Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

The Way To End School Shootings, I

2-19-18

Another week, another school shooting. Or so it seems; the news media and politicians recently cited 18 deaths by firearms on American school properties in the first six weeks of this year.

Well, it turns out that most of those were parking-lot encounters after dark, between adults; or accidental discharges barely near schools, and so forth. Four angry, and ugly, assaults – but I am not saying “only four,” Any is too many.

The gun issue is one of many in contemporary America where hyperbole has overtaken rationality. Everyone – I think on both, or all, sides – readily adopts exaggerations and logical extensions and, lately, personal invective, to press their points.

What once was abstract is individual, and we see it in the “gun debate” as much as in any other area, and even among people who never encountered danger or grief. We can of course be passionate about issues without being touched personally. But I know the real root cause of our heated debates these days in America – that are more heat than debate.

It is the Slippery Slope. The term in logic indicates the danger of granting one point, in fear of losing the entire argument. To open the door a crack threatens to destroy the entire house, given time.

The Slippery Slope is more than a debating term. When it is used today, even when not called by name, people in effect indicate distrust of the opponent. In the gun debate, for instance, many defenders of the Second Amendment believe that any compromise will be seized upon, leading to… seizure of all firearms. “Give an inch; they’ll take a mile,” and it did not help rational debate when a Democrat officeholder a few years ago admitted that, yes, she would not stop at each restriction.

We can avoid slippery slopes by not even going near the slopes.

For instance, the solution to the “gun problem” in America is simple.

Not “easy,” but simple. Questions and answers:
For two centuries we have had virtually unrestricted access to firearms, and virtually no mass slayings and “senseless” attacks. Why?

Is it because guns are more sophisticated and deadly? Nonsense. Everything exists in the context of its time. Daggers are more convenient than dueling swords, yet there were not mass stabbings when they were readily available.

Speaking of knives, if the automatic reaction of many people – ban all guns – were a solution, should we look at the growing numbers of mass killings around the world by weaponized cars and trucks, and, yes again, random stabbings, and… ban cars and trucks and knives?

Such scenarios depend on slippery slopes, to propose and dispose… and will never lead to solutions.

It is self-swindling delusion to look to Washington for the answer to these problems, and almost everything, these days. “Why doesn’t the president act?” “Why doesn’t Congress DO something?”

Let’s explain something to America: Shut up. Washington is not the answer to everything… cannot be the answer to everything… and, as often as not, is the answer to nothing; unable to have the answers. Washington is not our savior.

We already have a Savior. And now we are face to face with our solution. Remember, I said “easy,” but not simple; not simple to make happen. Not in America, 2018.

Guns don’t make kids shoot. Hate makes them shoot. Listen to people shouting about laws and calling for more guards and more psychologists and more counselors. Where is Jesus in the middle of it all? Can you hear anyone calling for Him? For more God?

Some of the “simple” solutions in next week’s message.

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Click: Hard Times, Come Again No More

I Am Sorry… If You Are Offended

11-20-17

This is something of a silly season. These days there is a revolving-door of silliness, actually – fads and fancies of the moment; ever-changing manners and mores.

I am referring to the spate of sex scandals. They are not silly in themselves: I think harassment is deadly serious; and rape should be ranked with murder by our justice system.

What is silly – it is difficult to find a better term – is that this issue is “new.” That people are surprised by the surprises. That anyone pretends that it was not common knowledge that this went on in our culture before a few months ago. It has been a virtual cliché, even the stuff of jokes – by men and women alike – that there were such things as “casting couches,” “favors for promotions,” “indiscretions.”

It is not a surprise but common knowledge that Hollywood producers, Washington politicians, all sorts of celebrities “slept around”; but, more, wielded power through, by, and for sex. The list was long even before Weinstein and the deluge of politicians, actors, and big-shots clogging the headlines lately.

Did President Kennedy’s reputation suffer because of the common knowledge of his affairs? I think he was more often secretly admired by many. Alfred Hitchcock? I think people laugh at the twisted stories. Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton? It depends on your political affiliation, let’s be honest; the same with Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Anthony Weiner, Al Franken.

So this is not new, but reports proliferate as does the selective outrage. As I recently have written, it would be a good thing… if the outrage were to last (not the incidents). I am not so naive to think that the human race will ever be free of dalliances and flirtation, sexual favors and even adultery. But to be frank – not scriptural – about this, a well-functioning and even largely moral society operates on the pragmatic admission that the Big H happens. Hypocrisy. Do I condone it? – that society preaches one way and lives another? Of course not, but on this side of Heaven, the alternative is outright licentiousness.

Which we are near now.

I am convinced of a couple things I have not heard discussed, virtually ever. One is that a large percentage of guys who flaunt their appeal and drape blondes on their arms, usually look gay: they try too hard. Just a theory (think of Hugh Hefner, Exhibit A).

Another theory is that many men who get “caught” in affairs often resemble toads. I am thinking of Newt Gingrich and Roger Ailes and Anthony Weiner and Harvey Weinstein. My theory is that “getting caught” is less important to them than announcing to the world, “Look at me! Women actually want me!” They are willing to endure opprobrium.

A third observation surely is less talked about, but I believe to be true – that as a rule, women are as prone (sorry) as men to seek affairs and use sexuality as a tool, if not a weapon. Mitigating details arise from the relative physical sizes and strengths, and society’s traditional roles, of men and women. But from “attraction” (cosmetics for women; grooming for men; fashion for both) to outright aggressiveness, we are talking about motivations common to all. Maybe not predation, but something of a two-way street. Nature’s old “dance.”

All of which means what? NOT that we should forgive these social horrors as in the past, or ignore them even more; no. It DOES mean that – yes, just as the Bible commands – we should all commit to respecting others. We cannot do that until we all respect ourselves more. And we cannot do that until we all respect the Word of God.

People can hide affairs, sometimes, but they cannot hide from God’s Word.

Another observation: all these sex scandals are really not about sex. Certainly not about love; nor about loneliness or rejection. Excuse me, but [fill in the blank of the rats’ names in the news] often have spouses of evident attractiveness; or a string of such spouses. OR, to be vulgar, in today’s America, they easily can rent sex. To be trashier, they can crawl around alleys and back streets for it.

But I believe most of these people, when you think of how they act, actually desire to be caught. Really? Sure: evangelists subconsciously invite judgment; media stars live to flaunt.

To continue on the Biblical track, and since I have characterized the sexual motivation as secondary, I believe the real sin is that of PRIDE. Predators want to exercise power… they “do” it because they “can”… they derive pleasure from intimidating people. Otherwise self-preservation, if not morality, would determine their actions.

Finally, I have taken notice of all the mea culpas, apologies, denials, excuses, reasons, deflections, and confessions from the predators and their defenders.

You have heard them too. The 21st century’s default apologies – “I am sorry IF I offended someone.” “I really don’t remember.” “I was drunk.” “I agree, it sounds horrible.” “I will get therapy.” And so forth.

You know what we don’t hear? If it is a secular person – “Yes, back then I was a jerk, and in may ways a horrible person. But I have turned my life around, and apologize to the victim, my family, my followers. There were reasons… but no excuses. However, I am a changed person. All this was my fault, and I will be different.” Someone like, say, Sen. Al Franken could say this, and gain respect, perhaps forgiveness. But they never do!

And why can’t Christians – let us say Judge Roy Moore IF he is guilty of the charges, which I am not presuming; but people in his position – say, “There was a time I sinned and made bad choices. Like all of us. But unlike all of us, I have repented; I have been redeemed; I walk with God now as best I can. No excuses; I sinned. But for years I have been a new creature in Christ.” But they never do!

Those are statements we never hear, at press conferences that are never convened.

I am not one to cast stones, believe me, but I search for ways that society can cleanse itself – rather I want to express God’s desires and commands in new ways to new people. That should be the work of all Christ-followers.

If the problem in contemporary life, at this moment, is more Pride than Sex, so is the unfortunate response of too many people today Arrogance and not Humility.

There is too much preying, and not enough praying.

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Click: Jesus, Take a Hold

Empty Nesters

8-28-17

It is that time of year again. What time? End of summer? Labor Day? Back to school… off to school… off to military service? Well, yes; but also the time of year I think again about that season when kids leave home.

A friend and I have been talking about the situation generally known as the Empty Nest. In popular parlance, it means when kids go off to school… and some parents feel pretty darn sad on the first day of kindergarten, much less college, a job or the service, or marriage.

I was always a little upset that when my three kids first ran to their school buses at the commencement of their school lives… and that they all climbed aboard cheerily. No looks back; no tears. Except mine. Oh, well, merciful for them.

And there ARE different varieties of empty nests. My friend and I compared notes and agreed that the phrase is more appropriate when used when the home is (especially) empty after the death of a spouse. Or when a disagreement has given separation a new meaning: “Apartment” is not simply a place you live; “loneliness” is far different than being alone.

But just as the sadness we feel at the death of someone close is essentially a selfish impulse – not negative, just self-ish – so is the Empty Nest not always a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong: it can feel bad, and we can hurt. Very much. Ultimately, however, with children, we ought to remember that we have reared them precisely to spread their wings… which means, to fly. Away. Usually it is amicable, thank God; and close families grow closer, somehow, by multiplying.

When separation is not amicable, however, barring ugly or inexplicable situations, even that is part of life, and family members must trust God, and trust the seeds of proper rearing. Parents, trust your children, and those “seeds”; Children, trust God, and believe in answered prayer. God’s language is recorded in teardrops.

I think – among many, many examples that come to mind – of a dear friend, a Monday Ministry reader in Kansas who had precious Christian relationships with two of her children; saw those relationships, at different times, shatter in rebellion. But today she enjoys better-than-ever loving relationships with each. Answered (multitudes of) prayer; God’s Grace.

Have I strayed from my subject? Yes, but only to a degree. I think of Empty Nests at this time of year and remember a song I heard before my eldest started high school – but I knew it would make me sad when she left for college. Well. All three children have started high school, graduated from college, and two have families of their own. Yet the song, about a child leaving home, still tugs.

I am not claiming that these thoughts, or any here today, are exclusive to me; or to either of my friends here cited. No, these thoughts are about the most elemental of human emotions… and why I can claim that even the seemingly unpleasant can be “good” in life’s schema.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 reminds us that The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.

Time and chance happeneth to us all.

These are the words of the song I remember each year, “Letting Go” (the music video follows):

She’ll take the painting in the hallway, The one she did in junior high. And that old lamp up in the attic, She’ll need some light to study by.

She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day. She should be past the tears; she cries some anyway.

Oh, letting go… There’s nothing in the way now. Letting go: there’s room enough to fly. And even though she’s spent her whole life waiting… It’s never easy letting go.

Mother sits down at the table; So many things she’d like to do – Spend more time out in the garden, Now she can get those books read too.

She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day. She should be past the tears; she cries some anyway.

Oh, letting go… There’s nothing in the way now. Letting go: there’s room enough to fly. And even though she’s spent her whole life waiting… It’s never easy letting go.

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Click: Letting Go

Broken

5-29-17

I once attended a church where the Invitation at the end of the service invariably was unique. I did not grow up in churches where altar calls were common, a situation I regret. In the church of my heritage it was assumed you were already in the family of God; or did not need a public act to show it or prove it. It was regarded as no one else’s business. Such things were too embarrassing.

It is strange to be in a “family” if you are too embarrassed to share your joy. Or admit to shortcomings. Or show your feelings. It would seem stranger, frankly, to be embarrassed to confess anything – joy, emotion, guilt – before God Himself. Yet many Christians act that way. How many people share virtually everything in their lives with another person, or other people, yet do not talk about their faith? Is it a real faith, or is it not a real relationship, in those cases?

Back to the “Invitation” at the church later in my life. It was a large congregation, and two aspects always impressed me. The pastor would end his sermon with the Salvation message; the importance for every person to ask forgiveness, to accept Christ; and to have a genuine relationship with the Savior. And, as Jesus instructed, to confess Him before all; to go public, so to speak, as His baptism was public.

Many times there would be silence. Often it grew awkward; nobody came forward to kneel at the altar. Was everybody, even among two thousand, already confident about their souls? Then invariably, one by one, people came forward. And as they did – better, believe me, than if dozens had immediately rushed forward – the congregation encouraged them. No embarrassment. They clapped. Cheered.

It was very much a picture of what the Bible tells us in Hebrews Chapter 11, that we are always compassed about by “a great cloud of witnesses.” Watching us… and supporting us, cheering us toward Heaven.

The other aspect I remember from Pastor Focht was his encouraging word to those who hesitated, those who perhaps sought mental excuses for their spiritual shyness.

“You might not think you are quite ready to make confession, and to accept Jesus,” he said, “But you don’t need to take a bath before you take a shower. Come as you are.”

Profound. In truth, even after we are “saved,” forgiven and accepted into the Family of God, we still sin. The difference between the Old You and the New You, of course (quoting a Holy Bumper Strip I saw once) is that we are not perfect, but we are forgiven.

We grow closer to God when we have the spiritual maturity to say “God, I need You so much. I am broken. Heal me. Help me. I cannot do things (including this thing called Life) on my own!” And we grow not one inch closer when we say – as many of us are wont to do – “God, I’ll take it from here. I understand it all now. Thanks for bringing me this far. I’m OK now.”

None of us are OK now, without Jesus. All of us are broken, in some way or other.

Broken in body, frequently. Broken in spirit, more often. Sustaining broken expectations. Battered by broken promises, broken relationships, broken friendships.

I have always loved the not-so-incidental fact that Jesus was a carpenter. First, continuing His father’s craft. But more so, He was a carpenter who mended broken bodies.

Being broken, however, is not a lowly state; we only make it so.

Cathedrals are constructed with broken stones, chosen and arranged just right.

Beautiful stained-glass windows are made of uncountable pieces of broken glass.

Mosaics are made of little broken chips of ceramic, odd and insignificant in themselves, but stunning – and making sense – when a master sees the big picture… and fits everything together.

God loves the Broken Ones, and honors us when we admit to our brokenness. And he sees to it that Broken Ones come into our paths. We do His work when we bind them up, encourage them, and cheer them forward.

It is why the poor are, somehow, always with us. It is why little girls frequently choose tattered old dolls over fancy new ones. It it why our selves and our churches (despite governments’ efforts to co-opt these impulses) minister to the lost, the hurting, the… broken souls in our midst.

In those times we see the broken ones; we see Jesus; we see ourselves. Whether we have a loose button and torn dress as happens to dolls, or are physically abused or addicted, or have felt betrayed and friendless, we all could use some real patchin’ up.

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Click: Broken Ones

Preachers in Aprons, Saints in Curlers, Ceaseless Forgivers

5-15-17

One of the pathologies of contemporary life – a sure sign of the culture of death that has subsumed Western civilization – is the assault on motherhood.

Feminism was a harbinger that was perverted; “women’s liberation” was a movement birthed in economic justice that has, currently, extended to a futile but aggressive war on biological imperatives. Now we are awash in euphemisms like “gender identity” that would turn upside-down simple assumptions of all cultures from all lands and all ages.

But we in the 21st-century West know better. If boys somehow wish they were girls, we should yield to their fantasies. If women desire to be fathers, we change laws to re-define families. The prerogatives and standards of parents, and the sensibilities of the children they raise, are denied in order to accommodate statistically infinitesimal numbers of biological or emotional outliers.

Majoritarian traditionalists and Christians are sanctioned and stifled, yet the New Wave of moral nihilists – those who hate the natural and the immemorial – compose lists of proscriptions and Hate items of thought, attitudes, and speech.

These comments are not choleric, but are laments occasioned by Mother’s Day. Our thoughts should go to the institution of Motherhood, as much as to our own mothers. Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Equality of right does not mean equality of function.” He was the first major politician in America to be an advocate of women’s right to vote – even when his wife herself dissented – yet he revered the institution of motherhood: the role of women in the scheme of life. Toward women and mothers he was almost worshipful, regarding their work and responsibilities as more difficult, and perhaps more valuable, than men’s.

“Equality of function” to him did not imply mere functionality, but addressing roles – where life finds us; where we confront life; where we assess God’s will for our lives – and doing our work honorably.

The humorist Jean Shepherd (possibly the first time he will be paired with Theodore Roosevelt in any essay) devoted a lot of his radio monologues in the 1960s when I was a young addict of his wit and wisdom, to what he called the “Great Role Reversal.” He made many observations, frequently inspired by news items. Minor, everyday occurrences seemed, as often the case in the world of Popular Culture, more dispositive than academic papers and scholarly statistics.

Shep milked chuckles from the effluvia of such reports… but mainly he ruminated on the enormous cultural shift underway in the US. Indeed, the trickle became a tsunami. The nuclear family is under attack. Traditional gender roles are ridiculed. Legal reshuffling for cohabitants is insufficient; the dictionary must contort itself to re-define “family” and “mother.” Male predators must be allowed to enter girl’s rooms. New genders, and names for them, are being invented by the dozens.

I never have had the privilege of being a mother. As closely bound as I was to fathering, fatherhood, being present at the births, then nurturing and rearing my children… I am aware it all is a far-distant second. The special relationship of mother and child, among all species, in fact, is a unique and precious blessing.

A birthright, in fact.

For all the good feelings engendered by Mother’s Day, I reserve a portion of contempt for those creatures who denigrate the institution of Motherhood; who deny the privilege – to others, not only for themselves – of sanctifying the foundation of the family; for hating what we love.

I reserve a portion of pity, too. I must. What I call the Culture of Death extends beyond the trashing of motherhood and women’s traditional roles. Biologically, homosexuals cannot naturally procreate (pro-create). Abortion fanatics crusade for death – disguising their advocacy as convenience for the mothers. And so on. They are to be pitied, and prayed for.

In the meantime, my Mother’s Day is filled with memories of the Mom I knew. I loved her, and love her. She was an example whose nurture appears stronger through the years: seeds, planted, and growing in my life. A servant’s heart, making silent and willing sacrifices. Was she perfect? Smoking and drinking were regrettable but did not affect her salvation. Big deal. We prayed for Jesus to turn the wine back into water. Of vital importance is that she knew Jesus, was active in churches, and related almost every question I ever had to the gospel.

A preacher in aprons. A saint in curlers. An invariable Forgiver.

I believe God created Woman not only as a helpmeet to Adam, but as an Assistant to Himself. As Mothers, to show unconditional love; to bond in unique ways with their children; to bear the essence of comfort, understanding, acceptance.

I admired my Dad, oh yes; I still finish every project wondering if he would approve; to be a good professional. But Mom? If I can be as good a man as she was a mother, I will die grateful and content.

There are some women who, by circumstance or infirmity, sadly cannot become mothers. Most women whom I have met from those groups have hearts even more tender for families and for children.

However, sorry to tell all of you radical harridans who hate, you have disinvited yourselves from family reunions – not at ballparks on summer afternoons, or Grandma’s house on Winter evenings – but from that mystical, privileged, and sacred Family that truly is a gift of God.

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Does this essay seem to dwell on old-fashioned things? I plead guilty! There are too many old fashions that we are losing. Here is one: a tender lullaby, a mother’s song, written by Stephen Foster 150 years ago. Sung by Alison Kraus.

Click: Slumber, My Darling

Family Christian Stores, Rest in Pieces

3-6-17

A possible Sign of the Times. But this sign says “Going out of business.” Not Sears nor Macy’s nor Outback Steakhouse nor JCPenney nor Kmart nor Office Depot nor Aeropostale. Not American automakers, either; nor air-conditioning plants; not other businesses being yanked back to our shores.

No, this week it was announced that Family Christian Stores, the self-proclaimed “World’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” is giving up the ghost. For several years, the chain’s financial woes widely have been discussed, inside and outside the camp.

There were bankruptcies, reorganizations, proposals, takeovers, conversions from for-“profit” status to non-profit; promises to earmark income to charity; inventories that disappeared; unpaid invoices; at least one publisher and one distributor who were forced to go out of business because of Family Christian’s actions; and, of course, approximately 3000 employees in 240 stores across 36 states.

Beyond this recitation of facts, no more will be said, even as employees in the home office in Michigan are not being told much more than their final dates to report. Many good people tried to make Family Christian Stores work, and the causes perhaps will be fully revealed someday.

The chain began 85 years ago when brothers Pat and Bernie Zondervan (yes, those Zondervans) opened stores. Their bookstores were re-christened Family Christian Bookstores when HarperCollins bought the Zondervan publishing arm. This was about the time, in the interest of disclosure, that books I edited were distributed by Zondervan, and books I wrote were sold in FCB shops. So Zondervan begat Family Bookstores begat Family Christian Bookstores begat Family Christian Stores…

When I noticed that the logo changed – removing “Books” from the name – it told me more than did gossip on business pages and in Christianity Today. Two years ago, in a court-sanctioned bankruptcy move, the chain “shed” $127-million of its obligations; and soon thereafter was sold for $55-million. Customers were little affected, but publishers, authors, manufacturers, and distributors were, negatively.

Excuse me for already breaking my Commandment to recite no more facts. We have the sad reality of this major go-to source for everyday Christians… no longer is a reality. In any form of reorganization.

Time and chance, however, happeneth to all. “The business of America is business,” Calvin Coolidge famously said (and, little appreciated by many, not as a valedictory to capitalism but as a spiritual rebuke to shallow materialism) – and there is a macro-narrative about companies that outlive their usefulness. Manufacturers of buggy-whips were mightily depressed when Henry Ford coldly threatened their existence.

Similarly, as many American manufacturing jobs are moving overseas, history might record that it was the “turn” of emerging economies as the United States moved on to other technologies. To the extent this is true, despite the discomfort and dislocation of middle-aged factory workers, a lot of Economic Nationalism might be retrograde.

Lucky for me, digressions are still in vogue, and I shall return from mine. My point is that times are a-changin’ in retail publishing, as elsewhere. Another Michigan-headquartered chain, Borders, was a recent casualty. Barnes & Noble retains a measure of viability because, and to the extent that, it has become a bookish theme-park in each store, with coffee bars, easy-chair oases, gifts, toys, music, puzzles, and kids’ zones. Smart.

Family Christian did the same thing, accelerated in the past few years. Unlike Barnes & Noble or Starbucks’ pastry and CD counters, the move was doomed to fail, however. Family Christian was in a different line of work, and when it forgot that fact, its days were numbered.

Ken Dalto is “retail expert.” These days, despite the Trump Bump, I fear, his line of work – that is, performing autopsies – will be a growth industry. But his post-mortem of Family Christian’s demise is: “I don’t think it has anything to do with religion – I see it as pure business.”

Indeed, that was the problem: the stores had less and less to do with religion; the Christian religion, specifically.

Which was the chicken; which was the egg? Did the customer-base of believers hanker for more jewelry, pictures frames, wall hangings, travel mugs, driftwood with Bible verses, and baseball caps? Or did Family Christian’s strategic planners cast bigger nets to capture larger numbers of fish? The question is not rhetorical, nor is the answer dispositive: both trends must be true. However, it would have been difficult to hew close to the bedrock commitment to offer of solidly Christian material; and to remain a retailer of books and music.

Being “all things to all people” failed St Paul’s injunction when, say, FCS refused to carry Chick tracts but ballyhooed the latest Osteen books or Christian-lite DVDs. No, Family Christian had tried to become some thing for some people according to the dogmas of marketers and focus groups. In so doing it fell between the pier and the boat.

A Christian literary agent, Steve Laube, was quoted, I think about the consequent failure of Send the Light Distributors: “One less [sic] major distributor to feed the Christian store market.” Beyond the cold analysis, which is unavoidable at any temperature, we arrive at a snapshot of Christian publishing, 2017. Literary agents using bad grammar; Christian book stores that scarcely carry books (during this morning’s visit to my local Family Christian store, a large outlet, I counted only four short aisles of books); and many of the “Christian” books are relativist, celebrity-oriented, motivational, sometimes heretical.

“The Shack” and “Silence” are touted, and consumed, as contemporary substitutes for the Gospel itself. So many new translations of the Bible appear these days that I wonder if God sees this, ultimately, as a churchy Tower of Babel redux.

But times does march on, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there?

I love my 14 commentaries, most of them the size and weight of car batteries. I am proud of my 40-volume set of Luther’s works. Yet I will admit that I haven’t cracked them in several years, not the commentaries anyways. After almost everything I write, I literally thank God and Google. And Wikipedia, sure. Change.

As a Christian author I lament the death, and perhaps dearth, of Christian stores.
But the internet allows us all to sell, and to buy. Smartphones and iPads allow us conveniently to follow scripture passages in our pews. Bibles have not yet been outlawed; and they have margins to accommodate home study.

Up to the minute, the great site FaithHappenings is a one-stop shop for ordering books, reading reviews, following debates, learning about concerts and speakers – more than “old-fashioned” (ouch) retail outlets ever could.

Roughly concurrent to the Family Christian announcement, Tim Keller of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian shared the news that he would retire from his pulpit… however to shepherd his megachurch into three smaller congregations; each in turn to plant three “daughter” churches of their own. Thus (through the City to City program) has Tim encouraged the establishment of almost 400 churches in 54 cities around the world.

It’s hard to keep a good Gospel down. But my daughter Emily made a prescient point about the trend, perhaps death-spiral, of Family Christian’s product-line decisions. Christian jewelry and decorations and toys were not co-opting Target and WalMart – who will, after all, pick up Jesus products in new corners of their stores, complete with the superficiality.

No, it might all be illustrating the stark fact that contemporary Christianity in America has become jewelry and decoration and toys.

If belly-up Family Christian Stores across the landscape is what we need to demonstrate that sad fact, then may the chain Rest in Pieces.
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Click: Lachrimosa

Mother Sang a Song

9-19-16

I have a good friend, a neighbor who is a faithful Christian. As happens to devout believers, she is facing challenges and tests. I will quickly add that we know that “the rain falls on the good and the bad” alike, but tests seem most severe on strong Christians.

Properly seen, the devil has less reason to attack those of little faith. And as my wife once pointed out in a way I had never heard it explained, the devil has less reason to attack us, than to rail against Jesus — we will suffer attacks according to the amount of Jesus we invite to have a home in our hearts.

More Jesus in our lives, more persecution and challenges will come our way. But in God’s providence, the Jesus in our hearts does not merely provide answers… but IS the answer, our sword and shield; the Holy Spirit our protector.

My friend is strong, and a strong witness, but at time is spiritually discouraged. Sickness in the home, a disabled spouse, put burdens on her. Her three little kids – bless their hearts – are handfuls. She has wanted to finish her education and start a business with a friend, but cannot. Two sets of good friends are going through awful times, and she feels helpless to assist them, yet tries.

Through it all, despite prayer, discouragement yet looms.

It is the lot of us all, these challenges and, sometimes, tragedies. For the majority of human history, and over many cultures, people have believed that Man should be the Provider, and Woman the Nurturer. But there is thin theology in clichés. The Bible itself is full of examples of women as role models, as carriers of the seed of the Messiah, as special servants and leaders.

It is just different with women, wives, and mothers. The kind of “different” that means special.

One of the Bible’s most beautiful and profound prayers is the “Magnificat,” the response of Mary when she learns that she is carrying Jesus, the Savior of the world:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior;
For He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.
For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.

It is not blasphemous to say that all women may rejoice in this prayer, and see their situations in that which was visited upon Mary. Motherhood is a holy thing. “Lowliness” is exalted. The character of one’s family, the future of the race, and the perpetuation of God’s Kingdom, is the cherished possession of every mother.

It is one thing for neighbors to encourage others to “look to Jesus” and trust in God. But mothers – often lonely and vulnerable, sometimes having to be wife, mother, friend, sister, brother, father, leader, and warrior too – need to be reminded that while they look to Jesus… Jesus is looking at them. So are their children and family members, and hurting friends, and strangers.

This advice could invite greater realization of burdens, but always does the opposite. Sharing Jesus; making a “small group” of your home; being the fierce spiritual protectoress that God desires, brings peace, healing, victory.

Another friend recently asked me what my “religious life” was when I grew up. My father, a traditional German Lutheran, was a believer, and active in church. But beyond dinner-table prayers, he seldom talked about Jesus. My mother, however – also a German Lutheran – emotionally prayed, frequently talked about Jesus, answered many of my life-questions in biblical contexts. She had smoked nonstop since her teens years and had a problem with drinking… but she wept every time she prayed. Cause and effect? I don’t know, but she taught me the reality of a personal relationship with Christ.

My own wife Nancy, whose 63rd birthday would have been this week, died after years of horrendous medical problems – heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, heart and kidney transplants, dialysis – yet the most vulnerable member of our family was the strongest example of faith.

Painfully shy, she yet began a noted ministry to those who suffered what she did. Physically challenged in myriad ways, she yet fretted that her children were inconvenienced by her illnesses. Never attending Bible school, she studied and became a powerful exegete – a “doer of the Word, not a hearer only.”

Although it is not Mother’s day – another cliché, but true: all days are mothers’ days – I want to encourage the friend I wrote about; I remember my mom; I honor my late wife. And I want us all to remember that the opposite of discouragement is encouragement. That the “fort” buried in the word “comfort,” and the Holy Spirit’s other name, the Comforter, remind us that strength can be ours, and not only in us, but granted to us, by grace.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning, Psalm 30:5 reminds us. Thank God for mothers, their prayers, and their songs.

+ + +

This is an old standard, written by Bill Anderson (sung by him here at a 50th anniversary tribute to his career) and recorded through the years by everyone from Walter Brennan to jazz bandleader Stan Kenton.

Click: Mother Sang a Song

The Festival of the Empty Nest

8-15-16

The end of summer is nigh… Schools are back in session… Once upon a time, it was the “new television season”… Labor Day around the corner and the traditional beginning of the presidential campaign (I wish it WERE only starting now, instead of two hundred weeks ago)….

Anyway, these few days are called many things, but they are also regarded by countless families as the Festival of the Empty Nest. Many young people are going off to college for the first time.

Leaving home, whether it is to dive into life, or for the intermediary step of a college career, or the military, or a job opportunity, is a Rite of Passage. For parents and children alike it is, or should be, the essence of Bittersweet. All of a sudden, 17 or 18 years seems like a blur; everyone becomes conscious of unfinished projects and unshared words.

But the clock is ticking, the calendar is calling, and life awaits. Oddly, the hours drag, but the years have flown.

I watched the recent conventions and wondered about the rising class of future leaders. Old leaders and newcomers spoke. Many times I asked myself: “A third of billion people in America, and this is the best we can do?” Who are next on the horizon? Do they know? Can they dream? – Can they prepare well? It is a lesson framed many ways: “Carpe diem” – seize the day. “Never a second chance at a first impression.” “Strike while the iron is hot.” “We pass this way but once.”

I see lessons to be applied in family situations when children leave home, too. Our regrets should not equate with inability to let go. Every one of us should say all that we can to our children; express everything, without reservation. As we should have all those years past. Now is the time to make up for uncountable lost opportunities! Or so we feel.

Children juggle the loss of the family’s pod-like security and the excitement of independence. I was always a little disappointed when my own children did not resist getting on the school bus on the first days of their school lives, as I fought back tears. But, to them they were new chapters; to me, chapters ending.

For parents there is no way properly to describe the mixed feelings of the mixed blessing. You will miss the daughter or son. For many of us, despite the contrary assurance of worldly logic, a crater suddenly exists in our everyday lives. But we are wired as parents to possess an indescribable joy in seeing our children take their next steps into the world. Spread their wings. It is RIGHT. It is what you have prepared your child for – even if not yourself, fully – all these years.

Being a parent was never easy. Oh, all the challenges and crises… but then how is it that the hardest part comes when they leave home?

I’m not sure science has ever analyzed tears. Those salty droplets. Maybe one of our budding students will win the Nobel Prize for such research. But there are tears of pain, of regret, of sorrow, of bitterness, of lost opportunities, of lost love and found love, and surely tears of joy. The tears that parents shed during these rites of passage are of a special composition. Distilled, they somehow confirm to us God’s loving “wheel” of life – “there is a season,” He tells us. Whether a little scary, or seemingly sudden, or a guarantee of big changes in our lives… we must seize more than the moment, but the season too.

“Letting go?” Think of it as spreading your arms in fond farewell, so that they can be open to receive… when the next season comes.

+ + +

I have never heard a song, or read lyrics, that more beautifully reflects the bundle of emotions in the Rite of Passage of children leaving home (in this case, a college student) than “Letting Go,” by Doug Crider and Matt Rollings.

She’ll take the painting in the hallway,
The one she did in junior high.
And that old lamp up in the attic,
She’ll need some light to study by.

She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day.
She should be past the tears; she cries some anyway.
Letting go: There’s nothing in the way now,
Oh, letting go, there’s room enough to fly.
And even though she spent her whole life waiting,
It’s never easy letting go.

Mother sits down at the table,
So many things she’d like to do.
Spend more time out in the garden,
Now she can get those books read too.

She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day.
She should be past the tears; she cries some anyway.
Letting go: There’s nothing in the way now,
Oh, letting go, there’s room enough to fly.
And even though she spent her whole life waiting,
It’s never easy letting go.

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For a music video of this song, amazingly performed by the amazing Suzy Bogguss (wife of Doug Crider), click: Letting Go

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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