suits,” the man smiled, led him to a whole rack of them and said, “Good, we’ve got several. But you need to know they came from the local mortuary. They’ve all been cleaned and pressed, but they were used on stiffs. Not a thing wrong with ’em. I just didn’t want that to bother you.”
Stedman said, “No, that’s fine.” He tried a few of the suits on and finally bought two of them for about $25 dollars each.
When he got back to this his room, he began to get dressed for the evening’s meetings. As he put one on, he tried to put his hands in the pockets, but couldn’t. Both sides were all sewn up! The suits looked as if they had pockets, but they were just flaps on the coat. He thought about that for a second. “Of course! Dead people don’t carry stuff with ’em when they die.”
He later admitted: “I spent all week trying to stick my hands in my pockets. I had to hang my keys on my belt.” Charles R. Swindoll, “Living Above The Level of Mediocrity”
The old song says : “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” We are like tent-dwellers in the desert; suddenly one day the tent is gone and there is not a trace left ; nothing but sand. I am a stranger HERE, but thank God I am not a stranger THERE. Jesus knows me by name and is building me a mansion, as is the case with every born-again believer. Here in this world as strangers and pilgrims, we need a map, or guidance and instruction on the pathway. So the Psalmist continues, “ hide not thy commandments from me.” God’s Word is “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Pilgrim, you need to be in the Word every day for instructions on the pathway. That’s the plan, so I’ll meet you up there at journey’s end.
Sometimes genuine greatness has rather humble beginnings! That was most certainly the case with one of the greatest gospel songwriters who ever lived. He wrote over 800 gospel and sentimental songs, and it has been conservatively estimated that these have been printed well in excess of 15 million times in sheet music and hymn books. This man was inducted into numerous halls of fame, and his music was recorded by some of the best known names in the music industry, including — Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Ray Stevens, Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Opry star Bill Monroe, the Blackwood Brothers, and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The Gospel Music Association stated that this individual was one of only five persons within the entire USA whose contributions directly affected 20th century gospel music! The Smithsonian Institution, in a study of gospel music, wrote that this gifted man was the “greatest white gospel songwriter before World War II.” Who was he? His name was Albert Edward Brumley, a dirt-poor, painfully shy, “skinny kid,” with only a 10th grade education, who at the time he wrote his greatest song was picking cotton in Oklahoma. The story of how God used this young man to His glory is one that will truly inspire you.
Albert Edward Brumley was born on October 29, 1905 near Spiro, Oklahoma, which was in Choctaw Indian Territory. Albert’s parents, William Sherman and Sarah Isabelle (Williams) Brumley were poor sharecroppers on a cotton farm. They’d come to Oklahoma during the Land Run of 1889. William and Sarah were hard workers, and had very strong religious beliefs. Although they put in long days working the fields, their evenings were spent focused entirely on family, with plenty of Bible stories and music (William was a good fiddle player). They enjoyed socializing with their friends and neighbors, and were very involved with other Christians. Young Albert grew up helping work the fields, and although he attended public school in nearby Rock Island for a number of years, he never completed his studies (attending only through the 10th grade). He was a very “skinny kid,” and would constantly wear bib-overalls with a necktie, which caused him to stand out from the others. He played baseball during his school years, and could always be seen playing first base with his bib-overalls and tie on!! As one might expect, this caused him to be the focus of some rather cruel jokes from his classmates. Albert was a very simple person who enjoyed his home life. He was a good cotton picker, and he loved to sing (it is said that he had “a rich bass voice”).
In 1922, one of the traveling singing school instructors came through the area where the Brumleys lived and Albert attended it. This exposure to a musical education “set me afire,” Albert would later write, and it was from that moment he made the determination to spend his life in this vocation if he could possibly find a way to do so. He wrote his first song at this time, while still just a teenager (“I Can Hear Them Singing Over There”), but it would be several years before it was accepted for publication. In 1926, at the age of just 21, Albert decided to take a huge leap of faith, and he left home to pursue his dream! He left Oklahoma with only the clothes on his back and $3 in his pocket. He paid 50 cents of that to buy a bus ticket to Hartford, Arkansas where he had hopes he would be able to enroll in the Hartford Musical Institute. When he arrived in Hartford, Albert looked up Eugene Monroe Bartlett, who was the director of this prestigious institute, and also the owner of the Hartford Music Company. He introduced himself, and then said, “Mr. Bartlett, I hear that you’ll teach a fella how to sing and how to write music. I’ve come to learn.” Bartlett asked him if he had the $5 for the tuition, to which Albert responded, “No, sir!” He asked if he had money for room and board. He said, “No sir, Mr. Bartlett. I don’t have any money period.” Eugene Bartlett looked him up and down for a few moments, then told him he could stay in his house free, and that the tuition would be free also. That began a friendship between these two that would last for the rest of Bartlett’s life (he died in 1941). Albert would remain a student at this institute until the year 1931.
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus: 687 (v. 1, 2 & 4)
There are hymns whose messages of hope and comfort resonate through the ages, touching the hearts of countless souls and drawing them closer to their Savior. One such beloved hymn is ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, a song that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire congregations worldwide. The story behind this beautiful hymn is one of tragedy and triumph, an illustration of God’s redemptive power at work. It serves as a testimony to God’s unchanging love amid life’s storms.
The author of this treasured hymn was Louisa M.R. Stead, born in England in 1850. As a young girl, she experienced a strong desire to become a missionary. At around 21 years old, she immigrated to America and resided in Cincinnati, Ohio for some time. While attending a camp meeting in Urbana, Ohio, her calling to be a missionary intensified; however, her ambitions to serve in China were hindered by her frail health.
On a summer day around 1880, Louisa and her husband, George, took their young daughter Lily to Brighton Beach on Long Island Sound for a picnic outing. While enjoying their day together by the seashore, they were suddenly alerted by cries for help from a young boy struggling against the tide offshore. Without hesitation, Louisa’s husband plunged into the water in an attempt to save him.
Tragically, both drowned as Louisa and Lily watched helplessly from the shore—their world shattered before their eyes; despair threatened to engulf them both after experiencing the terrible loss of their husband and father.
In those darkest moments following loss and grief so profound, Louisa turned to the one constant in her life: her Savior Jesus Christ.
As Louisa Stead poured out her heart through prayer and tears, a divine inspiration began to stir within her soul. It was then that the refrain of this hymn was born:
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
Through these verses, Louisa expressed her complete reliance on God’s promises and found peace and solace in trusting the Savior who had carried her through every trial. The hymn became a beacon of hope for both Louisa and Lily as they navigated their grief together.
The lyrics were set to music by William J. Kirkpatrick, a Methodist Gospel hymn writer who published over sixty hymnals. It first appeared in Songs of Triumph, published in 1882 by the National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness.
The impact of ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus is evident not only by its popularity but also by its ability to touch hearts within churches across cultural barriers. It remains an enduring testament of unshakable faith amid adversity and serves as a reminder that we are never alone when we place our trust in our loving Savior as every Christian believer should.
As you sing or listen to this cherished hymn today, may you find strength and solace in knowing that you have a Savior who loves you deeply and will carry you through every storm life brings your way.
To Canaan’s Land I’m on My Way: 694 v.1,2 & 5
Was he the only composer who ever wrote hymns while incarcerated? It seems like an intriguing question, one worth seeking to answer, and William Matthew Golden was certainly uncommon in his position in life to be declaring “To Canaan’s Land I’m On My Way”. He might have been excused if he had written some downbeat, blues ditty about injustice and some emotional anguish tormenting his soul, but yet he did something quite different. He looked forward expectantly, rather than backward with remorse. Perhaps it was therapeutic for William to write and look to the future, not just his earthly future beyond some Mississippi prison walls, but to a place and time when his life stains accrued by wrongdoing would no longer color his reputation. Might he have been singing these words about Canaan while in a field of physical labor (perhaps not unlike this scene from 1911 in Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary)?
William Matthew Golden reportedly served an eight-year stretch in state prison, probably in Mississippi, since that is where he was born (in 1878) and died (in 1934). Parchman Penitentiary was operating in the years during which Golden reportedly wrote his hymns (a few dozen) in the second decade of the 20thCentury, a time when the composer was in his mid-30s. His crime is unknown, and may be assumed to have been among the less severe, since his sentence was relatively brief. Nevertheless, any time locked up near other convicts, whose offenses may have made his own seem tame by comparison, could harden anyone. Yet, William doesn’t sound calloused in his poetry. He must have had more than one ‘dark(est) night’ (verse 1) in prison, but those two words are the only clear hint he gives of his existence at that moment. Instead, ‘soul (of man) never dies’ is a constant refrain this prisoner draws upon, maybe to remind himself that a life of imprisonment would ultimately evolve into eternal bliss. Could he also have been pondering the death of his only child earlier in life, and eagerly awaiting a miraculous reunion, as he sat in confinement? Did he miss earthly beauty, like flowers, while in detainment? He visualized a ‘rose blooming’ especially for himself in the afterlife (v. 2). Another prevailing characteristic of prison is the separation from loved ones who are still living, something that certainly must have gnawed at William; he notes ‘no sad farewells’ (refrain), ‘the shores of home’ (v.3), and ‘no parting hand’ (v. 5) were all prospects he could foresee in the hereafter. Whether Golden (originally spelled Golding) shared his thoughts with other prisoners, or was prompted by a prison chaplain or other authority to pen his thoughts, is unknown. Likewise, while his hymn-writing habit is a window into his outlook, whether this pastime earned him credit with his keepers or garnered him an early release remains a mystery.
William Golden’s two most prominent traits stand in stark contrast to each other. He was a criminal, and yet he composed beautiful hymns, a fact that relates a most startling piece of information. I’m not too far from doing something decent, even while in the midst of punishment. There’s plenty that’s disgraceful in my deeds, but the seed of recovery sprouts even as I suffer the chastising rod of justice. How is this possible? Maybe the best answer is another question. Do you think He has had some experience with this duality in His creation before you and me? A mistake always precedes revival in His courtroom.