The God Who Sees Me – Part 1

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In the book of Genesis we are told of the story of Hagar, the maid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  When Sarah was not able to conceive, she gave her maid to Abraham in hopes that she would be able to bear a son who would then be considered Abraham and Sarah’s legal offspring.  This was often the custom in the ancient world – their version of our surrogate mother today.

After Hagar conceived it appears there was conflict between the two women.  No doubt Sarah felt jealous and perhaps afraid that Abraham would begin to love Hagar more for giving him a son.  The Bible indicates that Hagar may have also become a little arrogant because she had been able to do for her master while his wife had not been able to do.

In any event when Sarah began to treat Hagar harshly, Hagar fled into the desert. There, huddled by a stream of water, no doubt feeling all alone and wondering what would become of her and the child she carried, Hagar was visited by the Angel of the Lord.  From the promises the visitor made to Hagar and from her response, it is clear that this was none other than God Himself.

God instructed Hagar to return to Sarah and Abraham and submit to them.  He assured her that she was going to have a son and that this son’s descendants would be too numerous to count.  She was instructed by God to name her son Ishmael which means “God that hears.”  Hagar clearly realized who her visitor was and she called Him El-Roi, “the God who sees me.”

I have often read this story, even taught it in Sunday School, but recently as I read it, the name of God seemed to jump out to me off the pages of my Bible.

The God Who Sees Me

In the midst of her fear and suffering Hagar recognized that God saw her.  I began to think of times in my life when I experienced that same sense.  Times of my own fear or suffering when God ministered to me in a clear way that let me know He saw me.  He knew my distress and He gave me assurance that He was with me and would help me in this time of difficulty.

I sat down and began to make a list of those times when God let me know without any doubt that He saw me and He was there.

Does Jesus Care?

The first moment for me was when I was 14 years old.  My father had recently walked out on my mother and me, leaving to live with another woman.  My heart was broken as my father had been the one I looked up to and wanted to be like.  Unable to cope with her husband’s desertion, my mother became the child and I became the adult.  Instead of her trying to comfort me, I was called on to give her comfort.  Over and over she would repeat to me stories of the early days of their marriage long before I was born and would tell me terrible things about my father.  Things I did not want and should not have had to hear.

One day feeling so alone I sat down at the piano and began to play a song we sometimes sang at church.  As I played that song, it was a cry from my heart to God.  The words of the song spoke exactly what I felt.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it ought to Him? Does He see?

After crying out to God through these words, I began to sing the chorus.  I was not sure if the words of that chorus were true,  Did God really see me?  A young girl living in a run-down small house in a tiny town.  What was I compared to the rest of the world?  Did He care?  As the tears ran down my face, I sang these words.

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

What I am about to say I know some will not believe or will say it was just the fancy of a young girl.  But to me it was so real, I will never doubt it.  As I sang the words of that chorus I felt a strong presence beside me.  Such a sense of peace came over me and I knew that the God who saw Hagar had seen me.  Afraid to turn and look for fear I would really see Him standing there and feeling how unworthy I was, I never turned.  But to this day, I know this was a moment when the Creator of the universe showed up to tell a young girl that He cared.

I have had other times of distress and problems but I have never doubted that God cares about me and that He sees me.

Have you had moments in your life when God “showed up” and let you know He was there?  If so, I would love to hear about them.

 

A Father I Can Count On

Father’s Day.  It is always a bittersweet time for me.  Growing up I looked up to my father and wanted to be just like him.  Then, as a teenager my father left our family and after that my relationship with him was very chaotic.  When Father’s Day comes and so many speak of their great fathers, I find myself wanting to feel the same.  My emotions run the gamut from fond memories to times I never want to remember.  I shared these feelings in a post some time ago.  Thank you Dad!

So, another year, another Father’s Day.  In a recent conversation with my pastor, he mentioned a verse in Psalms that he was going to use in his message.  That brought back memories again – but they were memories of my heavenly Father and how He has been such a comfort to me through all these years.  The verse is from Psalm 27 and it says

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

I am so thankful that early on I found God to be not only the Creator, the awesome God, but also a loving father.  How He comforted me when I cried myself to sleep at night missing my Dad, then actually scared of my Dad, then with great pity for my Dad.

I am thankful that my heavenly Father has been one I can count on.  Over the years when trouble came my way, He has been there.  His Word has strengthened me and given me hope.

So today for all who have fathers you can count on, make sure you let  them know how much you appreciate them.  For those whose great fathers are no longer with you, cling to those memories you have.  And for those who fathers were not there for them, I invite you to reach out to the Father you can always count on.  God loves you!

 

Little Country Church

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Little church in the country

Growing up my earliest memories of church took place at Zion Methodist Church.  This country church is just east of the town of Mt. Vernon, Illinois where I was born many, many years ago.  My mother and father made a commitment to serve the Lord in this little church when I was just a few months old.  Although I was obviously too young to remember anything about this event, I heard my father tell the story so many times I feel as if I do remember it.

The Story Goes

My parents were not followers of Christ and enjoyed going to the movies on Sunday nights.  My oldest sister, who was nine years old, started attending church with my aunt and uncle.  Although only a young girl she understood the simple salvation message the minister preached and made a commitment to God.  After that she began begging my parents to attend church with her.  One evening to just shut her up they agreed to pass up the movies and go to church with her.

Adam, where art thou?

My father sat through the worship, but about halfway through the sermon, his cigarette habit called to him.  At least that was the reason he was giving for leaving in the middle of the service.  Later he admitted he was feeling God speaking to his heart and he knew if he did not get out of the building, he would have to surrender his life to God.

He got up and started to the center aisle when the minister reached the point in his message where he said,

And God said, Adam, where art thou?

My father often spoke of this moment with great feeling.  He said his ears heard “Adam where art thou?” but his heart heard “Hal, where art thou?”

Decision time

At that moment he knew he had to make a decision.  Would he turn to his right and walk out of the church and silence the voice of God speaking to his heart?  Would he turn to his left and walk down to the altar and surrender his heart and life to Jesus Christ?

I am so thankful he made that turn to his left and said yes to the call of God.  I spent the first six years of my life every Sunday morning at the church.  My Sunday School teacher was the same one my father had when he was a young boy and attended that church with his mother.

fanspotbelly stove

The church was heated by a pot belly stove in the center aisle.  In the summer there was no air conditioning, but we used paper fans.  Most of the fans had advertising from a local funeral home.

Because I was very young, I would often fall asleep in the Sunday evening services.  One evening my family started home, my folks in the front seat and my siblings in the back.  About half way home they realized I was not in the car.  My parents had thought I was sitting on my older sister’s lap in the back seat as I often did that.  My siblings thought I was layig down on my mother’s lap in the front.  They quickly turned around and headed back to the church.  Thankfully I was still asleep in one of the pews.  I cannot imagine how frightened I would have been if I had awoke and found myself alone in the darkened church.

Such are my memories of this little country church.  On a recent trip down memory lane I asked my husband to take me to the church and let me get a picture.  Standing in front of the church – all the memories that came flooding my heart and mind.  My parents are now gone, my aunt and uncle also.  But I will always treasure that little church where I first heard the words:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

 

Between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – Sad, Somber Saturday!

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First, the cross

We talk a lot about the cross and how terrible the death of Jesus was.  The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus and the rest of the disciples fleeing from the garden where he was arrested are familiar to us.  It is good that we take time to reflect on the agony, the pain, the shame that Jesus suffered for us on that Friday.

The Resurrection

Then we jump to Sunday morning and the wonderful fact of the resurrection!  The surprise, the doubt, the joy as they realized that Jesus was alive.  Again, it is good that we celebrate this tremendous event, this foundation stone of our faith.

But, what was that Saturday like?

Have you ever wondered what that Saturday was like for the followers of Jesus as they hid behind locked doors?  After the shock, the horror of his death, can you imagine the range of emotions they felt on Saturday?  Sad, somber Saturday!

Of course, there was the sorrow they experienced at the loss of their friend.  I cannot really begin to understand the pain his mother must have felt as she reflected on the suffering he had experienced.  Perhaps she could not even sleep, or fell asleep only to wake up from a nightmare seeing him once again being viciously beaten.

There must have been great confusion.  Questions as they remembered all the miracles he performed, all the parables he had told.  Wondering how he could have come to this end.  Had he not made tremendous promises?  Had he not proclaimed that he was the only way to God?  Had he not even raised a dead man after four days in the tomb?

There must have been great disappointment.  What were they to do now?  They had left their homes, their employment to follow him.  They had been so excited about the kingdom he would set up, even arguing over who would sit on his left and his right hand in that kingdom.

There must have been great fear.  Would the Romans come after them now?  How could they get out of Jerusalem and back to their villages and their old life safely?

Had they really heard Him?

We have the advantage of looking back on history, on knowing how the story turned out.  So it is easy for us to say, “Did they not really hear him?”  After all he had told them that he would be killed and would rise again on the third day.  Did any of them think about that and wonder if it could be true?

We have our Saturdays too

But before we berate them for not really hearing Jesus, not really understanding, not really believing what he said about his death and coming back to life, are we any different today?

When our Fridays of suffering and difficulty come and we face a sad, somber Saturday dealing with the problems we face, do we forget his promises?  He said he would never leave us.  He said we would have tribulation in this world, but to be of good cheer because in him we could overcome.  He said he gave us his peace, not the peace of the world, but that peace that comes from knowing who is in control.

Today, before I rejoice at the resurrection, I ask God to help me in my times of sorrow, confusion, disappointment and fear.  I ask him to remind me that Fridays come and we have sad, somber Saturdays dealing with the problems of Friday, but for the child of God, Sunday is always on the way!

 

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

I recently wrote an article about how we treat worship like we do a movie or a theatre performance instead of what it should be – honoring the Lord.  https://barblaneblog.com/2017/04/04/worship-whats-your-style/

While working on our church newsletter I found this cartoon and just had to share it.  Hope it brings a laugh – and maybe a more serious thought about how you approach worship.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-05-20 20:58:59Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

Worship – What’s Your Style?

We talk a lot about worship.  We write/read books on the subject.  We talk about the “style” of worship we like. There is contemporary worship, traditional worship, liturgical worship.  In some churches the argument over what songs we sing, what instruments we use and whether or not we have a praise team or a choir has actually split churches.  At many larger churches we see signs that advertise a certain style of worship will be used at one service and another style at a second service.  Seems to me that we treat worship like we do other music.  Some love country songs, some classical music and other rock and roll.

Traditional vs Contemporary – Us vs Them

So we appear to insist there are two kinds of worshipers.  There is the “old crowd” who love their hymns and want something “traditional.”  There is the “younger crowd” who want contemporary songs only with drums, keyboards and guitars or, if they do an old hymn need to change it to a more contemporary style.

But is that really what worship is?  Should my own musical likes or dislikes determine how I worship?

Tradition

To those who long for the “good old days” when we had organ and piano instruments and “traditional” hymns, I have to ask:  “Do you think worship only started when those old hymns were written?” The singing of hymns was not officially approved in the Church of England until 1820.  Yet, without those old hymns the early church clearly worshiped.  Paul wrote to the church at Ephesians

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Matthew’s Gospel tells us after the Last Supper before Jesus went to the garden to pray He and His disciples sang a hymn.

Traditional means:  the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs,information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice:

If you want traditional music, how far back do we go for that?  Just to the hymns of the 1800’s and England?  Maybe we should go back to the Middle Ages and the Georgian chants?  Most Biblical scholars believe the early church probably sang the Psalms?  So if we want to have traditional music perhaps we should only sing the Psalms.

Contemporary

Contemporary means:  what is happening right now, marked by characteristics of the present period.

So contemporary worship will be worship that is suitable and meaningful for the current population.  It is not for those who lived hundreds of years ago.  Therefore, we have to recognize that the “method” of worship will always be changing.

From Psalms to Gregorian chants to Charles Wesley’s hymns to Chris Tomlin’s praise songs.

The Old Becomes New Again

For those “old folks” who long for the old hymns, just hang around a little longer.  I found interesting studies as I did some research on the history of worship that many millennials are leaving churches with contemporary worship and returning to the liturgical churches with their organs and old hymns.

Is Worship Just About the Style of Music?

When we have made our focus on worship about the style of music, we have lost the real meaning of worship.   Our worship should not be dictated by the style of music we like or dislike.  Our worship should be dictated by what we believe. Our worship should be directed toward God, not ourself.  In John 4:23-24 Jesus told the Samaritan woman

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

So our emphasis is not about the style of music, rather we have a praise team or a choir or a single worship leader.  It is not about the “outward form” of worship.  It is about the “inward form” – our heart.  God is seeking worshipers who will worship him truly from their hearts.  God could care less if we have the latest sound system and the best worship teams if we do not come to worship Him from our hearts. God wants our hearts!

 

 

 

 

Who Do You Turn To?

It’s 8:30 at night – I’m sitting in my recliner – in my pajamas – and I’m crying!

The tears are partly a result of the tension of the past few days.  For over a month I have been planning a women’s retreat for my church.  With the guest speaker, who is my youngest daughter, I have brainstormed picking a theme, planning the lessons, the decorations, the music.  I so wanted it to be a success.  But as the weeks went by I had to ask myself – why do I want it to be a success and what needs to happen for me to consider it a success?

I have questioned my motives.  Do I just want to impress everyone with how smart I am?  Do I just want everyone to see what a great speaker my daughter is?  Do I want the women of my church to be encouraged and help them better understand God’s Word?  Do I want to see spiritual growth among my “sisters?”

Will it be a success if we have a large number show up?  Will it be a success if everyone has a good time?  Will it be a success if someone really is encouraged, really does develop a greater desire to know God, have a better appreciation for God’s Word?

So I have prayed that my motives would truly be pleasing in God’s sight and that there would be nothing in my efforts that would desire anything other than that God would be glorified and lifted up.  I have prayed that there will be a good response, that the women will show up, will enjoy, but most of all will draw closer to God as a result of the weekend.

Then, there was the worry of getting it all to come together.  Finding the right decorations to set the scene (but at a cheap price as I promised the church board it would not cost the church anything so the expenses are on me).  Getting volunteers to bring food for our Friday night snack and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.  Will I have enough food?  Finding volunteers for the skit I want to do on Friday and for worship on Saturday.  Praying for my daughter as she prepares the lessons I have asked her to do.

In the middle of all this I start having terrible pain in one of my teeth.  I had it filled last year but the dentist told me the tooth was really bad and he was not sure the filling would hold. A call to the dentist and off I got to get it pulled.

I’m feeling great!

Everything is coming together!

I have my tooth pulled on Wednesday.  Dentist tells me I can expect pain, bruising and swelling.  But here it is Friday.  I have had no pain, there is no sign of swelling or bruising.  My husband says it’s a God thing.

I truly believe my heart and my motives are right – that my desire is only for God’s glory.  I find most of the decorations at the Dollar Store – budget saved.  Tables are decorated and the room looks great.  My daughter sends me her notes for the handouts and they look perfect.  Volunteers have all responded and the skit, the worship, the food – it is all on track to be a great event.

Oh no!

Friday morning I start cutting up veggies for the Saturday lunch.  Suddenly my carefully laid plans all seem to come apart.

My husband comes up from the family room in the basement and he looks white as a sheet.  He tells me he almost passed out and off we go to the doctor’s office.  After examining him and talking to his heart doctor, we are off to the emergency room for further evaluation.  He had a heart attack in 2009 and has had 4 stents put in since then so the fear of another heart issue makes me very nervous.

Now I’m getting up tight.  Clearly I need to be here with my husband, but what about all the things I still need to do to be ready for tonight?  Is he going to be okay?  Is he having a heart attack?

While waiting for the doctor to evaluate the EKG and the blood work I pick up my cell phone to start calling our kids to let them know their dad is in the ER.  Before I can dial out, my phone rings and it’s our son.  When I answer he tells me that he has just had a call from his wife and he is rushing to the ER in their town.  Their daughter has been in a bad car wreck.  He doesn’t know more than that but wants me and his Dad to be in prayer.

Now I’m really stressed!

I try to hold back the tears as I think – “What do I do?”  I have to tell my husband, but is that going to add to his stress and cause a heart attack?  After sharing the news with him, we hold hands, crying and calling out to God for our granddaughter.

I watch the clock waiting for the doctor’s evaluation pulled between needing to be with my husband and needing to get back home and finish final preparations for the night session at the retreat.  Of course, my husband keeps telling me I need to go on and get ready for the evening and I keep telling him no way I’m leaving him until we find out what is going on with his heart.

And we keep waiting for our son to call with more information on our granddaughter.  How badly is she hurt?  Is she going to be okay?

He’s going to be okay

The doctor finally comes in and tells us that he is not having a heart attack but they do want to keep him overnight for observation and possibly do some tests in the morning.  When I am assured that he is in no immediate danger, I finally leave, hurrying now to get cleaned up myself and get to the church to finish final preparations.

We finally hear from our son.  Our granddaughter was hit in the passenger side by a young man drunk and high on drugs.  He hit her at such a high rate of speed it flipped her car over twice, crushed in the front and they had to pull her out through the windshield.  But, miraculously she has no broken bones, no life-threatening injuries, but is terribly bruised and some cuts on her arms from being pulled through the broken windshield.

While working with my daughter to put the finishing touches on everything at the church, we get a text from my son.  He has sent us pictures of my granddaughter’s car.  When we see the pictures my daughter and I both began to cry and to spontaneously praise God.  From the pictures of the car we realize we have seen a miracle.  There is no way anyone should have walked out from the car alive.  The whole front and right side is smashed in, the windshield completely broken out.  We get pictures of my granddaughter’s neck and front of her chest.  She looks like someone who has been severely beaten.  Clearly she has subsisted some terrible bruising and will be in pain for some time.  But no broken bones, no concussion.

As we praise God, I feel the tension drain from my body for a moment.  Then my husband calls.  They are going to do an angiogram tomorrow morning.  Doctor thinks they may be more blockage.  I start to get uptight again, but I’m reminded in my spirit that the same God who protected my granddaughter is the same God who will be with my husband in the morning.

Long day at hospital

But now, of course, I cannot be at the retreat on Saturday.  I know between my daughter who is speaking and the women who will be leading worship I don’t have to be there.  But I’m disappointed.  I have enjoyed watching the women in our Friday session and seeing their hearts being opened to God’s Word – just as I had prayed – and I really want to be there Saturday to share with them.

But I know there is no question about where I belong.  I love my husband – my best friend – and I not only need to be with him, I want to be with him.

The procedure is done and they have to put in another stent (his fifth).  The doctor shows me an area where there is a 50% blockage but says he will not touch it until it becomes blocked enough to be life threatening.  Because of its location it will require open heart surgery.  This makes me nervous.  How will he know it has become life threatening until it is life threatening?  On top of that they had trouble getting the bleeding to stop and have had to put a pressure cuff on his groin which is pushing down and is very painful.  While normally a person has to lay on still on their back for two to three hours, he lies all day – over six hours – not being able to move from his back and having this pressure cuff pushing down on his groin.  A rough day for both of us.  Since he cannot sit up, I help him try to get some food down.

The day is over!

Granddaughter is very sore – will be out of commission for a few days – but she is alive, she is going to be fine.

My husband is out of immediate danger.  He has to stay overnight in the hospital just to make sure he does not move too much and the bleeding stays stopped.  But, all is well with him.  I can bring him home tomorrow.

The retreat appears to have been well received by everyone.

Who Do I Turn To?

So, I need to be rid of all this tension.  What do I do?  Guess I could pick up a glass of wine.  I could put on a favorite movie.  I could take a hot shower, a sleeping aid and go to bed.

But I turn to the one I have always turned to.  My Savior, my Lord, but also my friend.  I put on a CD by Selah, lean back and think of all the times in my life – when my father walked out on the family, when my first husband was accidentally killed and my daughters came home and found him dead, when I was diagnosed with cancer and told I did not have a very good chance of making it – and so many other times when crisis came and how Jesus has always been there.  Giving me wisdom, peace, comfort.

And as I meditate on His goodness, His love to me, the tension drains from my body and my tears become more than just tears of release.  They become tears of love and gratitude.

I turn to Jesus.  Who Do you turn to?

When I’m far away from home
And the cold wind starts to blow
When I’m empty and alone
I turn to You

When there’s hardness in my heart
And I can’t see the truth
And I’m wondering in the dark
I turn to You

And here in Your holy presence
It’s all that I can do

For the faith to move ahead
And to let go of the past
And to see me as You do
I turn to You.

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do
I turn to You

You alone are worthy
The one and only God
The Ruler of the nations
And Father of my heart

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do, Jesus
I turn to You

Selah