Augustus Montague Toplady

Added on by Craig Stewart.

It might seem strange that “Rock of Ages,” the timeless hymn of salvation and forgiveness would be written by a fiercely independent Christian named Augustus Montague Toplady. He was converted by a Methodist evangelist while attending the University of Dublin. In 1758, his theology changed to Calvinism after hearing the sermons of Dr. Manton on the seventeenth chapter of John. A change that brought him into bitter conflict with John Wesley and the Methodists.

This hymn was written to conclude a magazine article in which he emphasized, just as England could never repay its national debt, so humans through their own efforts could never satisfy the eternal justice of God. He died of tuberculosis and overwork at the age of thirty-eight, two years after he published his own hymnal, in which "Rock of Ages" and Charles Wesley's "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" were placed side by side.

“Rock of Ages” has been played by Bob Dylan in concert on a number of occasions since 1999. Regardless of your denominational beliefs, it would be hard to diminish this heartfelt prayer for the living and the dying.

Louise Massey Carr

Added on by Craig Stewart.

In honor of a faithful Christian lady I’ve been blessed to know. She’ll be missed for a time by her family and friends. My mother-in-law was Louise Massey Carr, 1924 to 2019. We loved her and she loved us.

Mrs. Carr loved music and was once a dedicated member of the Woodlawn Baptist church choir. In addition to being a faithful choir member, she was also a dedicated teacher for the three-year-olds in Sunday School for over 36 years. Mrs. Carr loved playing the piano and telling much loved Bible stories.

During her final weeks, several nurses would say they knew she was a “praying woman” because they would often hear her talking to God and singing. One nurse even said, the last thing she overheard Mrs. Carr say was “God, help me to do something good.”

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

Bob Dylan

Added on by Craig Stewart.

From Bob Dylan’s last Christian album “Shot of Love,” comes one of Dylan’s 10 Greatest Songs according to Rolling Stone, the lyrically transcendent “Every Grain of Sand.” For Dylan, it was a song of humility from the pain of self-awareness and utter abandonment to the Master’s sovereignty over the natural world.

Consider the song’s last three stanzas:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Dylan would later describe the process for writing “Every Grain of Sand” as “an inspired song that just came to me... I felt like I was just putting words down that were coming from somewhere else.”

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Rolling Stone  +  pearl1125  +  Exmoo

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Rolling Stone + pearl1125 + Exmoo

Sade

Added on by Craig Stewart.

For many years now, the British Nigerian artist named Sade Adu, has been one of my personal favorites. She’s known for a stripped away, minimalist approach to her jazz-tinged pop. This type of arrangement perfectly highlights her tender vocals.

While Sade has remained quiet about her beliefs, the love and corresponding relationships she so often sings about is as undeniable to the Christian faith, as it is to her. Consider these partial lyrics to “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through” — ‘You forgive those who have trespassed against you, And you know tenderness comes from pain, It’s amazing how you love, And love is kind and love can give, And love needs no gain,’ as compared to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 — ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

It’s altogether fitting that her “Lovers Rock” album, released in 2000, would contain such a song as ”It's Only Love That Gets You Through.”

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Wikipedia  +  Genius  +  Ok.Ru

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Wikipedia + Genius + Ok.Ru

Bach

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Johann Sebastian Bach created this magnificent composition for the complete Roman Catholic service of a Latin Mass. It represents one of Bach’s last works and wasn’t fully completed until 1749, a year before his death. Bach’s Mass has become widely proclaimed as one of the greatest compositions in musical history, being performed and recorded many times over. So many, it’s recommended that a person sample several different recordings before making a purchase, just to decide which version they’d prefer.

Under Frans Brüggen’s direction, this particular recording from 2009, is my personal favorite. It has a quicker pace, as opposed to some of the earlier Baroque recordings. The vocals of Cappella Amsterdam are ethereally beautiful, while the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, founded by Frans Brüggen, provides a brightly dynamic sound to Bach’s masterful arrangement.

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.  Sources:  Wikipedia  +  Quora

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

Sources: Wikipedia + Quora

Cantique de Noel

Added on by Craig Stewart.

It all began, when Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was asked to write a poem for Christmas mass by his parish priest. Honored to share his talents with the church, Placide Cappeau penned his “Cantique de Noel” while traveling to the capital city of France, in 1847.

Cappeau felt his poem would be better suited to music, so the poet sought help from one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams. Adams’ masterful talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets from all over the world. Their finished work was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Initially accepted by many Catholic Christmas services, “Cantique de Noel” soon fell out of favor. It was banned in France for almost two decades after Placide Cappeau walked away from the church in favor of the socialist movement and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was Jewish.

Fortunately, interest in this Christmas carol was renewed with John Sullivan Dwight — an American writer and Reginald Fessenden — a former chief chemist for Thomas Edison. Dwight introduced what he considered a wonderful Christmas song to America and Fessenden spoke into a microphone for the first time in history by reading the ‘Birth of Christ’ from the gospel of Luke, on Christmas Eve 1906. After finishing his reading, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” which became, the first song ever sent through radio airwaves.

© Helpful Creative  Source:  Beliefnet

© Helpful Creative

Source: Beliefnet

Christina Rossetti

Added on by Craig Stewart.

This evocative Christmas carol was originally written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem for the American magazine, Scribner’s Monthly. In 1872, it was set to music by Gustav Holst for the 1906 edition of The English Hymnal.

While no one would believe there was actual snow at the birth of Jesus Christ in the Middle Eastern town of Bethlehem, Rossetti uses the poetic imagery of ‘snow on snow’ to symbolize the ‘hard like iron’ hearts of humanity into which our Savior was born, long ago. She goes on to describe how a breastful of milk and a simple manger full of hay were enough for Him, whom the Angels and Archangels fall down before in worship.

I've always been captivated by the sublime beauty within her poem, but it's the very last stanza where my connection and understanding is strongest:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.

Titus 3:3–7

The Spirit of Worship

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Housefires was formed in 2014, as a worship band for the Grace Midtown Church, the founder of almost 50 house churches in and around the metropolitan Atlanta, GA area. Since that time, the band has released four live worship albums. Current band members include worship pastor Kirby Kaple, worship leaders and vocal/guitarists Pat Barrett, the co-writer of the song “Good Good Father” and Tony Brown, worship pastor and vocal/guitarist Nate Moore, violinist Vicki Schmidt, keyboardist Jonathan Jay, percussionists Zac Brooks and Harold Brown. The single “Abide” was written by Nate Moore with musician Mia Fieldes and composer Jonathan Smith off their 2016 “Housefires III” album release.

The band’s goal was to create a fresh, more stripped-down expression of worship and music. As Nate Moore, explains, “What we’ve said from the beginning is that we want to go after moments... We have a set list and songs to fall back on, but really the heart and core is to engage and facilitate God moments, breathing active moments, to create enough space to where God can speak and move and anything can happen.”

This spirit of worship can truly be heard in their hearts and music.

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  The Christian Beat  +  Wikipedia

© Helpful Creative

Sources: The Christian Beat + Wikipedia

My Identity

Added on by Craig Stewart.

It was the first time we had written since “How Can It Be”... I just remember feeling like so much had happened the night before, wondering how do I come back down to normal, how do I come back down to reality? And I started realizing these patterns of really high highs and then, okay now there’s a low. Really high high, now there’s a low... And involving expectation in that space can just leave you kind of questioning your identity — Where do I fit in, where is my security, where is my footing?

So when writing “You Say,” I just remember feeling for the first time pretty conflicted. It was definitely the first moment in just being an artist that I was like Okay, where is all this going exactly? And I know that we’ve all faced moments in life where we can feel a crossroads happen — where we can see the past and also see the future, and realize how we are supposed to exist in the present. And it was one of those moments where I could see where things were going and I knew exactly where I came from, and I needed those worlds to still be married.

And thus brought up the issue of identity and trying to figure out how to exist when I felt like so many things were pulling me in so many different directions. I think a lot of times we build these complexes based on insecurity, based on fear, based on rejection, and lies that we have to constantly overcome. And so this song for me was just a reminder of identity. It was a reminder that I know when I’m weak, He’s strong — so how do I change and bring that into my every day life? When I feel inadequate how is it there’s always these moments where I feel like God just steps in and supersedes my inadequacies. This entire song was so every single day I would get up on stage and remind myself — no, this is the truth, this is the truth, this is the truth. Don’t get buried in confusion. Don’t get buried in waywardness. Just remember to steady the course, steady the course.

That’s the story behind “You Say.” — Lauren Daigle

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  CCM Magazine  +  Jeremy Cowart Photo

© Helpful Creative

Sources: CCM Magazine + Jeremy Cowart Photo

Everything Glorious

Added on by Craig Stewart.

“I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” also known as “How Marvelous” or “My Savior’s Love,” was written, both lyrics and melody in 1905 by Charles Gabriel. He was an Iowa native, showing a talent and love for music at an early age.

Gabriel’s profession became editing gospel song books and contributing numerous hymns for various publications. He’s credited with between 7,000 and 8,000 songs, thirty-five gospel song collections, Sunday school song books, collections for men’s and women’s choirs, numerous cantatas, including 41 Christmas cantatas, and music education texts. He also wrote under numerous pseudonyms, making it challenging to determine the exact number of songs he wrote.

Chris Tomlin would later popularize his arrangement of this hymn, entitled “I Stand Amazed.” Tomlin’s contemporary approach couldn’t be more fitting, knowing that Gabriel's own hymns had reflected a significant change from the gospel music of the 1800s.

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Discipleship Ministries  +  Kingdom Pastor  +  Jason Blackeye

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Discipleship Ministries + Kingdom Pastor + Jason Blackeye

Valley High, Mountain Low

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Yolanda Adams is a 5 time Grammy Award winner and has been recognized as the Gospel Artist of the last decade by Billboard Magazine. She practices the gift of preforming praise that both heals and inspires others to trust in more than themselves. And to know what her powerful encouragement feels like, take a moment to listen to her performance of John Bond’s, “In The Midst Of It All.”

This single was off her album “Valley High, Mountain Low,” which stands as Adams's best-selling to date, having sold more than 2,374,000 copies and being certified double-platinum by the RIAA. It also won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album.

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Yolanda Adams  +  Wikipedia

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Yolanda Adams + Wikipedia

Songs In The Key of Life

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Like most of us in 1976, when I first heard Stevie Wonder’s pinnacle album “Songs In The Key of Life,” immediately I knew it was special work of art by a legit master of his craft. The entire album was like a guided tour through a beautiful kaleidoscope of musical styles and feelings.

Stevie spent two long years crafting this double album and it starts with his openly spiritual lament within the first two songs, “Love’s In Need of Love Today” and “Have A Talk With God.” The former has become almost prophetic these days, warning of love growing cold in too many hearts. The later is Stevie’s recommendation for prayer in anyone’s time of need, co-written with his brother Calvin.

In 2005, this album was fittingly inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, which deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” 

Take my word for it. If you’ve somehow been living on another planet and still haven’t heard it by now... You’ve been missing out!

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.  Source:  StevieWonder.org.uk

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

Source: StevieWonder.org.uk

Way Beyond the Blue

Added on by Craig Stewart.

This old time spiritual and children’s song “Do Lord,” will be remembered by many from their childhood. Johnny Cash preformed it on ‘My Mother's Hymn Book’ in 2003, toward the very end of his life.

Surely the hymn’s title and meaning can be understood in Luke 23:39-43, where a discussion takes place between two criminals and Jesus at the crucifixion... One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to this man, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

© Helpful Creative  Image Sources:  Wallpaper Abyss  +  Anton Atanasov

© Helpful Creative

Image Sources: Wallpaper Abyss + Anton Atanasov

The Spirit of Power

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Mike Scott is the founding member of the rock band ‘The Waterboys.’ Mike’s artistry as a Scottish singer, songwriter and musician is undeniable. Even though his songs have always been deeply spiritual, he attends no church and professes his own version of new age spiritualism.

While Mike and I would disagree on the origin of the spirit of power, as a Christian, I would agree with the truth found within Mike’s “Spirit” lyrics on ‘The Waterboys’ third album, This Is The Sea.

Man gets tired
Spirit don’t
Man surrenders
Spirit won’t
Man crawls
Spirit flies
Spirit lives when man dies

Man seems
Spirit is
Man dreams
The spirit lives
Man is tethered
Spirit is free
What spirit is man can be


As Jesus himself has testified: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Songfacts, LLC  +  Paul McManus

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Songfacts, LLC + Paul McManus

The Bluegrass Album Band

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Considered a supergroup by fans and followers of bluegrass music alike, The Bluegrass Album Band was founded by Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe in 1980. The band itself featured J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice, Bobby Hicks, and Todd Phillips. The initial reason for the this ensemble was to help Tony Rice with his solo album. Although, once they began to work together and were so pleased with the result, The Bluegrass Album was born. This aforementioned album was released in 1981, with 5 more volumes of music to follow.

The song, “Model Church,” off this album was written by a NY Meth­od­ist min­ist­er named John H. Yates in 1896. It’s a gospel song about an old man visiting and recounting a meeting place not built for show. Telling his wife about the glorious singing and simple sermon he witnessed, he joyfully reassures her that though their race was nearly run, their victory would soon be won.

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  AllMusic  +  Cyberhymnal  +  Timothy Meinberg  +  Harlan J. Berk

© Helpful Creative

Sources: AllMusic + Cyberhymnal + Timothy Meinberg + Harlan J. Berk

Good Friday

Added on by Craig Stewart.

With Jesus Christ and his followers, Easter is all about death and resurrection. This Easter, I wanted to share one of the clearest descriptions of God’s purpose on Calvary’s hill, Gordon Jensen’s beautiful song “Written In Red.”

In letters of crimson, God wrote His love
On the hillside so long, long ago;
For you and for me Jesus died,
And love's greatest story was told.

I love you, I love you
That's what Calvary said;
I love you, I love you,
I love you, Written in Red

Down through the ages, God wrote His love
With the same hands that suffered and bled;
Giving all that He had to give,
A message so easily read.

I love you, I love you,
That's what Calvary said;
I love you, I love you,
I love you...

Oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood,
The blood of Jesus.

I love you, I love you
That's what Calvary said;
I love you, I love you,
I love you, Written... In Red

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  Adventistasant  +  Gorden Jensen

© Helpful Creative

Sources: Adventistasant + Gorden Jensen

Hamblen’s Witness

Added on by Craig Stewart.

This well know gospel song was written by Stuart Hamblen, who’s regarded as one of radio’s first “singing cowboys.” He was the son of a Methodist minister in Texas who had a lot of trouble handling his newfound fame. Much like others before and after him, Hamblen’s drinking and the destructive behavior that followed, would often land him in jail.

His troubles changed shortly after meeting Billy Graham. They were both appearing on Hamblen’s show to publicize the event. While on the show, Graham invited Hamblen to attend his crusade, and he accepted. After the show Graham asked if they could meet together and talk. It was then, Hamblen committed his life to Jesus Christ.

After a period of time, one of Hamblen’s Hollywood friends asked him about the rumor going around that Hamblen had changed his ways. Hamblen then replied, it was no secret what God had done for him and what God could do for his friend. That friend’s name was John Wayne, who then encouraged Hamblen to turn those lines into a song. Following Wayne’s advice, Hamblen wrote “It Is No Secret,” becoming the first song to reach #1 on the Gospel, Country, and Pop charts. Later, it was recorded by such greats as Mahalia Jackson and Elvis Presley.

Coming from his own painful experience of too much whiskey and women, George Jones recorded my personal favorite of Hamblen’s gospel gem.

© Helpful Creative  Sources:  BreakPoint  +  Woodward Backer  +  Elijah Henderson

© Helpful Creative

Sources: BreakPoint + Woodward Backer + Elijah Henderson

Blind Willie Johnson

Added on by Craig Stewart.

Blind Willie Johnson was an American gospel blues singer, guitarist and evangelist. His landmark recordings included thirty songs from only five recording sessions completed between 1927 and 1930. Johnson was known for his powerful ‘chest voice’ singing and masterful slide guitar skills.

Throughout his life Johnson was able to combine the gospel and blues into original music which elevated him to legendary status among other musicians like Eric Clapton. Some of Johnson’s gospel blues included “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Church, I’m Fully Saved Today,” “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole,” and “Praise God I’m Satisfied.” His records sold well, but as a street performer and preacher he had little wealth in his lifetime.

Of the many biblical references for Johnson’s “Let Your Light Shine On Me,” perhaps my favorite comes from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 — For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Sacred Songs

Added on by Craig Stewart.

The Foggy Mountain Boys were an American bluegrass band. The band was founded by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs. They are largely viewed by music historians as one of the premier bluegrass groups in their genre. The band was originally formed in 1948 by Flatt, who had been a member of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band. Flatt brought Scruggs with him shortly after leaving Monroe.

“You Can Feel It In Your Soul” was released by the Foggy Mountain Boys band on their “Sacred Songs” album in 1967. Its meaning is as straightforward as the song title. As a listener on the corresponding YouTube video once said, ”You really CAN feel it in your soul. That’s how I knew I was a believer, even though I was not brought up going to church. This song is beautiful, isn’t it? Just beautiful!”

Let all the believers say Amen!

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.  Sources:  Wikipedia  +  YouTube

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

Sources: Wikipedia + YouTube

The Bread of Life

Added on by Craig Stewart.

After joining Mercy Sisters in Burlingame as a choral teacher at Mercy High School, Sister Suzanne Toolan wrote a popular hope-filled hymn entitled “I Am the Bread of Life,” in 1966. It has been translated into 25 languages and performed in congregations around the world to this day. 

Suzanne recalls how it began, “I was teaching high school at the time and wrote the song during my free period.  When the bell rang for the next class I decided I didn’t like the music, so I tore it up and threw it in the wastepaper basket.

My classroom was next to the infirmary, where the girls who didn’t want to take tests or were otherwise unprepared for class went for a period or two until they were tracked down by an exasperated teacher. As I left my classroom, a freshman girl came out of the infirmary and said, “What was that?  It was beautiful!” I went back into my classroom, took the manuscript out of the basket and taped it together. It has had a life of its own ever since.

I could never figure out how the hymn became popular. I know in our Roman Catholic tradition it came at the beginning of our use of the vernacular, and we simply didn’t have much to sing in our own language. But I also think its popularity stems from its message of resurrection, which is so strong in these words of Jesus. We so need that message of hope. I am always touched when people tell me that at the funeral of a mother, father or friend, these sung words of Jesus gave them consolation. Then I know the hymn has done its work.”

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.  Source:  Sisters of Mercy

© Helpful Creative. All Rights Reserved.

Source: Sisters of Mercy