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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Blessed Assurance

        The Spring Season envelops the earth with its warmth of light and growth from God. The blue crystal skies beckon rain clouds to water the earth.  Each tiny flower is a testimony to God’s Love.  I see in my mind two memory photos of my Grandmother and my Mother, backs bent over working the soil to raise flowers and food from God’s earth. Two generations and more, praising God for His Goodness.  Did they think of the distant future as they lived their lives?  They chose to live quiet lives of prayer and industriousness, raising faithful children. Did they understand how their choices bless and guide future generations? 
         Yesterday, in a conversation with my dear, 94 year old Aunt, we talked about scriptures.  She shared this one with me.  Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.  Deuteronomy 7:9.
         How many years is a generation?  From 20 to 100 years is the answer. Fanny Crosby was born in 1820.  Fanny (Frances Jane) Crosby, became blind at six weeks of age.  She could not see the world around her as she grew up, but her spiritual sight continues to be a blessing to all of us today.  She grew up a happy and active little girl.  Her father died early and her mother was forced to support the family by being a maid.  Fanny’s Christian Grandmother spent much time with Fanny.  Fanny began writing verses when she was eight years old.  She saw the world through words. Her heart was filled with faith in God, and her heart-sight was thankfulness and praise to her Father in Heaven. He gave her a special gift of knowing Him.
         Fanny lived for 95 years.  During those years she wrote many verses set to music, plus books of poetry and her autobiography.  Instead of anger at her circumstances she praised God.  One minister noted her gifts and commented, “It is a great pity the Lord did not give you sight!”  Her answer, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind?” She added, “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
         Faith in God gives us a light within that enables us to see eternity, even though we live in a world of darkness.  
         Fanny was able to attend the New York Institution for the Blind from 1835 and then continued as a part of the faculty in 1842.  There she met another student, Alexander Van Alstyne, who became a member of the faculty as well. She married him in 1885.  It was in 1864 she began to write hymns verses.
         One day Phoebe Palmer Knapp, her friend and composer, came to visit Fanny.  She played a new tune for Fanny, asking, “What does this melody say to you?”  Immediately Fanny replied, “ Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.”  (Published in 1873)
         She continued to write verses – we continue to sing to this very day.  Count the generations who have sung this hymn in the last 144 years, whether you count a generation as twenty or one hundred years, her testimony continues on.     
         Add to “Blessed Assurance”, the other verses of songs we sing, she wrote are: “Rescue the Perishing”, “O Gentle Savior”, “Savior, More than Life to Me”, “To God Be the Glory”, “Praise Him”, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”, “Rescue the Perishing”, “Jesus is Calling”, “Pass Me Not, I am Thine”, “Oh, Lord, Close to Thee”, “Near the Cross, Give Me Jesus”, “All the Way My Savior Lead Me”, “He Hideth My Soul”, “Redeemed”, and “Saved by Grace”.
         These hymns are her testimony to the strength and glory of our Savior’s Love for each of us. 
     Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!
     Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

     Perfect submission, perfect delight! Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
     Angels descending bring from above, Echoes of mercy, whispers of Love.

     Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior, happy and blest;
     Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
     This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long;
       This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long.

         Read the words again – Visions of rapture now burst on my sight.
Fanny Crosby’s delight at the sight of seeing her God and Savior helps us, years later ‘see’ with eternity-vision.  If we cannot see beyond this world, we are at a dead end in death.  In Jesus and Jesus alone, we have Hope and Life!
         After studying the life of Fanny Crosby, one thing becomes clear to me.  Fanny had clarity of vision of Jesus Christ and Faith in Him. Because of her steady faith and written testimony she has impacted the lives of many sighted people.   Her many hymns are exquisite paintings of faith, drawing others to see the great love of Jesus and hope in Him.  
         And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  1 John 4:16-18.
         If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. James 1:5-6
         So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Hebrews 13:6.
         ….I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12b.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Great Is Thy Faithfulness!

        The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” Lamentations 3:22-24.
         Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, was born on July 20, 1866, in a log cabin on a small farm in Kentucky. Thomas joined his parents, James and Lucy Chisholm, and older brother, Joseph. By the age of sixteen, Thomas taught in the country school where he had received his education.  When Thomas reached the age of 21, he became the associate editor of the town newspaper.  In 1893, at the age of 27, he attended a revival in Franklin and accepted Jesus as his personal Savior.
         Thomas Chisholm had a variety of positions – from farmer to teacher to editor to editor/business manager of the Pentecostal Herald. After his father passed away in 1897, he lived with his brother and worked as travelling salesman. Thomas Chisholm was ordained as the pastor at a Methodist church from 1903 until 1909, when his health deteriorated.  He was also married in 1903 had two daughters. During these years he continued writing. He wrote over 1,200 poems, with 800 published in The Sunday School Times and Moody Monthly and many were set to music.
         His life was a struggle of ordinariness, very little money, and yet always God was faithful to him.  In 1923, at the age of 57, he looked back on his life and was struck by the Lord’s great faithfulness.  He wrote the poem – Great is Thy Faithfulness. A musician, William Runyan, a musician with Moody Bible Institute, prayed earnestly that the music he wrote would convey the message
         He could see God’s Guidance and rich Strength leading him from the log cabin to job after job, preparing him always to create songs of praise and give glory to our God.  In the era he lived, he endured life in WWI and WWII, and the Great Financial Depression in 1929 when every penny counted. He closed his eyes the last time at the age of 94. 
         Jesus didn’t come to tell us the answers to the questions of life, He comes to be the Answer” – Timothy Keller.  Thomas Chisholm knew this truth.  Jesus is the answer to life. 
         As I sing the words of this hymn, tears come to my eyes.  Our Lord God made a way through Jesus Christ to be His.  He tears the veil of sin separating us and forgives us, just as we forgive others.  Revelation 22:13 reads, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
         Great is Thy Faithfulness listen to the words sung here. The second verse describes scenes we have all seen with our eyes, but have we seen them with our hearts? Do we understand they are gifts from God? They are symbols of God’s faithfulness.
         Summer and winter and springtime, and harvest. Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above - Join with all nature in manifold witness, To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
         The chorus repeats a verse from Lamentations 3.  Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see! All I have need they hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
         How is this faithfulness available to us?  Believe and Trust God. When we realize the more we understand our salvation isn’t our behavior, the more radically our behavior changes to please Him through His great Love.  ‘Thou shalt not’s’ are replaced by ‘Thou shalt love!’
         Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
         “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?  And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own? Luke 16:10-12
         He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. For the honor of your name, O Lord, forgive my many, many sins.  Psalm 25:9-11
         Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O Lord. Psalm 36:5-6
         But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people. Psalm 52:8-9
         But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Look down and have mercy on me. Give your strength to your servant; save me, the son of your servant. Psalm 86:15-16
         All heaven will praise your great wonders, Lord; myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness. For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord? Psalm 89:5-6
         Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. Ephesians 6:23
         The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. I Corinthians 10:13
         But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. I John 1:9
         Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the world.  Revelation 1:4b-6

         All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. Revelation 22:19-21


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It Is Well With My Soul

         How do we know, it is well with our souls?  What is it we fear the most as we live on this earth?  Change? Death? Illness? Loss? Separation? Yes, all of these states of being at one time or other.  When my Dad lay in the hospital suffering from his latest heart attack, I stayed with him one night. I thought Mother would stay with me. She prepared to leave. I asked her how she could leave Dad.  She taught me about God’s Peace that night.  She quoted Psalm 6:8, “In peace I will lie down and sleep for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” 
         This is lesson I am destined to learn over and over.  During our lives, we face death for this is the destiny of this corrupt world.  Family deaths often cut the deepest into our hearts.  My grandparents, my parents, my two brothers, my first born son, my grandson have left this earth and I remember the vigil that night with my dad. I watched his chest take in breath after breath, wondering when it would stop. God gives us our first breath, and then when it is His time, to leave this earth, He stops it.  It is His breath in our lungs for He alone gives each of us life.
         How glorious to know our destination.  Is this why the words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 are my favorite verses?  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
         Two more verses (6-7) in the same chapter in Jesus’ own words, reassure us. Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.  His resurrection from death is a celebration of life for us. We follow Him to Heaven, where there is no more crying or pain.
         How often through the years have I sung or heard these words sung – When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; What ever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul. – Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought – My sin not in part, but the whole, Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.
         Can you hear the suffering and pain, and ultimate glory in these words?  Horatio G. Spafford, a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago, had five children.  In 1871, their young son died with pneumonia, about the same time as the great Chicago fire burned and he lost most of his business. Two years later, a voyage across the Atlantic to Europe was planned.  Mr. Spafford was delayed because of business, but his wife, Anna, and their four daughters, Annie, Margaret, Bessie, and Tanetta, boarded the ship, Ville du Harve.  After four days, this ship was hit by another vessel and sank. Anna gathered her daughters on the deck and prayed with them. Within twelve minutes, Mr. Spafford’s family slipped beneath the waves. Anna was found later in the water holding on to wreckage by a sailor and saved. When she came to shore, she wired her husband, “All lost, what shall I do?” Mr. Spafford left on the next ship, asking the Captain to notify him when the ship passed over where his daughters drowned. When he was notified of the fateful location, Mr. Spafford went to his room and penned the lyrics of It is Well With My Soul. 
         Is that the end of the story? When we belong to God, He has a purpose for our lives.  Three more daughters were born to the Spaffords, one died with pneumonia.  Did they hide in their misery of six children dying?  No, in August of 1881, the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem.  Why?  They had a deep interest in Israel. They established a Christian American Colony, and worked in philanthropic activities among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  Horatio took the Bible as His guide. Though he died seven years later of malaria, his work continued.  It grew to 150 souls who served God in many ways.  They moved to a larger house.
         During the World War I, the American Colony opened soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable activities thirty-six years after the death of Mr. Spafford. The American Colony continued as a group until 1950, and by individuals after that.
         Did Horatio G. Spafford know the extent and impact his life would have in serving the Lord? Often the deepest grief and sorrow touches our souls deeply with His great love!  Through tears, we see the needs of others and serve Him with loving hearts.
         If we become addicted to the sympathy during our heartaches, and turn to the world for comfort, we miss the opportunity to live for God and give His love to others.  We often wonder, will the little I do make a difference? When we love, give, and serve in Jesus’ Name – it makes all the difference. And we will live this song– It is Well With My Soul!
         The last stanza of It is Well with My Soul: And, Lord, haste the day when the faith hall be sight. The clouds be rolled back as a scroll, The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, “Even so” – it is well with my soul.
         “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.  Psalm 46:10-11
         “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. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.  John 14:27-28

          Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.  Colossians 3:14-16