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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Shall We Gather At The River?

This hymn has special meaning for me.  The first time I heard this hymn, I was twelve years old.  My Grosmom Emilie (paternal grandmother) rocked gently in her new steel chair on the front porch singing, ‘Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river, That flows by the throne of God.’
         My Grosmom was born in June of 1876, and came to this country from Russia at the age of sixteen.  I could not fathom such a trip at that age and admired my Grosmom.  I wondered then which river she sang about.  She spoke only Plautt Dietch and I spoke English – yet we spent hours visiting with each other. 
         Revelation 22:1-2 tells of the special river – not the Dneiper River in Ukraine or Volga that she had lived near.  Robert Lowry, the composer of this hymn, thought about this same scripture.  He lived from 1826 – 1899, and wrote this hymn in 1864, when Grosmom was twelve years old in Russia.  How then did my Grosmom know this song?  Was Grosmom thinking about her family, her loved ones, often separated her on earth by miles, gathered together on the shore of the Beautiful River.
         Revelation 22:1-2 - Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
         One source I read described Robert Lowry as a cheerful man with a quick mind. He often gave vivid descriptions.  He painted word pictures for others to see as he preached.  His words described Heaven with joy.  While enduring the sweltering heat, he was totally exhausted physically.  A contagious epidemic hit New York City then – causing untold deaths.  In his pastoral duties, he visited members of his congregation and buried those who died.  While thinking about all the people who were dying, Robert Lowry thought about the great reunion at the ‘river of life’ in heaven.  In his mind he envisioned God’s throne, the heavenly river of life and the gathering of the saints. He read the scripture from Revelation 22:1-2. He reveled in the thought of the beauty of the ‘river of life’.  Even though he died in 1899, his words continue to be sung to give hope and comfort to many people by giving expression to their deepest desire to praise God for His unfailing goodness.
         It was in 1943, during World War II, when my Grosmom’s death finally came. It was a stifling August afternoon.  Her death was overwhelming to me.  It brought me face to face with the mystery of death.  Her life was spent in serving others.  She raised four sons and one daughter.  I have a large photo of the daughter she lost to meningitis hanging in my living room.  Grosmom took care of her husband, Jacob after he was paralyzed and was unable to preach sermons, conduct auctions, or farm.
         It has been seventy-four years since Grosmom died. I still remember her steadfast faith in God and the message of the hymn she sang so often.  I remember our dual-language conversations.  She taught me faith in Jesus Christ by singing.  Now, as I say goodbye to family members, one by one, I am comforted. I remember Grosmom’s voice so long ago singing the hymn, Shall We Gather At the River. 
         Thank you, Robert Lowry, for sharing your gift of faith and hope-filled words to so many as they sing the song God gave you.
         Psalm 46:4-5 - A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it.
         Isaiah 43 – 1-2 - But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
         2 Kings 5:9-10 - So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
         John 7:37-39 - On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus

         Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His Word. Just to rest upon His Promise and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.” 
         My husband and I listened to these words written more than a century ago and thought about the sweetness of trusting Jesus. This trust comes to us in a quiet room and becomes more tangible. Each breath we take comes with trusting Jesus. Trust is a costly word and holds a labyrinth of rationalizations to circumvent its meaning – ‘Could have, Would have, Should have, and Except when’s.  What does it cost us?  Our ‘supposed-control’ over our destiny here and in the hereafter which lies solely in the hands of Jesus...
         These lyrics were written by a soul who found peace, and left us a message  more than a century ago for anyone who sings this hymn. It is a legacy of trust and peace through her heartache that led her to joy.
         Louisa M. R. Stead was born in Dover, England in the year 1850. She gave her heart to Jesus at the age of nine years.  In her teens, she desired to be a missionary and tell others the message of Jesus.  In 1870 she migrated to United States, and attending a revival in Ohio, her desire to be a missionary became even more intense.  She prepared to go to China, but frail health prevented her.  She married her husband, Mr. Stead, and in 1879, they took their daughter Lilly, 4 years old, on an outing - a beach-side picnic.  They heard screams of a young boy drowning nearby. Louisa’s husband dove into the water to save him, but drowned in the process.  Can you understand the heartache Louisa and her daughter felt as went through the next few days and months?
         Louisa was unable to support her daughter financially, but her loving Christian friends often provided food.  Her faith and trust in God simply grew stronger.  Louisa proved her trust in Jesus, by taking her daughter and became a missionary in Southern Africa for fifteen years. It was while in Africa, she wrote the hymn, “’Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus.”  There she met and married Robert Wodehouse.  Ill health forced them to return to United States with her husband, who pastored in a Methodist Church for a time.  In 1901 Robert and Louisa again returned to Rhodesia, Africa.  Louisa wrote, “one cannot in the face of the peculiar difficulties help saying, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ but with simply confidence and trust we may and do say, ‘Our sufficiency is of God.’”   
         Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, How I’ve proved Him, o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus, Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
         Louisa learned serving others lessens grief and gives a hope-filled joy in life.  In doing so, Louisa learned God’s love is compassionate and proves sufficient in all things.  Louisa and her husband retired and returned in 1911 and she died 6 years later.  What is the legacy Louisa leaves behind?  Her daughter, Lilly, grew up witnessing her mother’s faith in action, and married D. A. Carson. Together they continue the work in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  Louisa left her legacy and testimony of faith and trust in Jesus. 
         How easy it is to give up when things are difficult in life.  Jesus is all about continuing to serve others and never giving up.   How many have lived lives of faith and trust in God through the ages, without the marker of song lyrics to celebrate Jesus.  Jesus knows and that is enough. 
         How often I have praised God for the legacy of faith my ancestors left me in their search for the freedom to worship God from the sixteenth century. Their continued faith gives me a foundation of faith to build on. Some of Louisa’s genealogical dates are near those of my grandparents. My Mother wrote the story of her family in The Lines are Fallen.  One grandfather (Suderman) emigrated from Russia to America in 1877, with his family on board a ship.  My Great- Grandfather (Siemens) emigrated from Russia at about the same time. The dates so closely coincide with Louisa Stead’s life, it astounds me how God’s love and Faith in Him motivates and changes the course of our lives. 
         Mother wrote:  ‘Our roots lie buried deep in Northern Holland near the Zuider Zee where we spoke, read, and wrote in the language, Plautt Dietch. With the great 16th century persecution we moved from Holland.  In Prussia we were told to learn the German language and use it exclusively for all public meetings.  In our two hundred year stay in the Danzig area, we forgot how to read and write in our native tongue.  Although Prussia forbade its use in public, no one could keep us from speaking Plautt Dietch in the privacy of our own homes. Then we moved.   Russia made no language demands. All church services, public meetings, and schools were conducted in German.  In the homes it was still Plautt Dietch.  After Czarina Catherina died and her son began to rule, we resisted the young Tzar’s order to draft our sons for his army or learn the Russian language. We moved.  In America, we learned English.’
         O, God for every age and Christ, His Son, Your children offer songs of praise to you:  Remember how you touched and blessed each one? Reach down and touch each heart to make us new.  O, God for every age, we humbly pray, Bless us your little children of today.  (ADS)
         I John 4: 15-16 - All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
         I Peter 1:8-9 - You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
         Psalm 91:2 - This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.
         John 12:13-14 - Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me.

         Jeremiah 17:7 - But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Wonderful Peace

Peace, Peace! Wonderful Peace, Coming down from the Father above, Sweep over my Spirit forever, I pray, In fathomless billows of love.
         These words sung themselves in my mind as I visited my husband in Memory Care. After a week of ‘going’, I began singing this song, and as I did, I felt the desired peace swept over me and the song quietened my spirit. What is it about God’s peace, so powerful that it knows just what I need at any moment. 
         The composer, Warren D. Cornell, born in 1858 and died in the 1930’s was born in Michigan.  This song was written during his ministry in Berlin, Wisconsin between 1881 and 1894.  What brought him to the point of writing this hymn about Peace, one of the Fruit of the Spirit?
         This peace is not man-made and written on a piece of paper, but from God who writes peace on our hearts.  Isaiah 48:48:17-18 pictures God’s peace as a river of righteousness flowing over us in waves.   This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.  Oh, that you had listened to my commands! Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.
         Peace is that ‘sweet spot’ of forgiveness when there is no barrier of sin between God and ourselves.  It is the soul-quieted peace that thrives in the presence of God within our hearts and minds.
         It is ironic, that when we long to ‘get away’, we seek time to be ‘still and know He is God.” We choose locations with mountains of grandeur, ocean waters, paths through the woods, looking for brilliant sunsets.  All are creations of God. These are times the world and its turmoil fade away when we have quiet time with God and pray.  Jesus often found time to slip away and spend time in prayer with His Father in Heaven while on earth. 
            What are the three largest weapons of the Evil One in our lives that erases God’s Peace in our hearts?  Worry, Fear, and Anger and all the negative paths leading from them.  Worrying about ‘what is’ can topple our minds and paralyze us. Worrying leads to Fear – of change, rocking the boat, acceptance of others, and measuring up.  Acceptance of ‘what is’ can free us from worry, knowing with confidence God will protect us.
         I John 4:17-19 - God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
         Our biggest fear is of death and growing old.  Billions of dollars are spent to give us the ability to appear looking young as long as possible.  Isn’t it interesting we often say to a loved one who has died, Rest in Peace? Jesus Christ conquered death by being raised from the dead.  I Corinthians 15:56-57 - For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.  But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus. 
         I Timothy 3:16 - Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory.
         We are not always able to understand fully this mystery or comprehend the basis for our peace.  James 3:13 - If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
         Peace is the third listed Fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 - But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
         This fruit of the spirit is like a basket woven of nine parts that are so inter-related that one cannot appear without the other.  Love leads to joy, which leads to peace, which leads to patience, which leads to kindness, which leads to goodness, which leads to faithfulness, which leads to gentleness, which leads to self-control.
         Sometimes our life just rocks along and everything is fine, and then something happens and we cry to the Lord, “Why me?”  It may be a physical problem, a wrong choice, financial woes, or just general unrest in the world around us.  Where is the peace then?
         I remember a Bible Study when we each shared our favorite verses from the Bible that meant the most to us.  My friend shared John 14:27 – words of Jesus -  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  Some time later, we realized something was amiss with my husband, and he was diagnosed with dementia. This meant moving to be near family.  There were a thousand things I miss each day.  Instead of asking, “Why me?”  I daily ask, “What am I to learn, Lord?”
         This gift of peace from Jesus is real, tangible and sustainable.  Each time, I walk away from worry and fear, and verbally pray, “You handle it, God, I cannot!  His peace sweeps over me.  We often think we have to solve the problem and DO something.  Waiting on the Lord and listening to Him gives us peace. 
         I read this quote – ‘Ultimate peace is not the absence of storms but inner peace amidst storms. And man never finds lasting inner peace until he finds peace with God. For when you find peace with God, you begin to experience peace within.’ (David Hoffmeister). 

         "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15 (NIV)