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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Amazing Grace

        Dad led the way, up the steps of the white church. There were so many steps, each time I climbed the stairs it seemed I approached heaven. We sat in the shorter pew in the back of the church. My brothers sat on either side of Dad, who propped up one leg to make a convenient desk to hold the brown Favorite Hymns songbook.  I watched the words where he pointed one finger. His singing was slightly off key but fervent. This wondrous world of music for me became alive at the age of six years and Dad led the way. Mother taught me to play the piano. Music and Faith were closely entwined in Jesus Christ. I learned about ‘choir practice’ by listening to the rehearsal each week. Mother played for the choir.
         One by one, I learned to play the hymns in the Favorite Hymns book.  Plus a plethora of other songs was added to my list of favorites. While visiting Grandpa Suderman, we listened to a recording of John Charles Thomas and Madame Schumann-Hienk, and other great singers on a ‘crank-up’ victrola.
         Slowly through the words of each hymn, I learned the testimonies of faith by those who wrote the lyrics and composed the melodies.  The book of Psalms is filled with testimonies of the greatness of our Lord God. Wherever pain and suffering come – there is a Song of Victory describing faith and deliverance in Him.  It often takes a storm in life for us to seek the safe harbor of our Lord’s Arms of Love.  One young man put it this way – If I don’t believe in God, what can I believe in that is sure?
         Our lives are filled with twists, turns, and choices. John Newton’s life was no different.  His father was an aloof man, often away from home, the Captain of a sea-faring vessel. John’s Mother died at the age of twenty-seven.  During her years with her son, John, she taught him about faith in God. After reading about John, I see a boy who realized who God was, but the choices he made or were thrust upon him and took him in other directions. 
         He was conscripted into the Royal Navy for a time. While on a walk, he was ‘pressed’ (kidnapped) to work aboard a Slave Trader. At the age of twenty-three, a horrific storm arose while at sea. It was then John realized who he is without God and cried out to the One Who can calm the sea.  It wasn’t until he is 47 years old that he pens the words of his spiritual journey back to God.  He left the Slave Trading scarred by what he had seen and heard. A the age of thirty-nine, he became an ordained clergyman.  The words to Amazing Grace were written for a sermon entitled, “Faith’s Review and Expectation”.
         In the biography written by Jonathan Aitken, we find this note, “Thou has given an apostate a name and a place among thy children – called an infidel to the ministry of the gospel. I am a poor wretch that once wandered naked and barefoot, without a home, without a friend and now or me who once used to be on the ground, and was treated as a dog by all around me, thou prepared a house suitable to the connection thou hast put me into.” 
         Is this the end of the song? No.  When John Newton turned 63, he published a book – ‘Thoughts on the African Slave Trade’. William Wilberforce used Newton’s thoughts later in the fight against slavery in the English Parliament.
         God often uses storms in our lives to call us to Him.  He prepares us for a lifetime to serve Him in many different ways through many different avenues. John Newton died at the age of 82, after encountering storms and setbacks in his life.  When we come to the close of life, will we understand the greatness and mystery of God and why He loves us?
         These lyrics touched my heart last Lord’s Day.  “You give life, You are love, You bring light to the darkness, You give hope, You restore Every heart that is broken – Great are you, Lord… It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You Only… (Great Are You Lord)  
         John Newton tells of his faith in God and his journey to Him as he penned the lyrics of Amazing Grace.   
         Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, Was blind, but now I see.  So often we walk in blindness to Who God is – and our beliefs are not placed in our Lord God.  Jesus came to bring us light for He is light in the darkness of this world. “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus. Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:38-39
         'Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
The gift of Grace is priceless and clearly explained in John 3:16 - “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
         Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.
'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead us home
. Life is never easy. We encounter so many temptations and pitfalls all around us.  We search a lifetime for safety and a way to go to our Heavenly Home.
Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love. 2 John 1:3
         The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures
God’s Word will never be revoked or taken away in this world. Jesus is our Shepherd, God is our shield as we worship and live for God the Father and Jesus the Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. 1 John 5:12-13
         When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun
This Grace is not for this generation, or the ‘old days’, it is for eternity.  There is no end to God’s Glory and His Love and Grace.  What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.  Psalm 84:4


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why Sing?

        For the Lord, your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17.
         We are created by the same Lord God, who rejoices over each of us with joyful songs!  We sing before we can talk! When I first read this statement, I remembered when our toddler-aged son said something to me, I didn’t understand. I asked his older brother what he said.  He looked at me quizzically and repeated the exact same garbled utterance.  I thought, so much for an instant interpreter.
         We sing for many reasons. Celebrating a joyous occasion.  We sing to underline the unity of a group. Music begins by listening to a lullaby sung by Mother with love. Happy Birthday is next! A brief melody with the joy of growing older! It is a song of looking forward to ‘many more’! Jesus Loves Me was next.  This song is the foundation of our faith and trust in Jesus. One day I sang this song to my dear husband, and the words pierced my heart with truth.  Jesus loves me! He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in, Yes, Jesus loves me!...I saw the wonder of the love Jesus has for children. Is it any wonder that Jesus wants us to become as little children?  But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Matthew 19:14.
         Through the wonder of technology, I attended the celebration of life for my little brother.  I listened to the hymns sung, Great is Thy Faithfulness, How Great Thou Art, and Blessed Assurance.  Such comfort and joy praising God for Who our Jesus is.  In my heart, I heard my brother singing with joy the lyrics, across the veil that separates us.
         Why do we sing?  God commands it! Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Psalm 100:1-2.   I like these verses -- Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.  Ephesians 6:5-6.  The consistency of our behavior is being faithful.  In everything – be faithful to God. Sing to the Lord with all our hearts.
            What would a wedding be without the Wedding March?  What would Graduation be without Pomp and Circumstance? What would Christmas be without Silent Night, Away in a Manger, O Holy Night, Joy to the World, and Noel?  There are many more songs to sing in praising God with a singing heart!
         Singing on key or making a joyful noise, we are commanded to praise Him Who gives us reasons to sing with joy. The harmony of voices comes from one purpose and one love.  This is the harmony that touches our hearts and our faith grows.  Jesus brings us the depth of His love.
         What is a song? Ask Moses who sang a song celebrating the freedom from slavery in Egypt – Exodus 15:1.  Ask Deborah and Abinoam who sang praise to God for avenging Israel. Judges 5:1-4. Ask Paul and Silas who sang praises to God while imprisoned.  Acts 16:25. Ask the stars of heaven who sang together for joy. Job 38:7. And there are many who sang praises to God the Father through the ages.
         In life or death, a song is always the expression of our hearts.  Our prayers become the songs of praise of His greatness and goodness. Without the Lord God in our lives, we would not be here on earth. We depend on Him for every breath we take.  We depend on Him for Sustenance.  We depend on Him for Forgiveness.    
         Preparing for singing is more than keys, notes, and enunciation – they come from the Heart.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray –Malotte put words to music. Singing these words comforts us as we hear the words of Jesus in music.
         Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
         It is always delightful to sing the Words of the Bible.  A song helps us remember God’s words written in The Holy Bible.  How often I recall words in a song that draws me back into His Word. Scripture is healing balm to the hurting heart, in celebration of joy in Christ Jesus, and spiritual food to renew our lives in Him.  Singing Praise to Jesus has a way of shutting out the distracting noise of the world. 
         We have so many instruments to create music as we worship. God has blessed us in worship here with the sound of the harp in our services. As the fingers glide over the strings, the sounds pull our hearts into worship. David sang praises to God on a hillside watching his sheep. So many songs are recorded in Psalms, from the writers. I see into the heart of David. He truly was a man of God’s heart.  As the crescendo of the Lord’s Prayer is sung, Jesus draws my heart to the foot of the cross.  There are times I long to write a hymn of joy to the Lord. Our lives and the way we live them are our songs of praise dedicated to our Lord.  I praise you, Lord!
         Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
         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! Psalm 47:6-7

         …Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:19-21


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Growing Season - SPRING!

        On a new carpet of grass, perky robins hip-hop.  Breezes ruffle the new leaves as they appear on tall, proud trees. The raindrops softly tiptoe through the sleeping rows of budding flowers. White clouds lazily float in the hammock of the sky. Crops in the fields spring to life to feed God’s children in His Time.
         No one else could create the mystery and wonder of the season, called spring, but our Lord God! By believing and trusting our Savior Jesus Christ, a new kind of Spring grows within each heart with shimmering Grace.
         Spring, the season of growth begins when we believe, are buried and raised in baptismal waters.  Faith and trust stretch into a life of holiness and perfect beauty.  We drink in His Living Water in the refreshing sweetness of His Word. We worship constantly as we breathe.  Our Lord of Love, with gentleness, goodness, and kindness surrounds us. We praise Him with constant Faithfulness.
         We grow in patience in moments of stress and misfortune.  For we know a promise that brings the greatest joy, throughout our growing season.  This growing season will bring us to a place that is heaven, a place of beauty and love.  Heaven is where we can seek the utter beauty of our Lord and Savior, face to face.
         Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.  Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both. Ecclesiastes 11:5-6
            Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:14-16
         God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.  I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. Philippians 4:8-10
         May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ gives you grace and peace. Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.  We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:2-4
         May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus, our Lord.  By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.  And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.  2 Peter 1:2-4
         New parents exult in each new inch of growth of their newborn baby.  They rejoice in new learning. Our Lord God rejoices in us as we learn to follow God’s Way through Christ Jesus.  We toddle along in faith in Him. We take baby steps before strides and sprints in loving others. It is baby steps in learning to trust God.
         Each bruise and scrape along the way remind us of our Sovereign Lord’s forever kindness and goodness; He is the One who created us.  Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!  For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? Romans 11:33-34.  Who is this Sovereign God? But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. Psalm 73:28
         To some, our body seems to grow old and our physical strength shrivels with weakness.  While we are in the bloom of youth, such a thought is unthinkable.  Our bones gradually weaken and our stamina grows shorter like the blossoms of flowers fade and the leaves of trees begin to fall.  What then?  What is left?  Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13.  The greatest of these is Love!
         Our growing season in Christ Jesus is a lifetime of learning to follow Him in all things, revel in His love, and delight in His goodness. There are no senior citizens on earth when Jesus fills our hearts and all our senses in awareness of the One who loves us so.  We are in our growing season until the last breath.
         Visiting my husband in Memory Care, we listen to this hymn – these words penetrate memory loss and he understands.  Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art, how great Thou art.  Tears come as we talk about the blessings of our God. I ask what he will do when he stops breathing, he said, “I will say, Here I am, Lord, please let me in.”  My husband may not remember me, but he remembers the Lord.  We hold hands and praise God together and continue to grow, for this is part of our growing season.  Our hearts are filled with the Joy of Heavenly Spring, just around the corner.