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Sing your song

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Music was part of my life since I can remember. My mother sang in a church trio when she was young and then became a soloist later in life. She could belt out a song. As I grew to be more accomplished on the keyboard, I was her primary accompanist.

My dad did not read music but played piano by ear (the reason my mother was determined I have lessons). He could touch almost any instrument and make music with it, be it a recorder, harmonica, banjo or guitar. He played something he called a sweet potato, brought back with him from the war. I learned it is called an ocarina. He even learned to play the saw, using a violin bow.  A carpenter by trade, he had plenty of “instruments” to choose from, and make music he did.

A special memory is singing in the church choir as a child. It wasn’t a formal or trained choir, but a group of people who went to the platform at the beginning of service to sing with the congregation. We were all ages, and  my friends and I sang with enthusiasm. We were there to praise the Lord with music. I still love the old songs. I can hear one of them, and I am back there again, a little girl with a melody in my heart.

Naturally I was drawn to the book Sing!, How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. The Getty’s songs are already favorites; titles like In Christ Alone , Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer 2, and The Power of the Cross 3  are well known and beloved. Their gift with lyric and melody has given the church hymns once again.

Sing book

The book examines and encourages singing together whether as a family or as a church congregation.

Sing! encourages singing in our everyday lives, throughout the day, with the family at home or on road trips, as a church body. We witness to the world through our singing, and when we sing together, the message is powerful.

Chapter titles include:

  • Created to . . . Sing!
  • Commanded to  . . . Sing!
  • Compelled to . . . Sing!

Then we are to sing “with Heart and Mind,” “with Your Family,” and “with the Local Church.”

Some of my favorite quotes are:

“We are all singers. We may not all be very good singers, but we are all created to be singers nonetheless.”

“Your ability to sing is fearfully and wonderfully made. Around the twelve-week mark the vocal cords of a baby growing in the womb are in place and have been shown to work long before the baby is born.” 

“We are designed to benefit from beauty in creativity. . . . God made us to be powerfully engaged in our senses and memories by music. Songs have the power to prompt a memory or transport us back to some time and place.”

” . . . as we create, we communicate–just as God does through His creation . . . Echoing through our congregational singing is the commun.ication the divine Author has written into this world. Melodies matter. Words matter. Our songs always say something.”

“To praise him [God] is the original desire sewn into every fiber of our God-designed humanity and into every aspect of our God-designed world. When we sing God’s praise, we join with the tune of the cosmos. Just pause. Isn’t this incredible?”

Sing! can be used as a small group study; with worship leaders, choirs and musicians; with the entire church congregation; or individually.

It is essential that we understand how vital and necessary singing is to our lives.  We learn through music. Music affects us emotionally. Songs impact the way we live and the society in general.

It’s not about style of music that we choose in our churches, but it is about quality songs and a message that reflects who God truly is. The truth written in the lyrics, and sung so the world can hear, must declare that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God.

Co-authored by Stuart Townend
Co-authored by Margaret Becker
Co-authored by Stuart Townend

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NOTE:   I received a copy of Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

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Sunday grace

This song, this morning. It’s what my heart sings. My fingers touch the keyboard. I open my mouth to voice words that lift my eyes to Jesus. He alone is worthy of my trust.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, 
and to take him at his word; 
just to rest upon his promise, 
and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.” 

O how sweet to trust in Jesus, 
just to trust his cleansing blood; 
and in simple faith to plunge me 
‘neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus, 
just from sin and self to cease; 
just from Jesus simply taking 
life and rest, and joy and peace.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! 
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! 
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! 
O for grace to trust him more! 

              — words by Louisa Stead

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him these many years. O for grace to trust Him more.

Sunday grace.

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September ending

September brought hurricanes. They dominated the news and much of our thoughts as we watched them whirl into populated areas and then saw the devastation left behind from Harvey and Irma. As we texted about family and friends, what could we do hundreds of miles away except watch and pray and offer charitable contributions in one form or another?

Such disasters cause us to evaluate our lives and what we strive to achieve. More than once I heard people be grateful for loved ones being safe over the loss of house and property. Things can be swiftly swept away. It is our people who are most valuable.

Maisie completed her first obedience class this month, and it was well worth our efforts. We learned the beauty of gentle training with lots of love and treats. Thankfully, she didn’t have to pass a test. All dogs and owners went outside for the last class, and Maisie got a little crazy. She just wanted to play with the other dogs.

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I had lunch with three of my high school girl friends. We don’t get together often enough. I recalled us being teenagers, where we were 50 years ago and the roads we have traveled to get where we are now. We’ve all had our hardships, and we’ve grown stronger for it. Our faith has held us, and we’ve learned to trust the strong arm of God who sustains us.

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I read Pursuing the Intentional Life and was joined by my friend. We read a chapter a day and then texted to each other the passages that spoke to us. It made the book twice as meaningful. The author, Jean Fleming, wrote to prepare for the rest of her life. In her 70s, she wanted to live out her years with intention. While it might sound depressing initially, her words were thought-provoking and challenging. How do I want to live the rest of my days? No matter the age I am, there is a determined ending.

What time is left should be lived, with purpose and on purpose. Retirement can lull me into thinking my best days are behind me. I don’t believe that is the case. Activities and ministry may take on different forms, but both can still be vital and alive. I want the kind of life that bears much fruit to the Father’s glory all the way to the end. And that takes intention.

My favorite movie this month was The Case for Christ about Lee Strobel, journalist and proclaimed atheist. When his wife became a Christian, Storbel set out to investigate and prove wrong the Bible and the resurrection of Christ. Lest I spoil the ending, I will tell no more. Watch the movie. It’s good.

I started leading a Bible study this month, All Things New by Kelly Minter. Gathering with women each week to explore God’s Word is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve met a lot of women during Bible study. Some of them have deepened into treasured relationships. I’m always excited to see what sweet things the Lord will do as we give Him time and listen to His voice. And I’m looking for that new friend.

The gardens have taken on a wildness as fall begins. I’ve weeded,  transplanted, bought bags of mulch on sale at Lowes, and still, it has a mind of its own right now. I planted some little willow trees, put mums on the front porch, and watered everything as summer-like heat remained.

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I sat on the deck and listened to the first leaves began to fall. I walked in my little woods and crunched the brown leaves already covering the ground in the dark of the forest. I am watching for the flash of color in trees and bushes, and observing the squirrels run feverishly to plant their acorns.

As the months ends, the coolness I love about this season has finally returned to us, letting me leave the windows open during the day and snuggle under the quilt at night.

The birds’ songs change this time of year. Some have already departed to warmer climes. I still open the window next to my rocker each morning and wait to hear the little wren with the big voice waken the day. As nights are longer, his song is coming later and later.

My neighbors, who lived on this lane as long as we have, removed their mailbox. The depression in the soil marks the place, and I notice it as Maisie and I walk. It reminds me how everything changes. The fire that took their house on a shocking Christmas night altered life for them. They moved to a lovely home in a different location, and I am happy for them. But I  miss them being close, being my neighbors.

I wrote down a quote I especially liked from Maria Goff:

“We buy the plates but love sets the table.”

I love that. Gathering at the table is not about paper or china, gourmet or take out. It is about the love we give and receive to those there with us. The ministry of the table has become dear to me.  These days I find my most precious moments are when we sit with friends and family and feast on being together. It nourishes my soul like nothing else.

Sweet William and I have visited too many funerals this year, and loss begins to wear down my heart. In the last couple of months two people died who were born the same year as my own son. Recently two others have been closer to my age. It feels personal and painful.

While we mourn, we grieve with hope. Jesus went ahead of us to prepare a place for those who receive Him and His gift of salvation. This is not the last good-bye, but more of an “I’ll see you later.” I look forward to the later.

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This season of autumn is one of my favorites. The colors refresh me and the cooling temperatures bring on my flannel shirt. But it also marks a winding down of the year, the beginning of the ending. We put away the garden tools and bring in the tender plants lest they die from frost. It will not be long before the leaves will be gone from trees and the barren landscape will look lifeless.

Yet, I know that after the winter, spring will come just like it does each year.

I feel that same way about the people I love who have died. It seems wintry without them, lost and alone. But there is an eternal spring awaiting us when we know Jesus as Savior. It is what I hold close.

A new season brings a different  perspective as I watch the former fade and anticipate the next. Nothing in this world stays the same. People I’ve loved have died, and I’ve had to adjust to living without them. Bodies age and wear down, and what I was able to do in my 20s is only a memory in my 60s. People move away and life changes colors and the hues are so different. And sometimes I smile and sometimes I cry.

One thing remains true. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

When all else is said and done, there is still Jesus.

 

 

 

Sunday grace

This week I have pondered a question. How do I live a beautiful life in a fallen world to the glory of God? Because it is always about the glory of God.

I hear news reports of devastation for residents in Texas, the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. At the same time, I see people stirred by an inner kindness and compassion to serve any way they can. They come from neighboring counties or other parts of the country to help with clean up. They purchase bottled water, shoes and supplies to fill a truck that will soon head in the direction of loss. They donate money to the Salvation Army. They pray.

So often our human response is to blame God for disaster and tragedy and wonder what kind of being He is to allow such things. Funny how we are quick to blame Him when we hardly notice Him or give Him credit when things are going well.

When I see humanity at its finest, giving, serving, loving, I see God. It is His goodness coming to the surface of each person reaching a hand to help.

If we want to see God, then look for mercy extended, marvel at compassion in action, be amazed when forgiveness is offered for the unthinkable. Everything that is good and decent and loving in this world originates with the Creator of all things good.

When Jesus lived on this earth, He showed the world who God was, what He was like, how He loved the world so much that He gave everything. Everything.

Scripture tells us He is love, His essence, His being. Anything that looks remotely like love is God moving through human hearts and lives.

How do I live a beautiful life in a fallen world? By being Christ’s hand extended to someone else.  By sharing my goods, my time, myself with a a longing soul. By forgiving when I have been hurt. By loving when it is hard. By serving faithfully with joy when I am bone weary. By bowing the knee in prayer for someone who is suffering. By random acts of kindness to the one God brings into my path.

God is moving in the world. He is connected and concerned with us here on planet earth. And we will see Him if we look.

Sunday grace.

Tuesday thoughts

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? . . . Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?” — The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

I love the written word. I love reading the written word.

When I was a child, I was not such a vivacious reader. Reading assignments in school left me feeling anxious about finishing the book. Sadly, I often laid aside the volume with pages left unread.

Somewhere in my life, I developed a love for the printed page, and I cannot imagine not having a book in progress. Often there are several.

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The written word is powerful. Being able to read is power also. To keep people enslaved, do not let them learn to read.

Words themselves carry power. The Bible says the tongue has the power of life and death. I bear witness to that truth. Haven’t we all experienced the encouraging word or the ones that crushed our spirit?

Consider the might and authority that brought forth the earth by the spoken word of God. “And God said, let there be . . .” And it was.

That the very Word of God was made flesh and lived among people is astounding. Jesus carried with Him the might and authority of the Father, yet he walked humbly as a human, being obedient even unto death.

His glory was on full display. Some saw it and recognized the glory. Some did not. Some read the signs and saw deity. Others closed the book because they didn’t like the way the story was going.

And so the writing continues in the lives of those who believe. Written on our hearts for the world to see and read is the splendor of the gospel.

May it be a story of beauty and hope, one that illuminates and inspires with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness. May it display the deepest mysteries of the majesty of God.

And these are my Tuesday thoughts.

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Sunday grace

Forgiveness. Unforgiveness. I am confronted with it this morning in my morning quiet time.

And a person comes to my mind, someone who hurt me with her words, a wound that was deep. I struggled to find healing for it. I struggled to forgive.

Daily sometimes I said it to myself. “I forgive her. Lord, please do a work of forgiveness in my heart.” I willed to let the offense go, but I need a higher power to removed the pain and heal the laceration of my heart. Forgiveness is a divine attribute, not a human one.

Christ in me is the only way it can happen.

I have surmised that when I think of the offense and it does not hurt anymore, then forgiveness is complete in me. So why this morning am I thinking of it once more with a twinge of discomfort?

I’m not sure. Perhaps it is the enemy of my soul trying to torment me. Perhaps it is because someone else has upset my apple cart and gotten under my skin, making me want to retaliate. Forgiveness is once again required.

Tempting me to hold onto grudges and offenses are his prime tool. Keeping hurts alive is where a root of bitterness finds a way into my soul. And Scripture warns me not to be ignorant of satan’s tricks.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. — Colossians 3:13

So once again, I affirm my desire to forgive. How can I do otherwise? I have been forgiven much. I have no right to withhold it from another.

“Lord, I forgive _________ once again. Do the work of forgiveness in me, mending my heart and giving me a complete recovery.”

I don’t want to carry the burden any longer. I don’t want to be locked into a prison of my own making. I want to be free.

I have been given much grace. I will give grace as I have received it. In Jesus name. For He forgave me fully and pefectly.

Amazing.

Sunday grace.

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The glory of today

It is a practically perfect day in my old Kentucky home.

Late last night I sat on the deck, the blustery wind blowing in what is today’s low 60 degree temperatures. Humidity moved out and gentle breezes are left this morning. The sky is blue with puffs of cotton ball clouds.

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I sit long this morning, the second pot of coffee brewed and in my cup. The yard could use some attention, but it is a practically perfect day. I will “waste” the morning in quietude, contemplation, writing in my journal, and pondering life.

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But my heart hurts today. A cousin died this week. Sweet William and I will attend a funeral tomorrow, and a young husband feels like half his body has been torn away from him. Two children are left behind, and they are too young to be without a mamma. I know that feeling.

The young woman who died was born the same year as my son. And how does a mother deal with that kind of loss?

My cousin’s struggle with cancer was hard-fought and faith filled. Yet she is gone and we are left with our grief. And our questions.

Life is hard.

I talked with a friend last night, one who is closer to my age. She also battles cancer. I listened as she expressed concern for her husband and for the grandchildren she loves. She fears she will not see them grow into adults. She faces the uncertainty of her life with courage. I admire her for that, for her openness as we talk about the days ahead.

She probably does not see the strength that is in her right now. It is the strength that is made perfect in weakness, when the power of God rests on a life He holds in the palm of His hands.

I visited another friend yesterday. She is dealing with a different grief and struggle. We drank coffee and tea, chatting as tears filled our eyes. I shared my own battles and my crises of faith, hoping it might help. She texted later that it had.

This morning, as I recall painful experiences in my life, I see opportunities God has given me, just this year alone, to offer an understanding heart. My heartaches identify with someone else’s heartache. And I wonder if this is part of the redemptive process?

The comfort I was given from the God of all comfort is tenderly held out to another through shared experiences, the sweetness of His Word, and the promise of hope.

And do I see some sort of beauty rising from my ashes? Is this a way God redeems the hard places that tested my endurance, when I felt like there was nothing in me to go one step further? Is this the chance to give my testimony that the strong arm of the Savior was holding onto to me all along, when the rope I tied a knot in to hang on for dear life frayed to its very end?

I recently read again the story of Lazarus, his sickness and then him dying while Jesus waited days, not responding to Mary and Martha’s appeal to come heal their brother. His actions seemed callous, uncaring. Haven’t I felt that way about Him myself?

” . . . it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” Jesus told the disciples (John 11:4).

How often I am self-focused, centering on my pain and my problem, left wondering why this is happening to me. After all, isn’t it all about me, even sometimes?

What if the road, strewn with rocks and entangled with thorns, where we are led to walk is for the glory of God? What if these times are meant to point to a higher power, an omnipotent, all-knowing God who has a plan so enormous that we cannot possibly comprehend? What if these things we wish had not  happened or would go away are like arrows pointing us to a Savior who took on our flesh and blood and walked the hard places Himself and says to us, “I know. I know how you feel,”?

What if this life I live is about the glory of God?

Jesus preached an upside down gospel, after all. He said things like the first shall be last. Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. If you want to be great, then serve. Give to others without expecting anything in return. Forgive. Love. Believe.

He was the Master who stooped low to wash dirty feet of those who would betray, deny, run away, and lose their faith. Jesus lived a contrary-to-what-we-think kind of life.

If I could begin to see with spirit-eyes, beyond the present suffering and into another dimension where death becomes life everlasting and tears are wiped away for good, perhaps it would change things for me.

If I could grasp the finite-ness of my earthly days and compare them to what comes afterwards, perhaps I would be less concerned about the cares of life and the problems here that trouble me so.

Perhaps I would arise each morning with the hope of seeing God’s glory in the daily events of an ordinary day.

My cousin seemed too young to die. There was too much living yet to do. Yet this very day, she lives in a way I can’t even fathom. She sees what I long to see. She knows things I want to know. She understands what I wrestle to understand. Her faith has become sight and the questions, they don’t matter any more.

And I am envious of that.

I want to see the glory, to perceive beyond the surface and into the deep things of God, things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined. These are the things God has prepared for those who love him.

I pray to see His glory, to endure with faith today and live with hope for tomorrow.

Lord, show us Your glory!

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