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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Story of "Silent Night"

 By Smolinski, D.

Father Joseph Mohr sat at the old organ. His fingers stretched over the keys, forming the notes of a chord.

 He took a deep breath and pressed down. Nothing. He lifted his fingers and tried again. Silence echoed through the church. Father Joseph shook his head. It was no use.

 The pipes were rusted, the bellows mildewed.



 The organ had been wheezing and growing quieter for months, and Father Joseph had been hoping it would hold together until the organ builder arrived to repair it in the spring. But now, on December 23, 1818, the organ had finally given out. St. Nicholas Church would have no music for Christmas.

Father Joseph sighed.

 Maybe a brisk walk would make him feel better. He pulled on his overcoat and stepped out into the night. His white breath puffed out before him. Moonlight sparkled off the snow-crusted trees and houses in the village of Oberndorf.

 Father Joseph crunched through the snowy streets to the edge of the little Austrian town and climbed the path leading up the mountain.

From high above Oberndorf, Father Joseph watched the Salzach River ripple past St. Nicholas Church. In the spring, when melting snow flowed down the mountains and the river swelled in its banks, water lapped at the foundation of the church. It was moisture from the flooding river that had caused the organ to mildew and rust.

Father Joseph looked out over the Austrian Alps. Stars shone above in the still and silent night.

Silent night? Father Joseph stopped. Of course! "Silent Night!" He had written a poem a few years before, when he had first become a priest, and he had given it that very title.

 "Silent Night."


Father Joseph scrambled down the mountain. Suddenly he knew how to bring music to the church.

The next morning, Father Joseph set out on another walk. This time he carried his poem. And this time he knew exactly where he was going -- to see his friend Franz Gruber, the organist for St. Nicholas, who lived in the next village.

Franz Gruber was surprised to see the priest so far from home on Christmas Eve, and even more surprised when Father Joseph handed him the poem.

That night Father Joseph and Franz Gruber stood at the altar of St. Nicholas Church. Father Joseph held his guitar. He could see members of the congregation giving each other puzzled looks.

 They had never heard a guitar played in church before, and certainly not during midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the holiest night of the year.



Father Joseph picked out a few notes on the guitar, and he and Franz Gruber began to sing. Their two voices rang out, joined by the church choir on the chorus. Franz Gruber's melody matched the simplicity and honesty of Father Joseph's words.

When the last notes faded into the night, the congregation remained still for a moment, then began to clap their hands.

 Applause filled the church.

 The villagers of Oberndorf loved the song! Father Joseph's plan to bring music to St. Nicholas Church had worked.

A few months later, the organ builder arrived in Oberndorf and found the words and music to "Silent Night" lying on the organ. The song enchanted him, and when he left, he took a copy of it with him.

The organ builder gave the song to two families of travelling singers who lived near his home. The travelling singers performed "Silent Night" in concerts all over Europe, and soon the song spread throughout the world.


Today, cathedral choirs and carollers from New York to New Zealand sing the simple song that was first played in a mountain church in Austria on Christmas Eve nearly 200 years ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Served By An Angel


- Unknown author

It was fifty years ago, on a hot summer day, in the deep south. We lived on a dirt road, on a sand lot.
We were, what was known as "dirt poor". I had been playing outside all morning in the sand.

Suddenly, I heard a sharp clanking sound behind me and looking over my shoulder, my eyes were drawn to a strange sight!
Across the dirt road were two rows of men, dressed in black and white, striped, baggy uniforms. Their faces were covered with dust and sweat. They looked so weary, and they were
chained together with huge, black, iron chains. Hanging from the end of each chained row was a big, black, iron ball.

They were, as polite people said in those days, a "Chain Gang," guarded by two, heavily armed, white guards.
I stared at the prisoners as they settled uncomfortably down in the dirt, under the shade of some straggly trees.

One of the guards walked towards me. Nodding as he passed, he went up to our front door and knocked. My mother appeared at the door, and I heard the guard ask if he could have permission to get water from the pump, in the backyard, so that "his men" could "have a drink".

My mother agreed, but I saw a look of concern on her face, as she called me inside.
I stared through the window as each prisoner was unchained from the line, to hobble over to the pump and drink his fill from a small tin cup, while a guard watched vigilantly. It wasn't long before they were all chained back up again, with prisoners and guards retreating into the shade, away from an unrelenting sun.

I heard my mother call me into the kitchen, and I entered, to see her bustling around with tins of tuna fish, mayonnaise, our last loaf of bread, and two, big, pitchers of lemonade.
In what seemed "a blink of an eye", she had made a tray of sandwiches using all the tuna we were to have had for that night's supper.

My mother was smiling as she handed me one of the pitchers of lemonade, cautioning me to carry it "carefully" and to "not spill a drop."
Then, lifting the tray in one hand and holding a pitcher in her other hand, she marched me to the door, deftly opening it with her foot, and trotted me across the street. She approached the guards, flashing them with a brilliant smile.




"We had some leftovers from lunch," she said, "and I was wondering if we could share with you and your men."
She smiled at each of the men, searching their dark eyes with her own eyes of "robin's egg blue."

Everyone started to their feet. "Oh no!" she said. "Stay where you are! I'll just serve you!"
Calling me to her side, she went from guard to guard, then from prisoner to prisoner, filling each tin cup with lemonade, and giving each man a sandwich.

It was very quiet, except for a "thank you, ma'am," and the clanking of the chains.
Very soon we were at the end of the line, my mother's eyes softly scanning each face.

The last prisoner was a big man, his dark skin pouring with sweat, and streaked with dust. Suddenly, his face broke into a wonderful smile, as he looked up into my mother's eyes, and he said, "Ma'am, I've wondered all my life if I'd ever see an angel, and now I have! Thank you!"

Again, my mother's smile took in the whole group.

"You're all welcome!" she said. "God bless you."
Then we walked across to the house, with empty tray and pitchers, and back inside.

Soon, the men moved on, and I never saw them again. The only explanation my mother ever gave me, for that strange and wonderful day, was that...

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)

Then, with a mysterious smile, she went about the rest of the day.

I don't remember what we ate for supper, that night. I just know it was served by an angel.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kristen Anderson: Suicide Interrupted


- By Zsa Zsa Palagyi


Every 30 seconds, somebody in the world commits suicide.
Six in ten teenagers think about it.
One in ten try.
 17-year-old Kristen Anderson fell right into that second statistic.
She was the one in ten.

But unlike many people who attempt suicide and die, Kristen survived…

"Right before it got there, I made the impulsive decision to lay down on the tracks. I wanted the pain to end. I just wanted it to be over,"
remembers Kristen.

 "The police report says that 33 freight train cars went over me at 55 miles per hour. Also that the conductor said to the engineer, 'Did you see that yellow flash?' "

The yellow flash was 17-year-old Kristen Anderson.

She was grounded and had sneaked out to spend time with a friend that cold winter night. Rather than returning home to angry parents, Kristen impulsively decided to end her life. But somehow, someway, her attempt didn’t work.

"When it was going over me, I felt pain, but more than anything I felt a tremendous weight or wind pushing me down. When it stopped, I opened my eyes and I started to look around to figure out if I was dead or alive. I didn’t know what it was like to die. I’d only seen it in movies. I just didn’t know what to think."


"I looked behind on my right and about ten feet behind me on my right, I saw my legs. And I knew they were my legs because I had these new bright, white tennis shoes on them that I had just gotten for  Christmas, and it just seemed unreal to me. It seemed like it was a horrible nightmare."

Even before her suicide attempt, Kristen thought her life was a nightmare.

Everything looked fine on the outside. In fact, people were shocked she’d tried to take her life.

She’d grown-up with a good mom and dad. She was smart, popular, and successful. Up until her first year in high school, she was the friend others came to for help. Then, her world started falling apart. She lost four of her friends - one had a brain tumor, two died in a car accident, and one hanged himself in a cemetery. Later, her grandmother died.

"I just started to think life was horrible - this world was horrible, and I was going to be miserable the rest of my life. I started to become a lot more introverted, I think at this point.

When people would ask me how I was doing, like if I came into work or something at school, I would be like,
'I’m here. Isn’t that good enough?'  I started to just lose hope."

After that night on the train track, Kristen felt worse than ever. She was in the hospital for three months. Doctors tried to re-attach her legs, but they were unsuccessful. After a number of surgeries, Kristen was told she’d probably be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.


"I just started to cry out to God and for the first time, I asked Him why He would keep me here, why He would want me, even without my legs," she says.

Part of her was mad she hadn’t died on the train track. But in the back of her mind, she was a little glad she didn’t.

 She had questions about what happens when you die.

"A woman came up to me, who I didn’t know, who had heard about what happened to me and told me that I would have went to hell if I died," she recalls.

This sent Kristen searching for the truth. She’d grown up in the church, but God always seemed far-off.

The concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus” and a loving God was totally foreign to her.

Then a friend of Kristen’s showed her God’s Word. And that explained everything."


"John 14:6 was the verse that stood out to me the most. And when Jesus says,
 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. There’s no way to the father, but through Me.'

 And so I knew that the Father was in Heaven. Heaven was where I wanted to know I would have went. But I came to the understanding that I would have been sent to hell if I died. So I realized at that moment that God had given me a second chance to go to Heaven and spend eternity with Him. So, that night is when I became a Christian - I decided to give my life to the Lord. And I prayed. I just realized that my life wasn’t mine to take that night, and I asked Him to forgive me for that and everything else I’d done wrong in life."

Even with a second chance on life, the next three years were tough.

There were more surgeries - more medicine, more depression, and still more thoughts of suicide.

"I didn’t realize how important it was to have Christian friends or be a part of a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church. And another thing I didn’t understand was how important it was for me to be in God’s Word every single day."

It all started to make sense when Kristen met a Christian woman in the parking lot at her local college.


"She just shined with the love and light of Christ like no one I’d met before that point, and I just had the greatest conversation with her. And when i went home, I was like,
 'God, I want to know You the way that lady knew You.'

 And He basically just told me,
'Kristen, you have to let me be your best friend.'

I was still going to all my friends and my family with my problems before I would go to Him."

"Overnight I was like, 'Okay, I’m going to let You [God] be my best friend here.'
And I just really learned what it meant to follow Him as my Lord and keep Him number one in my life,"
Kristen says.


Kristen started attending church on a regular basis – and helping with both the high school and young adult groups.  She enrolled in Moody Bible School and then started Reaching You Ministries. That’s where she works today.

Her goal is to keep people from the deep despair that can sometimes lead to suicide.

Now, despite her disability, she never contemplates taking her life...

"I realized that I needed to choose life. I learned how to not be so extreme when something goes wrong. I know it’s not the end of the world. I ended up getting off of all my antidepressants and all my pain meds that they told me I was going to have to take the rest of my life. My life has never been better. I just really try and find my value in God every single day, and I really try to seek Him with everything in me and live for Him completely."

Kristen Anderson says that a train took her legs, but God gave her a new life. For anyone who feels like giving up like she once did...

"I just wanted them to know how real God is, and if they live like He is real, He will transform their lives. And there’s so much more than they see. They just need to open their eyes, and they need to open their hearts. His plans and purposes for them are much greater than anything they could ever dream of. And I know this to be true. Not only because the Bible says it, but because I’ve seen it to be true in my own life."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Song Story: In CHRIST Alone


- Debra Akins, Contributing Writer

The verse read in the beginning of the video is from John 1 (Click here).

Songwriter Stuart Townend grew up as the youngest of four children in a Christian family in West Yorkshire, England, where his father was a vicar in the Church of England.
 The Townend family always enjoyed music, and young Stuart began to play the piano at the age of seven. Known and respected today by musicians and worship leaders throughout Britain and beyond, his involvement in Christian music dates back over 10 years.
During this time, Townend has used his talents to produce albums for British-based worship leaders as diverse as John Pantry, Keith Routledge, Sue Rinaldi, Vinesong and Praise Gathering.
As an artist, he has made two solo albums: Say the Word and Personal Worship.
 But it is perhaps as a songwriter that Stuart has made his most enduring contribution to the contemporary worship movement. Songs such as “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “My First Love,” “The King of Love,” “Who Paints the Skies” and “Lord, How Majestic You Are” are favourites in the repertoire of thousands of churches around the world.
 And now one of his latest works, “In Christ Alone,” seems destined to take its place among other worship classics both in the UK and in the United States.
Written in 2002, “In Christ Alone” was a collaborative effort between Townend and fellow songwriter (and now good friend) Keith Getty.
 “The song came about in an unusual way,” Townend explains.
 “Keith and I met in the autumn of 2000 at a worship event, and we resolved to try to work together on some songs. A few weeks later Keith sent some melody ideas, and the first one on the CD was a magnificent, haunting melody that I loved, and immediately started writing down some lyrical ideas on what I felt should be a timeless theme commensurate with the melody.
 So the theme of the life, death, resurrection of Christ, and the implications of that for us just began to tumble out, and when we got together later on to fine tune it, we felt we had encapsulated what we wanted to say.”
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…
Townend and Getty both admit they are motivated by the idea of capturing biblical truth in songs and hymns that will not only cause people to express their worship in church, but will build them up in their Christian lives.
“I’ve been amazed by the response to this song,” says Townend.
“We’ve had some incredible e-mails about how people have been helped by the song through incredibly difficult circumstances.”
One e-mail described how a U.S soldier serving in Iraq would pray through each verse of the song every day, and how the promises of God’s protection and grace helped to sustain him through the enormous pressures and dangers of life in a war zone.
“It seems like this song is timely,” Townend says.
“We in the West have had our sense of safety and security brutally torn apart by recent world events, and it's caused many to re-evaluate the foundations of their life. I feel that the song has helped to stir faith in many believers that God really is our protector; that our lives are in His unshakable hands.”
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
Since its initial creation just two years ago, several versions of “In Christ Alone” have been recorded by artists around the world, and Townend admits to having a few favourites.
 “I've heard some wonderful recordings of it. “The Newsboys’ version is really fresh and exciting, and the one done by Alan Asbury is superb,” Townend says.
 “But the one that always moves me most is when we recorded it with a congregation of 8,000 at the Stoneleigh Bible Week in England a couple of years ago.
When we finish the third verse, about the resurrection of Christ, there’s an extraordinary burst of praise from the congregation that at the time was overwhelming, and listening back still sends a shiver down my spine.”
The uniqueness of Townend’s writing lies partly in its lyrical content.
 There is both a theological depth and  poetic expression that some say is rare in today’s worship writing. And not surprisingly, it’s an emphasis that Townend and Getty both maintained within the composition of this song in particular.
“I think content is vitally important to our corporate worship,” Townend shares.
“Sometimes great melodies are let down by indifferent or clich├ęd words. It’s the writer’s job to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture and express it in poetic and memorable ways the truth he or she finds there.

- Debra Akins, Contributing Writer

Knowing the truth about God and who we are in Him is central to our lives as believers. Songs remain in the mind in a way sermons do not, so songwriters have an important role and a huge responsibility.”
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…
He continues,
 “The lyric [of this song] excites me because it places our hope, our assurance, our eternal destiny in the right place—on the solid foundation of Christ. I know in my own life I need reminding continually not to live by my feelings or my circumstances, but by the unchanging truth of the gospel.”
“In Christ Alone” was the very first collaboration between Townend and Getty.
In fact, it was Townend’s first collaboration with any other songwriter. But it was an experience he found to be very fruitful and well worth the effort. So much so that the two have continued their musical partnership on other songs, and are currently working on a series of songs based around the Apostles’ Creed.
They are hoping to have a recording available next year, and are excited about the possibility of making it into a live presentation.


In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…

Knowing the truth about God and who we are in Him is central to our lives as believers. Songs remain in the mind in a way sermons do not, so songwriters have an important role and a huge responsibility.”
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…
He continues,
 “The lyric [of this song] excites me because it places our hope, our assurance, our eternal destiny in the right place—on the solid foundation of Christ. I know in my own life I need reminding continually not to live by my feelings or my circumstances, but by the unchanging truth of the gospel.”
“In Christ Alone” was the very first collaboration between Townend and Getty.
In fact, it was Townend’s first collaboration with any other songwriter. But it was an experience he found to be very fruitful and well worth the effort. So much so that the two have continued their musical partnership on other songs, and are currently working on a series of songs based around the Apostles’ Creed.
They are hoping to have a recording available next year, and are excited about the possibility of making it into a live presentation.


In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…