Friday, January 25, 2013


There are two songs that have inspired me through these past years. I remember hearing His Eye Is On The Sparrow as a very young lad, in the early days of Billy Graham being sung by Ethel Waters.

Taking a little time, I researched and found these interesting facts.

The theme of the song is inspired by the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) and 
"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

Civilla Martin, who wrote the lyrics, said this about her inspiration to write the song based in the scriptures outlined above:

Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience.
Those few words inspired Civilla Martin to jot down the lines of what has become a very beloved and encouraging hymn. Charles H Gabriel was the composer. Ethel Waters used the title for her autobiography.

"His Eye Is On the Sparrow" By Civilla Martin/Charles Gabriel, 

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
Let not your heart be troubled, His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

The troubles of life often get to us. Like Peter walking on the water toward Jesus, we can easily feel overwhelmed by the wind and waves in our lives. We can easily turn our eyes away from our Lord and Savior and focus instead on the storm. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, though, we can know that it's okay. He's strong. He can take care of us. And he's faithful.

Another favorite hymn, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness", has no dramatic history behind it - according to its writer, Thomas Obadiah Chisholm. However, it does have a real, down-to-earth story.

Thomas Chisholm's beginnings were humble. He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1866 and suffered from physical weakness for significant parts of his adult life. Chisholm gave his life to Christ when he was 27-years-old, but his poor health made it difficult for him to stay employed, sometimes confining him to his bed. He managed to get jobs here and there as he was able, but making ends meet must have been difficult for the fragile man.

Chisholm grew to love the third chapter of Lamentations, especially, "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: Great is Your faithfulness," (Lamentations 3:22-23).

In 1923, Chisholm sent a few poems to his musician friend William Runyan in Baldwin, Kansas, far away from where Chisholm was staying in Vineland, New Jersey. Runyan was deeply touched by one of the poems and prayed for God's guidance in composing music for it. The hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was published in one of Runyan's song pamphlets.

There the song stayed until Dr. Will Houghton of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago found it and decided to have the students sing it in chapel on a regular basis. "Well," Dr. Houghton would say, "I think we shall have to sing ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.'"

We all know the need for God's faithfulness. We all can recognize its precious value in this rugged, often confusing and unpredictable existence of ours. Thomas Chisholm lived every day dependent on God to be trustworthy, believing that God's compassions would not fail him. It's worth noting, by the way, that ill health didn't end things for Chisholm. Despite those years of poor health, Thomas Chisholm lived until 1960, finally going Home at the ripe age of 94. He wrote 1,200 poems and hymns during his 94 years.

"Great Is Thy Faithfulness" rightfully remains a favorite hymn sung by multitudes.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin And a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, With ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


The beginning of the new year is not the end of the holiday season in Sweden. No, the Swedes also get to take off work on Epiphany – January 6 - just a few short days after the end of the Christmas break. Lucky Scandinavians. Sweden is one of the very few countries that gives public honor to Epiphany, and many Christians these days don't even know what this holiday - celebrated 12 days after Christmas - is all about.

Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Magi who traveled across the known world to pay homage to the young King of the Jews. They came out of more than mere curiosity. While we don't know the exact date of their arrival, their journey must have begun months, perhaps years before they reached Mary and Joseph's new home in Bethlehem. They also brought with them gifts that bore powerful prophetic significance; gold reflected the kingship of Jesus the Messiah; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment that signified Jesus' death.

The Magi also hold the honor of being the first gentiles known to have come to worship Jesus. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem to the Jewish people, but He came to be the Savior and Lord of all nations.

The 12 Days of Christmas:
Straight No Chaser, the men's acapella group at Indiana University, does a unique and entertaining version of The 12 Days of Christmas that has been all the rage on Youtube for a couple of years now. What many people don't realize is that the 12 Days of Christmas actually begin at Christmas. During centuries past, these were 12 days of celebration that were filled with feasting and gift-giving until the Twelfth Night – the evening of January 5th - the day before Epiphany.

The Magi:
The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster. That all came later.)

It was in this dual capacity whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian Empire, and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods.

The Role of Daniel:
One of the titles given to Daniel was Rab-mag (Dan 4:9; 5:11), the Chief of the Magi. His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires: the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions resulted in the plots leading to the lion's den (Dan 6). Daniel apparently entrusted a messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment. But first, let's cover some historical background.

The Political Background:
Since the days of Daniel, the fortunes of both the Persian and the Jewish nations had been closely intertwined. Both nations had, in their turn, fallen under Seleucid domination in the wake of Alexander's conquests. Subsequently both had regained their independence: the Jews under Maccabean leadership, and the Persians as the dominating ruling group within the Parthian Empire.

It was at this time that the Magi, in their dual priestly and governmental office, composed the upper house of the Council of the Megistanes ("magistrates") whose duties included the absolute choice and election of the king of the realm. It was therefore a group of Persian-Parthian "king makers" who entered Jerusalem in the latter days of the reign of Herod. Herod's reaction was understandably one of fear when one considers the background of Roman-Parthian rivalry that prevailed during his lifetime.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany with another focus; Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. Epiphany, which means "to manifest" or "to show" in Greek, is often also called Theophany by the Eastern Church, because it is Christ's presentation to the world as the Son of God.

As John the Baptist said:
"He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." -John 1:33-34

All these traditions and celebrations point to a very important truth - that the Son of God came to Earth. The God of the Universe sends both the wise and the meek of the earth to worship Him. May we continue to worship and serve Him every day of this new year and present to him the gifts, not of frankincense and myrrh, but the living sacrifice of our lives - to use for His awesome will.