I visited with Matthew West recently at the Cove in Asheville, NC, which is at the Billy Graham Training Center, for a concert series called, “An Evening With”. For years I have been a fan of Matthew’s, so having the chance to talk with him was a dream come true.
I felt it only fitting that since Mother’s Day was just around the corner when we spoke, that I would ask him about his “Mom Song”, as he calls it. The song is, Becoming Me and it is off of his 2017 project called “All In”, which contained the songs, Beautiful Things We Miss, Mended, Mercy in a Song, and of course the title track, All In. He begins, “I wrote, Becoming Me, from the perspective of a kid verbalizing now what I couldn’t back then. I tried to think of things that my daughters may think about later and wish that they had said to their Mom now. I don’t know if that makes sense, but as a kid, there were so many things that my Mom and Dad said or did, that at the time I didn’t have the words to express or say to them what I was feeling. I tried to write the song in that sort of vein.
He continued, “I wrote it as a tribute to my Mom who has given so much of herself to me, who prayed for me, cared for me and encouraged me all through my life and then as well as a tribute to my wife, who I see pouring into our daughters, Lulu and Delaney daily and I’m just amazed.
Growing up, my mom was and is such a prayer warrior and so much of who she is and the life she lived in front of me has been woven into who I am today. Now as a father and husband today, I see my wife doing that very thing for our daughters. I’m a product of being raised by Godly parents who prayed and sowed into my life and now they are “reaping” the rewards by the life and example I live in front of them and my children so I want to pass those same values down to my kids.
He also shares that the song is meant to encourage and remind parents today, that all the loving you do on your kids is not going to be lost on them. It’s the seeds we plant in their lives today that will not return void, I’m certain of that and know the Lord will honor those seeds later in life, he says.
As Matthew finished up, he shared with us that he brought his oldest daughter in on the recording session to sing the last verse of the song. He said, “I brought her in, taught her the words and she just nailed it”. And as he spoke you could see the pride he has for his family, especially his wife and daughters.
I shared with him that for me, my favorite part of the song was the line that says, “I’ve never had to find out what it’s like to be alone and as far as I know ‘Mom’ is just another word for home”. That just sums up how I feel about mine. Mothers offer security, safety, encouragement, support, comfort, all the things that are familiar to us, all the things that draw us back home, especially her love. Nothing can replace a Mother’s Love.
No other song written has had the impact of drawing believers to Christ as Just As I Am has. Its pleading cry of surrendering our all to the Savior and beckons us to a relationship with him has been sung across the world in churches for alter calls and during holy mass. It was the song used in the Billy Graham Crusades at the close of his services when attendees would come forward to make a decision to accept the Lord Jesus and begin a new walk with him.
Written by Charlotte Elliott in 1834 and published in 1835 as a poem it was later sat to music using for different musical stylings. The style, referred to as the “Woodworth” in 1849 was originally used for the song The God of Love will soon indulge, written by William B. Bradbury and then later adapted by John Hastings for use on “Just As I Am”, in the style and arrangement we use today.
Charlotte Elliott was born in Brighton, England on March 18, 1789. Her father was a silk merchant and her mother was the daughter of preacher. During her childhood she was afforded the better things in life and raised in a Christian home. She received the best education and had a passion for music and art. Yet during her young years she could not accept the fact that she could come to the Father with all sin. She struggled with the fact of her unworthiness and felt she could not come before a perfect and loving God with her imperfect life.
Many years later after being part of the social scene, where religion was not talked about she found herself isolated and alone after suffering a terrible illness. With bouts of depression and ill health she felt as if she had nothing to give. An evangelist friend of her father, Henry A. Cesàr Malan came to visit the family and ask her if she knew Christ. Offended by this question, she replied she did not to discuss the topic. Dr. Malan apologized for offending her but explained to her that he always like to speak of his Master and only hoped that one days she would come to know him as her savior and be a worker for Christ. A few weeks after this encounter they meet again, and Charlotte explained that ever since he has posed the question she had not been able to get it off her mind. She explained she did not know how to come to Christ. Dr. Malan replied, Come Just as you are, believing on Jesus as your personal savior. It is said she went away rejoicing in the fact that she now understood what it was to be excepted and love by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Twelve years later she continued to suffer bouts of depression. It was during this time that her brother, Rev. H. V. Elliott was working with St. Mary’s Hall, a respectable school in Brighton, England to give the daughters of clergymen a higher education. It was decided a bazaar would be held to raise money for the school. It seemed everyone was involved in planning out and working the event. Everyone expects Mary, who still at times battled with her salvation in her mind. It was the night before the bazaar Mary wrestled with these nagging thoughts. The next morning those same thoughts returned with more intensity and it was then that Mary got out her pen and paper and decided once and for all she would conquer those thoughts with the facts of her salvation, not her emotions on it, but the facts of the Lord’s love, his mercy and power. It was then and there, not in a past tense moment or a onetime passing moment but in an “even now” moment that she was accepted in the Beloved. It was this experience that she penned the words to Just As I Am.
Ms. Elliott was a poet, a hymn writer and an editor of the Christian Remembrancer Pocket Book, an annual publication and the Invalid’s Hymn Book. She died in Brighton, England Sept. r 22, 1871 at age 82.
It’s a song we have sung for as long as I can remember, yet I don’t think I ever really paid attention to the lyrics until now. When I began to look for another song feature this one came to mind. You see, I have a dear friend who has a teaching ministry called Bringing to Light. She opens each broadcast with the words, Today is your day for Victory In Jesus! She recently shared with me some good news that she and her husband were going to attend a retreat at Cove in Asheville, NC. I had been telling her all the wonderful things about the Cove and the encounter I had with the Lord when I visited the Chapel there. Just knowing what they will experience and seeing all the beauty on the ground at this event excited me. As I thought about what song to write about and her good news the words from her program echoed in my mind, Victory In Jesus, so I choose to look into why the song was written. I was surprised and inspired by the story behind the song and now have a new appreciation for it.
To understand the significance of the song and why those words hold such a powerful meaning, you will have to know a little bit about the author of the song, Eugene M. Bartlett Sr. Born in 1885 in Missouri he became a singer, music publisher, producer and of course a songwriter. Mr. Bartlett began his career as a publisher for the Central Music Company in Arkansas and later formed the Hartford Music Company in 1918 with a few friends. There he would publish his hymnals, periodicals, and magazines. Over time he became an profound songwriter, writing such songs as “Everybody Will Be Happy Over There”, “Just A Little While”, and “He Will Remember Me”, and he even had success in the country music field with a song by Little Jimmy Dickens called, “Take a Old Cold Tater and Wait”. I’ll trust that was a #1 hit.
Life could not have been better for Eugene. He married his sweetheart in 1917 and they raised 2 children. As a publisher his hymn book was in demand, selling over 15,000 copies across the county. He felt his calling was to publish hymns and teach aspiring singers how to sight-read so he traveled the south, holding singing school and singing conventions.
But in 1939 at age 53, his world changed drastically. Mr. Bartlett suffered a paralyzing stroke that left him unable to walk or even speak and for the most part, he was bedridden. Many felt the stroke ended his teaching ministry, yet It was during these dark days that Eugene would write his best-known hymn, Victory In Jesus. While looking back over his life he began to think back to the night he was born again and the rich life he had since that night. He picked up a pen and began what would become his best-known song. He began with the following words, “I heard an old, old story, How a Savior came from glory, how he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me”. Realizing that the love of God had sustained him and brought him to where he was that day, he is quoted as saying he felt the prompting of the holy spirit to add another verse. He wrote, “I heard about his healing, of his saving power revealing, how he made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see”. When he completed the song, he looked back over it and seen it was a story of redeeming power from start to finish. He wanted the song to be joyous. And while written during the darkest period of his life he chose to make the melody full of happiness and enthusiasm.
Since he was no longer able to travel to minister or teach his son, Eugene Jr took over. He would travel around the south continuing his father’s ministry. One night, as the story goes, he had traveled to East Tx for a revival service. He had asked a well-known evangelist of the time to speak. The man did and gave a wonderful sermon but when the invitation was given no one came forward. Eugene, Jr. said he felt the Lord urging him to sing his Father’s new song which he had not sung publicly before. He did and as he sang many in attendance began to come forward to give their life to the Lord Jesus. At the end of the service over 50 men and women had accepted Christ as their savior.
I’m sure that during his time of suffering there were days where he felt depressed, alone and sad, yet he still found the inspiration to declare, “I cried, Dear Jesus, come and heal my broken spirit and somehow Jesus came and brought to me the victory’’. It’s amazing to me, that in the midst of all that was wrong in his life he found the courage to proclaim Jesus and the Victory he had in knowing Jesus was the answer and source of his joy. So often when we are going through a dark time in life we get focused on the problem or our circumstances and lose sight of what really matters, we lose our hope and our joy. But in midst of Eugene’s troubles, he found he could say there is Victory in Jesus, as we all should do. Mr. Bartlett, Sr passed away in 1941 from complications due to the stroke.
If there is one thing I want you to remember, it’s this. It is because of God’s Grace and Mercy each of us are where we are today and no matter what we face in life we can walk in Victory. We just have to choose to live for him.
This is how we sung Victory of Jesus in the church I grew up. From the Metro Atlanta Singing Convention.
No other hymn has been a part of my life longer than, Blessed Assurance. It was my Dad’s favorite song. For as long as I can remember, he would either be humming the song or singing it as he worked around the house or while mowing the grass. How often I remember it being sung in on those precious Sunday mornings in our small Baptist Church. We would stand as a family along with other church members singing this song and I vividly remember Dad raising his hand, eyes closed with his face towards heaven, singing, Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of his Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.
As I prepared to do my research on this song, I found there wasn’t much about how the song Blessed Assurance came to be. But as the story goes, Franny’s friend, Phoebe Knapp had come to visit her. Ms. Knapp shared with her that she had a unique melody in her stuck in her head. She sat down at the piano in Franny’s home and played it for her. Phoebe turned to Franny and said, “What does that say to you” and instantly Franny replied, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine, Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine”. The pair continued working on the song and within a few hours, the hymn was completed, with Franny writing 3 verses and a chorus. It was just a short time after this meeting that the song began to spread across the area churches and more and more congregations heard the song. The first publishing of the words and melody appeared in 1873 in a magazine called, Palmer’s Guide to Holiness and Revival Miscellany.
The song takes on special meaning for me in knowing about the life of Franny Crosby. She was born in 1820 to John and Mercy Crosby from New York City and was their only child. When Franny was 6 months old her father passed away leaving her mother and grandmother, Eunice Paddock Crosby to raise her. But before he passed away Franny became very sick with a cold and inflammation affected her eyes. At just 6 weeks old her father took her to a questionable doctor who ordered Mustard Plaster be placed on her eyes. This decision would turn out to be life-changing for her as it affected the optic nerve in her eyes, causing total blindness.
By all accounts, Franny grew up a happy and active child. She attended New York Institution for the Blind in New York City, where later in life she would work and meet her husband. She was raised with strong Christian values and from an early age she was read scriptures by her mother and grandmother and would memorize verses, and overtime nearly had the entire devoted to memory. It was also at a young age she began to write poetry. Her love for writing followed her throughout her life and never seem to be bothered by her lack of site. She is quoted as saying, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered to me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have ever sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me. She also once said, “when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior”. She had an ability to craft words, phrases and thoughts so vividly that would allow us to see the Savior so clearly in her songs.
Among her many accomplishments, she was an English teacher at the New York Institution for the Blind, a published author, hymn and secular writer of approximately 5,000 to 9000 songs, she also wrote a poetic eulogy for President William Henry Harrison (1773b-1841d), upon his death after only serving 31 days as President. Franny married a former classmate and they had one child that died shortly after birth in its sleep. The song Safe in the Arms of Jesus was written from that experience.
Though it all, Franny Cosby had an amazing and full life. She wrote or contributed to many songs of the church that we still sing today, a hundred years after her death.
Should the Lord delay his coming and I am called to heaven before the rapture, this is the one song I want to be sung at my funeral. I have loved this song since I was a child. I remember in the church I grew up in, singing this song in the choir and loving it. I don’t remember how old I was, but I have a vivid memory of me singing this song at the top of my lungs during choir practice and our choir leader, Frank Webb, leaning down and getting close to my ear and telling me to sing it with all I had.
I remember the choir singing it with enthusiasm and excitement as if we were singing in front of the Lord himself. Several years later the church attendance had fallen to just a handful of mostly elderly people and it seemed we were just singing out of habit. Once after a Sunday Morning service, I was at home and was playing outside. I was on my trampoline thinking how sad it was that we didn’t sing that song like we use to. As I jumped up and down on the trampoline I began to sing it, I remember letting loose on the chorus, and once again singing it with all I had. I remember thinking if only the old choir could mustard enough energy and sing it like I was then maybe it would mean more to them. That memory always comes back to my mind when I hear this song.
Surprisingly the song has been around for over one hundred years, but to me, it sounds as new and fresh as any song out today. On a summer day in 1885, Carl Boberg was a 26-year-old Swedish pastor, returning from a hike in the countryside when a terrible thunderstorm rose up out of nowhere forcing him to take shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. While waiting out the storm he watched in amazement God’s amazing power as the lightning and thunder crashed all around him. “Then just as quickly as it came the storm cleared leaving a crystal clear sky. A rainbow appeared and a crisp clean breeze blew across the fields”, he is quoted as saying. “When I arrived home the lake in across from my home reflected like a mirror the sky above and a church bell rung out in the distance. “It was then that I fell to my knees in humble praise to the God who holds all of creation in his hands”.
That evening Mr. Bober was still moved by all he had seen and heard, decided he would write of his experience in a poem called, Oh, Great God. The following week he read the poem in his church and published it in a periodical. Much to his surprise it began to be sung across Sweden to a traditional folk melody and then in 1907 it was translated into German. But it wasn’t until some 20 years later that the song began to be heard in small villages in the Ukraine. Steward Hine who had translated it into English had added two additional verses. Soon after a chain of events caused an enormous rise in the song’s popularity.
Mr. Hine is quoted as saying, young people could be heard raising their voices on hikes in the mountains, lifting the song in praise. With such a simple melody and words that most could relate to. The song became a favorite as it traveled across Europe.
Mr. Hine would preach to the people in small villages and states he was keenly aware that the parishioners knew the love of God but did not fully understand the depth in which he loved them. It was during one of his meetings that an elderly woman picked up the bible and began to read aloud of the crucifixion of Christ and as she read the scripture, others began to fall to their knees in prayer asking the Lord to save them. It was from this meeting that the 3rd verse was written.
Another decade would pass before the final verse would come and the song would be completed. In 1939 World War 1 exploded across Europe. As the fighting grew, Mr. Hine was forced to leave Europe and return to England. There he continued his ministry and remained there after the war ended. In one year, 250,000 refuges poured into England seeking asylum. One evening, during a meeting, they were asked if they had any questions, one lady spoke up asking what they all longed for, “When are we going home?” From that Mr. Hine received inspiration for his 4th and final stanza, the words When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation and take me home, what Joy shall feel my heart, quickly flowed from his pen and he knew then the song was complete.
After 21 years of working on the song, Mr. Steward Hines began to share his work it quickly began to spread across the world. In 1957 a mass choir led by George Beverly Shea performed the song at Madison Square Garden during a Billy Graham crusade. It was said that out of 100 nights of revival the song was sung 99 nights. Cliff Barrows, Music and Programs Director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, stated they were on live radio during this time and the song was performed nightly. People began to hear it who had never heard it before and began to request the song. It soon spread across the country and world and became a favorite hymn of the church.
Within a decade it was translated into a dozen languages and sung in every corner of the earth. Its message of the Lord’s power, wonder, and love transcended barriers and today, more than a century later, it stands as one of the most beloved songs sung in worship to the Lord.
Gerald Crabb has won songwriter of the year 9 consecutive years in a row, according to the SGMA (Southern Gospel Music Association) in addition to many other awards for his songwriting. He has had over 25 songs reach #1 on the charts. As well as having written songs for the Gaither Vocal Band, The Perry’s, Jeff and Sheri Easter, the Freemans and of course his award-winning family, The Crabb Family. Gerald Crabb is quick to tell you he is a blessed man, and while the awards are nice and recognition for his songwriting ability is appreciated he is quick to tell you that he is just the holder of the pen and that all glory and credit goes to the Lord.
Before I get to the story behind the song Sometimes I Cry let me share with you a backstory about the interview.
For several months I had been attempting to interview Gerald and it just seemed we could not get together. I had almost given up that the interview would take place and then out of the blue one morning I get a call from Gerald, unplanned and unscheduled. He had 30 minutes to give me before he had another appointment. I literally was walking out the door to head to work but realizing this may be the only opportunity I had to talk with him I stopped and did a quick set up for the recording and found a note pad. We started off making small talk, had the interview, then said goodbye and I was off to my day job. In all honesty, I did not give much thought at the time about what we had talked About. Doing the interview put me behind schedule and for the rest of the day it seemed I was late for every appointment.
I work as a home inspector by trade and the last home I had to inspect that day was in Speedwell, Tennessee, a good 75 miles from where I live. I arrived at the location and my customer was not home. I just figured I would reschedule. Just as I was preparing to leave the customer’s grandmother, who lived next door, approached me to see if she could help me. We talked for a moment and one thing lead to another and somehow we got on the subject of the Lord. I shared with her about my blog and some of the artist I had interviewed. I had mentioned to her that I was excited to get home to tell my wife about my interview with Gerald Crabb.
I began to share with her his story of Sometimes I Cry and as I did she began to weep. She shared with me that her 39-year-old daughter had passed away 4 years ago from breast cancer. As she told me about her broken heart, tears ran down her face. She said that she was a faithful member at the church down the road and yet it seemed there was no one for her to share her pain and grief with. She said she went every time the doors were open and yet she sat there Sunday after Sunday hurting. As we talked I encouraged her to reach out to others in her church and to let them know her pain. During the course of our conversation, her husband came home from work and I began to share him my story. As we talked he also began to weep as he talked about his pain as well.
What should have been a 10 or 15-minute visit turned into over an hour conversation. I thanked them for their time, wished them well and packed my things to leave while they walked back into their house. I had already turned my car around and was pulling away when she came running out of her house, up to the car. She said, I know you will think I’m crazy, but I have just got to hug you. She said that she had woke up that morning very discouraged and depressed and had prayed for the Lord to send her some encouragement. She said no doubt the Lord had sent me to her because for the first time in weeks she didn’t feel sad and lonely and the things I had shared with her were just what she and her husband needed to hear. I, of course, got out of the car and hugged her and thanked her for her kind words. It was nothing I had done, I was just the one the Lord used to bless her.
This just goes to show you that Lord will bring things together in his time in order to bless and others.
Sometimes I Cry. Songwriter, Gerald Crabb. Release by Jason Crabb.
As I spoke with Gerald from his Mississippi home, he began to share with me how his song, Sometimes I Cry, was formed. “I was inspired by another song, it was just a simple laid-back kind of song. But it got me to thinking about how we as church people are sometimes so pretentious and hypercritical in the fact that we act as if we have it all together”. We act as if we don’t have any worries and not a care in the world, when in fact we are struggling inside. I don’t know one Christian that does not fight the same battles; the same devil that I fight. I have yet to find anyone who has the victory 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We are in this old world and the word of God even tells us that the life of a Christian is not going to be easy, it says, “In this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33). Yet we go around trying to make believe we are somehow shielded, while on the inside we are hurting and secretly crying.
Gerald says as he began to write the song he thought of all the “church-ie” things we do in order to put on the right kind of face, like: acting the part, blending in with the church crowd, knowing where all the bible studies are, knowing the preachers around town and even having a Christian bumper sticker on the back of our cars. All examples of what we think is a good Christian. We know all the clichés to use in the body of Christ to mask our pain and hurt, but as he states sometimes we hurt and sometimes we cry, and that’s okay. We are not expected to have it all together, we sometimes need to learn that it’s okay to share our pain with other believers as well as with the Lord. In Galatians 6:2, it tells us to bear one another’s burdens. A true friend will do just that.
Another thought that I drew from, Gerald adds, when writing this song, I thought about Jesus after the resurrection and his disciples were sort of in hiding. When he appears to them they are not sure what to make of it. The bible tells us they were terrified and afraid and thought he was a spirit. But it took him showing them his scars before they understood it was really him. I like to believe it took them seeing the scars, the nail prints in his hands and feet to know it was him. I’m sure it changed the mood in the room once they knew it was him, I’m sure they were touched and moved by the scars. I thought if Jesus should his scars to help others in their unbelief then we too should be ok with showing our scars and tears
As he finished telling the story Gerald tells how when he first wrote the song he would sing it to other preachers. “I am a minister, I considered myself a preacher’s preacher and as I would sing this song they would open up and cry because so many could relate to it. As a pastor or preacher, there is an expectation that we have it together and never face sorrows, but we have the same struggles as everyday folk, we are no different than anyone else. But I wanted to get the message out that it is okay to hurt and it’s okay to cry and not to bottle up those feeling. Years ago, a gentleman told me, Christians aren’t supposed to cry and that statement always stayed with me. But the truth is that’s not the case, the Lord gives us tears so our heads won’t swell. If we can just remember to take these worries and troubles that bother us to the Lord and trust he will take care of them, then everything is going to be okay.
Sometimes I Cry was Nominated for Song of the Year at the 2011 Dove Awards. Also at the 2011 Dove awards, Gerald won Songwriter of the Year.
Written by: Nicole C. Mullen and Kathie Lee Gifford
I had the honor today of speaking with Nicole C. Mullen. She is a singer/songwriter, actress, a student of the scriptures and mighty woman of God. I have followed Nicole’s career for over 20 years and without a doubt talking with her was a real treat for me. She spoke to me by phone from her Tennessee home and we talked about the benefits we both enjoy from living out in the country like having no internet, no cable, and spotty phone service. It was a real honor to talk with her and hear her share from her heart the love she has for sharing the Love of God.
I learned that 2018 marked the 20th anniversary of her writing her popular song, My Redeemer Lives. (we will cover that song in our next blog update) As she shared with me, 20 years after Redeemer, the Lord gave her another wonderful song called, “The God Who Sees” and she is completely humbled how it came about. Nicole said that there is no doubt in her mind that this song was orchestrated by the Lord from start to finish.
“I am a student of the bible. I love reading and learning God’s word. The stories and history become alive for me when I read them. I had been reading the story of Hagar and had her story on my mind when I ran into Kathie Lee Gifford. As we talked, she shared with me that she too had been doing a study on Hagar as well. She proposed that we should get together and write and once we did it seemed the song just became alive in us. We started out with just me and my guitar and working on the melody, and from there the song essentially wrote itself. With each writing sessions we continued to add to the story with Ruth, David, and down the lineage of David to Jesus to Mary of Magdala. And in the end, it had such a sweetness to it.
It came time to cut the demo for the song that was intended for another Christian artist, Nicole continues. We went into the studio with the intent of me to ad-libbing the narrative then singing the verses we had written then continue that pattern throughout the recording. Kathie’s idea was for me just to speak between the verses and the later she would go back in and edit in the narratives. I was familiar with the stories surrounding each person in the song so as we began recording, I would close my eyes and speak from the heart, then open my eyes and sing the chorus; this went on, back and forth throughout the entire song. As I would close my eyes I would already know what to say before I said it. The Lord was feeding me the words, so clearly and anointed. Yet once I was finished recording, I thought to myself, “What is Kathie Lee going to think?” After all, she is THE Kathie Lee Gifford. The talk show host, actress, writer, and producer extraordinaire. I really expected her to tell me just stick to singing, she says with a chuckle. But instead I found her with her hands up in worship and her face was wet with tears. “This is of the Lord, she recalls Kathie saying. What you hear of today is basically the demo of the song that became the master recording, it is virtually how we recorded it with just very few edits.
In the days that followed, we would have people come into the studio to hear it and each one would fall to their knees in worship. This continued many times over as others would come to hear it. During the process of writing and recording it, we just prayed and ask the Lord to take it and use it however he saw fit to do so. It was his to do with whatever way he wanted. We offered it as our loaves and fishes, it was up to him how he multiplied it.
Once we had the “demo” was completed, it was determined that we would release it with my version of the song. We sat around talking, I shared with Kathie how I could see myself singing that it in concert and I began to envision what I would use as scenes behind me as I sang it. Kathy being the visionary that she is said,” I have just the idea” and began to name places in the Holy Land where we could film a short video for it. A few months later I found myself standing in the very place where these people we were singing about had stood. It was overwhelming.
Since releasing the song, it has taken off and we have heard from people all around the world of how the song has ministered to them. We have performed it before First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence. We’ve heard from places across America, from Africa, Europe and South America, you name it. People have been blessed by the words and comfort this song brings. It has had over 2 million views online and been performed on TBN and Daystar.
Nicole concludes by saying how humbled she is by the way the Lord allowed her to pen these songs for his glory and reignites the fire in her to use her in ways she could never dream. The take away for me, as she ends, is that God doesn’t care about our color, of if we are male or female or even our nationality, God loves us for who we are, but not only that, he likes us, and he wants nothing but good for our lives.
If you have not heard the song take a moment and check out the link below. The video was produced by Kathie Lee Gifford and offers beautiful scenes from the Holy Land. Also, be sure to check out Nicole C Mullen at her website: https://www.nicolecmullen.com
A Conversation with Matthew West on his song “Oh Me of Little Faith
May 19, 2019.
I am so honored to have had the opportunity to talk with Matthew West at his recent acoustic concert held at the Cove at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, NC. Before I jump to the story behind the song of Oh, Me of Little Faith, I must share with you the experience of this concert.
So often when attending a concert one can expect to hear good music, be entertained and then leave. That was not the case with this concert. Matthew West put ministry before himself and the music and realized that after the music ends there is more to be done. I simply was blown away by Matthew and his heart for others. Yes, the music was wonderful, the light-hearted humor was enough that you wished he’d do a bit more and the interaction with the audience made you feel as if he was speaking directly to you. However, the part that impressed me was how he purposely reminded us why we were there, why it is that he does what he does. He even gave an altar call. I guess one would think that everyone attending a night of worship is a Christian and a believer. But as Matthew said, “how many were dragged there by their spouse or partner not knowing what to expect”. At a time when he could have done an encore or two, he instead turned the focus toward those in the audience allowing them the opportunity to come to know the Lord and accept him as Savior. Matthew’s Father travels with him and at the end of this concert, he called him to the stage to pray and to lead those who wanted to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior in a prayer of repentance. The presence of the Lord was there, and such a sweet spirit filled the room. For Lisa and I, we felt as if we had been to church.
Our conversation began and immediately Matthew made us feel as if we were old friends reuniting. After some small talk, I ask him what his writing process was and how does he come up with his songs. He responded by saying that he looks at writing like a locked house. “Most of the time you go in and out the front door, but sometimes you lock yourself out and have to find another way in. I try to look at my songwriting that way. I always try to tell a story from a different point of view. Sometimes you have a key and can go right on into the house, other times you have to look for a window or other means to get in and that’s what I do with my songs, I try to mix it up so that I can tell it from a first-person point of view or sometimes telling it from third person. I always look at how to get in from a different way.
When preparing for a new project he says he looks at what’s moving him at the moment and what’s the idea or concept of what he is wanting to say. The song “Oh Me of Little Faith” comes from his Live Forever cd and as Matthew shares the whole heartbeat of the album is centered around a number. “I googled the fact that there are 86,400 seconds in a day and the idea for me is to make every second count, which is something that motivates me”. This song, he continues, came from some quiet time, where it was just me and my guitar thinking about the amazement of God and that for everything I lack there is a God who provides and that every void I face, it can be filled by one and one only. The lyrics talk about, oh me of little faith, oh me of little hope, oh me of little love, and for me just the idea that for everything I lack God cares about it and provides for me. And as Matthew ends he recalls the last verse of the song, I’ll never understand how a God of endless grace could love me of little faith.”
Matthew is passionate about what he does and as we walked away he said, It’s so cool that as a Christian artist I get to tell the greatest story ever told. My prayer is that God uses me to tell stories that it points to him.
Growing up in the small East Tennessee church that I did, hymns and the songs of faith we sang became woven into my being at an early age. From as far back as I can remember life revolved around church, Sunday School and singing in the choir when was a little boy. I recall singing the songs: “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, “In the Sweet By and By” and “How Great Thou Art” and the joy I felt as we sang them in the choir. I knew the words to all these songs and would sing with all my might and at the top of my lung, especially when it came to the chorus. But as a child, I never really grasped the meanings of the words I sang nor the hope they gave. But just like the writer of Sweet Beulah Land, I remember the look on the faces of the saints as they would look toward heaven and sing.
One song I often wondered why we would sing was Beulah Land. To a 7 or 8 year old, the song seemed sad and wasn’t upbeat like the others. A few of the church members would have tears streaming down their face. I mistook their tears as tears of sadness instead of tears of joy. I didn’t understand the meaning of it and couldn’t relate to the longing of heaven, that the others could. But as the years have gone by and I’ve grown into a man, things have changed and those words which we sang, now have come alive in me. What once seemed to be a sad and depressing song now offers me hope, a promise, a peace and a joy that await us there.
Recently I reached out to Squire’s office and learned how this song came to be written.
When I was about 9 years old, Squire begins, my father was the Song Leader in our small country church in Newton, West Virginia. One of the songs he would lead the congregation in singing was a song called, “Is This the Land of Beulah”. It seemed my Father’s face would glow and the entire congregation seemed to be swept up into a wonderful prospect of the eternal land about which they were singing. That image stayed with me for years, Squire recalls, all through my young years and I would often remember thinking, Dad was looking into Beulah Land as he sang the song.
It wasn’t until years later, Squire recalls, that I was driving to my teaching job and thinking back to that service in our little church and I was humming the same sweet song. And just as I topped one of the mountains on my drive in, I was faced with a view of the brilliant sun and all its glory. While still thinking about to the scene in our church I suddenly began to sing again, only this time it was a different song, one I had never heard or sung before. Squire states, I was singing the chorus to what became my most known song, “Sweet Beulah Land”.
I traveled on to school and when arrived before the student that morning. I sat there and wrote a verse to go with the chorus that had just been born. I put the song away and another five years went by before I wrote the second verse. From there it was that I recorded the song, Sweet Beulah Land and it launched me into the ministry of traveling as a gospel singer and songwriter.
The song Sweet Beulah Land was written in 1973 and recorded by Squire in 1979. In 1981 it became a #1 song and was awarded Song of the Year by the Singing News Fan Awards. It has been recorded countless times by a multitude of artist including the Gaither Vocal Band, The Chuck Wagon Gang, Jason Crabb, and Lynda Randall among others. The term Beulah land is defined by Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as “the peaceful land in which the pilgrim awaits the call to the Celestial City”.
For the next few weeks, I am certain that many of us will see and hear on our social media pages, Dolly Parton singing “He’s Alive”. I bet every one of my friends will post that song during the Easter Holiday, myself included. No other song, in my opinion, tells the story of the resurrection story as well as this song does. Dolly does a wonderful job bringing the song to life with Christ Church Choir in her 1989 appearance at the CMA awards. The song, however, was written years earlier around 1975/76 by Don Francisco. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Don, and he shared with me how he came to write such a powerful song.
The song was released on Don’s 1977 recording called Forgiven. In 1980, he was named Songwriter of the Year along with “He’s Alive” as Song of the Year at the Dove Awards. In addition to Dolly’s rendition, the song has been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Walt Mills, The Gaither Vocal Band, Ray Boltz, and countless others.
My own love of the song is tied to a pastor at our small Baptist church in East Tennessee where I grew up. Pastor Jack’s kids were nearly grown and were off at camp most summers, so he would let me stay with him and his wife while they were away. Pastor Jack played this new sort of Christian music that was different from the music we sang in church. He had an 8-track tape and would play the music of Don Francisco. Of all the songs he played, He’s Alive is the one I remember most. As a child, I remember hearing this song and being drawn into it. At the time, I thought that the story was told from my point of view as if I were a bystander at the events the song described.
Talking with him felt like reconnecting with an old friend. The following is what he shared with me on how the song came to life:
He begins, “Around the mid 70’s I was doing my best to be a songwriter; I was working full time at it, making myself sit down and write for hours on end. There were times back then when we literally were living on peanut and jelly sandwiches– it was a time of intense poverty, at least by first-world standards.”
During that time, he was doing a few concerts in churches and had only one song to sing about the crucifixion. As Don states, “The song was written by a friend of mine and it stopped with the crucifixion, with all this guilt. I just couldn’t continue using it, so I sat down with the intention of writing a song about the resurrection. At first, I tried it from Thomas’ point of view. I was attempting to get whoever was listening to the song to go along with me, from Thomas’ doubt into faith when he saw the risen Lord, but I just couldn’t get it to work. Nothing felt real to me– I couldn’t get into Thomas’ head.
“So I tried again, this time from Peter’s perspective. I found I understood Peter. He’d denied Christ three times– and the last time Jesus had turned around and looked at him– so the weight
of guilt on him must have been crushing, I’m sure.” Don pauses from talking about the song to explaining how his own life could relate to Peter’s.
“You see, I’d been in Peter’s place,” Don continues. “Up until a couple of years before writing this song I had been living a life of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, and I was full of guilt and fear of the consequences. Although I’d been raised in church (we were there every time the doors were open), and in spite of the fact that my dad was a seminary professor as well as a Baptist preacher, I had simply blown off any sort of relationship with God by the time I reached junior high school. Everything I was being told and shown described an angry, judgmental God. Like most of us, when I reached my teens I wasn’t all that rational– I was just in a desperate, emotional search for some kind of love, and I wasn’t finding it in church or at home.
“When I was 28 years old, two years before this song was written, I had a powerful experience with God. I wasn’t looking for him. As I mentioned earlier, I was into the whole sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll thing, but also into yoga and Transcendental Meditation. One morning in August, I was alone doing my yoga session, sitting in the full lotus position and concentrating on emptying my mind, when suddenly I heard a voice so clearly that I thought someone was in the room with me. There was no one, yet the voice was so clear it was almost audible. The voice said, “Don, this is Jesus. I love you. Why do you keep running from me?” And along with those words came an experience that I can only describe using the line from Galatians 1:16, “When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me…” I suddenly knew Jesus/God was not this angry, judgmental, legalistic monster that I was raised with– and that He was alive in me. At the moment he spoke those words to me I was a pretty bad dude but he didn’t mention any of it. He only said that he loved me.”
That experience completely turned Don’s life around and upside down, as he put it. Because of that revelation, that moment of hearing Jesus speak, Don said that he was able to write with real gut-level excitement and conviction that He is alive– and I’m forgiven, heaven’s gate are open wide…
Don says, “Because of that revelation, I knew that I knew him, not because I’d read it in a book, not because someone had told me, but because the Lord Himself had shown me in the deepest part of me who he really is.”
Turning the topic back to the song, Don says, “I had probably written over three times as many verses as I actually used. For me, the songwriting/storytelling process is one where I edit and cut to the point that if I cut out any more of the song then no one will understand the message. I kept working on it and finally picked up a guitar to put music to it. When I thought the song was completed I sang it to my wife. It originally ended with the last verse– where it says “Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release, And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace.” That’s where I ended the song. When it was over my wife said to me, “You can’t stop there, you just can’t end it like that!” So, I went back, and in about 20 minutes or so realized how Peter would have really felt, not just all this peace but incredibly excited.” And with that, Don finished the song and gave it the dynamic chorus proclaiming, “He’s Alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven, heaven’ss gates are open wide!” He’s alive, Sweet Jesus.