For All the Beauty All Around Me

Today is the third week I have not been able to make it to church.  Two weeks ago I was in too much pain to go.  Last week we were all snowed in and church was cancelled. Today I am suffering again from pain.

Feeling a little down – I miss my church family, I miss the corporate worship and most of all I miss hearing the sermons my pastor shares.  Although I am sure I am a little prejudiced because my pastor is my daughter, she is one of the best speakers I have ever heard and I always seem to find something to encourage me or challenge me when she speaks.

My husband and I did our own devotions.  As I thumbed through my Bible afterwards I came across this beautiful old song.  It reminded me that whether I am in church or at home,  whether I am in pain or not, whether my spirit soars or descends – there is so much beauty around me.

So I choose to remember all the goodness of the Lord and reflect on these words:

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.  For the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise, this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of the hour, of the day and of the night.  Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.  Friends on earth and friends above.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given.  Graces human and divine, flowers of earth and buds of heaven.
Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: JOHN RUTTER
For the Beauty of the Earth lyrics © WORD MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC INC (CHRISMON MUSIC DIVISION), OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS UK

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

A new songbook called Olney Hymns was published in 1779 and one of the songs in the book became perhaps the best loved and well known hymn that is today known by another name.

Guess what song it is!

This song was part of a section in the hymn book that contained songs based on passages of the Bible.  The passage that was listed with this song was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.

 “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God.”

The tune we use to sing this song was not the tune used then.  Today two of his stanzas are no longer used and there have been two added by two different writers.

Guess what song it is!

It is believed that this hymn was written to go along with the writer’s sermon which he preached for the New Year service January 1, 1773.  His sermon notes for that day fit with the scripture that was placed alongside the hymn in the Olney Humns book.

His sermon notes included this thought:

grace

Guess what song it is!

This verse which was part of the original hymn is not usually found in hymnbooks in the USA today.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When the movie Amazing Grace about the life of British abolitionist William Wilberforce was made, popular contemporary Christian musician Chris Tomlin was asked to write an additional verse.  He was reluctant to add to this well loved hymn but when researching he discovered that someone had already added a verse years ago.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing His praise
Than when we first begun.

I have sung this hymn for years not knowing that this verse was not part of the original hymn.

Guess what song it is!

Tomlin added a beautiful addition to the song.

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood, His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.

In his research, Tomlin found another verse that was part of the original hymn but had been left out for years in our USA hymnals.  He added it back into the song and like many others I thought this verse was one Tomlin had added.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Bet you have guessed what song it is!

Yes – somewhere along the way Faith’s Review and Expectations became Amazing Grace.  Writer John Newton had been the captain of a slave ship.  After receiving Jesus Christ as Savior he became an Anglican priest.  Although he was slow to take a stand against slavery he did become a strong voice speaking out about the evil of the slave trade.  His tract, ‘Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade‘, described the horrors of the slave trade and his own role in it.  He called it “a business at which my heart now shudders.” 

He encouraged William Wilberforce and others to fight against the slave trade.  As he began to lose his age and age some suggested he should retire but he told them, “I cannot stop.  What?  Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?”

The act to abolish the slave trade finally was passed in February 1807.  By that time Newton was nearly blind and nearing the end of his life.  It is said that he “rejoiced to hear the wondrous news.”

My Little Composer

Years ago my father sometimes held revivals in small churches in southern Illinois.  Many of the churches either had no piano player (this was before the era of drums and guitars in worship) or a very untalented player.  Since he felt music was important for sharing the gospel, he came up with a solution.

He would give his daughter piano lessons and she could go with him to play at these services.

I was excited to learn to play.  Unlike most piano students who start with music books like “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano,” my book was an old hymnbook.

 

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The first song I learned to play was an OLD hymn called “When I See the Blood.”  It was written in the key of “C” with no sharps or flats and a good place to start for a beginner where I could just play on the “white” keys.

After 10 months of lessons I was quite adept at playing all the songs in the hymnbook.  My teacher said I was the best student she had ever had and she wanted to teach me classical music.  I was so excited as I started this course of study.

Shortly after a few lessons in this new genre, my father felt learning classical music was money wasted.  He wanted someone to play in church.  Who needed to know how to play Bach or Beethoven?

Although I had no more lessons as a child, I continued to study on my own and took more lessons as an adult.

My music has been such a blessing to me – and I hope to others.

When I have experienced great “highs” and great “lows” in my life, music has been a release.  I can play lively show tunes or songs of praise in times of great joy.  When I have experienced times of distress or sorrow, music has also been a place of comfort.

Now I am enjoying one of the greatest joys of my musical experience.  My little granddaughter has a love for music and for the piano.  A few months ago I started giving her lessons.  Her parents say they never have to tell her practice – she loves to play and needs no prompting to play.

What is so sweet – last week she decided to become a composer.  She has a lot of stuffed animals she calls the wolf pack and she is writing a song for them.  “The Theme of the Wolf Pack.”  Not only is she writing the music – she also has words to go with the music.

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She is not quite ready to draw the lines and the actual notes so she has just written the letter of the note and has specified in some cases if it is the right or the left hand that plays the note.  She also has a repeat bar at the end so you can go back and play for the second verse she has yet to write.

It thrills this old grandma’s heart to be able to share this love of music and pass on a little of my own knowledge to the next generation.

Who knows?  Maybe some day she will write songs of worship for her generation to praise the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 

The Day I Let My Pain Go!

Thirty-eight years ago my beloved husband and father of my two daughters was killed in an accident.  Only those who have suffered the loss of a loved one know what sorrow I felt.

In that first moment when I realized I was a widow at 33 with two little girls to raise, the first thing I did was cry out to God.  Since a small girl I have based my life on my faith in Jesus Christ so it was only natural that my first thoughts were “God help me!”

Immediately a verse from the Bible came to my mind.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the days and weeks ahead God gave me the strength and courage I needed to make so many decisions.

Things I had never thought about:

  • What funeral home do I use?
  • Where do I bury him?
  • Will I have enough money for the expenses?
  • How will I provide for my girls on my one income?
  • How far will his life insurance go?
  • Since I have to keep working, who will watch my girls before/after school?
  • Do I continue to live where I am or move closer to family for support?
  • What do I do with all his clothes, his guns, his personal stuff?

But the biggest decision was “how do I get through a day without him?”

While everyone talked about how strong I was, only God knew how many times I fell to my knees and cried out for strength.  One of my friends had recently recorded this song, “Praise the Lord,” and when I felt I could not go on, I would play this song and as I began praising the Lord, peace would come once again.

 

But slowly, as the months, then the years went by the burden of my grief became almost more than I could bear.  While the love for my husband did not diminish, I confess I became very lonely.  The idea of all the years stretching ahead of me with no one to share them with me became almost overwhelming.

I began to entertain the thought of finding a new love.  Yet, I felt so terrible even thinking such a thing.

One Sunday in service the speaker sang an old song “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”  The lyrics expressed exactly how I felt.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.  I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.”

After the song was finished, the speaker invited anyone who was struggling with a burden to come to the altar for a joint prayer with the church.  While I definitely wanted prayer, I did not want to walk to the front of the church – too embarrassing.  As I sat in my seat debating what to do, a old friend of the family who was sitting in the very front of the church got up, walked back to me, held out his hand and invited me to walk to the front with him.  How could I say no when my heart was crying out for relief of this burden of grief?

At the altar I quietly asked God to please take this burden of grief from me.  I could not go on year after year like this.  It suddenly came to me that God could give me peace, but I had to be willing to let go of my grief.  Like a light bulb going off, I realized that I was holding tight to my sorrow because I felt that was all I had left of my husband.  To be willing to stop grieving, to be willing to laugh and love again, I had to “let it go.”

Praying to God to help me, I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders.

I felt the peace of God that passes understanding fill my heart.

Did I quit missing my husband?  Of course not.  Even today I cannot see a young man fishing without seeing my husband with his fishing pole slung over his shoulder.  I cannot see a police officer without seeing my husband in his uniform as a prison guard.

Did I quit loving my husband?  Of course not.  I treasure his memory and look forward to seeing him again some day in the next life.

But I was able to finally understand that constantly grieving, being filled with sorrow was not how he would have wanted me to live.  He would want his memory to bring a smile and he would want me to live and laugh again.

I let my pain go – and accepted the peace Jesus offered me.

Another song I now love to hear that says it so well:

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you were never left alone ‘Cause you can always count on Jesus’ name.  And if there’s one thing I pray it’s that Jesus helps you find a way to make a change and listen to your heart.  God will take away your pain if you choose to let it go, if there’s one thing I know.”

By this post I do not mean to sound like Pollyanna and to those who are suffering unbearable grief, I know it is not an easy thing.  But I do hope you will seek the peace of God and allow Him to help you.

 

The Party’s Over – What Now?

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Christmas 2019 is history.  My decorations are all back in the boxes and the boxes are all in the storage area in the basement where they will sit until next December.  Here and there I see a few houses with Christmas lights still up but most of my neighbors have removed all the reindeer, snowmen and nativity sets from their yards.

Gifts have been given.  Some were, no doubt, a big hit.  Others may have been a disappointment.  Store clerks have been busy at the return counters.

Children are counting down the days until they have to return to school while many are heading back to work after a few vacation days.

Here and there I hear comments about the letdown after Christmas.  It is understandable that after all the shopping, decorating, baking, parties and family gatherings, going back to the “normal” routine of life can be a bit of a anticlimax.

But I have to wonder:  If we really understood the true meaning of what we just celebrated – that God Himself came to earth to make things right with us – to restore a right relationship with Him – to bring us His peace – why would we experience such a letdown.

Did we not really “get it?”  The real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with the decorations, the gifts, the parties, the family gatherings.  It has everything to do with our relationship with this little baby that grew to a man, died and rose again.

Having just celebrated that fact – should not our hearts be filled with joy?

Perhaps the problem is we hear a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas.  What we really need to do is keep Christmas in Christ.  Christmas is only a date on the calendar.  Christ is our source of joy year long.

 

 

Have I Got Great News For You!!!

There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.”

 

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

 

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

 

Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?