Tomorrow morning, I will either still be here, or I won’t.

This applies to every one of us; no one knows just what the next hours will bring. But I am talking about the sore back I’ve got and the erratic but painful contractions I’m having. It’s too early, I say. This will all smooth over after a good night’s sleep, and, hey, any disappointment over this time not being IT will be dwarfed by that good night’s sleep!

But, man, my back hurts.

I pass a church often that has a wayside pulpit. The pastor has put many a thought provoking message there over the months and years. This week it says, BE A VOICE, NOT AN ECHO. Huh? I came away scratching my head. Just keeping to the surface of it, I suppose it is a decent saying. Be a leader, not a follower, be the solution not the problem, etc. But if I really think about it, I can’t agree. Not everyone has the opportunity to be out front, making the big plays, in the starring roles. Most of us will live ordinary, unnoticed lives, and will only have echoes of those gone before us to speak. Our task is to make sure we are listening to the right voices in our lives, and echoing accordingly. “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me.”

All this analyzing made me think of one of my favorite hymns- O Thou In Whose Presence. The next to last verse transports us to the throne of God, with countless angels attentive to His WORD, catch that? The last line of the verse never fails to bring me to tears:

He speaks, and eternity, filled with His voice,

Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

That’s what we are here to be, now and for all time- the echoes of His praise.

Prevention Month- Day 8

The words of a great hymn come to mind today, Lord. May it be.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation (Instead Of Have A Baby) Part 1

Still here. Not complaining this fact. We got to do a lot of fun things, and got to get a lot of viruses suffered, before Baby arrived. I like how Thanksgiving opens up the Christmas season for us, allowing for 6 good weeks of celebration and thought. The carols were especially meaningful to me this year, maybe because of the pregnancy but likely just because I was slowing down a bit to really listen to the words:

nails spear shall pierce Him through
the cross be borne for me, for you

radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace

What a rich heritage we have in these timeless hymns. Get to know them now; we’ll be singing them for eternity!
School’s out until February, giving me time to settle into a routine with a newborn again. I am not happy with the work we did not get done before our last day, but this is partly due to illnesses and things out of my control. December has been a month of sickness, unfortunately, but gives us hope we can weather the winter much stronger. One of the things we missed was our monthly classic book club, in which we were supposed to read Mary Poppins, by P.T. Travers. I started reading it to the children the second week of December, but didn’t expect to finish it in time for our meeting with the other families. Turns out I didn’t want to finish this book; I didn’t like it! The original Mary Poppins character is so self-centered and rude that I am actually grateful the person my children are most familiar with is a Disney fabrication! [This may be the only time I ever compliment Disney this highly, so take note] We’ll stick with the movie version, and forget all about the original, thank you. Even though we missed the meeting due to illness and lack of interest in the book, we eagerly look forward to getting back into the swing of things in January, with the A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett.
The first weekend of December our church puts on a community outreach called Experience Bethlehem. Tours are offered that go through different scenes from the Christmas story, then in the gym an elaborate town of Bethlehem is set up, with shops to peruse, a children’s angel choir singing, and in the back, a stable of animals with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in residence. Many years Luke, I, and our newest baby have filled these roles, but this year we did not. The kids did participate in the angel choir, and Luke played his guitar in one of the booths. I stayed home with those too little to have a part, which turned out to be very relaxing. Attendance at the event was over 1100 people; hopefully many heard the gospel message clearly and will make a decision to follow Christ if they have not, as a result of being at Experience Bethlehem.
For the past few years, Luke has been the one to plan and shop for the kids’ Christmas gifts, and has really enjoyed it. This year he got the boys Nerf dart guns, with the hopes of organizing Nerf wars with friends and family in the coming year. This was an exciting highlight that made it hard to keep quiet about for a few more weeks until Christmas. When the time came to wrap our presents, we realized we had run out of tape and almost run out of paper. It made for some interesting-looking packages under the tree! What you can do with contact paper strips and old posters…

My Chains Are Gone

I just read a neat article from one of our missionaries about the meaning of ‘redeem’ in the language of an African country: it means “to take the head out” as in to remove a person’s chains from the neck. Such a great picture of what Jesus has done for us. It makes me think of the hymn, Amazing Grace, and the chorus that Chris Tomlin added:

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

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

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine

Sharing Night

Tomorrow night is the last BSF class of the year for the study of Isaiah. Typically, the evening follows a different routine, where they open up the floor for anyone who wants to share how their life was changed or encouraged from the study. I have been thinking all week about what I want to share- Here are some bits.

Many times during this study, it has become evident that a key component to staying encouraged in the Lord and maintaining joy is to sing His praises. We see Isaiah frequently break out with a joyous song of thanksgiving, of hope, or of victory to God for his many wonderful deeds. I got the idea to make a mix for my iPod that contained songs that made some mention of something said in Isaiah. That is something else neat about this book- I never realized how many oft-used phrases can be found here, like “white as snow”, “mighty to save”, “hiding place”, and “refuge and strength”. I would have placed these in the psalms before I would have thought such wonderful imagery would be found here.
So, from our thousands of collected psalms, hymns and spiritual songs on iTunes, I started culling ones that had these themes. This will be a long process before I am done, but already I have a great playlist of songs that remind me of the things I studied this year in Isaiah. For example:
‘Salvation Belongs To Our God’- Crystal Lewis
-this song describes the praise and worship at His throne at the end of the age, where the redeemed are saying,
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
How thrilling for Isaiah to have gotten glimpses of that day.

I also enjoyed ‘looking’ for those key thoughts and themes from Isaiah in my hymnal. The verses from ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ at times read right out of Isaiah’s pages, as does ‘Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart’, and ‘You Are My Hiding Place’. One hymn for which I have a new fondness, because of this Isaiah study, is ‘Jesus Paid It All’:
I hear the Savior say
“My child, thy faith is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in Me thine all in all.”
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete
“Jesus died my soul to save”
my lips shall still repeat
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
If nothing else, I hope this study will have instilled in me a deeper love for my Savior, and a desire to sing for joy at all He has done for me.

He Lives!

…Only a week late celebrating this, right?! That hymn has been in my head; thought I would share it. I especially like verse three.

I serve a risen Savior,
He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.

In all the world around me
I see His loving care,
And tho my heart grows weary
I never will despair;
I know that He is leading
Thro’ all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing
Will come at last.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs
To Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him,
The help of all who find,
None other is so loving,
So good and kind.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He live, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
~Alfred H. Ackley

A Healing Stream

My friend had a baby girl this afternoon (good!), but suffered some traumatic complications as a result (not good). Even as I write this tonight, I am not sure the ordeal is over. Times like this I am so, so glad for the cross of Christ, that makes the way for me to bring these urgent cries on behalf of a friend before Him. This is the hymn that is in my head right now:

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
there a precious fountain,
free to all, a healing stream,
flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.

2. Near the cross, a trembling soul,
love and mercy found me;
there the bright and morning star
sheds its beams around me.

3. Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
bring its scenes before me;
help me walk from day to day
with its shadow o’er me.

4. Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
hoping, trusting ever,
till I reach the golden strand
just beyond the river.

~Fanny Crosby, William Doane

A Lapidary

dsc02923.JPG“God has given us the task of being a lapidary (a cutter and polisher of gems). It is the lapidary’s art to reveal the gem. Sometimes we may feel it is a hopeless job. But we must never give up hope. There is a jewel in every child of God. There is a precious jewel in every one of our children that waits to be revealed. We must see it by faith. We must pray it into being. May God give us vision, patience and understanding as we fulfill this great task. It does not happen over night. It is painstaking and time-consuming.
There will come a day when God will make all His jewels into a crown. I am thinking of the hymn we used to sing as children…

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.


Like the stars of the morning,
His brightness adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

~Nancy Campbell

Read the entire devotional here.

Twila Paris has an excellent rendition of the above hymn on this album. I have it if anyone local wants to borrow it. 🙂

Dear John,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!

I want to thank you for writing the hymn, Amazing Grace. It is a powerful message to all who hear it about our depravity and God’s love. The word “wretch” is not commonly used nowadays, unless one wants to sound particularly self-depreciating, and is acting out in false humility. Yet I find that it describes my condition before the Lord perfectly, and I often call myself this in prayer and my thoughts. It may be that the older one grows with the Lord, the more one realizes how utterly undeserving they are of God’s grace. In any case, it is getting to where I am astonished that He speaks to me at all.
I watched the movie Amazing Grace last night and was impressed with the influence you had on William Wilberforce. Who knows- if you had not followed God as closely as you did, he might not have had the faith to be the Daniel of his day, standing alone for what is right. I’m grateful for heroes like you (although that is the last thing you would call yourself). People like you give this grace-filled life such meaning.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Fourth Verse

In church on Sunday, we sang some hymns. As the congregation would finish the first verse, the leader would, quite predictably, tell us to skip to the third, then to the last. I understand the constraints of time and wanting to get at least a little of the song sung, but it is a bit sad to not sing the whole hymn. I have this funny picture in my mind of these yellowed-sheet music cartoon figures dancing around with picket signs that say “DON’T IGNORE THE FOURTH!” and “NOT THE FIRST, BUT STILL HAVE WORTH”. Many hymns have ‘too many’ verses to completely sing them in a church service, and I have noticed time and again that we breeze by quite a load of theology when they all aren’t included in the morning worship. One of the things I liked about BSF was that we sang the whole hymn, verse by verse.

Here’s a look at what we miss when we go skipping through some well-known sacred songs:

From the middle of What A Friend We Have In Jesus, by Joseph Scriven:
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

He Hideth My Soul, by Fanny Crosby:
With numberless blessings each moment He crowns
And filled with His fullness divine
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

From Amazing Grace, by John Newton:
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

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

O Thou, In Whose Presence, by Joseph Swain:
He looks, and ten thousand of angels rejoice
And myriads now wait for His word
He speaks, and eternity, filled with His voice
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

I saved the best for last. Do you know what ‘myriad’ means? Really big- innumerable. As I read the words of this verse, I am suddenly transported to the Throne itself, in the midst of stadium upon stadium of angelic beings all waiting, with baited breath, for the moment HE says it is time to go get His Bride. If you haven’t heard Fernando Ortega sing this hymn, you have seriously missed out.

Have you hugged a hymnal today?
Photo: a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas