66 Years of Grace

Listening to music this morning, this song brought tears – tears of joy – to my eyes.  It has been 66 years since I started this race with Jesus Christ.  There have been mountain tops of great joy, great excitement (to mention only a few – marriage, birth of children and grandchildren) and valleys of sorrow and pain (to mention only a few – death of first husband, oldest son and grandchildren, cancer).  But one thing has remained true through it all – He has proved to be that “friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

Thank God for His grace.  This song says it all!

I was just six years old.  Too young many would say to know what I was really doing.  But I knew.

Growing up in a family that attended church every Sunday and where my parents practiced what they preached on Monday through Saturday also, I understood that Jesus loved everyone – even “sinners.”

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I wasn’t totally sure what all being a sinner included, but I knew I was not one.

Until one evening at church, I recognized I was.

I was coloring during the sermon on a Sunday night when I heard the speaker say

We put sins into a “big” and a “small” category.  But sin is sin regardless of how big or how small it seems.

 

He then mentioned what we call “small” sin – like lying or disobeying our parents.  Now he had my attention.  Just that week I had disobeyed my mother – and then lied to keep from getting in trouble.

I was a sinner!

Now many may laugh at this or even say how terrible to make a six-year-old feel she was a sinner.

But for me, it was one of the most important times in my life.  Because I knew that Jesus loved sinners – and that He loved me.  I also knew what I needed to do.

So – I went back to coloring and waited until the end of the sermon.  When the message was over, I put my colors and my coloring book aside and walked to the front of the church where I asked Jesus not only to forgive me, but I also committed my life to His service.

Yes, I was only six, but yes I knew what I was doing.

Shortly after that I was baptized as an outward sign of what had taken place in my life.  Our church did not have a baptismal so we went to a farm pond where I, with several others, was baptized.

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Since I am scared of water and do not even like having water in my face in the shower, it was a BIG step of faith to walk out into that pond.

But what a wonderful experience it was.

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Just turning 72 this year, I have been following Jesus for 66 years.

It has been a great walk with a great friend!!!

 

Even a Sparrow Matters

It’s Friday and time for a post about another old gospel song.

I have shared several now and hope you have enjoyed them.

This week’s song is one of my husband’s favorites.  He has often performed this song in church services and at “gospel sings.”

The song starts with a question:

Why should I feel discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?  

The song quickly gives the answer:

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

This thought is based on the scripture in Matthew 10:29-30

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows.”

While this song was made famous by two different African-American singers,  Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson, it was written by a Canadian lady living in Elmira, New York.

In her own words:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We developed a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair.  Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day, while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The song ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

Ethel Waters was born to a teenager who had been raped.  Although she was raised by her grandmother, she took the last name of her father.  She demonstrated her musical talents while very young, singing at the age of five at church.  On her 15th birthday she won an amateur night and began performing in vaudeville in 1917.

In 1953 she sang this song in the movie “Member of the Wedding” and brought the song to the attention of the world.  She loved the song “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and in her later years she often sang it for the Billy Graham crusades.

Mahalia Jackson made the song even more popular when she sang it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.  The song became associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said Mahalia did not just sing the song, it was her life story.

Mahalia spoke of the song and its meaning to her:

“When our savior came, now he didn’t come down here just to tell people to believe on him, he healed the sick and he healed the blind, he raised the dead. He did things for people. So salvation and the Word of God can do things for you. It can open doors for you. And I know it can, Studs. Look what it done for me. And my people have–we’re coming along, but my God, we’ve come along so slow till we chokin’.”

For my husband and I, the song has always been a comfort.  No matter what the circumstances of life, we can sing and find joy in the knowledge that God truly loves us and is aware of all we face each day.

 

My “Rights” as an American vs. My Call to be A Follower of Christ

The last few weeks I have missed a lot of Sunday morning services at my church due to some health issues.  Since I hate to have a Sunday without hearing a good sermon I have watched quite a lot of ministers on TV.

Let me start by saying this post is not meant to be a bashing of TV ministers.  I have heard several excellent sermons based on the Bible that were challenging and encouraging.

However, there did seem to be a theme running through many of the ministries on the TV which I found not biblical and disturbing.

One recurrent theme seems to be that becoming a Christian means a life of material blessings and nothing but victories in every area of your life.

One service I watched on video had a pastor praying over the offering.  I could not believe his words.

Basically he told God because the congregation were tithe payers, they were claiming:

promotions at work, increased interest on savings, great real estate deals, new sources of income.

I could not help but think:  really, this is why Jesus died on the cross?

Granted, I believe Jesus has promised to bless those who follow Him and give to others.  In my own life I have seen God provide for me and my family many times when we were in real need.

But I think Christians in America have come to think of material blessings as the main part of the gospel.  Our country has been blessed with many freedoms and for many years Christian believers have been in the majority.  We have experienced little persecution.  On the contrary, until recently, our laws protected and even encouraged the Christian faith.  Instead of recognizing how blessed we have been to be born in this country I am afraid we have come to think material blessings, freedom to worship as we please and laws that protect our way of life are all the “rights” of being a Christian.

Sadly, that is not what Christians in other countries have found to be true.  And that is not what I believe the Bible teaches.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am so grateful for being an American.  My husband, our youngest daughter and I all spend time in another country teaching in a Bible college.  As our plane touched down in Hawaii, I wanted to kiss the ground and thank God for being an American.

But these blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with all that entails is not what Jesus died for.

Jesus came to set up a kingdom but He made it clear it would not be a worldly kingdom with our own leaders.  Rather He would be the one in charge.  In His kingdom things would be much different than what we experience here in the USA.

His gave us an idea of what His kingdom would look like in His discourse we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”  The things He said would make us “blessed” or “happy” were opposite of what we as Americans have come to think are our “rights.”  

As we find our nation becoming more and more post-Christian – even anti-Christian – we are beginning to experience what the first Christians knew, what a large majority of Christians around the world know.

Jesus did not promise us “rights.”  Rather, he called us to a high standard of love and commitment.

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? …

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”

The early Christians did not demand their “rights.”  They were focused on sharing the good news with all who would listen and willing to give up any right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not suggesting that we should not work to keep our government committed to the freedoms our fathers died for.  My own father won in the Pacific in World War II and my first husband (now deceased) was a Purple Heart recipient from the conflict in Vietnam.  I honor and respect them and others who have given so much for our freedom.

But I am suggesting that we keep our eyes on God and not forget that nations rise and fall, politicians come and go, but God remains forever and His kingdom calls for us to be Christians first, Americans second.

Let us not confuse “success” as the measure of what is right.

“In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”….Dietrich Bonhoeffer

No offense meant – but as a Christian I cannot proclaim “America first.”

I’m a follower of Christ first, then an American.

 

The Battle is Not Mine!

Life is good for me.  Retired with time to do what I want to do.  Good husband who is my best friend.  Children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren to love.

Still, like all of us, difficult times do come.

Right now I am facing health issues.  I see the doctor tomorrow to review MRI results and I do not know for sure but it appears surgery may be in my future.

The first thing that often happens when faced with difficult circumstances is to start worrying.  Stressing out – trying to figure what is the best thing to do.

Thankfully, God’s Word has always been a source of strength to me and today is no different.

Reading in 2 Chronicles 20 I was reminded of the story of King Jehoshaphat.

Messengers came to him with the news that a vast army of multiple nations was marching against Jerusalem, the capital city.  The scripture says that Jehoshaphat was “terrified” by the news.

But I love what he did.

First, he turned to God and asked for guidance.

Second, he called for the people to begin fasting and seeking God.

Last, he led the people assembled at the Temple in Jerusalem in this amazing prayer of faith.

“O LORD God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven….You are powerful and mighty….We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us.  We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.”

He then turned to the people and gave them this message.

“Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

What is really mind-blowing is his next action.

He appointed singers to march before the army that went out to battle.  They were to sing praises to God as they led the soldiers.

Can you imagine anything so silly?  Can you imagine our president appointing a choir to march into battle before our airplanes, drones and soldiers?

Yet as I have often discovered in my own life, praising God in the middle of problems has often given me victory over my fear, over my despair.

I share that story in this post:  The Day I Let My Pain Go!

So as I head into tomorrow and my doctor’s appointment I go realizing I do not know what to do.  All I have to do is look back at my battle with cancer and remember that God is with me no matter what.  Ultimately, the battle is His.  As He was with me then, He is with me now.

My story of His presence in the middle of radiation is shared here:  Coincidence or An Act of God?

My prayer today is:

God, I don’t know if this only means physical therapy or if I am facing surgery with weeks/months of recovery.  I don’t know if the pain will soon be gone, get better, get worse or last for weeks/months.  But this I do know, as You have always been with me, You are with me in this.  The battle is yours.  I give it to You.  All I ask is that You help me to keep my eyes on You.

 

 

 

 

 

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

The last two weeks I have shared stories of old hymns and gospel songs of the past.

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

Today I share the song that I call “my” hymn.

When my husband and I made our wedding plans over 35 years ago, we wrote our own vows and selected the songs for our ceremony.

Looking at the different hymns the words of one seemed to leap off the pages and directly into my heart.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

The previous few years had been tough.  My husband had died in an accident and I had struggled trying to be both mother and father to my two girls.  Struggling to make financial ends met without my husband’s salary.  Struggling to handle the lonely nights I spent after putting my daughters to bed with no one to talk to, no one to share concerns, no one to laugh with.

On this day as I rejoiced that I had been able to find love again and someone to share life with, I found the words of this hymn so appropriate.  Although the years had been difficult, God had provided all I needed.  Somehow – sometimes in amazing ways – my financial worries had been met.  In the lonely nights God had given me peace.  Now He had brought a great man into my life, not only to be a husband to me, but a father to my daughters.

We had this beautiful hymn sung just before we took our vows.  Over the years of our marriage, we have found the message of this song continues to be true.  We have experienced sorrow – death of three grandchildren and our oldest son.  We have dealt with painful moments – my husband’s heart attack and my battle with cancer.  But in all these circumstances God has given us strength and peace.

Written by Thomas Obediah Chisholm in 1923, the author based his song on scripture found in the book of Lamentations.  Those words said:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words during a time of great disaster for the nation of Judah.   The nation had been invaded by the great Babylonian empire.  There was great pain, suffering and destruction.  Jeremiah wrote this great statement of faith that God is faithful and even in difficult times, He is with us.

Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. Becoming a Christian at age 27, he became a Methodist minister.  When ill health forced him to give up the ministry he became an insurance broker.

Although no longer an active minister, he retained his love of God and wrote hundreds of poems about his faith.  Although he was never successful in financial matters and suffered ill health, he also, like Jeremiah, found God’s grace was sufficient.

He said:  “God has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”

In 1954 George Beverly Shea introduced this hymn at evangelistic meetings held by Billy Graham in Britain.  The song immediately became popular and has been a staple of hymnbooks every since.

 

Seeing the World of Rabbi Jesus with New Eyes

Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “what in the world does that mean”?

Do you ever read something in the Bible and think “that doesn’t sound right?”

Do you ever read something in the Bible and wonder “how does that fit in today’s society?”

Well – I have done all of the above.

Recently I read a book that really help shed light on why I do not always “get it” when I read God’s Word.

The book is called Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus.  Written by Lois Tverberg, I highly recommend it if you want to gain a better understanding of what you read in the Bible.  After earning a Ph.D in biology and teaching in college she started learning Hebrew and Greek, studying in the land of Israel and searching for more knowledge of the first-century Jewish world in which Jesus lived, died and rose again.

What she discovered was that not only are we thousands of years from the time the Bible was written but an even greater obstacle to our understanding is we are from a different culture.

She listed a few of the differences in our culture which I found very interesting and eye-opening.  (The following is copied from her book.)

Our world:  Thin is beautiful                                    Biblical world:  Fat is blessing, wealth

Our world:  Youth is attractive                                 Biblical world:  Age is wisdom

Our world:  Does God exist?                                     Biblical world:  Whose god is greatness?

Our world:  Me – personal goals                              Biblical world:  We – family legacy

Our world:  Sunshine – happiness                          Biblical world:  Rain – utter joy

Our world:  Logic and reason                                 Biblical world:  Parable and prophecy

She pointed out that Bible translators have found that many cultures today have less difficulty understanding the Bible when it is translated into their language than we in the Western world do.

often the cultural issues we have with the Bible are not a problem for people elsewhere in the world.  They’ve struggled with the Christian message as they’ve heard it filtered through the perspective of Western missionaries, but when it’s explained in its original non-Western setting, it makes much more sense to them.”

Perhaps the problem is not the number of years between us and the writers of the Bible as it is the number of miles between our Western culture and the Middle East culture.

I found a lot of her points in the list above to be true when I spent some time in the Philippines.  Over and over people I met would say “you are fat.”  (I am actually fat now but at the time no one in the USA would have considered me overweight.)   Until I understood their culture I felt insulted and that they were the rudest people I had ever met.  Only after living there a few months did I understand they meant that as a compliment.  Clearly by not being very thin I obviously had plenty of money to buy food and was therefore a successful person.

Tverberg also explains how many Jewish words have so much depth and multiple meanings than our English words.  Recognizing that really helps when we read things that tell us to “fear” God or when we forgive we must “forget.”

After reading this book, I am ready to do more studying on the Hebrews meaning of words and delving more into the Mid-Eastern culture.

Interested in learning more too?  I highly recommend this book and follow her on FB at Our Rabbi Jesus (Lois Tverberg) where she breaks down the meaning of many Hebrew words to help us get a better understanding of exactly what the Bible means.

Check it out!