Saturday, August 12, 2017

Can you teach an old song new tricks?

            In 1971, the year I graduated from high school, Karen Lafferty wrote the song “Seek Ye First,” based on Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Matthew 7:7
Early Karen
             Ms. Lafferty probably used the King James Version, because there wasn’t much else to use in 1971, and her lyrics closely match KJV:

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu Alleluia

Man shall not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Allelu Alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you
Allelu Alleluia

            Oops. My songbook doesn’t include the second verse. If memory serves, that verse is based on Jesus’ answer to Satan in the wilderness. And confirms I have a few shreds of memory left; it’s from Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4.
             In 1990, Ms. Lafferty told interviewer Harry Boonstra the circumstances behind her song:
Let's back up for a minute. What was the origin of "Seek Ye First"?
It was back in 1971. I had quit my entertainment job and was trying to support myself with teaching guitar lessons. I had three students! When my savings were all gone and I had no money to make my car payments, I became very discouraged and confused.
One evening I went to a Bible study at church, and we talked about Matthew 6:33.1 was tremendously encouraged and challenged by the words about Christ's kingdom. So I went home, wrote the tune, recorded it on a tape recorder, and then sang this little descant part.
I taught the song at church the next week, and it caught on right away. The Lord really paved the way for me with that song. "Seek Ye First" has opened doors for me all over the world. And because it's in so many hymnbooks, about 40 percent of my mission support comes from that song! (
If you can't get to Robert M. Sides in
Williamsport, PA, you can buy this on or (believe it or not!)
            Though I have frequently sung “Seek Ye First” over the decades, I never noticed until today who wrote it. And I only noticed today because I was paging through The Easy Worship Fake Book, playing my ukulele and singing until my throat was taken over by a croaking frog begging me to stop. 
          I bought the songbook last week at Robert M. Sides when I also bought Star Wars:  A Musical Journey, Episodes I-VI for easy piano. You may think my musical expertise is limited to EASY PIANO, SIMPLIFIED CHORDS, and OVER 100 SONGS IN THE KEY OF “C.” Please remember this spring I sang the Alto I part in Latin lyrics as the oldest nun in the Sound of Music.
            Anyway, as I played and sang, I thought, “This song needs another verse.” (This is before I realized it has another verse.) Well now it has yet one more verse. This is what I came up with:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
With all your soul and your strength.
And love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Allelu Alleluia.

            My verse comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:36-40. I used NIV 1984, because that was the Bible close at hand in my bedroom, but here it is from the more recent NIV, from And, as the footnotes indicate, Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
  1. Matthew 22:37 Deut. 6:5
  2. Matthew 22:39 Lev. 19:18
            Get out your ukulele or slide onto your piano bench and give it a try. I think it works.
            If you want to know more about Karen Lafferty and her role in Musicians for Missions, read the 2009 article found here: 

Karen c. 2009

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Misconception Correction

            Today’s Secret Place devotion directed me to 1 Kings 19, a chapter I always like to read. I first encountered this narrative about Elijah in May of 1966, in fact, on the Sunday following May 9. How do I know this?
Not all Mondays are bad.
            The counselor who helped me pray to receive Christ gave me a booklet which included pages to take sermon notes. The first sermon I heard after my conversion was titled “A Prophet of God under the Juniper Tree,” preached by Rev. Bruce Allen, the young, red-haired pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pascack Valley in Washington Township, New Jersey.
             Being the nostalgic pack rat I am, I imagine that little booklet with the notes is still in a box in my attic.
Super 8 has red Gideons Bibles.
Reading 1 Kings 19 (in the hotel’s Gideons-placed KJV Bible), I’m captivated by God’s compassion and tenderness toward Elijah, when God could have said, “Suck it up, Buttercup!”
            In chapter 18 Elijah experiences a huge spiritual victory, validating both Elijah as a prophet and God himself as God alone. However, chapter 19 starts with a death threat from the infamous Jezebel, and Elijah, terror-stricken, heads for the hills.
            At a safe distance from Jezebel, Elijah experiences restorative sleep and is awakened twice to eat meals prepared by an angel. What was in that second meal? It powered him to travel forty days and forty nights to God’s mountain. Talk about your superfood!
            In a cave, Elijah gets to tell God his complaint, which turns out to be a misconception. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too. (verse 10)
            God gives a three-fold demo of brute strength and finally speaks in “a still small voice” (KJV) or “a gentle whisper.” (NIV) Elijah responds only to the whisper and comes to the mouth of the cave. God renews Elijah’s mission and tells him where to find an assistant. Then God corrects the prophet’s misconception. “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (verse 18)
            Instead of a harsh tongue-lashing for his wrong thinking and lack of faith, God gives Elijah a gentle misconception correction. “You’re not alone, buddy. You may feel alone, but I have thousands more faithful non-idol-worshiping followers. But why don’t you take Elisha with you for moral support?”
Who is wielding the fly swatter?
            Why do so many of us feel God is waiting to squash us like bugs? Have we experienced too much squashed-bug corrections from parents, teachers, spouses, and other authority figures? And here’s a scary question:  Because of my own squashed-bug experiences, am I prone to squash others like bugs when I’m in the position to correct? Have I made my sons and my students feel like squashed bugs?
            I know the Gospels well enough to know Jesus often used a fly swatter on the Pharisees, but it seems he was much gentler with his friends and followers. Even Peter, after denying three times that he knew the Lord, received only a look. (Luke 22:61)
            In his Gospel, Matthew uses this quote from Isaiah to refer to Jesus: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…” (Matthew 12:20, Isaiah 42:3) I want to wrap myself in the tender poetry of these images.
            And I want to remember this blog post after school starts.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version.