Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

Angels Just Like You

8-11-13

A friend, the noted theatrical impresario Charles Putnam Basbas, recently forwarded one of those oft-forwarded internet stories to me. The story of a miracle baby born prematurely, it was not outrageously implausible (not to me anyway; my children were born 10 weeks, five weeks, and eight weeks early around 30 years ago when those factors were dicey; and they had, and have, healthy, robust lives). Yet this story, as full of meaning as of surprises, checked out as true when I pursued “truth or fiction” sites.

Maybe you, too, have read it:

The Smell of Rain

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. She was still groggy from surgery. Her husband, David, held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news. That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24 weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency Cesarean to deliver couple’s new daughter, Danae Lu Blessing.

At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor’s soft words dropped like bombs.

“I don’t think she’s going to make it,” he said, as kindly as he could. “There’s only a 10 per cent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one.”

Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk, she would never talk, she would probably be blind, and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation, and on and on.

“No! No!” was all Diana could say. She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana. Because Danae’s underdeveloped nervous system was essentially “raw,” the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn’t even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl.

There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger. But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Danae turned two months old. her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later, though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero, Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

[Five years later] Danae was a petite but feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She showed no signs whatsoever of any mental or physical impairment. Simply, she was everything a little girl can be and more. But that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving, Texas, Danae was sitting in her mother’s lap in the bleachers of a local ball park where her brother Dustin’s baseball team was practicing.
As always, Danae was chattering nonstop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby, when she suddenly fell silent . Hugging her arms across her chest, little Danae asked, “Do you smell that?”

Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, “Yes, it smells like rain.”

Danae closed her eyes and again asked, “Do you smell that?”

Once again, her mother replied, “Yes, I think we’re about to get wet. It smells like rain.”

Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, “No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on his chest.”

Tears blurred Diana’s eyes as Danae happily hopped down to play with the other children. Before the rains came, her daughter’s words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along.

During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.

Back to MMMM. As I noted, in recent years, Danae’s story has circulated on the internet. It first was published in Richard L. Scott’s book, Miracles In Our Midst: Stories of Life, Love, Kindness, and Other Miracles (Wessex House). Scott, the former CEO of Columbia Health Systems and currently the Republican governor of Florida, sought out tales of triumph over medical odds. Danae’s story (then titled “Heaven Scent”) is his favorite. That little girl Danae, without knowing it, has inspired many people. An angel, in her own way.

To me, the spiritual “icing on the cake” to this story Charlie forwarded was someone’s legend at the bottom:

ANGELS EXIST, but sometimes, since they don’t all have wings, we call them FRIENDS.

And this summation reminded me of a song with a spiritual message, sung by a secular singer, the great Delbert McClinton (who is great even when Vince Gill and Lee Roy Parnell are not backing him up…) –

Click: Sending Me Angels (Just Like You)

Do It… Anyway

1-10-11

That we live in a “throwaway culture” is a cliché. Clichés usually become clichés because they are true. In the 1950s a big topic of discussion in America was  the business concept of Planned Obsolescence – the manufacture of things just shoddy enough so that consumers would get a Buzz from the Bling of the New, until those things fell apart. Next, advertisers helped convince people that replacing those obsolete things was better than fixing them.

The slippery slope was greased. The American culture has moved to Disposable Everything. From appliances needing repair to clothes that need mending, fixing is not just out of fashion, but practically disreputable. Near the bottom of the cultural slide, inevitably, are disposable marriages and disposable kids. Then, abortions, “mercy killings,” and, yes, government-sponsored “death-panel” counseling. Another manifestation is revolving theology – “moral relativism,” a pick-and-choose set of standards that represents Open-Mindedness; that is, minds so open that peoples’ brains fall out.

But some things are right anyway, true anyway, worth it… anyway.

A major denomination whose membership rolls have been shrinking in recent decades (coincident with its Disposable Theology, more and more and more liberal on doctrine) is running a TV commercial campaign, imploring people, “Visit us; you’ll like us.” I suppose they hold nice pot-luck dinners, but for a church to twist its message to be something people “like” to hear, is to bring Planned Obsolescence to religion. Jesus did not go the cross for telling people what they wanted to hear.

He was condemned to the cross because He said things people NEEDED to hear.

Dedicated Christians are swimming upstream these days – to state the situation mildly. We tell the old, old story… and are met by firestorms of opposition from the culture, from the entertainment world, from the music industry, from radio and TV, from Hollywood, from the mainstream media, from the courts, from politicians and bureaucrats… and, too often, from apostate churches.

How do we respond? If we hate compromise on every side, the first thing we should avoid doing is to… compromise.

This week, amateur divers found the wreckage of the USS Revenge. The ship, commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry, was lost in a storm 200 years ago off the coast of Providence. Two years later, in a naval victory on Lake Erie, he uttered the famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours!” The motto on his battle flag became, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” still the U S Navy’s motto.

America needs citizens who say, “Don’t give up the ship,” and Christian Patriots must be in the front of the lines. It can be discouraging to lose battles and see our culture slip away – our heritage rudely transformed – but we must fight anyway.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. — James 1:12

We might lose some battles, but we fight anyway. We might lose some goals, but we dream anyway. We might lose some allies, but we pray for them anyway. We might lose some denominations, but not the Word of God.

These things might be tough to put into practice, but they are essential to remember. That’s why stirring words and music, a good anthem, is needed today… and here is a nomination. Martina McBride’s classic song is a grassroots battle-hymn, perfect for this moment of crisis in our culture wars.

Click:  I Do It Anyway

 

The Best Possible New Year’s Wish

1-3-11

The recent lunar eclipse is the last the northern hemisphere will see for a number of years. Its coincidence with the Winter solstice was the first in three centuries. Our New Year’s Day, 1-1-11, is the last such group of numbers until… oh, you get it.

If you think hard enough, EVERY day is the last of this or the first of that.

As Christians, we should see life that way. Every regret or painful memory, for instance, can be filed under “past” because we have forgiveness and a new life offered by Jesus. And no matter what else is going on, TODAY can be the start of amazing things you can do, and God can do through you.

There is a traditional Irish blessing (set to music and beautiful photographs in the link below) that is both appropriate for any day, between friends, as we are; and to think upon this New Year.

It set me thinking about Ireland’s role in Christian history. At one point, in Europe, Rome fell to barbarians, sacked and pillaged. The trappings of “civilization” and Christianity were put to flight. To a great extent, learning and biblical spirituality were pushed westward, until the Atlantic Ocean became a watery end-of-the-road. In Ireland, in isolated monasteries and abbeys, the Bible was copied by hand; faith was kept alive; Christian traditions were nurtured. There were pockets of believers elsewhere, of course, but largely it was a persecuted church. It was the “Dark Ages,” but things were not so dark in those places where the flame of faith was kept glowing.

I have a feeling that the decade we enter this weekend will be characterized as a decade of Christian persecution. It won’t be the last, but there is no reason to think that the attacks on believers we see in the news (and many we don’t), weekly and now daily around the world, will not grow in intensity or ferocity. These happen in Pakistan, North Korea, China, Iraq, Egypt, Russia, Cuba, India… and Western Europe and Canada and the United States.

Erosion of religious liberty, mockery of our Christian heritage, “legal” restrictions on the exercise of our faith and sharing our beliefs – classifying portions of the Bible as “hate speech” is only one of countless examples – confirm that no place in the world is safe from attack. Just as The Son of Man, we believers will have “no place to lay our heads,” spiritually speaking.

When the Irish “saved civilization” and preserved Western Christianity for a season, it was the geographical firewall. Today, in the global community with new media, each one of us – individuals who have received the Great Commission from Jesus Himself – will need to be virtual monasteries unto ourselves: Holding the Word close; keeping the flame of faith alive; nurturing Christian tradition.

I wish you not a path devoid of clouds, nor a life on a bed of roses,
Not that you might never need regret,
nor that you should never feel pain.

No, that is not my wish for you.
My wish for you is:

That you might be brave in times of trial,
when others lay crosses upon your shoulders.
When mountains must be climbed and chasms are to be crossed,
When hope can scarce shine through.
That every gift God gave you might grow with you
and let you give your gift of joy to all who care for you.
That you may always have a Friend who is worth that name,
whom you can trust and who helps you in times of sadness,
Who will defy the storms of daily life at your side.

One more wish I have for you:
That in every hour of joy and pain you may feel God close to you.
This is my wish for you and for all who care for you.
This is my hope for you now and forever.

– anonymous Irish blessing

Click:  The Best Possible New Year’s Wish

Reform

This week: Swirling days of Hallowe’en, Elections, and Reformation Day.

They are all, sort of, about the same things; this year anyway; if we regard Hallowe’en from the original perspective all All Saint’s Day.

This will not be a message primarily addressing the elections, although Reform is needed and Reform is driving the enthusiasm. It will not be a message about the perversion of All Hallow’s Eve, although it is a manifestation of the nexus of corrupted beliefs and commercial pollution in our culture. ’nuff said. Neither is my concern the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation — specifically, that is, Reformation Sunday, just observed. Nor the issues surrounding the Catholic Church almost 500 years ago.

For I don’t think the Reformation started with Luther’s nailing 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Of course its stirrings were in the protests and martyrdom of earlier believers. But in Luther’s case I believe the Reformation started when he made a pilgrimage to Rome.

(Click for a short movie clip) :   Martin Luther in Rome

He realized, clearly, what had been around him in the culture, especially the church culture — growing in intensity, sinking in shame. Perverted doctrine… sex scandals… monetary corruption… a loss of purity. That is when his conscience, and his Bible training, and the Holy Spirit moved him to revulsion.

Again: I am not thinking here of the Church then. I am thinking of the church now. As a Protestant, I know several of its denominations best, so I can address them best; and I am moved to revulsion too.

Perverted doctrine — Churches more concerned with political correctness than the Word of God — and a “pick and choose” theology that makes sinners the author of new dogmas.

Sex scandals — Shame to the clergy, across all Protestant denominations; the Catholic church rocked to its foundations in the US and Europe.

Monetary corruption — When TV preachers plead for “seed offerings” and “faith gifts” and make links between salvation and buying trinkets or “unlocking” the Prosperity Gospel with “love offerings”… how in hell is that different from buying indulgences, kissing rings, and venerating phony relics? Buy your way to heaven! What has changed since Luther’s trip to Rome?

A loss of purity — “Christian” churches today are more concerned with offending sinners than saving them; more concerned with ministering to bodies alone and not souls; more concerned with what unchurched kids, or agnostics, or Jews, or Muslims, or homosexuals, or Oprah, think… than what God thinks.

If Luther were here today, he would have 95 new theses, maybe more, to nail somewhere. Maybe on a lot of churches’ doors. Maybe on the doors of movie theaters. Maybe on TV screens and computer screens. Maybe on the doors of the White House and Congress and the Supreme Court. Maybe on my door, and maybe yours. But the… should WE be the new Martin Luthers?

If there be real reform on Reformation Week — and election week — let it begin with us. And if push-backs come, if persecution follows, let us remember Luther’s astounding words: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Music and history: Click   Here I Stand

An Anthem to Creativity

A little departure — not a “religious” message; but, I hope, a spiritual one!

It is to share a moment with you who are engaged in creativity. Nobody run for the exit, because in a way, we all are so engaged. I thought of this because I was on the phone this afternoon with a friend, and I bollixed up a couple of things having to do with numbers… typical for me, stupid things. Some of us typically mumble things about “right brain, left brain,” but working in the creative arts is not always the same thing as exercising creativity!

Many of my friends are writers or cartoonists, and what I am about to say is common to them, and to musicians and poets and singers and painters and composers and actors and photographers. And public speakers. And counselors. And designers. And decorators. Teachers. Pastors. Charity workers. Those entrusted with law-enforcement. Ministers, by definition. Even accountants (ha) and politicians making claims and taping commercials (ha ha) have to be creative. Certainly mothers and caregivers, a thousand ways every day.

… Actually, you can’t name a human activity where creativity does not come into play. And if you think you have found someone, or some profession… surely that person ASPIRES to write or perform or draw in private time. Or to receive that mysterious, soul-satisfying sustenance from enjoying the works of people who do — which is, just as real, a Bond of Creativity.

All of this is commonplace — banal if it is in fact so universal — except that we don’t always realize it. We don’t appreciate it in others, but anyone who creates some work of art, on any level, bares his or her soul to a world that can reject or ridicule or despise it. Yet we do what we do because we have to. We have to share it; we have to “let it out”; we have to touch someone we probably will never meet. The cliched creator who lives a hermit-like existence is actually the most open and vulnerable of God’s creatures.

Create… creatures… Creator. Here we bring a message full circle. If we fail to appreciate creativity in others, surely a lot of us tend to miss the creativity in ourselves. It is there, it should be encouraged, and, as a principle of life, must be exercised to be healthy and strong. Some people believe that to say that humans “create” anything is blasphemous — that only God can create anything. I think that is true if you are playing word games.

God has given us, among His unique gifts, sparks of creativity. Anything we “create” is therefore an extension of His grace and His glory. J S Bach began every one of his works with the words, “Help me, Jesus,” and ended every work with the words, “To God be ALL the glory.” Nothing we can create is apart from Him.

Illustrating my message is a secular song, not by Bach but by the singer/songwriter Lacy J Dalton. It perfectly catches the creative process — the inchoate passion, the unquenchable dreams, the insane struggles, the breakthroughs; the success that is not always commercial, but measured by the “Aha!” moment in whatever pursuit you choose. Her metaphor is the singer/songwriter (the best art is inescapably self-referential). 16th Avenue, Nashville’s street of dreams where recording studios and performance stages abound, is her metaphor of the world. Oh, she nails it. Aha!

Appreciate your own creativity this week, and that in others. Celebrate it. Exercise it. And remember its source — the One who is reflected and honored in what you do.

Click:  An Anthem to Creativity

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand

This week, the whole world watched the rescue of the miners in Chile, and the whole world was inspired — it could not be otherwise.

I watched through the night; many of us did. Being an old guy, a portion of my amazement was the technology improvised for their rescue, but more, the fact the cameras could broadcast from half a mile under rock; and then, I could watch it in real time 6000 miles away. (Frankly, I was amazed that I could make my TV-remote work that evening, but that’s me)

We have heard a lot about the miners, and will hear a lot more as interviews, books, and movies will surely follow. But I share with you a few random impressions I had:

* 33 miners, 69 days… I am not into Bible codes and biblical numerology, but occasionally God DOES leave spiritual reminders in worldly events (three is the Biblical sign of godly perfection — the Trinity; three days before the Resurrection; etc) to remind us of His workings. That said…

* The miners were resourceful, strong, and organized… but also, it seems almost a man, spiritual. Reportedly half were Catholic and half evangelical or Pentecostal. The Vatican sent missals and Rosaries down the first shaft, when opened; and a Baptist church sent Bibles and hymn books. (Evangelicalism is sweeping the continent. There are more Pentecostals than Catholics, for instance, in neighboring Brazil.) There were frequent services and constant prayers underground.

* Through the night President Sebastian Pinera was seen praying quietly on a bench, not showing off but with head bowed, crossing himself afterward. The first rescuer who descended in the capsule said a prayer and crossed himself before the door was closed.

* Many miners used their first words above ground to thank God. Some fells to their knees immediately — were they collapsing? No, they were in prayer; some held their little Bibles high.

* Several miners donned T-shirts when they were unhooked from the capsule. Family members, too, had been wearing them. On the front they said, “Gracias Senor” — Thank you, Lord. And on the backs was a Bible verse: “To Him be the glory and honor. Because in His hands are the depths of the earth; and the heights of the mountains are His” (Psalm 95:4)

* At least one miner received Christ during the ordeal, and — regarding that number “3″ — one miner said that there were really 34 in the mine, because he felt that Jesus was always with them.

* Finally, I remember that one miner said something along these lines: “We faced God down there… and we faced the devil. God won. We reached out and held His hand.”

Holding to God’s unchanging hand… do you know the simple but powerful song with that title? It seems almost written FOR this event we witnessed! Franklin L Eiland, composer of many great hymns, wrote this about 100 years ago (He was grandfather of Cindy Walker, the first female songwriters elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame).

This version is sung by Lindell Cooley, who was Worship Leader at the Brownsville Revival in Pensecola when I went there a couple times a dozen years ago. Today he is pastor of Grace Church in Nashville. Powerful performance, and relevant to the miracles of faith we just witnessed.

Click:  Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand

 

Have a great week holdin’ on…

Angels Just Like You

10-10-10

A friend, the noted theatrical impresario Charles Putnam Basbas, recently forwarded one of those oft-forwarded internet stories to me. The story of a miracle baby born prematurely, it was not outrageously implausible (not to me anyway; my children were born 10 weeks, five weeks, and eight weeks early around 30 years ago when those factors were dicey; and they had, and have, healthy, robust lives). Yet this story, as full of meaning as of surprises, checked out as true when I pursued “truth or fiction” sites.

Maybe you, too, have read it:

The Smell of Rain

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. She was still groggy from surgery. Her husband, David, held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news. That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24 weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency Cesarean to deliver couple’s new daughter, Danae Lu Blessing.

At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor’s soft words dropped like bombs.

“I don’t think she’s going to make it,” he said, as kindly as he could. “There’s only a 10 per cent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one.”

Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk, she would never talk, she would probably be blind, and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation, and on and on.

“No! No!” was all Diana could say. She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana. Because Danae’s underdeveloped nervous system was essentially “raw,” the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn’t even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl.

There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger. But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Danae turned two months old. her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later, though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero, Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

[Five years later] Danae was a petite but feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She showed no signs whatsoever of any mental or physical impairment. Simply, she was everything a little girl can be and more. But that happy ending is far from the end of her story.

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving, Texas, Danae was sitting in her mother’s lap in the bleachers of a local ball park where her brother Dustin’s baseball team was practicing.
As always, Danae was chattering nonstop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby, when she suddenly fell silent . Hugging her arms across her chest, little Danae asked, “Do you smell that?”

Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, “Yes, it smells like rain.”

Danae closed her eyes and again asked, “Do you smell that?”

Once again, her mother replied, “Yes, I think we’re about to get wet. It smells like rain.”

Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, “No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on his chest.”

Tears blurred Diana’s eyes as Danae happily hopped down to play with the other children. Before the rains came, her daughter’s words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along.

During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.

Back to MMMM. As I noted, in recent years, Danae’s story has circulated on the internet. It first was published in Richard L. Scott’s book, Miracles In Our Midst: Stories of Life, Love, Kindness, and Other Miracles (Wessex House). Scott, the former CEO of Columbia Health Systems and currently the Republican candidate for governor of Florida [since elected -- ed.], sought out tales of triumph over medical odds. Danae’s story (then titled “Heaven Scent”) is his favorite. That little girl Danae, without knowing it, has inspired many people. An angel, in her own way.

To me, the spiritual “icing on the cake” to this story Charlie forwarded was someone’s legend at the bottom:

ANGELS EXIST, but sometimes, since they don’t all have wings, we call them FRIENDS.

And this summation reminded me of a song with a spiritual message, sung by a secular singer, the great Delbert McClinton (who is great even when Vince Gill and Lee Roy Parnell are not backing him up…) –

Click:  Sending Me Angels (Just Like You)

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

Good Morning! Good Morning? Some folks these days would not jump to characterize this day, or this week, or “these times,” as “good.” Just about everybody has been affected by the awful economy or the government’s responses that seemingly work to make Bad things Worse.

Several friends have declared bankruptcy; another friend desperately is finding no buyers for her house; my daughter sold hers after three years of lowering the price, drip by drip. The government tells us that the recession ended in June, and I am reminded of a high school teacher who once told me, “statistics don’t lie… but statisticians do.”

Houses underwater — fiscally or literally — or jobs or investments or retirement accounts: things look bleak, and the horizon seems bleaker. God tells us to keep our eyes on things to come; we do count our many blessing, and we try to keep things in perspective. We do so — Christians must!

There was a time about 30 years ago I was in despair, experiencing these types of crises. I knew the Bible verse, “Be anxious for nothing…” but I was anxious about EVERYTHING.

And then God did something interesting. Another verse I knew was Jesus’s reassurance that not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s knowledge; and that we are more precious than sparrows in His sight. But surely I was not feeling it… not really knowing it.

One day in my deepest distress, my morning devotional reading was based on that passage. Sparrows. Later that day, a preacher on Christian radio (background noise till that moment) addressed that parable. Sparrows. That evening, on the car radio, a station played the gospel song, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”

OK, the first point is that I got the point. And it encouraged me mightily. But the other point has never left me: God doesn’t just speak to us through His word — sometimes He repeats His message in various ways, over and over, even shouting to us, until we get it!

Oh, Lord, open our ears!

Here is a beautiful version of that comforting old hymn, sung by the wonderful singer of spirituals, Ethel Waters, from am old black-and-white movie. She asks, “Why should I be discouraged…?”

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows!” Matt. 10: 29-31

Click:  His Eye Is On the Sparrow

I’ll Fly Away

I once heard a prominent preacher in the “emergent church” trash one of my favorite old gospel songs, “I’ll Fly Away.”

“If I could, I would rip that song out of every hymn-book,” he said. He considered it irresponsible and against Christ’s teachings to want to leave this world, when there is so much to do here. So much poverty and injustice to fight… and so on.

That type of analysis is one reason I wish the emergents would become the submergents. Christ admonished us to look up, and wait expectantly for that day. Bible prophecy tells us of no sweeter promise than when we shall meet Him in the air. Yes, God has tasks for us here in this world, but it can be arrogant, not just irresponsible, to suggest that God cannot do things without us. And… there is a danger in putting too must trust in doctrines of works.

The whole Gospel must hold. Comfortable suburban (faddish) teachers who cannot relate to worshipers whose lives have been hard and challenging, those who hope for the Bible’s promised release, those who find comfort — and even perseverance — in songs like “I’ll Fly Away”… pity those teachers, or ignore them. They preach to each other.

Fasten your seat belts, because I’m going to share a very unorthodox (in some neighborhoods, anyway) version of “I’ll Fly Away.” Two decades ago I was writing a three-part biography of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and country singer Mickey Gilley. They are all first cousins, and grew up in Ferriday, Louisiana, attending the same little Assembly of God church.

I learned that for a brief time, Jerry Lee had attended Bible College, in Waxahatchie, Texas. I interviewed a fellow student, Charles Wigley (later a district superintendent of the Assemblies of God) who told me that a few students used to get together and play gospel music… and got in trouble for “juking it up.” Of course Jerry also got invited to leave the school because he used to sneak out at night and go to the Deep Elm section of Houston…

Be that as it may, the jazzed-up style of rock and country and the fervent evangelistic piano playing in Pentecostal churches sometimes straddled an indistinct line. Here is a video of Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley performing “I’ll Fly Away” in what you might consider another installment in our “Doing Church Another Way” series! (Definitely NOT Baroque music)

This is how old it is: it was recorded, I think, the day after Reagan was elected president in 1980 (Jerry Lee throws in a reference to that fact)

To close the circle, see if you think worshipers in a little country church would have felt irresponsible about their faith after joining in with this song. Would you rip this out of a songbook?

Click:  I’ll Fly Away 

Leave It There

Years ago, when my wife had her heart and kidney transplants, the Lord used the circumstance to give our whole family a burden for others in the Heart Failure Unit at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. He also graced us with a boldness to pray with those patients who waited… or who received the medical miracles… or whose transplants went awry… or their families in those situations, or, sometimes, times of grief.

There were questions, always questions, and we were laymen with few answers. We often were asked by pastors, even, how we managed to deal with peoples’ confusion and fear and doubt and sorrow and terror and loneliness. Well, it was the same as we dealt with faith and hope and conversions and even healing. It wasn’t us, it was Jesus — all we could do was share Jesus. (“All”? Yes, it was everything we could do).

We frequently sang a gospel song that became many patients’ favorite: Leave It There. Its words include:

If your body suffers pain and your health you can’t regain, And your soul is almost sinking in despair,
Jesus knows the pain you feel, He can save and He can heal; Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

Leave it there, leave it there, Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

After a time I learned the amazing coincidence (?) that the gospel song had been written only a few blocks from Temple University Hospital, where we met for those services! C A Tindley, the son of a slave, educated himself, moved north to Philadelphia, secured a job as janitor of a church… and eventually became its pastor. His large mixed-race flock of 10,000 enjoyed his powerful preaching and his moving hymns for years. (One of his hymns, I’ll Overcome Someday, was transformed with different words and tempo into the Civil Rights anthem We Shall Overcome.) Tindley Temple United Methodist Church was his “home,” and today there is a C A Tindley Boulevard in Philadelphia.

So every time we sang that song in the Heart Failure Unit, we did honor to a man in whose neighborhood we sang, who taught untold multitudes (and still does, through such songs) that we should “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”… and leave them there at the foot of the cross.

By the way, another coincidence: this Gaither Homecoming video by Lillie Knauls and Babbie Mason is my favorite version. After my father died, in Florida, my sisters and I did not know what to do with furniture, kitchen appliances, household goods, and such, a thousand miles away from where we each lived. I called my pastor, whose sister, I knew, worked in a church nearby in central Florida. Could they find a needy family, perhaps, who could use these things? A few days later I received a phone call from another lady in that church who said she could indeed direct a couple families to the goods, and took down the information. Her name had rung a bell in my head but I thought, “no, it couldn’t be…” But it was. Lillie Knauls! A professional gospel singer, but also on the staff of that church. I was indeed happy to return blessings I had received from her through this performance…

But through it all, the simple message: through all of life’s challenges: don’t fret. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

Click:   Leave It There

Friends

It comes to our in-boxes with increased frequency: “So-and-so wants to be your friend” on Facebook or some other “social networking” site.

Many of these requests come from friends-of-friends-of-friends… or people we have never met.

Here we are in a society where acquaintances call themselves friends… where strangers want you to officially declare them friends… all without words spoken, hands shaken, or smiles exchanged.

We have forgotten the essence of friendship, but thirst for the qualities it represents.

Jesus told us what true friendship is all about. And He not only defined it, but lived it — embodied it. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Greater love had no man than He had for us, laying down His life for… His friends.

I have felt guilty lately that my communications with friends have been sporadic. Nothing is so important in life that we should neglect out friends. When we’re too busy for that… we are TOO BUSY.

Today my new grandson, Zachary Alpheus Shaw, was baptized. The church service, hymns, and homily, reminded us all that Jesus is Zach’s friend, and all of ours. Today I also received a heartfelt report from a dear friend, Becky Spencer, who just returned from Africa, where she spent nine days in Mozambique, working alongside Israel Jovo and the Rhandzanani Christian School. Israel takes the Gospel to villages in the bush where they have no other preacher, and he trains other preachers/pastors and their wives. He has a case of recurring malaria, can’t so much as lift his legs, has a high fever, and is in horrible pain. He needs to get to South Africa where trained treatment awaits; he needs healing. Becky reports a downhill spiral just since she was there a few days ago saying her goodbyes.

Baby Zach in his innocence has a Friend; Israel Jovo in his distress needs a Friend. Yet the opposite locution is just as true: little Zach needs a Friend like Jesus — we all do — and the suffering servant Israel Jovo in Mozambique has a Friend indeed.

And the extent to which Christians are friends to each other directly relates to the “amount” of Jesus we invite into our hearts… and share.

Have a good week, friends! [update: Israel Jovo, in Mozambique, has been healed!]

Click:  Friends

Home, Where I Belong

Here is a tale about a not-so-happy Saturday I just endured… that got me thinking about current events as microcosms of larger issues in life.

I stupidly opened a blind link from a bogus e-mail address (“cloned” to be similar to that of a friend). Well, dozens of pop-ups popped up. I lost access to all my filters and cleansing software, my internet connection, even my Word files, proposals, unfinished manuscripts, research notes… and I went of my mind.

I pulled out the laptop and Googled everything I could. The pop-ups were phony ads trying to save me from viruses, but was itself a virus. “RansomWare,” it is called, because I was frozen unless I would purchase the program (and even at that, who knows?).

Frantic, I checked in with my new son-in-law in Ireland, a computer wiz. He has a Mac, so (all together now) “never has to deal with such things.” But he Googled too, and checked blogs of other victims, and on the phone and Skype simultaneously, we found a solution that worked. I am now free and clean. Six hours total of angst, three and a half solid hours on the phone with Ireland.

When I recovered, I got to thinking…

It shows how little — that is, not at all — human nature has progressed. People who cause these problems, whether for a little profit or pure malice, are no different than highwaymen hiding behind trees along forest pathways a thousand years ago, or urban pickpockets of Dickens’ time.

It’s the same thing with, say, abortion. Forty million dead babies today since Roe vs Wade — how is this different than “human sacrifice” or babies on pagan altars, in ancient or “primitive” societies? In fact, it might be worse today, in terms of the blackness of our souls. In ancient and primitive societies those people were mistaken, grievously, but at least believed they were serving and appeasing their gods. A murdered baby is still a murdered baby, but in American today, abortion (and so many other sins) are sacrificed to the “gods” of selfishness, greed, laziness, hatred. That’s not progress.

Is there a spiritual lesson? Yes. Human nature has not changed. Human nature won’t change. Human nature can’t change. One of the 700-billion reasons to resent politicians’ assault on freedom and responsibility these days, is that they nurture the lie that human nature is perfectible… and that government can bring perfection about.

Only Jesus can change humans’ nature. And do we despair that the world, without Jesus, is as rotten as it ever was? No… because we are not without Jesus. That’s the plan.

Sometimes this walk seems so dreary, life’s problems seem so challenging. God never said He’d keep us from troubles… just be with us through troubles. A friend wrote the other day, “Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain”!

So, we go through this ol’ life, in the words of this week’s song, “While I’m here I’ll serve Him gladly, and sing Him all my songs”…

… because we know at the end, we’re headed  Home, Where I Belong

It Won’t Rain Always

I’m not sure I’ve ever known a time when so many people — so many Christian friends — are distressed, hurting, facing challenges, as right now.

Of course it’s the economy. Of course there are political crises. Of course when a culture loses its moorings, the ship is going to be tossed around. And the people in it will be buffeted.

The Bible not only warns about such travail… it assures us its part of the package: raining on the just and unjust; but also that the faithful will experience persecution.

Yet we are not without a Friend, and surely not without hope. A new precious friend, Becky Spencer, has a CD out with a wonderful song of hers, “The Coldest Winter (Always Turns to Spring),” and it got me thinking… spring always follows winter; life replaces death, the sun always shines after the storm. And isn’t the most beautiful Spring the one that follows the hardest Winter? and the most amazing sunny day the kind right after an awful storm has swept through?

There is hope, and even in hard times (not SPARED from hard times, but THROUGH hard times) God’s promises are true. This song sung by Cynthia Clawson reminds us, even further, that even when the storm is at its worst, behind the clouds the Sun is still shining!

Click:  It Won’t Rain Always

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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