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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Joy of Praise

Once upon a time…I like stories that begin this way. There was a young lady who had no clue as to what Praise could be.  Is it a song you sing in church?  Is it when you do something well and almost everyone praises you?  This young woman knew what being thankful meant.  She was constantly thankful for her husband, her four children, and their mates, and grandchildren.  When her great-grandchildren were born, she gave thanks.  She wasn’t rich, she wasn’t poor.  She had enough.  She was content.

Then one day, at the age of 84, she fell into a deep chasm.  Old people are supposed to have it altogether, but that one day, she knew she groped in the darkness.  She believed in Jesus as her Savior, and it had been easy to be thankful for the many gifts He showered on her. The Dark Day her granddaughter called there was no thankfulness, only questions.  Her granddaughter asked if she was sitting down.  Answering, ‘yes,’ the granddaughter told the Old Lady that her first-born son was in the hospital with a brain tumor and would undergo surgery in 3 days.

The sun darkened that day, as she cried out to God in pain.  Where was the peace and the thankfulness. The day of waiting to hear about the surgery results came. Had her oldest son made it through the surgery?  She learned that the night before the surgery, he had had a heart attack. Would God take him home?  She remembered his last visit, just three months before, saying goodbye. Was the angst she felt then a time of warning, that she would not see him again?  The Old Lady shrugged off the chill around her heart.

What could she do as she waited for the twelve-hour surgery to be completed?  She would thank God, no. She would praise Him.  How do you praise God at a time like this?  She searched her heart for reasons to praise God. She remembered the joy she felt to hold him the first time in her arms. She could praise Him for trusting her to be her oldest son’s mother.  The Old Lady could praise God for the moments and minutes of a lifetime watching him grow into manhood and begin a family of his own. That was a beginning.

Praise became a ‘waiting’.  A waiting when negative voices interrupted the praise with questions and thoughts. ‘Why didn’t you’ questions came repeatedly, over and over. The Old Lady resolutely returned back to the praise.  Finally the day ended and the 12-hour surgery ended. The Old Lady’s son lived.

The Old Lady’s other two sons visited their brother. They sent a picture of the oldest son to their Mother. The Lady cried until finally the sobs subsided.  Why?  She cried tears of joy to see her son alive.  She cried tears of pain to see a visible reminder of what he had endured.  She cried tears of compassion to see the peace in his eyes.  And then she continued crying, realizing these were ‘tears of praise’ for answered prayer and for deliverance of her son. 

Sometimes praising hurts because it comes through a valley of pain, waiting and not knowing.  Praise comes through being heart-ready and understanding sacrifice and love with more than the mind, but with the heart, choosing the Who to praise.  Praising is made up of trust and hope and faith in the One who defeated death with his resurrection from the dead.  The fact that He lives, makes Him worthy of praise.

Praise is an act of our will that flows out of an awe and reverence for our Creator. King David understood this.  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  Psalm 150:6  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, Psalm 48:1.  Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord! Psalm 113:1.

David’s praises became prayers for him and for us, as we read the book of Psalms.  Praise is a natural response to God and happens as a result of knowing God.  God calls Himself, “I AM.”  In Revelation 22:13 – “am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

When we try to replace God’s I AM with our own ‘I am’, our life becomes devoid of meaning, an empty shell without the hope, peace and trust that are ours in Him. ‘Doing life’ on our own, we forget that we are always dependent on God.  Without Him we dwell in desert land of want and desire in this world without His living water to sustain us.

Praising God helps restore us to the right relationship in God.  “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8.

Living a life of praise is an attitude of love and forgiveness and rightness before God.  When we commit our lives to Him and praise Him, our faith grows.  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Sing to the Lord, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praise; he also is to be feared above all gods.” I Chronicles 16:23-25

Addendum:  As The Old Lady writes, she is praying for her oldest son’s second brain surgery. She is giving praise that God’s will be done.  And she waits on Him and she finds peace in quietly praising Him.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Finding Peace in the Storm

In June, 1965, the radio news filled the air with impending ‘doom-messages’ warning of a flood that would roar down the Arkansas River near Dodge City, Kansas.  Our daughter, Anna, was filled with fear.  We lived in a two-story house across a field and a highway from the river, and yet, she was afraid.  She remembers how she was able to go to sleep the night of the flood in her upstairs bedroom because her Dad said he was watching over us and would make sure we were okay.  As darkness deepened around us, we could hear the rush of the water as it began its mad dash down stream.  The next day, we met with our church family on a hill on the other side of the river, and praised God for his safe keeping.  The water entered the church building, but the damage was minimal.  The storm came, and yet there was peace, peace after the storm. 

Learning to trust God begins when we are young before possible disasters hit, we learn to ride the storm out.  What is a storm?  When will it happen?  How can we prepare for a vicious upset in our lives? What are the dimensions and longevity of a storm? 

When we were young and expecting our first baby, we didn’t realize the heartache that awaited us.  In those days of no sonogram, no one knew twins were expected. When delivering both babies and told one was born dead, the loss was swallowed up in the joy of our new baby boy.  My dear husband bought a blue new-borne baby suit. His Dad, my Dad and the minister, who married us, buried our second son with tears.  We were overwhelmed with the pull of our new living son, and we felt deeply a pull to heaven anticipating seeing and holding our second son.  Time finally comforted us and peace after the storm came when we knew Donnie was in the arms of our Lord Jesus.

Years later we moved from Kansas to Illinois with our four elementary age children. There were a myriad of details to be attended to.  We didn’t expect a life’s storm.  Meanwhile in Oklahoma, the Tornado Land, where tornadoes can be spotted moving across the fields, weaving its way through populated and unpopulated areas, clouds gathered. What are the chances?  My parents were used to tornado warnings and trips to the Siemens Cellar.  We didn’t know, until a policeman came to our door to tell us, that my parents’ home had been hit by a tornado.  There was no way I could travel back to help.  Later, on a visit, Dad showed me an unbroken coke bottle that was embedded in a tree by the house by the force of the tornado.  Dad and Mom told me that they heard the warning, and descended into the Siemens Cellar and sat amid the jars of canned produce from the garden.

They returned to the house when the storm subsided.  And the storm made another run toward them.  There was no time to return to the cellar. They huddled together under a narrow kitchen table beneath double windows, holding hands, praying, singing hymns and praising God, trusting.  Mom’s family from Hillsboro, KS, later came to help repair the damage to the property and bring comfort to their hearts. 

More of life’s storms come and go and ruffle our feathers and discomfit us.  Peace is not the absence of a storm, but rest in the middle of a storm.  That heart-rest comes from the One and Only…. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

It is the Whom we commit to, to follow, that guards our hearts.  It is the Whom we think about, drench our minds in His Word that gives us hope and joy.  His Word teaches us to live unafraid with hearts unbowed when the storms of life roll in.

When the storm in our life spells change in our existence causing the stomach to churn with unknown terrors, it is time to heed, Psalm 46:10.  Be still, and know that I am God.”  It is time for a silent Emmaus walk of prayer and communion with our creator.  (The Pastor – Eugene Peterson)

Our world today moves at a dizzying speed with distractions from the One who gives us peace, holding tight to His Hand, gives us strength. “… but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31

God does not promise to take away the cause of distress in our lives, but He gives us rest within the storm.  As we praise Him for His goodness, our clouds begin to show the silver lining of His love and grace.

The song writer who wrote these lyrics gives us more than beautiful words but wisdom, Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me. 

The daily headlines of news scream from print, radio and TV to give terror-tales of anxiety that discomfit us.  Sickness can shake our world in ways unforeseen.  The threat of torn lives and loss of life is daunting.  War, whether in a planned battle or an uprising of personal anger threatens our very being.  How do we escape?  How do we find the peace in the storm?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.  Isaiah 26:3-4.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  Psalm 46:1-3


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Living Light

How fascinating lights are to all of us.  From the flame of the candle to the coal oil lamp, the lazy flickering in a dark room that casts shadows here and there gives us hope.  Then came the incandescent bulb and power grids across the land.  No longer can the wonder of stars be observed on a summer night when man-made lights stream from so many neon lights, street lights, house lights, car lights, the blue flicker of television.

When we travelled in the 1930’s across Oklahoma, and came to the high hill above Clinton, Dad, with his steady hands on the Ford admonished us, “Now who will be first to see the lights of home?”  We watched as we crested the hill and there below us were twinkling thousands of lights of home. 

When I read the description of travel of the Siemens family from West Prussia to Russia in the 1803, I thought about the blackness of the hillside, with just the moon and stars above them.  The trip of some 1500 miles was made on foot with their essential supplies being carried in horse-drawn carts.”  Why did they travel so far? They were motivated by their faith in God and belief to resist participation in war. 

We have become ‘power-junkies’ desiring every new electric gadget that makes our lives.  We desire the easy way of life.  The ease of providing necessities has made our acquisition of man-made lights take the place of the Light of the World.  The Light that will never burns out, or need to be replaced. The Light of Trust, Joy, Faith and Hope.  The Light that chases away the shadows in our lives.  The Light that dwells in our souls that cannot be chained as our bodies are, by evil, sickness and enemies. The Light of Forever.

Where does light come from?  It is amazing to know that the light that God spoke Light in the beginning, it was described as good and was called Day.  (Genesis 1:3-5)  Then God sent His Son into the world.
• Everything was created through him; nothing — not one thing — came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.  John 1:35 (ESV)
  Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”  John  8:12 (ESV)

The startling nuance of light splashes against the dark and shines from every flame on the birthday cake, reminding us of LIFE.  As a child, we want to keep the light on, and as adults we value the reassurance of an ever-glowing night light. Lights keep us from bumping into things that cause harm.  When we are lost here on this earth, finding our way again is like a light of knowing is lit in our hearts.

The Children of Israel had assurance of guidance in the wilderness with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire during the night.  When did they get in trouble?  When they ignored their guidance in the sky.

We also have can enjoy a pillar of light in our lives during the darkest night.  God’s Word.  But if we do not know its message, and ignore its guidance we lead a dark life without hope.
  “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!  Matthew 6:22-23

We, as children of God, receive His light.  Are we aware that we are bearing His light?  By choosing to shine with His Light, we become a flame of light for those who stumble in the dark.
  The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine. But the road of wrongdoing gets darker and darker— travelers can’t see a thing; they fall flat on their faces. Proverbs 4:18-19

But what can we do?  Eugene H. Peterson, from The Contemplative Pastor, gives three ways to be the light.  Be a person of prayer, heartfelt prayer, for those in need, even when they don’t know or are blind to the power of prayer.  Listen, take the time to hear other’s words and most of all their hearts.  I can hear it now, for I have said it, “I’m too busy.”  Those words make one feel needed, but are very empty when God has sent someone for us to care for and nurture.  The third is to be drenched, immersed in the scripture, able to give an answer to those who ask.  This is an ‘off-the-stage-ministry’.  This is a heart ministry between God and you.

How do we begin to shine?  Philippians 2:14-16 - Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:23

Not complain or grumble?  But that is the American way! Do those who suffer hardships for their faith today grumble or complain?  Who would hear, or want to?  A complaint or whine here or there won’t hurt, right?  Wrong.  Did Jesus complain going to the cross to give His life for us?  Stop in the middle of your complaint, and pray, and say, “Children of God, shine, don’t whine!”*

*Quote from Randy Boltinghouse

Photo by Jennifer Payne


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Ripples of Life

Lazily I contemplated the circles that began with the pebble dropped into the lake.  The circles seemed to be unending, often intersecting with a new group of circles.  Wrinkles of water that spread continually….across the surface of the water like circles of people enjoying relationships.

The more I thought about those groups of circles, I realized that my life has been like a pebble dropped into the water, encircling new relationships.  From early life, as I made friends, the ripples began.  In Clinton, Oklahoma, to Watonga, Oklahoma.  Then college, and marriage brought another series of circles, circles of relationships from Piedmont to Joplin to Howard, to Minneola, to Hinton, to Dodge City, to Collinsville, to Rogers and to Champaign. (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas)  Each circle brought new people and new experiences that brought new memories to cherish.

Each move promised exciting adventures.  I have been learning the basics of maintaining relationships and the whys of being on this earth.  Now, after our last move, again I ponder with wonder the Truth of God.  And I think of the dear ones I have left and the new dear ones I have yet to meet.

It was not always so.  When I was fifteen years old, I wondered why our music teacher chose such a song for us to sing, No Man is an Island.
No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man's joy is joy to me,
Each man's grief is my own.

No man is an island,
Way out in the blue,
We all look to the one above,
For our strength to renew.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

Now as I review the lyrics, once sung unbelievingly, brings me to understand what the lyrics meant to the author.

God has used the many moves to teach me.  When I read Acts 8 story of Philip and the Eunuch, I realize I have had a purpose, as purposed by God.  Have I listened to the Spirit, as Philip did?  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26) After Philip taught and baptized the Eunuch, Philip’s time with Eunuch ended: And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:39)

It was a short-lived relationship but a relationship that had ever-after consequences in His Kingdom.  Philip recognized His voice and allowed God to use him because he was in a relationship with God. An awesome thought…  Being available with an ear attuned to the will of God is another way to define a relationship with Him.  In Him our relationships with others become a living testimony to His Love.

As I wonder about the many people God has placed in my life, I wonder what kind of relationships did I miss out because I did not listen to God’s Spirit or was unavailable?  Then I wonder why David was a man of God’s own heart.  What made David special in God’s eyes?  Surely a man who made as many mistakes as David did, could only incur God’s Wrath.  Yet, I see David through his writing, forgiven and praising God. 

  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.  Psalm 40:3
  Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 43:5
•  Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!   For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. Psalm 47:6-8

The relationships which God placed in the ever-widening circle of my life were gifts given to me to enrich my life in many ways. There was a time when pride made many relationships difficult.  Then God in his richness of wisdom, taught me humility again and again. With David I learned how great is our God.  His forgiveness is unending,   Is it any wonder that we are to be as little children who trust infinitely, love withholding nothing and whose laughter touches the depths of our hearts?  When all seems lost, there is no where else to turn, but to our Jehovah Jireh. He longs to be the center of our lives, in relationship with us and in us,  in so many ways.  He is our Sustainer, our Life-Giver, the Giver of Living Water, our Shield and Redeemer.  Our All in All.   When the words in Galatians 5:22-23 sweep through my mind, I know that He is the author of  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; Against such there is no law. 

In this relationship is freedom and a belonging that feeds the soul.  He is my ever- new song that I sing, not in a voice rusty with age, but a new voice of hope and a crescendo of growing joy and praise!  And to those within the many circles of family and friends, may you know that you have encouraged me and brought me to this place in life that is ours together.