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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jesus Loves Me!

         The dimly lit room is quiet, my husband lay resting, almost asleep.  I opened the brown Favorites Hymnal to the page containing, “Jesus Loves Me”, and began singing quietly.  My husband, now 91 years old, listens as I sing:
         Jesus loves me, This I know – For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong, They are weak, but He is strong.
         Tears form in my eyes and I realize not just little ones are weak and belong to Him.  Where did this song, so familiar, originate? This is the song I taught my four children, and to other children at different churches.  Who wrote this simple song and why?
         This song reflects scripture, such as:
         Matthew 18:1-4 - About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them.  Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
         Galatians 4:6-7 - And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
         What gives us strength when our bodies ache and tire, and we complain about constant confusion?  The answer is a walking and talking relationship with a Friend and is always with us.  Our Friend, Jesus, gives us undeserved Love and His Light.
         Jesus loves me still today, Walking with me on my way.
     Wanting as a Friend to give, Light and Love to all who live.
         And who is this Jesus?  This Jesus Who came to this earth as a little babe, leaving His Father God in Heaven, to live among us?  He gave his life to make a way for us to be His Friend and Brother. He was resurrected from the grave, and appeared to many on earth before returning to His Father in Heaven.
         Jesus is our Living Hope.  He opened the Gates of Heaven wide, and washes away our sin.
         “Jesus loves me! He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide;
      He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in.”
         Who would write such simple lyrics to a song that traverses our globe giving Hope and Joy?
         Anna Bartlett Warner, born August 31, 1827, and died January 22, 1915.  The family lived near the US Military Academy at West Point.  Anna and her sister Susan began writing poems and stories to supplement the family income when their lawyer father lost much of his fortune in the 1837 depression.
         Not only did Anna and Susan Warner write, they also taught the young soldiers from the West Point Academy Bible classes on Sunday. Sharing the love of Jesus became Anna’s passion in life. Both Anna and Susan Warner were honored for their influential teaching of Jesus and are buried on the grounds of the Academy. 
         One of the 1860’s best selling novels is Say and Seal, written by Anna Warner. In one chapter a young boy is near to death, and one of the characters in the book comforts the boy with the poem, “Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.”
     The boy passes away quietly after hearing these words. This poem was quoted often during the unrest of a divided United States during the Civil War on battlefields and in homes.  This simple story of the Gospel gave great peace to all who read or sing these words, continuing to this day.
         William Bradbury wrote a melody for this poem, and published it in 1854.  More than hundred years after this song was published, this song is known in many languages around the world.   
         Anna and Susan Warner made a choice to give what was most precious to them – God’s Word through writing and teaching.  In doing so, they made a difference in the lives of many, then and now.  The question is ours daily, how do we choose to live here on earth? What is most precious to us, and how can we share?  It’s the choices we make…
         The choices we make each day
     And the words we choose to say
     Affect more than me, I know
     When I live for more than me
     In his Love and Compassion, I’ll grow
     And His Amazing Grace, I will at last see!  (EAC)

         For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything He does.  He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.  Psalm 33:4-5.
         So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.  Isaiah 30:18.
         Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.  Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. John 14:23-24.
         But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him.  Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. I John 2:5-6.

         And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Ephesians 3:18-19.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Precious Lord, Take my Hand!

        We are born to a God-given Journey of Life.  This Journey becomes our story.  We are unaware our Journey has a purpose from God and becomes our Legacy for those who follow after.  Slowly we learn, through a lifetime, what is important, what is refreshing, and where to serve God and others on our way. 
         My husband, of over sixty-five years, and I listen to older gospel hymns and drink in the truths of God.  Even though Ed is unable to remember me as his wife, he remembers Jesus and the comfort of His Presence.  His Journey will come to an end when God beckons and takes him by the hand.  His legacy is a quiet faith, gentleness, and always serving in the background. 
         This man never played an instrument or sang to be heard, yet he encouraged his children in learning, playing, and singing songs. Now the strong pull of a hymn comforts and communicates God’s goodness to him in his dark confusing world of dementia.  Now he often mouths the words of the songs as he listens.
         As I listen beside him, one song captures my heart.  I remember learning this same hymn, never understanding the deep compassion and adoration of our Lord in the words sung.  After a week of visiting Ed, becoming a year older, watching and wondering what is next, I sing.  Precious Lord, Hold my hand, lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light. Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
         With a start, I realize this is my prayer, and I am filled with wonder.  I wonder who wrote these words in such a way he seemed to know my heart.  I began searching and read of one man’s journey and how his story became his legacy of hope in Jesus Christ to many generations.
         Thomas A Dorsey was born in Georgia in 1899. His father was a preacher.  When Thomas was twelve years old, he left school and became a professional pianist, drawn by jazz and blues music.  In the early 1920’s, he moved to Chicago to study composition and arranging.  He began to play in nightclubs, writing one thousand blues and jazz works…only 200 of these were gospel songs.  He brought blues and hymns together and is often called the Father of Gospel Music.
         In 1925 Dorsey married Nettie Harper.  A year later he experienced a nervous breakdown and was unable to work for two years.  Nettie took a job in a laundry.  Thomas was later spiritually healed in a church service.  He committed himself more fully to God and Christian music.  He wrote “If You See My Savior, Tell Him That You Saw Me.”  It continues – “Ah, and when you saw me, I was on my way.  When you reach that golden city, think about me, and don’t forget to tell the Savior what I said.”
         In 1932, Dorsey became the choir director of Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, and continued for forty years.  He saw how the Great Depression wore down the spirits of the American people.  He viewed songwriting as his ministry and a way to give these people hope.
         In August of 1932, Dorsey planned to travel to St. Louis to sing solos at a large revival meeting.  His wife, Nettie, was pregnant with their first child and he didn’t to leave her in her ninth month.  He kissed her goodbye, and left to sing.  The second night of the revival meeting, after he sat down, he was given an envelope with a message.  It contained four words…”Your wife just died!”
         Dorsey remembered that evening as a surreal moment.  “People were singing and clapping happily, and I wanted to cry out in pain and grief.”  He hurried back to Chicago, and found Nettie had given birth to a baby boy.  Joy in seeing his son, turned to a double-grief when his son died that same night.  Dorsey buried them in the same casket.  After the painful funeral service, he withdrew from music, his family and his friends.  “I felt God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well,” he said.
         In the middle of his despair, a friend visited Dorsey and brought him to a music room with a piano. Dorsey remembered, “It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.  His fingers began to browse the familiar keys. He said, “I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard of played before, and the words, Precious Lord, Hold my Hand, came into my head – they just seemed to fall into place.”
         The second verse describes growing weary during a journey near the end of life or a difficult trial.  The pull of ‘going home’ becomes strong and our words call out to our Lord with Dorsey…Hear my cry, hear my call, Hold my hand lest I fall. Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me Home.
         The third verse begins – When the darkness appears…..Guide my feet, hold my hand. Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.
         Where is home?  Where is comfort? How can we find the assurance Thomas Dorsey found when he wrote such a song under immense grief? 
         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.  How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.  Psalm 36:5-7
         Thomas Dorsey’s journey in this life ended in 1993 in Chicago.  His legacy continues wherever people sing the songs God gave his Child, Thomas Dorsey. 

Link to the  Concordia Chamber Choir, directed by Thomas Dorsey, singing Precious Lord –

 C. Michael Hawn has written the background to many hymns, including Precious Lord.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Count Your Blessings!

What is our first thought as we open our eyes in the morning?  Is it the first cup of coffee, the job, the kids, or a never-ending list of ‘to-do’s”?  Or perhaps pain, the dread of coming separation from loved ones or an impending change in life?  The author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp says, ”The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is!”
         In a new town, my Mother’s life changed significantly with no close friends and days to fill with activities.  She confided in me one day, “When I wake up in the morning, I ask God what He has for me to do today!” Mother continued to teach me until her death at ninety-one years old.  Her vibrant faith was her strength then and mine now.
         After a Bible Study in our home church, (Rogers Christian Church), our Pastor Jack asked for prayer requests.  They poured forth for fifteen minutes like a waterfall.  Pastor Jack asked, as the flow slackened, and how about praises? An awkward silence ensued until one lady spoke almost apologetically, “My honeysuckle bush is beautiful and its scent is glorious in the early morning while I pray.” 
         A praise is an everyday happening, God-given, blessings we may have not noticed. He gives us blessings every day. Are we aware? Poets wax enthusiastically about the sunsets and the sunrises. Honeysuckle bushes, too.
            It's a Honeysuckle Day when....
         ...The sun shines and breezes rise
         ...The clouds play peek-a-boo in the skies
         ...I give God all the praise
         ...For each gift in all my days.

         It's a Honeysuckle Day when...
         ...My family is all around
         ...And God's joy abounds.
         ...I sit as quiet as can be
         ...And all His glory I see.

         …It's living for Jesus
         …Serving Him, with Him I stay
         …Though darkness clouds my way
         …I give praise for my Honeysuckle Days. (EAC – Thank you, Phyllis Bishop)
         It’s not the miracle-praises, but the everyday day things such as the chorus of the birds in the morning, the warmth and the cold that enhance the season, the food we eat, the shelter we enjoy as we lay our heads down in slumber.  Laughter with loved ones, the feeling of belonging, and the sweetness of being able to talk to God all day and into the night.  Unexpected interruptions turn into blessings.  The sweetest joy I know is seeing a friend or loved one grow in the grace and joy of the Lord with a changed heart and a zest for Jesus. And I count my blessings!
         As I read about Johnson Oatman, Jr, born April 21, 1856, near Medford New Jersey, I ‘find’ a boy eager to be like his father.  His father possessed a booming singing voice and preached eloquently. When Johnson, Jr. was still young he often stood on the pew to see his father’s hymnbook when the congregation stood to sing. Johnson, Jr. had a love for church music, and studied for the ministry and was ordained to preach.  He wanted to preach, and he continued to seek God’s will for his life through prayer.  When he was thirty-six years old, he realized he could not sing like his father, nor preach.  This is when he picked up a pen to write his first lyrics of praise to God.  In five years he wrote an average of two hundred hymn lyrics a year – resulting in over five thousand hymns.
         Some of the hymns he wrote are, No, Not One, Higher Ground, He Included Me, I know He’s Mine, Lift Him Up, My Home is on the Rock, The Last Mile of the Way, Alone with God, and in 1897 – Count Your Blessings.  The composer of the music for Count Your Blessings is Edwin Othello Excell, born in 1851.  His father was also an excellent singer and preacher. 
         What is Johnson Oatman’s legacy?  Did he become great singer and a preacher during his lifetime?  No. One writer wrote about the hymn, Count Your Blessings - “It is like a beam of sunlight that has brightened up the dark places of the earth.” Another suggested that Johnson Oatman reached more through his sermon-hymns than he could have through singing and preaching the Word during his lifetime.  His daughter, Miriam, wrote music for some of her Dad’s hymns.  Johnson’s great grandson is also a writer.  God truly answered Johnson’s prayer seeking the will of God for his life.   
         When we are young, our mothers often nudged us after we receive a gift with, “What do you say?”  This is our blessing – to Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  I Thessalonians 5:18.
         Counting our blessings from God with thankfulness, not complaints or angry words. Giving our hearts wholly to our Lord Jesus is our way to a flood of blessings and joy in this life and we have the assurance of His everlasting love in the next.
         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. 
         But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.  I Peter 2:9
         All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Ephesians 1:3

         The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!  Psalm 29:10-11