Sunday, April 26, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Helen Lemmel, the daughter of a Methodist minister, was born in 1863 in Wardle, England. Her family migrated to America when she was 12, first to Mississippi then to Wisconsin. A gifted singer, she traveled and sang on the Chautauqua circuit, eventually, becoming a vocal music teacher at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Among her works was a hymnal used by evangelist Billy Sunday for over a decade. She and a women’s choral group she directed were part of his evangelistic crusades at the peak of his career. Lemmel died in Seattle, Washington in 1961.

Originally known as "The Heavenly Vision," "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" (the first line of the chorus) was inspired by a missionary's tract Lemmel had read. First published as a pamphlet in England in 1918, she included it in a collection of hymns, called "Glad Songs," in 1922, and then in an American collection, entitled "Gospel Truth in Song," in 1924. Today the hymn, especially the chorus, is widely known and has become a standard reprinted in many hymnals.

O soul, are you weary and troubled
No light in the darkness you see
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth
will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

His Word shall not fail you
He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell

Alvin Bertram Preached for 54 years

On July 21, 1926 the Wayne County Outlook wrote, "Bro. Alvin Bertram of Albany died at the home of his son, Senator Elza Bertram, on North Main Street in Monticello last Wednesday afternoon after a short illness. Bro. Bertram had stopped by his sons home on his way to visit his daughter, Lena Denney, in Spiceland, Indiana, but became sick and only lived a few days. His children and their families accompanied the body back to Albany for his funeral and burial."

His tombstone at Albany Cemetery says he was a Baptist preacher for 54 years. "Few assocations can put forth a more faithful record than the one made by Bro. Bertram," wrote the newspaper. He had been a member of the Stockton Valley Assocation for fifty-seven years and had just recently been re-elected moderator for the twenty-sixth time.

Bro. Bertram was the fourth official pastor in 123 years at Clear Fork Baptist Church. Isaac Denton, the first pastor, served 46 years, 1802 to 1848, Daniel Hancock and James Abston then shared the pulpit until 1852, when Abston agreed to be the full-time pastor for the next two years. Isaac Denton's son, Joseph, served as pastor church for the next 32 years, from 1854 until 1886.

Following his death, Bro. Bertram, who had been ordained to preach in 1872, was elected Pastor and served from November 1887 until April 1889. He was elected pastor again in November of 1889 and this time remained in the pulpit for the next 36 years, preaching his last regular sermon on July 24, 1924. Upon his death, he had served as pastor for a little over thirty eight years.

Preaching the gospel ran in the Bertram family. Alvin's grandfather, William, was a Baptist preacher. So was Alvin's father, Jonathan. Alvin did more than preach. From 1893 to 1902 he served in the Kentucky legislature as State Representative of Clinton and Wayne counties.

Alvin was born at Sunnybrook in Wayne County on Aug. 22, 1846. He married Rosa Young of Clinton County in 1864 and lived in Albany the remainder of his life. Rosa died in 1919. Besides his daughter in Indiana, he was survived by five sons, Printis of Albany, William of Cartwright and Elza, Oscar and Joe, all of Monticello.

Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Printis also became a preacher. As a matter of fact, he served as Clear Fork's tenth pastor, from May 1932 to May 1933. Elza and Oscar practiced law in Albany for nearly 25 years as Bertram & Bertram before moving the practice to Monticello. Elza was elected to the Kentucky State Senate in 1910, and in 1933 became a Judge with the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Rainbow Valley Will Never Be The Same

Lester Moran & his Cadillac Cowboys spent their entire career performing each and every Saturday night at the Johnny Mack Brown High School there at Rainbow Valley. That's the same dance that use to be held in the Volunteer Fire Hall before it burnt down.

"The Old Roadhog," along with Red and Wesley, the two young country singers, and ol' Wichita, Roadhogs right hand man, kept a strain of country music alive in the valley long after most people thought it had died, or should have died.

We thought the invention of the guitar tuner might kill off Lester's style of music, but unfortunately, I mean fortunately, tuners never made it into the culturally isolated Rainbow Valley, and when his record company tried to buy him one he rejected it, saying only "I never did like seafood much."

For years, Lester and the boys did a radio show on WEAK radio, where they spent fifteen minutes playing good ol' country music. They also did a lot of pickin' and grinnin' for some of their good friends over in Hogan County at Moose Lodge #13.

Ain't nobody gonna miss Old Roadhog more than his good friend Burford down at Burford's Barber Shop, that's B-u-r-f-o-r-d, and also Ernie at Ernie's Egg Mart, where you can always get cracked eggs half price at 8pm. That was a yoke!

We asked Old Roadhog of he'd like to say something and after he'd pulled his self together he said, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.” So long until next time Old Roadhog, Lester Moran. Take it away Wichita!

RIP Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers. The class of '57 had its dreams. You changed the world and made it a better place to live.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Influential Albums: Let it Be

"Let It Be" was the twelfth and final studio album by the Beatles. It was released on May 8, 1970. I fell in love with the title track the moment I first heard it and, even though I was only nine years old, I desired to learn how to play the title track on the piano. After I worked it up I talked two of my classmates, who lived on the same street, into singing it in Margaret Cook's music class at school.

The next day, I uncharacteristically raised my hand and asked if we could do the song. I don't remember ever going out on a limb like that again, hahaha. She surely had to be curious about my forthrightness because, normally in that classroom I was happy with playing the sticks or, if I was lucky enough to be chosen, shake the tambourine. I didn't have any sort of music or chord arrangement written down in front of me. It strictly by ear. The only thing we did have were the lyrics, which I had written on a piece of paper that had been folded into a small square and stuffed inside my pants pocket.

We were midway through the second verse when I caught a glimpse of this cute little girl, with long black hair in pigtails, walking toward us. I thought she was coming to help my buddies sing, but instead she stopped in front of the piano and leaned over to watch me play. It was at that very moment that I realized what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I had discovered a way to pick up girls. Later, people actually started giving me money to play. That really threw me for a loop, but I went along with it.

"When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness
she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be"

Influential Albums: Creedence Clearwater Revival

The late 60's...what a time to be growing up and loving music. It grew a whole lot sweeter when Creedence Clearwater Revival started releasing those great songs. CCR really hit it big in 1969 by releasing three albums that swept everyone off their feet, including me. "Born on the Bayou," "Green River" and "Willie and the Poor Boys." "Cosmos Factory," their biggest album release prior to the Chronicles 1 and Chronicles 2 sets, was released in 1970.

It was brand new music then, and it was really, really good stuff. My favorites songs were "Bad Moon Rising," "Lodi" and "Proud Mary." I have a recording of my brother, Ronnie, and I jamming to "Proud Mary." He is singing and playing drums and I am playing piano and singing the repeat line on the word, "Rollin'." He is 8 and I am 11.

In two years, CCR gave us twelve of their biggest songs: "Bad Moon Rising," "Lodi" and "Proud Mary," along with "Green River," "Down on the Corner." "Have You Ever Seen The Rain," "Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Run Through the Jungle," "Up Around the Bend," "Travelin' Man," "Long as I Can See the Light" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door." "Suzie Q" had already been released in 1968.

Fact: The music of Creedence Clearwater Revival has never left radio.

"Tambourines and elephants are playin' in the band
Won't you take a ride on the flyin' spoon, Doo, doo, doo
Wond'rous apparition provided by magician
Doo, doo, doo lookin' out my back door"

Listen to "Cosmos Factory"(40th Anniversary Edition)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Hymns of Hope: There is a Redeemer

(Photo by Kelly Latham)

I am always fascinated by the stories behind the writing of hymns, especially the great old ones. Although it sounds old, "There Is a Redeemer" is a praise and worship song written by Melody Green in 1977 and popularized by her husband, contemporary Christian musician Keith Green, on his 1982 album, "Songs for the Shepherd," the last album to be released before a plane crash on July 28, 1982 claimed the lives of Keith, 28, and two of his children, ages 2 and 3. Nine others were also onboard and perished. They were visiting church planters, John and Dede Smalley and their six children. The Robertson STOL-modified Cessna 414 leased by Last Days Ministries crashed after takeoff from a private airstrip located on the LDM property. Melody was left with a one year old and expecting their fourth child at the time of the accident. The final verse was added by Keith. The song appears in numerous hymnals and has been described as a classic. We sing it quite often at my church. Like "How Deep The Father's Love For Us," this is another one of those hymns that sounds old, bit it isn't. The lyrics and the melody are beautiful.

There is a redeemer
Jesus, God's own son
Precious lamb of God, Messiah
Holy one

Thank you oh my father
For giving us your son
And leaving your spirit
'til the work on earth is done

Jesus my redeemer
Name above all names
Precious lamb of God, Messiah
Oh, for sinners slain

When I stand in glory
I will see his face
And there I'll serve my king forever
In that holy place

Today, Melody Green operates Last Days Ministries online where all of her husband's writings are free and his music can be found. She also maintains the Keith Green Facebook page to honor Keith.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Eb Dawson has gone to live in Greener Acres

Tom Lester, a devoted evangelist who starred as friendly farmhand Eb Dawson on the 1960's series “Green Acres,” died today in the Nashville due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.

The Jackson, Mississippi and raised on his grandfather’s farm. He had big dreams of becoming an actor in Hollywood, but few people from his rural community believed he would find success, because he was too tall, too skinny, too ugly, had a Southern accent, and looked nothing like Rock Hudson.

How did a young man from Mississippi without a credit to his name accomplish this feat, co-starring alongside the prolific Eddie Albert and the showstopper Eva Gabor? It happened by chance. After being told he looked nothing like Rock Hudson, he read an interview with Don Knotts who was asked how he got into movies, because he didn’t look anything at all like Rock Hudson. His reply was "I figured everybody in Hollywood was good-looking and had a good physique. I figured they needed somebody a little bit different."

So, with that being said, he moved to Hollywood believing the Lord was leading him to become an actor. He found a job and along the way, met a drama coach who helped him get cast in plays that put him onstage with Linda Kaye, the daughter of Paul Henning, creator of “Petticoat Junction." One of the things Henning liked about Tom was, get this - his 'accent.'

"Golly, Mr. Douglas!"

Reportedly, Lester beat out 400 other actors for the role of Eb because he knew how to milk a cow. His character wasn’t supposed to be a major part in the show, however, Lester’s performances in early episodes were so popular among audiences that he quickly became a regular on the show that ran from 1965 to 1971.

Lester grew up simple knowing a simpler way of life and it was no different for him in Hollywood. Upon his arrival there, he began attending the Beverly Hills Baptist Church. Even at the heighth of his TV show fame he continued to live in a rented apartment above a garage in the San Fernando Valley. After the show ended, he moved back to Mississippi, where he bought a large timber farm that he named "Green Acres." He won Mississippi’s “Wildlife Farmer of the Year” award in 1997. He also traveled the country sharing his Christian faith at church gatherings and youth rallies and his life was a testimony to all who knew him.

Eb Dawson: Morning! Breakfast ready?
Lisa Douglas: Yes.
Eb Dawson: Well, let's have the hotcakes and get it over with.
Lisa Douglas: We're not having any hotscakes this morning.
Oliver Douglas: No hotcakes?
Lisa Douglas: I've made something different.
Oliver Douglas: Hey, wonderful!
Eb Dawson: Let's not go off half-cocked till we get a look at it.
Oliver Douglas: Knock it off, anything's better than the hotcakes.
Lisa Douglas: Here we are. [Holds up what looks like a long, lumpy pastry on a baking sheet]
Eb Dawson: Any hotcakes left over from yesterday?
Lisa Douglas: You don't like it?
Eb Dawson: I don't know. What is it?
Lisa Douglas: Well what does it look like?
Oliver Douglas: It looks like a boa constrictor with lumps.
Lisa Douglas: That's the last time I ever cook you a spanish omelette.

Lester was the last surviving regular cast member of Green Acres.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Influential Albums: Please Please Me

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first started paying attention to the harmony vocal parts in songs. I do recall at church being in the pew behind Kate Owens, listening to her sing harmony and thinking I’d like to do that. At home, I would put a Beatles album on the portable turntable and listen to their clean harmonies which were so easy to pick out. The "Please, Please Me" album by the Beatles was full of songs with great harmonies. I remember listening to them, then going to the piano and picking out the different parts in a chord and doing it all the way up the scale. I suppose I was learning to sing and play the piano at the same time. Soon, unbeknownst to her, I was in the pew behind Kate Owens, singing harmony to her harmony. I am certainly not a lead vocalist (I used to do it only to give the lead singer a chance to catch his or her breath), but I love singing harmony.

Hymns of Hope: If My People

2 Chronicles 7:14 is one of my favorite bible verses. I think we can all agree that things in America have been pretty crazy for quite some time now. Some say the COVID-19 crisis is our cue to fix it. Perhaps that's true. One thing is for sure, when all of this is over, if we go back to the way things were, we will not have learned anything. This bible verse/song is a great way to begin to set things right. My prayer is that we will follow its directions and allow it to work in our hearts and in our lives, and ultimately in our land. May God bless you.

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

Friday, April 17, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Be Still My Soul

The very powerful words to the hymn, "Be Still My Soul," were written in 1752 and translated into English in 1855. The first verse is perfect for this trying time we are in.

"Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to your God to order and provide. In ev'ry change, he faithful will remain. Be still, my soul, your best, your heav'nly friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end."

The verse tells us that God is over all creation, but instead of using His sovereign power to destroy us, He sustains our lives. Instead of crushing us as we deserve, He is merciful. He is patient. He is good.

'Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know His voice.' I love that line in verse two. It means don't let anything shake you. God is in control.

"Be still, my soul, your God will undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake. All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below."

Verse three offers the assurance that God loves us. We are His children and in the midst of troubled times, 'we shall know His love.'

"Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart and all is darkened in the vale of tears. Then shall you better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul, your Jesus can repay from his own fullness all he takes away."

Verse four is about God's promise of what lies ahead if you are saved. That, one day, grief, disappointment and fear will be gone. Hallelujah!

"Be still, my soul, the hour is hast'ning on when we shall be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored. Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last."

The writer of the hymn was Ka­tha­ri­na A. von Schle­gel, who lived in the German city of Cothen, where Johann Sebastian Bach lived for a short time. She wrote a number of hymns that combines biblical doctrine with living a vigorous Christian life. "Stille meine Wille," or “Be Still My Soul,” gives us assurance that, in the midst of the storm, our souls are secure and we can rest easy because God is in control.

Exultate Singers , a choir based in Bristol, UK that was founded by conductor and composer David Ogden, performs a beautiful version of “Be Still My Soul.”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Hymns of Hope: "How Deep the Father's Love For Us"

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Romans 8:38-39

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

In today’s worship writing it is a rare and wonderful thing to find a hymn or even a Christian song filled with BOTH theological depth and poetic expression than "How Deep the Father's Love For Us," written by Stuart Townend, an English Christian worship leader and writer of hymns and contemporary worship music.

He said, "I’d been meditating on the cross, and in particular what it cost the Father to give up his beloved Son to a torturous death on a cross. And what was my part in it? Not only was it my sin that put him there, but if I’d lived at that time, it would probably have been me in that crowd, shouting with everyone else ‘crucify him.’ It just makes his sacrifice all the more personal, all the more amazing, and all the more humbling."

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2020

On a Hill Far Away Stood an Old Rugged Cross

Evangelist George Bennard wrote the first verse to "The Old Rugged Cross" after being heckled by several youth at a revival meeting in Albion, Michigan in the fall of 1912. Troubled by their disregard for the gospel, he was reflecting on the work of Christ on the cross when he wrote,

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame."

He finished the hymn during a revival in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin that began in late December that year. The song was popularized in Billy Sunday's evangelistic campaigns by singers Homer Rodeheaver and Virginia Asher. They were the first to record it in 1921.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

O that old rugged cross so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary

In that old rugged cross stained with blood so divine
A wondrous beauty I see
For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me

To that old rugged cross I will ever be true
Its shame and reproach gladly bear
Then he'll call me some day to my home far away
Where his glory forever I'll share

Now, more than ever, we need to cling to the cross. We haven't been living in the world the Lord intended for us to live in. So, now that He has gotten our attention, we need to change. Pray for change, pray for each other. Instead of putting down our leaders, pray for them, and yes, even the President. After this pandemic is over, if we go back to the way things were we will have lost the lesson. We must rise up and do better. I can't think of a better place to start than by clinging to the old rugged cross.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Nobly The Fell While Fighting for Liberty

Before the Korean Conflict there had been 39 military funerals in Clinton County, Ky for WWII veterans. The first one held here for a Korean Conflict casualty was held on Dec. 2, 1951 when Luther Craig was laid to rest at Peolia Cemetery. Five Clinton County soldiers were killed in action during the Korean Conflict. Pvt. Craig, at 20-years-old, was the second youngest casualty. He had served in the Army with Co. G, 7th Calvary, 1st Division and was killed in action on June 8, 1951. Luther was the son of Mr. and Mrs. James E. Craig.

Pvt. Earl Bradley Stewart, who had served in the Army was killed in action on March 15, 1951. He was the son of Prentice and Nellie Sidwell Stewart and was 22 years of age. Earl is buried at Cartwright Cemetery.

Cpl. Herbert E. Guffey was another 22-year-old was killed in action during the Korean Conflict, or war, which J.E. Morrison said it was. Cpl. Guffey, who was the son of Porter and Ethel Vickery, served in the Army with the 72nd Medium Tank BN, 2nd Infantry. He was killed on Dec. 28, 1951 and is buried at Piercey Cemetery.

Pvt. Willie Kenneth Wright was also 22-years-old when he was killed in action on June 7, 1952. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Columbus Wright, he was with the Army's 180th Regiment, 45th Infantry. He is buried at Five Springs Cemetery.

By now, most of you have heard about Pvt. Joe Stanton Elmore, the 20-year-old son of Ambrose and Bertha York Elmore, was the youngest of the Clinton County soldiers to die in battle in Korea. He was killed in action on Dec. 2, 1950, alth6 his remains could not be located. He was officially presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953, but that wasn't the end of it. In 1995, his sisters, Mary and Lola, submitted their DNA to the Korean War Missing DNA Project and it worked. Their brother was accounted for on July 3, 2018. His remains were brought back home to Clinton County on Aug. 15th, sixty-eight years after he was killed in action. Joe Elmore served in the Army with Co. A of the 32nd Infantry, 7th Division. He is buried at Story Cemetery.

Whenever I think of our war dead, I find myself thinking about this old song written over a hundred years ago and made famous during our time, first by Doc Watson, then by Bob Dylan. The name of it is "Lone Pilgrim."

I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay
and patiently stood by his tomb
When in a low whisper I heard something say
How sweetly I sleep here alone

The tempest may howl and the loud thunder roar
And gathering storms may arise
But calm is my feeling at rest is my soul
The tears are all wiped from my eyes

The call of my master compelled me from home
No kindred or relative nigh
I met the contagion and sank to the tomb
My soul flew to mansions on high

Go tell my companion and children most dear
To weep not for me now I'm gone
The same hand that led me through seas most severe
Has kindly assisted me home

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

J.E. Morrison was Clinton County, Ky's Most-Decorated Korean War Soldier

"A Clinton County, Kentucky warrior, breaded and grimy, is resting today, back from the rugged fighting on mountainous Heartbreak Ridge in Korea," wrote Robert Schakne, Korean War Correspondent for WLW Radio in Cincinnati on Oct. 4, 1951. "The soldier is James E. Morrison of Seminary, Kentucky. He is enjoying some well-earned rest, along with a hot shower and hot food."

The writer got it right. James Earl Morrison was a warrior. He accepted the challenge of leading his unit from Co. C of the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division, when no one else there on Heartbreak Ridge would. And, in doing so, he displayed exceptional valor on more than one occasion, rising to the rank of Master Sargeant.

While you may prefer to call it by it's formal name, Korean Conflict, Mr. Morrison preferred to call it a war.

On Sept. 2, 1951, while running across a field during an enemy attack on Heartbreak Ridge, he picked up a wounded soldier, slung him across his back and ran as fast as he could toward a first aid station. Along the way, they were hit by a grenade, which severely injured J.E.'s leg. It was his ticket home from a war where not much hope for survival could be seen. But J.E. refused to leave his troops behind and, with unfathomable valor I can't begin to comprehend, led his men through violent enemy fire, while being completely surrounded, until the Marines were able to break through one of the lines and rescue them two weeks later.

As the years went by, J.E. rarely spoke of the war. Most people who knew him were not aware of his heroism until the remains of Pvt. Joe Elmore were brought back home a couple of years ago, 68 years after he had been declared MIA, and J.E. began to talk about his tour of duty in North Korea. Many of you probably saw the photo of him at Pvt. Elmore's casket, standing at attention, saluting. His son David got him the cap you see in the photo. He was so proud of it.

Last year, when artist Norma Anderson unveiled her portrait of him, someone remarked what a great honor it was for him. As he began to reply, his voice became weakened with emotion. Pointing at the portrait he said, "I didn't do what I did for that."

After he fell and broke his hip in the latter part of January, the doctors and hospital staff were amazed with his grit and determination as he fought his way back during rehabilitation. But, it made sense to me. He was, after all, a warrior and the path of the Warrior is lifelong, and the mastery of it is often simply staying on the path, and that he did.

J.E. Morrison died last night at the age of 91. Our warrior is fully at rest now. Although his sun has set, its light shall linger round us yet, Bright, Radiant, Blest.

He was my friend.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Because He Lives

One of the most famous Christian songs of our time is "Because He Lives," but do you know the story behind the writing of it? In the late 1960's, while expecting their third child, Bill and Gloria Gaither were going through a rather traumatic time in their lives. Bill was recovering from a bout with mononucleosis. It was a special period of anxiety and mental anguish for Gloria. The thought of bringing another child into this world, with all of the "craziness," was taking its toll on her.

On New Year's Eve, she was sitting in their living room, in agony and fear. The educational system was being infiltrated with the God is dead idea, while drug abuse and racial tensions were increasing. Then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, she was filled with a gentle, calming peace. It was as if her heavenly Father, like an attentive mother bending over her baby, saw his child and came to her rescue. The panic gave way to calmness and an assurance that only the Lord can impart. She was assured that the future would be just fine, left in God's hands.

Shortly after the baby was born, both Bill and Gloria remembered that the power of the blessed Holy Spirit seemed to come to their aid. Christ's resurrection, in all of its power and affirmation in their lives, revitalized their thinking. To Gloria, it was life conquering death in their daily activities. Joy once again dominated the fearful circumstances of the day.

Those events gave rise to one of the most famous Christian songs of our time, "Because He Lives."

(Written by Lyndsay Terry, St. Augustine Record, 2015)

God sent His Son
They called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

And then one day I'll cross that river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to vict'ry
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know he lives

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Without Him

Mylon LeFevre was just 17 years old and in the Army in 1963 when he wrote "Without Him" in just 20 minutes. Stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, one weekend he hitchhiked over 600 miles to join his family group, the LeFevres, who were performing at a gospel convention in Memphis. Mylon sung this song onstage, not knowing that Elvis Presley was in the audience. Elvis eventually recorded the song on May 27, 1966 for his album, "How Great Thou Art," which was certified three-times Platinum by the Recording Industry of American Artists in October of 2010. Within a year of Elvis' recording of "Without Him," over a hundred other artists recorded it and other songs Mylon had written. Since 1967, the song has been included in all major hymnals.

Without Him I could do nothing
Without Him I'd surely fail
Without Him I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail

Jesus, oh Jesus
Do you know Him today
Please don't turn Him away
Oh Jesus, oh Jesus
Without Him how lost I would be

Without Him I would be dying
Without Him I'd be enslaved
Without Him life would be worthless
But with Jesus thank God I'm saved

Friday, April 3, 2020

Bill Withers was Essential

The word 'essential' is playing an important role in things right now. Most pop and soul music lovers who have been around since the early 70's would agree with me when I say the word 'essential' applied to Bill Withers' songs.

Bill Withers is one of my favorite singers and songwriters ever. I was always spellbound by his songs. Each tune had a way of speaking to me. He wrote about love and family, of social issues, and about hard times. But, his songs also contained lots of positive vibes. He was extremely soulful, and I liked that about him. “I’m not a virtuoso," he said, "but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia."

Bill Withers was a factory worker making toilet seats for 747's when he wrote "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone." Instead of a third verse he repeated the phrase "I know" twenty-six times. My first thought on hearing it was "what in the world?" but whatever he did in his songs, and however he'd do it, always worked.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain and we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise we know that there's always a tomorrow, a better day coming. Those words (with some of my own mixed in) made up the first verse to one of the greatest songs ever written.

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean

Lean On Me” is a simple song. It is a love song, but by no means is it a standard love song. It’s a pledge of friendship and support through bad times. Getting those words across to people was the most important part of the song. Like, "Hey friend, if you need anything I just want you to know I am here for you." Someone said the song was a vision of how things are supposed to work.

Life has its difficult moments. Sometimes, it is hard to go it alone. Sometimes it helps to have someone or others to lean on, figuratively speaking right now, of course. Of all the hits Bill Withers had during his career, “Lean On Me” was his only #1 hit, but oh what a song, and what words! "Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on." Simply profound.

Bill's first hit record was in 1972. He retired from releasing records and playing live a short fifteen years later. Yet, he lived happily. That's really all that mattered.

Bill Withers died from heart complications today. He was 81. He gave us joy and comfort, and inspiration, when we needed those things most.

"The Essential Bill Withers" is a 34-track anthology released in 2013 that features all of his notable singles, along with other highlights from his albums on the Sussex and Columbia labels from 1971 through 1985.

I highly recommend it.

Click the link to listen to "Lean on Me"

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Hymns of Hope: He Leadeth Me

It was a Wednesday evening and Joseph Gilmore, the son of New Hampshire governor Joseph A. Gilmore, was preaching at a mid-week prayer service. “I set out to give an exposition of the 23rd Psalm," he would later write, "but I got no further than the words ‘He leadeth me.’ Those words took hold of me as they had never done before. I saw in them a significance and beauty of which I had never dreamed. At the close of the meeting a few of us kept on talking about the thoughts which I had emphasized; and then and there, on a back page of my sermon notes, I penciled the hymn just as it stands today, handed it to my wife, and thought no more of it."

Without his knowledge, and using a pseudonym, Gilmore's wife sent the lyrics to the Watchman and Reflector magazine. The magazine first printed it on Dec. 4, 1862.

Three years later, Gilmore went to preach at Rochester, New York. "Upon entering the chapel," he said, "I took up a hymnbook, thinking, ‘I wonder what they sing.’ The book opened up at “’He Leadeth Me" and that was the first time I knew that my hymn had found a place among the songs of the church.”

Musician William Bradbury saw the lyrics the magazine had printed and wrote the melody for it. He added the last line of the refrain to fit his tune. When Ira Sankey, the musician for evangelist Dwight Moody heard Bradbury’s version of the hymn, he included it in several editions of 'Sacred Songs and Solos,' thus assuring its fame.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought
O words with heavenly comfort fraught
Whate'er I do, where'er I be
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me

He leadeth me, He leadeth me
By His own hand He leadeth me
His faithful follower I would be
For by His hand He leadeth me

Sometimes mid scenes Of deepest gloom
Sometimes where Edens flowers bloom
By waters calm o'er troubled sea
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me

Lord I would clasp Thy hand in mine
Nor ever murmur nor repine
Content, whatever lot I see
Since 'tis my God that leadeth me

And when my task on earth is done
when by Thy grace the victory's won
E'en death's cold wave I will not flee
Since God through Jordan leadeth me

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Day the Civil War came to Albany, KY, pt. 3 (The Death of Champ Ferguson)

By the spring of 1862 relatively few major military engagements had taken place in Kentucky and Tennessee, yet the Cumberland Mountains, especially along the border, was filled with violence. Roaming bands of outlaws took advantage of the war to steal whatever they wanted with no regard for their victims’ politics. Most of Ferguson family had sided with the Union at the beginning of the war, but Champ, who was known for his rowdyish, fighting ways, as mentioned in part two of this series, went with the Confederacy. Because of that, he moved his family from pro-Union Clinton County to pro-Confederate White County at the onset of the war. Within a few months he had formed his own guerilla band.

Folks were so divided over which side of the war to take that even idle rumors questioning a man’s alignment could lead to his death. Champ had also heard rumors that soldiers and homeguardsmen who had trained at Camp Dick Robinson, the Union army's training center near Stanford, were out to kill him and he swore to get them first. He routinely came back home to kill those who favored the Union. In most instances he would discuss their assocation with the North before killing him.

Some of the killings were legitimate acts of combat, while others were nothing more than cold-blooded murder. His first victim was his neighbor, and my great, great, great-uncle, William Frogge, whom he had heard was planning to kill him. William had enlisted in Company D of the 12th Kentucky Regiment at Camp Dick Robinson, but had been sent home with the measles. His wife, Ester, was peeling apples at the door when Champ rode up on the morning of Nov. 1, 1861. Because she had known him since childhood, she suspected no ill will and allowed him to enter the house. Champ accused William of contracting his illness at the camp. Frogge tried to deny the claim, but Ferguson shot him in the mouth and then through the brain. The last shot, he said, was to "make him die easy.” William, age 26, and his wife, Esther, age 20, had only been married a year and a half. Their son, James, was six months old.

The murder of Frogge and others, including my 3rd great-grandfather Elisha Koger (Frogge's brother-in-law), would lead the entire population of Clinton County to turn against him, so Champ had no choice but to take his family and flee Kentucky.

On February 18, 1864, Union forces took control of Sparta, Tennessee, where Champ had relocated to. But by August his home had been burned, so Ferguson and his comrades headed south, where they joint forces with Major General John Breckinridge in southwest Virginia. It was in Emory, Virginia, that Ferguson committed his most infamous murder. On October 2nd, Confederate forces he was among were attacked by a Federal cavalry at Saltville, Virginia. The Confederates put up a spirited resistance, and after a sharp fight, the Federals withdrew. The next morning, Ferguson and his lieutenant, Raine Philpot, entered a hospital near Emory and Henry College, where Federal wounded and prisoners had been taken. Ferguson shot Lieutenant Elza Smith of the 13th Kentucky Cavalry, along with as many as seven wounded prisoners with the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry.

Up Highway 84 and left on Plum Creek Road in White County, Tennessee, stands the old Bradley home, where in 1865 Champ Ferguson surrendered to Union troops at the conclusion of the Civil War. The Bradley's were on the side of the Confederacy and sympathized with Champ Ferguson, as did many in White County. J.P. Bradley was killed inside the home while trying to defend his daughter, Dee, from being captured by Union troops during the war. She was a Confederate spy who often rode with Champ. It is said that J.P.'s wife, Nancy, fenced stolen goods for Champ at the home, and that J.P. and Nancy's son, J.P., Jr. also rode with Champ and committed many atrocities with him.

Champ surrendered under a verbal promise of being pardoned for his actions. He was arrested on May 24th and sent to prison in Nashville, but instead of receiving a pardon he was convicted of murdering 53 people, although he claimed at his trial that he had personally killed over one hundred men, all in self-defense.

Champ's high profile trial gained national attention. Esther Frogge and Nancy Koger were two of those who testified against him and then watched as he was hanged on October 20, 1865. Ferguson's last request was that his body be removed to White County to be "buried in good Rebel soil." He is buried at France Cemetery on Highway 84, not far from where his home was.

Hymns of Hope: "It Is Well with My Soul"

Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family - a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.

A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, "Saved alone, what shall I do?" Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it in his office.

Another of the ship's survivors, Pastor Weiss, later recalled Anna saying, "God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why."

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul" while on this journey.

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

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to His Cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord o my soul

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul

Long may our Land be Bright with Freedom's Holy Light

Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but after voting to approve it, a draft do...