Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Anthony Johnson Showalter was an American gospel music composer best known for the song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, which was published in 1887. He wrote the music and chorus, and Elisha A. Hoffman wrote the verses. The song features prominently in the score of Night of the Hunter and forms about a quarter of the score of the 2010 film True Grit.
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Elisha Albright (E. A.) Hoffman was a Presbyterian minister, composer of over 2,000 hymns, and editor of over 50 song books.  The son of an Evangelical minister, Hoffman grew up singing sacred hymns both in church and in the home with his parents.  After completing high school, Hoffman furthered his education at Union Seminary in New Berlin, Pennsylvania, and was subsequently ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1868.

I heard Allan Jackson sing this hymn at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.   I have had this tune in my head ever since that time and this is what I came up with.

 

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In The Garden

 

Charles Miles attended the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1892, he abandoned his career as a pharmacist and wrote his first Gospel song, “List ’Tis Je­sus’ Voice” which was published by the Hall-Mack Company. He served as editor and manager at the Hall-Mack publishers for 37 years.  In his own words: “It is as a writer of gospel songs I am proud to be known, for in that way I may be of the most use to my Master, whom I serve willingly although not as efficiently as is my desire.”

According to Miles’ great-granddaughter, the song “In The Garden” was written in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in Pitman, New Jersey that didn’t even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden.  This hymn was first published in 1912 and popularized during the Billy Sunday evangelistic campaigns of the early twentieth century by two members of his staff, Homer Rodeheaver and Virginia Asher.

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Here is my arrangement of this lovely hymn – enjoy.

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God’s Grace – Finally understood – My Testimony

People to People 2009
Life is too short to miss the real thing

My wife, Judy, and our two children, Vince and Laura, were in a bible believing church for many years.  We are all born-again Christians and were all baptized at the church.  I was a deacon and played the piano as a song leader.  Though I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and knew that God loved me, I still felt in my heart that He was just putting up with me.  You Know, part of God’s job description is:  He’s God so He has to love everyone.  But me, I am a guy who believes in His Son Jesus but, many times, still thinks and behaves like a worldly person.  My vision of God’s and my relationship was me trying to be a good Christian (which wasn’t happening) and God being continually disappointed with, me, His child.  I felt as though He had this huge fly swatter to swat me when I was bad.  I did not feel encouraged or accepted by Him.

I was a high school teacher and had free time during the summers.  On one summer day about 20 years ago, I decided to clean our garage.  Doing what a good Christian would do, I turned on my radio and started listening to KFIA – the local Christian radio station in Sacramento, California.  A well-known bible teacher was preaching and I was pleased to hear him.  As the day went on, I listened to different Christian ministries while continuing to clean and organize stuff.  All of a sudden this musical jingle comes on – “People who know go to People who need to know Jesus…Dah, Dah, Dah” .  .  .with a DJ sounding radio announcer saying that via satellite Bob George will be taking questions about scripture.  I continued to listen though I had never heard of this guy!  The format was that people would call in and ask a question concerning their understanding of a particular scripture and then he would explain its meaning.  After hearing many calls it became pretty obvious that this preacher and myself were not in agreement with some scripture interpretations.  I was thinking and saying, “Who is this guy?” and “Why does KFIA allow him to preach on their station?”.

I kept listening though because what he was saying made perfect sense.  And in my heart I felt good about the words I was hearing.  He would patiently answer caller after caller by referring to basic well-known scriptures to support his belief.  One particular caller started to debate his interpretation.  Mr. George listened and simply answered the man with a quiet authority using scripture after scripture to back his position.

Though I was pretty much in agreement with the angry callers positions, I could not get by the firm but loving way that Bob George communicated with them.  Periodically, during the broadcast, the announcer, Bob Davis, would talk about upcoming conferences and a book called Classic Christianity.  I thought that maybe I ought to give this guy a chance and buy his book.

I got the garage cleaned and did not buy the book.  Besides, I did not even know where he lived and ministered.  A few weeks later, Judy was going to a women’s retreat over on the coast.  I took her down to a strip mall where she was getting picked up by some of the ladies in the church.  There was a fish place near by and I planned on eating lunch there.  Across from the restaurant, there was a Christian book store.  I went in to browse for something to read while eating.  I, hesitantly, asked the clerk if they had or even heard of the book “Classic Christianity”.  Though she had never heard of it, she looked and after a few minutes found a single copy.  I bought the book.

Just as a quick note:  I am not a reader and had never read any book all the way through in my life.  Even with my college degrees, I got by reading little and simply used “Cliff Notes” to get me through classes.  I hated to read anything including the bible!

Anyhow, I went to the fish place, sat down and ate, and started reading the book.  I read the first two chapters there and then left for home.  Again, I seemed to be hooked on this guys simple words, and once I got to my house I sat down and read chapter after chapter.  I thought to myself, “Wow! This guy can communicate some basic truths”.  In my heart they seemed right but I had never heard them explained like this before.  My thinking, as I was reading, was, “This is just to good to be true!”

I continued the day reading.  As I was reading chapter 7, “Loved and Accepted”, my eyes started welling up with tears.  I could relate to story after story about the desire to be acceptable in God’s sight.  You see, I knew that God loved me but felt that He didn’t accept me.  But this guys words were saying, if I am a Christian, His child, born again, a believer in Christ, etc., that I was totally acceptable in God’s eyes.   And he supported it all with so many scriptures that I had known for years but still did not understand, even as God’s child.  I started hearing from the voice inside me that:  I am 100% acceptable in His eyes.  .  . that He will always encourage me not discourage me.  .  . that His Son gives me mercy not revenge.  .  . and that all my sins, past – present – future, are gone in His sight forever.  I went to these scriptures in my bible and for the first time saw that they were saying just that!  It just hit me, “God really does accept me too!”  I put down the book while I was crying my eyes out.  Why would he accept me?  I called out to Him, “God, you know my evil heart and yet you really do accept me.”  “Your Son Jesus really has paid the penalty for our sins once for all“.  I continued by thanking God and went to one of my comfortable spots in the home-the piano.  I hadn’t been able to write a single song for a few years, but I immediately wrote two of the best songs in about one and a half hours.  I played one of the songs, “Jesus your Grace set me Free”, at church a few Sundays later and it was received with a spontaneous ovation to God.

Well, school had started in the fall and I found out that Bob George and company were coming to Mt. Hermon to do a conference.  Even though I had just had this great experience with God, I was still skeptical about this message.  No one in my Christian circle of influence had heard of Bob George but I felt a tugging on my heart to go.  Judy, who quite frankly did not want to see me increase in self-righteous behavior, did not want to go with me.  So, I took the time off of school and went to the conference alone.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon in the Santa Cruz mountains and while standing in line at the conference grounds, I remember hearing the voice of Bob Davis in front of me.  I had never seen him before, but his distinctive voice got my attention.  I think he was a DJ or radio announcer prior to PTP (People to People) – what a voice!.  Then I saw Bob George standing next to him.  I recognized him from his picture on the book.  I remember that they seemed like movie stars to me but as I talked to them it was easy to see that they were just average guys like all of us.  What I admired was the confidence they had in their God given gifts and the aggressive but loving way they used them.

I was kind of having an epiphany in line remembering the enlightening truth at home, but my heart was still in the doubting Thomas category.  The ugly flesh sprang up almost instantly.  You see, while I was in line feeling like one of the boys, I was looking around and thinking, “I wonder who I will be roomed with?”  “Maybe that cool looking guy, or that Christian looking man (whatever that means), or maybe a staff member, or even Bob Davis or Bob George himself”  I, anxiously, got to the desk and signed in and got my room keys.  I was heading to my building and this elderly man was coming out of the lobby door wheezing and coughing like he just finished a pack of cigarettes.  I immediately thought to myself, “I hope that I am not rooming with someone like him”.  He said hello and I asked him if he knew where my room number was and he said excitedly, ” sure that is my room also – we are roommates!”- my heart sank.  As he was showing me to the room I remember thinking, “You got to be joking!  Not this guy”.  We went into the room and there was one double bed.  I thought, “There is no way . . . I wonder if I can change rooms?”

God already began teaching me some real lessons right then.  In my mind I felt like the guy who just got picked by the losing team.  I didn’t want to be near this man.  I even told him that he could have the bed and that I would sleep on the floor because I had a bad back and the soft bed would make it worse – Not True.  I was somewhat angry and a lot disappointed with my 4-day roommate – I thought, “Why Me!”

While I was lamenting in my heart, he on the other hand was going on, “Wow! Isn’t this going to be the greatest four days .  .  .  you know, I have been listening to Bob George on the radio in my apartment .  .  .”  I interrupted him, “Where is that?”  He said, “downtown Chicago .  .  .”, continuing with excitement, “.  .  . on the radio Bob George talked about taking a vacation with a purpose so I’ve been saving enough money to take a train all the way here so I can hear him .  .  .(looking around the room with joy) .  .  . and here I am!”  He continued saying things like, “We have our own shower.   And look!  Here are some drawers – I think we are allowed to unpack our clothes – and a sliding glass window – etc., etc, etc”.  Watching this man, probably close to eighty years old, rant and rave about this kind of mediocre room took the wind out of my sails.   As I recall, his name was Hermon and over the four days he stole the hearts of everyone.  What a humble spirit.  Right then and there I saw my fleshly heart and was quite ashamed.  He was an ideal roommate and God had me right where He wanted me.

Well, we headed down for our 1st session.  Bob Davis started with a welcome, good-of-the-order, and an acknowledgement of my roommate, Hermon, and some specific trials he had encountered to get here – it kind of drove the stake into my heart further.   Then a lady played and lead from the piano, “Let’s forget about our self and magnify the Lord and worship Him” (a song that I have played in church for many years).   And finally, Bob George stepped up to the podium and gave a basic overview of what to expect during the 4-day conference.  He then prayed and started the 1st session.

Now, I must regress somewhat about what was going on in my heart at this point.  I was still somewhat skeptical about what I was going to hear.  I had my bible open and ready to check anything that he said against the scriptures.  Though they had provided us with a conference manual, I still had a pen and paper ready for my written thoughts about this, new to me, teaching that I was going to hear.  I was prepared and thinking,  “I’m still going to check this guy out to see if he lines up with the scriptures that I know to be true”.

He opened up with a question.  He said, “ Can we really do that?”  I thought to myself, “Can we really do what?”  He said again, “Can we really do what we just sang?”  Now, I had played and sang that song literally hundreds of times and still did not know what he was talking about.  He continued, “Can we during this conference forget about ourselves, meaning what we know and think, and magnify the Lord Jesus.  In other words, spend this time together getting to know Him and who He is instead of trying to find out who we are and what we believe.  Let’s try not to think about how we are going to use this knowledge, how we are going to learn something new, what we are going to tell someone back home, or any other distractions that might be going on in our minds?  Instead, let’s make this conference about Him not us.  The bible is an autobiography that God has written about who He is, so let’s read it and get to know the real God of the bible”.  You see, he nailed what was going on in my mind.  Even though I just sang the song, I was not prepared to do what the words of the song said.  I was thinking about myself and how this knowledge was going to affect me, my loved ones, and friends!

Another Note:  In the teaching world we call what Bob had done to prepare our hearts a set, meaning, to get the attention of the students for the purpose of buying into what is going to be taught – known as a hook.  This gift of Bob’s is from God because He, God, had us all here for the purpose of getting to know Him.  As for me personally, I have had a distorted view of who He is.

Well, the Spirit rebuked me again and as the conference progressed, God started and continued to melt my hard heart.  Bob’s presentation was essentially many statements of truths about the person of God, backed up by scriptures, and embellished by biblical and personal stories.  He is such a gifted teacher with numerous simple analogies to help cement God’s wonderful truth.  My resulting testimony about this conference is that now I read the bible because I want to, not because I’m supposed to.   Before this conference I tried different disciplinary methods to keep my interest up while reading scripture but none of them worked.  I have since fallen in love with the scriptures. They no longer scare or confuse me because I now know that I am a child of the Almighty God even with this annoying flesh.  Scriptures in our wonderful bible now make sense and have clear purpose.   His Spirit has shown me that all of the scriptures support each other.  I truly know, now, about the wonderful matchless Grace of God!

If you would like to hear some of Bob George’s wonderful teaching, you can go to his new website at http//www.bobgeorge.net

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    Bob George
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People to People, in now called Basic Gospel and can been seen at http://www.basicgospel.net/

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Judy and I have attended many Classic Christianity Conferences over the years.  These are some pictures of the last one that we attended in 2009 at Mt. Hermon in  Santa Cruz, California.

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I Sing a New Song

I gave my heart to the Lord in early 78′.  We started attending a church regularly and I was soon encouraged by a few people to play the piano.  Two of those people were Tom and Pam Murray.  Tom was teaching a bible class and asked me to play some songs before the lesson.  He and Pam loved the praise music of those days and would tell me of different ones.  I would listen to them and then pick some of them out by ear and then play them in the church.  One of the songs that I still really love is called, “I Sing a New Song“.  They did not have a recording of it, however, Tom sang it to me one day and I learned to play it.

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The church we were in was conservative and at times in the beginning I felt stifled to play with a lot of rhythm.  I will always be indebted to Pam and Tom for their continued encouragement to just play and enjoy.  This little ditty of a song is so great and every time I play it I remember our good friends – The Murray Family.

My Close Friend – Dave Soper

We all have friends, however, if in our last stages of life we have as many close friends as we do fingers, we are truly blessed.  Other than my immediate family (wife, son, daughter-in-law, daughter, sister, & brother-in-law) my very closest friend is a man –  Dave Soper.Dave & George2 copy

 Dave (left) & George in France – 1999

This blog honors my good friend.  One of his favorite hymns is “He’s Everything To Me”, written by Ralph Carmichael.  I fell in love with the song as I started playing it in church.  I still play the hymn often and every time I do it reminds me of Dave and his faithfulness to share Jesus with me years ago.  You can click on the blue highlighted hymn above to hear the recording.  If you click on the More Information button  below you can read a fairly long but truly amazing story of how Dave and I were acquainted and eventually bonded together miraculously by God. Continue reading

Let Us Break Bread Together

During the two summers after my sophomore and juniors years in high school, I went to 5 week sessions at the College of the Pacific now known as the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Ca.  This was an intensive music camp where we did a performance every week and at the end of the 5 weeks performed an opera.  Anyhow, a wonderful man, Jester Harrison was our favorite guest coral director.  He was a black man who played Henry on the old “Amos n’ Andy” T.V. show and he had a professional negro spiritual choir that performed all over the U.S.  He wrote many songs and although “Let Us Break Bread Together” is not one of them it always reminded me of this lovely man.

Blessed Assurance

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Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

“Blessed Assurance” was composed by two of the most prolific Christian hymn writers in history. The lyrics come from a woman with over 8000 hymns to her credit and the music comes from the organ of a lady with over 500 hymns to her credit.

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Phoebe P. Knapp (1839-1908)

Fanny Crosby was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp as the Knapp home was having a large pipe organ installed.  The organ was incomplete so, using the piano, Mrs. Knapp played a new melody she had just composed.  “What does it say to you, Fanny?”  Her reply was quick and simple: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”    This hymn is still being played on the church organ in thousands of churches today.

Despite being blind, Fanny Crosby’s impact on Christian hymns was tremendous.   She once described how her blindness affected her songs.  “I verily believe that God intended that I should live my days in physical darkness so that I might be better prepared to sing His praise and lead others from spiritual darkness into His eternal light.   With sight I would have been too distracted to have written thousands of hymns.”  Without Fanny’s faith and Phoebe’s organ, songs such as “Blessed Assurance” might have never been written.Blessed-Assurance

 The lyrics that she wrote for this great hymn was based on the scripture in Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full  assurance that faith brings, . . .”   It took me many, many hours to arrange and play “Blessed Assurance“, but it was surely worth the effort because it is such a beloved hymn.  I hope you will enjoy this arrangement.   Just click on the blue Blessed Assurance above to listen.