Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

Fail-Proof Help For Any Task

1/30/2012

A guest message this week by my daughter, Heather Shaw.

“What are your expectations for your life?” our pastor asked the congregation this past Sunday as he preached on the Book of James.

My husband and I began jotting down some of our personal and family goals and dreams. The pastor then asked, “Do you feel disappointed with God over dreams that haven’t turned out the way you wanted them?” Our answer: Yes.

We’ve had a rough few years involving having to sell our house at a loss; our son born prematurely; moving; a job layoff; and a job for my husband that is not where his ultimate passion lies, and which requires a long commute. We are strongly committed to our faith and try to please God in all we do. We are driven people who have, in the past, been able to dream something and make it happen. We have alternated between feeling peaceful and trusting God, and feeling restless and angrily questioning Him. We have prayed “Your will be done”… and we have prayed “Are you there? Are you listening?”

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is a hard one. It is hard to be thankful for the trials in the midst of them. It might be easier to look back, when things are (you hope) in a better place. But when the storm is raging and you feel like you’ve lost your footing, it can be hard to stay joyful.

In the Book of James, it says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (1:22-25, NIV).

We always thought about “doing” the Word as assignments: God says to care for others; God says to be generous, loving; etc. But Jesus calls us to something deeper instead of merely a task-oriented faith. When we look into God’s Word, just like looking into a mirror, we discover who we are.

The picture isn’t always pretty. We are sinful creatures who fall short of God’s holy standard, incurring His punishment. But the Good News is that Jesus loves us so much that He rescued us and took our punishment for us by dying on the cross. When we “look intently” into that truth, then nothing else will matter and no trial will shake us because we will have the joy of knowing we have such a loving God who saw our real need. Sure, we feel we have other needs – for example, for a job, or food, or security. But our ultimate need was for a Savior… and Jesus already met that need. This is true love and what Jesus offers us. Not just a list of tasks to do.

The Bible can teach, pastors can preach, but sometimes this lesson can speak to us the loudest and clearest from unexpected places. In 1971 a homeless man understood this truth… and shared it in his own way.

English Filmmaker Gavin Bryars was working on a documentary about the homeless around London. One man of the many captured on film sang a quiet chorus to himself over and over:

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, never failed me yet.
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.
This one thing I know, For He loves me so.

This actually was not used in the film, but it haunted Bryars, who eventually added an accompaniment to the man’s simple song, extended it, and turned it into a recording. many people have since heard it – Tom Waits and Jars of Clay have made recordings too – and it has touched millions.

This is powerful! This man had nothing that we might consider worth singing about. Contemporary Christians often spend more time focused on “worldly” desires than spiritual needs. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about our life’s details or to pray about them, but what would happen to our daily lives if we were to come back to a focus on what really matters: our salvation?

Whatever other trials this anonymous, forgotten man faced, he looked in the “mirror,” recognized his true need for a Savior, and proclaimed that to others, where he was, in the way that he could.

I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head all week! This simple, quiet, musical prayer, reminds us that absolutely nothing is more important than Jesus’ gift of salvation that he gave us when He died on the cross. That’s all. The economy may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Employers may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Health may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Our own plans may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. He loves us so.

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I thank Heather for sharing this message, and this song. It is impossible, I think, not to hear it once and not want to listen again, and again. Its truth becomes stronger. “Poor homeless man?” No, he was rich in the knowledge and understanding that he was a son of Jesus our King. Knowing the Truth, and rejoicing in it: a simple task, after all.

Click: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet

The Eyes of Our Hearts

1-23-12

Being in the cartoon business for most of my life, I am familiar with one of the standard clichés: someone arrives in Heaven and, bing, there are the Pearly Gates; a bearded St Peter; a giant guest register.

Easy to draw, hard to see. That is, to see in the way the Bible describes our first day in Heaven. There is no check-in procedure. No nervous waiting to hear whether the pencil we swiped in fifth grade will keep us out. And St Peter – oh, he will be there, among the multitudes we will want to meet. I burn with curiosity to, possibly, ask questions of Abraham and Moses and St Paul and Luther. And Job! Augustine! And countless martyrs who served the poor and the oppressed.

But the first thing that we will see will be Jesus, from my reading. The Bible says He is seated at the right hand of God’s throne, which might be so blinding white with glory as to obscure other things; yet we will not be able to take our eyes from it.

So, I think visually. But we all must, at least in this case. We imagine Heaven “through our minds’ eyes.”

There are some people for whom this is easier than for the rest of us. Many believers who are blind have testified that they can “see” a silver lining, so to speak, in their sightlessness. For instance, there is the factor of other senses being heightened. And there are the plausible cases for increased sensitivity to other peoples’ challenges. And a practical understanding of dependence. These things, the rest of us can imagine.

But many blind people have shared a unique and tender – but passionate – thrill of expectation that when their sight is restored, when they have their perfect bodies in Heaven, the first thing that they see will NOT be the “Pearly Gates.” That was the testimony of the blind hymn-writer (9000 hymns) Fanny Crosby; it is in the title of a song by the blind gospel singer Terri Gibbs: “The First Thing That I See Will Be Jesus.”

My good friend Anna Marie Spencer sent me a video this week of the latest such person to manifest that powerful faith. Ten-year-old Christopher Duffley was born blind and with severe autism. His mother had been on drugs; he was up for adoption. Pretty tough odds. But at the age of four he started to sing for Jesus, and has touched many people since then. Some day, in Glory, he and Fanny Crosby and Terri Gibbs will look at each other and share stories. I’d like to sketch that get-together.

In the meantime little Christopher sings. Amazingly. He teaches the rest of us onlookers how to overcome, how to triumph, how to… see. “Seeing,” after all, is most special in relation to what we look at. Those of us who sometimes are handicapped by taking good vision for granted, need to see that truth clearly.

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This brief video is of little Christopher Duffley singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart” in Manchester, New Hampshire. My guess is that most of the eyes that were upon him that evening not just saw, but wept, at this awesome performance.

Click: Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord

Turning Wine Back Into Water

1-16-12

A friend, Marti Pieper, has a unique ministry. A Christian writer and editor, she writes daily messages and Facebook posts with the simplest messages of what she is praying for that day, or situations people find themselves in, or that they might be facing.

No more, no less. Just sharing what is on her heart. I call them “under the radar” needs of people, for they are common – all too common – needs, and therefore often escape our attention. Even if they pertain to ourselves.

Some of her simple prayers are that she is “praying for those who need a way out”; “praying for those in uncharted territory”; “praying for those who are still waiting”; “praying for those who are learning to be still”; “praying for those who are returning good for evil’; and “thanking God for the little things.”

Such reminders, whether to our own situations or prompting a Christian sensitivity to those around us, in their quiet way usually speak to more urgent agendas than many of the “crises” we face. But then, sometimes we all have a way of putting our concerns into cubby holes – emergencies and predicaments, those categories at one end; or nagging, everyday headaches at the other.

But I suspect that God does not differentiate much between these, in the manner of one sin being as offensive as any sin in His eyes. That is, I cannot believe that He categorizes His responses to our prayer requests. We are His children; He responds as a perfect Father. The cries of our hearts must be all the same to Him.

It is more the case, rather, that WE categorize our prayers. Have you ever been too guilty to ask full forgiveness? or reluctant to lay everything before God (who knows all anyway)? or convinced that some things are too trivial to become petitions? If so, we are virtually breaking a commandment, because the Bible instructs us “in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

A propos of nothing, except Marti’s Attitudinal Ministry, and some news stories about drug and alcohol statistics, I got to thinking this week about people struggling with addictions. The “larger” factors on the radar screen are that God can deliver, and we can lead cleansed lives. But the “common” aspects of addiction include struggle, backsliding, and temptation. It is tragic when people, even believers, think that these so-called minor issues are not important; that, having experienced deliverance, they cannot admit to the presence of echoes; that knowing the answers does not keep the questions from their minds. AA has it right; alcoholics remain alcoholics – some people just stop drinking.

None of these thoughts are technicalities: I believe they represent basic life principles. I believe it is a mistake when Christians say, as we often do, “OK, I get it, God; I’ll take it from here,” and we wipe the dust from our hands. In fact the proper response after answered prayer is to stay on our knees, and confess to our continuing need for Him – continued reliance – not some sort of liberation from Him.

Sometimes a proper prayer is to confess our inability apart from God, and to plead that old temptations simply be removed. In that regard, it is a sign of strength (even though we can beat ourselves up, thinking it is otherwise) because that is showing faith in Him and what He can do, instead of pride in our selves. “Lead us not to temptation”; “deliver us from evil.”

A great musical exposition of this principle is the song by T Graham Brown, “Help Me Turn the Wine Back Into Water.” The miracle at Feast of Cana is the reference, of course; but these lyrics acknowledge that another miracle of God could be deliverance from addiction… and yet another, from the same miracle-working God, could be that He just run interference in the middle of situations.

“I’ve tried to fight this battle by myself,
But it’s a war that I can’t win without Your help….
I shook my fist at heaven for all the hell that I’ve been through;
Now I’m begging for forgiveness and a miracle from You….
And now, on my knees, I’m turning to You, Father –
Could You help me turn the wine back into water?”

In truth, the “large” and “small” battles are the same: they are all battles, and in the wars of life we cannot win any of them without God’s help, His continuous help.

Be “praying for the small battles of life.”

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Here is T Graham Brown’s powerful lament – another reminder to Christians of God’s irony that only our complete surrender leads to our victories.

Click: “Help Me Turn the Wine Back Into Water”

To Be Of the “One Per Cent”

1-9-12

It’s all over the news now, the disparity between the “99 per cent” and the “One per cent” – or, rather, the resentment and envy that the majority is supposed to harbor against the more wealthy. It is at the core of the “Occupy” crowds’ chants and signs.

Theodore Roosevelt correctly observed that the sin of envy is no less a sin than that of greed. And years ago, a friend from France once gave me the best definition of Socialism (therefore, its most potent pushback). Francois Mitterand had been elected president in his country; the Socialists were coming to power; and among their proposals, in the name of equality, was the abolition of First-Class seats on public transportation.

“Why is it that the Socialists never want to abolish anything that is second-class?” my friend asked.

That riposte has come to mind when hearing so often lately of the Ninety-Nine versus the One per cents. “Versus” is the operative word; a campaign to raise the civic temperature. But something else has come to mind – that Jesus had a different take on the numbers of 99 and one. Nothing to do with current politics… except as those numbers provide a shout-out to our souls.

Let us remember Christ’s parable of the Lost Sheep. It is found in Luke 15:4-7. The gentle shepherd had a flock of 100, but one had gone astray. And he set out to search, high and low, far and wide, for that wayward sheep. The sheep was found, rescued, and restored to the shepherd’s flock.

Many of us have the natural reaction to think that the sensible thing would have been to play safe with the ninety-nine. A similar impulse, in the other parable of the Prodigal Son, is to observe that the other son was slighted after all of his work and obedience, while his errant brother was feted by the father upon his return.

Our problem as humans is that we tend to see ourselves as members of the flock of ninety-nine. “What is one sheep against so many?” We get proud of our accomplishments, jealous of others receiving favor. Our bigger problem is that God sees us as that Lost Sheep, and the son who departed and sinned – not as we see ourselves.

Heaven rejoices when one sinner is saved, when the Good Shepherd has restored the wayward. Our Heavenly Father arranges a lavish feast when we return. In each case we are not rewarded for straying: we are forgiven when we return.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine–
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer, “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

Jesus not only seeks us out; He persists. For us to be as THAT “one percenter” we should be grateful… and can take assurance. Occupy God’s flock.

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“The Ninety and Nine” was written as a children’s poem by Elizabeth Clephane in 1868. The great hymn-writer Ira D Sankey read it when on a Dwight L Moody crusade in Scotland years later; he tucked it into his vest pocket. That evening Moody preached on “The Good Shepherd,” and asked Sankey, his worship leader, to sing a hymn. Sankey remembered that poem in his pocket, took it out, and sang this song impromptu, forming the music as he went. It is now a standard of the church.

Click: The Ninety and Nine

All the New Year’s Resolutions You Need

1-2-12

Another year, another celebration, another “back to work.” Yet if we can remind ourselves each morning that “this is the day that the Lord has made,” we can take a fresh look at 2012 and declare, “This is the year that the Lord has made!”

Let us be glad and rejoice in it!

The Year of the Lord Two Thousand Twelve. Are there challenges that loom up to the left and right? It Dozen matter! And are you one of the folks who make resolutions every New Year? If rules are made to be broken, many of our resolutions seem made to be… postponed.

Well, not surprisingly, the Bible provides all the Resolutions we need to face the new year, day by day:

1 I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other gods before Me.
2 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything… For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God….
3 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
4 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6 You shall not murder.
7 You shall not commit adultery.
8 You shall not steal.
9 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife… nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
(Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

Most of us have problems with long lists. Jesus knew this, and whether He was announcing the cancellation of the Law – since He was its fulfillment – or wisely providing us with spiritual Cliff’s Notes, the better for us to obey and practice, He gave us two Resolutions we can adopt:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Two for Twelve. Happy New Year!

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And to the extent we are able to follow these commandments, keep these resolutions, we must remember that obedience is due to God. Commandments are more for our well-being than for God’s dispensation of gold stars. It is His grace, not our works, that bring favor in His sight. His Amazing Grace. Whenever you need an emotional nudge as a reminder, watch this video – a large orchestra, starting with a pennywhistle, a violin, a bagpipe, then hundreds of bagpipes performing before tens of thousands of worshipers in Berlin. Andre Rieu at a nighttime outdoor concert.

Click: Amazing Grace

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More