Monday, April 6, 2009

Anywhere is Home

Praise for the Lord #44

Words: John M. Henson, 1927
Music: Homer F. Morris, 1927

Homer Franklin Morris (1875-1955) was a gospel singer, songwriter, and editor from Draketown, Georgia, who began his musical career rather precociously by teaching singing schools at the age of sixteen. Around 1920 Morris and his close friend and business partner John M. Henson formed the Morris-Henson Company. They wrote a number of songs together, and their Complete Church Hymnal sold over a million copies.(McNeil) Morris also wrote the music for James Rowe's "Won't it be wonderful there?"(PFTL#780) and the words for the unusual "Resurrection"(PFTL#832).

I found less information on John Melvin Henson (1887-1972)--Morris was by far the more prolific, both in songwriting and in the business side--but he is also known to us for the lyrics of the bass-lead quartet song "Happy am I"(PFTL#818) and as the lyricist/composer of the fine gospel hymn "I'll live in glory" (PFTL#315) and the memorable "There's an all-seeing Eye watching you" (PFTL#721).

Stanza 1:
Earthly wealth and fame may never come to me,
And a palace fair here mine may never be;
But let come what may, if Christ for me doth care,
Anywhere is home, if He is only there.

The song begins by listing what we might not have in this life. Wealth, fame, and property are things that much of the world strives after, and by which many measure their success. Even among people who do not consider themselves materialistic, it is important to be "financially secure", "respected in my profession", and to have a little bigger and better home at each stage of life. If God blesses you with those things, be grateful and use them wisely--but be careful that they do not become a snare to you. The "deceitfulness of riches"(Matthew 13:22) has undone many a Christian before you. It is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God,(Mark 10:23) because it is easy to "trust in riches".(Mark 10:24)

For some, however, these things remain an unrealized dream; sometimes because of circumstances beyond one's control, sometimes because one chooses to emphasize other things in life. We should remember, however, the riches we do have--if we have Christ. We have:
  • "The riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering"(Romans 2:4)

  • "The exceeding riches of His grace"(Ephesians 2:7)

  • "The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints"(Ephesians 1:18)

  • "Riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God"(Colossians 2:2)

And we have the promise that "God shall supply all your need according to His riches."(Philippians 4:19) If we have Christ, we have all we need; as David so succinctly said, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."(Psalm 23:1)

Anywhere is home, let come and go what may;
Anywhere I roam, He keeps me all the way;
So for His dear sake, my cross I’ll meekly bear;
Anywhere is home, if Christ, my Lord, is there.

Home is a deep and complex subject in the human heart, rooted in our childhoods and bound up with a sense of security and identity. For some people it is simple; they are born, live and die in the same community. Yet even for them, home does not remain the same; we are all sojourners through time, even if we remain in the same spot. But if our true "home" is with Jesus, we need not worry--He is everywhere, and in every time. In John 14:23 Christ promises, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." Earthly homes can be lost to fire, flood--or to the bank--but our spiritual home is "not made with hands."(2 Corinthians 5:1)

Stanza 2:
Oft I’m tossed about and driven by the foe,
Sad within, without, wherever I may go;
But I press along, still looking up in prayer,
For it’s home, sweet home, if Christ is only there.

The apostle Paul knew what meant to be "driven by the foe", both physically and spiritually:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.(2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

It was quite a departure from the future the young Saul, a Roman citizen and a scholar, an up-and-comer in the Jewish religious leadership, must have anticipated. How does a man continue in such circumstances? Paul's secret was one that we all need to learn--the only thing that mattered to him, was the one thing that no one could take away from him:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.(Philippians 3:7-8)

He literally had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Prayer, certainly, was a part of this ability to survive the devil's efforts to discourage him. Paul and Silas were praying, as well as singing, in the Philippi jail.(Acts 16:25) The power of Christians praying together was something Paul understood when he asked the church in Rome to "strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf."(Romans 15:30) May we never underestimate its effectiveness; James reminds us that Elijah, whose prayers stopped the rain in Israel, "was a man with a nature like ours."(James 5:17)

In Ephesians 6, right after commanding us to put on the Christian armor, Scripture immediately says, "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance..."(Ephesians 6:18). From ancient up to modern times, one of the key elements of survival for the footsoldier is communication. Modern wireless technology has allowed the creation of a networked battlefield in which each soldier is in constant touch with the commanding officers, ready to receive information on a moment's notice. In a similar move, many police departments have adopted the hands-free radio that is worn as part of the uniform, because lives are saved when officers are kept in touch with the dispatcher. Soldiers and police officers who have been trained in the use of these technologies would not dream of going into action without them. Christian soldiers, for the same reasons, need to be in constant contact with our Central Command. We are not meant to go into this fight alone, nor are we able; it is critical that we be part of the network.

Stanza 3:
I will labor on till I am called away,
Till the morn shall dawn of that eternal day,
Looking unto Him who keeps me in His care;
Anywhere is home, if Christ, my Lord, is there.

In Matthew 10:22, Jesus promised that "the one who endures to the end will be saved." Why is endurance a problem? The parable of the sower and the soils gives some reasons that believers fail to endure to the end. The seed sown in rocky soil(Matthew 13:21) has no root in itself--that is, the person who lacks spiritual depth, or the person who obeys superficially but refuses to embrace Christ's change on a deep level, will be easily discouraged by persecution. When foes rise up and a price must be paid to keep the faith, this person will give it up without much of a fight, because it never mattered that much anyway. Another type of soil that fails to endure is the thorny ground(Matthew 13:22), where there is simply too much competition for the good seed to thrive. The person whose loyalty is divided among other things, will not have the commitment to persevere. Paul said in Philippians 3:13, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before;" and as Brother Avon Malone used to point out, Paul said "this one thing I do", not "these fifty things I dabble in."

How do you improve rocky or thorny soil? I know this from first-hand experience, gardening with my father in some of the worst soil in northeast Tulsa--you have to pull the weeds and dig the rocks out, and you have to dig down deeper and fortify the soil with nutrients that will sustain healthy growth. The same is true in our lives. As Hebrews 12:1 says in a different metaphor, "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

Paul was able to do this in spite of troubles "within" and "without", as the song says, because he had cast off everything that held him back, clung to his Savior, and accepted patiently whatever each day brought. May we all follow his example and be able also to say at the end our lives, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."(2 Timothy 4:7)

About the music: One of Morris's early teachers was Anthony J. Showalter, whose "Leaning on the everlasting arms" is rather similar in style, especially in the march-like accompaniment that the lower voices provide to the melody during the refrain. This kind of writing is friendly to a cappella congregational singing, because forward rhythmic motion is built into the vocal parts. This song has a tendency to drag, in my experience, perhaps because the quarter-note rhythm of the lower voices is present from the very beginning; it is obviously easier to set the tempo in songs in which all the parts start in the same rhythm as the part the songleader is singing. If it tends to drag, it might be necessary on the next occasion to lead it rather faster than normal, just to get the congregation's attention. Sometimes just one experience of singing a song out of its "normal" tempo is enough to get the singers to think differently about what it could sound like.


McNeil, W. K. "Morris, Homer Franklin." Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, McNeil, W. K., ed. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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