Posted in Gaither, Hymn

Because He Lives

Encouragement on June 16, 2022

Did y’all know that in the Cokesbury hymnal the Sue Knight Sunday School class has taped into the back “Because He Lives?”  I discovered it as I was planning the Celebration of Life for George Joly.  He had pointed it out to his wife Carol as a song he wanted to be played at his funeral. “Because He Lives” is a favorite hymn of mine.  It’s not just a favorite of mine.  UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young says that this song “is one of the five most requested… to be included in this hymnal.”  It basically tells the Easter story while referencing John 14.  Jesus in the midst of promising the Holy Spirit, says these critical words.  “Because I live, you also will live.  We cling to that resurrection promise and we live in that resurrection hope!  When Matt Maher released his song “Because He Lives, Amen,” I told the story of the hymn on Easter Sunday in 2015 and I got the Gator Wesley students to paint the 13th street wall in Gainesville, FL “Because He Lives” that Easter Sunday afternoon. We are called to share the Good News of the empty tomb!  We are called to share that hope, even on days of uncertainty, because He lives. 

Bill and Gloria Gaither, the authors of the hymn were also facing circumstances out of their control.  Gloria recalls, “We had written a lot of songs, but we were just at a dry spell.  Bill’s sister was going through a divorce, and we’d never had divorce in either of our families. It was very painful because she was in trouble and in a situation that was quite volatile and could have been dangerous. Bill got mononucleosis at that same time and became physically weak. There were circumstances in our life we couldn’t control. There we were so happy, yet we had this contradiction of things that we couldn’t fix. There was the paradox of writing about peace and joy and contentment in the face of this, asking, ‘How does all this work?’”

Swirling around them was the unrest of a generation in the midst of war. It was 1969. Gloria explains, “Our whole life and the external world were all in flux and in chaos: the Civil Rights movement was going on, Watts had just burned to the ground, and the whole country split apart over the Vietnam War. We’d just found out we were having our third baby and thought, ‘Who would bring another baby into this world?’ We were disturbed by the whole thing.

“But a wonderful friend, Sid Guillen, came over one night,” Gloria continues. “‘This is an imposition of Satan – this is not just circumstantial,’ he said. ‘I’m going to lay hands on you and pray for you.’ He just had that simple faith, and something in the Spirit broke after that. Nothing we could see changed at that moment, but we did feel again that God was in control. And when our little son Benjy was born [July 19, 1970], we actually felt incredibly confident.

“It dawned on us that the Resurrection is a true thing. It’s true in every situation. It’s true in the world to come. God’s got a plan. Resurrection is a fact of life and I think it was built into the earth as a metaphor for Christ in the very beginning of Creation. It’s the principle that life wins. If we put our trust in Him, we are victors. What if the world blows up tomorrow? Our destiny and our life and our future do not depend on circumstances. This song has that sense.” 

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.

Gloria wrote the verses just to make the song complete and provide perspective, although they weren’t necessarily connected to anything she was experiencing at the time. But when her father died suddenly, the song’s third verse came alive for her. At a concert that evening, Bill’s brother Danny, the third member of the trio, began to sing:

And then one day I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

“It was as though I had never heard it before,” Gloria shares. “The truth of Resurrection poured in and I could hear my father saying, ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ That’s how personal that song is.”

Today, “Because He Lives” has become a very personal song – of God making a way, a song of perseverance and provision, an anthem when we feel embattled. Of all the hundreds of songs written by the Gaithers, it’s the only one that has been translated into every language.  My mom shared with me today that it was my Baptismal hymn at Pleasant Grove in Cheraw, SC.  We need this message now more than ever.  We need to share this message now more than ever.  The love.  The hope. Because He Lives.

Posted in Breath Prayer, Hymn, Jesus, Prayer, Surrounded, together

Surrounded by a Mighty Fortress (Friday Devotion January 22)

We recorded Michael W. Smith’s “Waymaker” on May 22, 2020.  The pandemic had gone past Easter and the kids had mostly finished up with online school, we had no idea that it would last this long.  We were frankly flipping through the channels on a Friday night and stumbled upon it.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Smitty with his singing and piano playing, and I’ll never forget hearing “I’ll Lead You Home” from Disney’s Magic Kingdom at a Night of Joy concert.  That song was crucial to bringing me back to a relationship with Jesus.  The Waymaker special featured a song called “Surrounded” that he covered in 2018.  Originally a spontaneous moment of declaration and praise, “Surrounded” is written by Elyssa Smith of Upper Room Music.

Smith wrote at the time, “The thought of doing another live worship project has been something I have processed for a while now. The question I have asked myself most is not so much what do I want to do, but what do I need to do. What do WE need to do as God’s church and as God’s children? What expression of worship does God desire from us… have we missed something? The reality is, it is not the style of our expression God is concerned with, it is the heart. God wants our honesty. God wants our vulnerability. God wants us to come to God as we are, not as we want to be. I feel God moving through God’s church and God is calling us TOGETHER…. to be one voice and one heart. One bride. Every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. Every social class. Every denomination. Let’s get together and rejoice! In what God has done, what God is doing, and what God has yet to do.”

The lyrics are really simple, like a breath prayer.  

It may look like I’m surrounded

But I’m surrounded by You

It may look like I’m surrounded

But I’m surrounded by You

This is how I fight my battles

This is how I fight my battles

This is how I fight my battles

And, most importantly, WE are not doing the FIGHTING.  The Triune God is the one.  God is the one who beats our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.  

Our Psalter for this Sunday’s lectionary is from Psalm 62:5-8.  It reads, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was written by Martin Luther between 1527 and 1529 and has been translated into English at least 77 times.  He wrote the words as a paraphrase of Psalm 46.

A mighty fortress is our God,

a bulwark never failing;

our helper he amid the flood

of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe

doth seek to work us woe;

his craft and power are great,

and armed with cruel hate,

on earth is not his equal.

That word above all earthly powers,

no thanks to them, abideth;

the Spirit and the gifts are ours,

thru him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go,

this mortal life also;

the body they may kill;

God’s truth abideth still;

his kingdom is forever.

We remain secure in the truth we know God with Us, our Emmanuel is WHO we go to, when we feel betrayed, burdened and battered.  When we feel helpless or hopeless, we trust in the strong name of the Lord.

 Hear now this prayer of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

    the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

    God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

    he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;

    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

    he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!

    I am exalted among the nations,

    I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our refuge.