Monday, February 24, 2014

He Lifts Us

The sky is ashy and pale as I back out of our slushy driveway. 


For the first time in weeks. 

I have a doctor's appointment--

Worried; thinking of Debbie, thinking of her little face as I left -- knowing that she will be safe and cared-for while I'm gone; my Mama is with her -- but feeling so strange without her little person following me here and there and everywhere . . . 

Frustrated; by situations out of my control, by the "clutter" of life, the "clutter" of anxious thoughts, the "clutter" of trying to neatly figure everything out--

Situations, beyond my control, rise up like serpentine phantoms and the tears come -- and I force them away. 

Frustrated, overwhelmed-

Drive down the familiar street, the street where I've lived, played on, ridden my bike up and down, for the past 31 years. The street that has been so familiarly comforting to me.  

But it's icy now, covered by a thick sheet of glassy laminate and I turn the corner and it's the same, so I creep along. I try to brake and the brakes don't take, so I slow down even more. 

Where has that old familiar pavement vanished?  

And I creep along until suddenly the ice is gone and I can drive again on clean pavement and know that the wheels are gripping something. 

My husband has a CD in the player -- I don't know what it is, but I turn on the volume and the sweet music fills our old car with grace and light. 

I'v never heard this CD before -- a collection of hymns -- Chris Rice -- and I listen. And the music ministers to my weary, hungry soul. 

It is well with my soul . . . 

How Great Thou art . . . 

Speak to me, Lord; I am listening now. I wasn't before. 

Too preoccupied with my own worries, fears -- and now the tears come again, but they are not tears of anxiety, but tears of rest and peace. 

The music speaks to my soul; He speaks to my soul. 


He has never failed us -- will He now? 

Rock of ages, cleft for me -- let me hide myself in Thee--

In Thee -- the All Sufficient One -- and sing--

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

And this is what I've discovered in my life--that it's not so much that He meets me where I 

am, but that He lifts me up to where He is -- plants my feet on a "Rock that is higher than 

I," where I couldn't pick myself up, couldn't pick up my emotions, couldn't change my 

circumstances. He lifts me up to where He is--my great high Priest who is seated at the 

right hand of God-- and my name is written on his nail-torn hands. 

Praise His name . . . 

Monday, February 17, 2014

When You're Alone

The whole earth is at rest and quiet;

They break forth into singing.

Isaiah 14:7

The last day of duck hunting is over and 100 Acre Cove is quiet, serene. 

No gunshots, no wounds, no fear. And the Cove laughs, rejoices again. 

I rejoice. 

Tired of hearing the gunshots early every morning. Tired of wondering how many gentle, innocent ducks were slaughtered for sport, for pleasure.

In the new earth there will be no more death, and no more fear, and no more wounding of another living thing for pleasure's sake alone--not for food to feed a family, but because of blood-lust and slaughter for slaughter's sake. 

100 Acre Cove is silent. Peace and grace to my soul; creation laughs and sings.

Another day. 

My Mama stands by the side of the water and feeds her ducks, feeds them while the cold, aching wind whips her hair and her old faded coat. 

And she smiles with pleasure. 

She buys big bags of whole corn, which she says will "keep them warm." 

She feeds the sweet wild ducks and the farm ducks that some cold person "dumped" here, and she smiles and she worries over whether they have all gotten enough and how much longer the winter will be and when "they" will prohibit the feeding of ducks. 

And she throws the corn and the ducks come and they eat and are kept alive for one more day. 

Talk about the eco-system and the balance of life and death and the ducks becoming dependent. 

And we have built so many houses and crushed so much of their territory, is it really a big deal if my Mom keeps some helpless ducks alive? 

I'm not going to stop her. 

 And there is one duck who hobbles over to her, hungrier than the rest, with a broken wing that healed improperly. 

One lonely duck, making her way through life, trying to eat enough corn to survive, pitiful and helpless, totally dependent. 

Some people would say to let that duck die--would I?

Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from My notice . . . 

And some of our brothers and sisters are like that duck and I watch my Mom feeding the friendless broken bird and think of what she said to me--

"It's different when you're alone . . . " 

And some people are like that lonely duck, all by itself, a broken wing that will never lift it up in flight again, and totally dependent upon the mercy of someone to take pity upon it. 

It's different when you're alone.  

Grace and peace be theirs in abundance . . . 

There is a woman I know who lost her husband to cancer and she stills wears her wedding ring and she smiles joy and she sings in the choir and she serves. But it is different when you're alone. 

And she is freer than others to serve the Lord and she does with a beautiful heart and a kind smile and a sensitivity born out of loss. 

It's different when you're alone. 

And they are a little nearer to Jesus because nothing comes in between. 

He is their Portion and their Keeper.

The sweet ducks chase the corn over the ice and the broken-winged duck struggles to keep  up. 

My Mom's corn is her mercy. 

And there are no more gunshots to fear. 

None now; none in the new earth. 

Praise Jesus. 

He prayeth well
Who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best
Who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God 
Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

--Samuel Taylor Coleridege
(from The Ancient Mariner)


Monday, February 10, 2014

A.W. Tozer, The Ministry of Hymns, and Why We Chose the Name Elisha . . .

I run my fingers over the weathered old keys and poise my hands to play. They strike the notes, not as fluidly, gracefully as I'd like them to, but the music comes steadily, an outpouring of myself through the worn instrument. I'd never been good at the technical part, just at "feeling" the music and digging deep into the hush of the meaning - so my fingers stumble, but my spirit plays free. 

The old hymns. I begin with these, before the scales or the drills or the classics. The Watts and the Wesley and the Bliss and the Crosby. These are the melodies that my heart loves, longs for. 

This was why I wanted to learn how to play. So that I could play the music and press the words to my soul, the words saturated in the truths of Scripture, the words that dance and spin and stick and humble and bless. 

I love the old hymns. 

And some of the modern music that's been written lately is good, too--especially when its lyrics are embedded with those heavy ancient truths of the Word - but it's harder to find and so few and far between that I just pick up my hymnal and spiritually press it to my heart and feel its flames envelope me. 

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee . . ." 

"'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word. . . "

"Depth of mercy can there be, mercy still reserved for me ? .  . ." 

And the Words bubble up inside of me and fill my flesh with a longing to be closer to the One with Whom I am one through the Holy Spirit of God. 

One of the greatest gifts that God had given to me has been the ministry of the hymns of His sons and daughters. 

In times of sorrow, in times of joy, in times of pain, in times of longing for my heavenly home - to be free from this world of pain, the old hymns have been some of my dearest friends and teachers. 

"Blessed Redeemer, Jesus is mine, 
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation 
Purchase of God
Born of His Spirit 
Washed in His blood . . ."

So grateful . . . 

Lately, I've been enriched through reading the biography of A.W. Tozer. I discovered as I read, that this faithful saint loved to sing and to read hymns and that they were a great encouragement to his ministry. His biographer, James Snyder, said of him, 

"Each writer has his or her own way to get the creative juices flowing. For Tozer, he would get his Bible and hymnbook from his desk, walk over to the sofa in one corner of his office, kneel there and begin worshiping God. He would read from the Bible and read or softly sing a few hymns. He especially liked the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. By his own confession, he sang - on his knees - one of A.B. Simpson's songs almost every day.

"Tozer was an ardent lover of hymns and had in his library a collection of old hymnals. Often on his way to an appointment, he would meditate on one of the old hymns. 'Get a hymnbook,' he frequently advised as he counseled people. 'But don't get one that is less than a hundred years old!'"

"After the Bible . . . the next most valuable book is a good hymnal. Let any new Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he or she will become a fine theologian. Afterward, let that person read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed," said Tozer. 

Right now, I sit in my room and I listen to hymns, hymn after hymn quietly playing, and I write - and the words encourage and nourish and feed my soul and my little Debbie sleeps peacefully to the sound of hymns. Not to whales in the deep or to a fan blowing or to the sound of manufactured rain, but to the beautiful, tender hymns with their strong-as-steel doctrine and their prayerful comfort that feeds the heart like a shepherd does his flock. 

I want my Debbie to know that her Shepherd will supply her need, that peace like a river will attend her way as she trusts in the Lord through her trials, that there is no sorrow that Jesus cannot bear. 

I must tell Jesus!
I must tell Jesus! 
I cannot bear these burdens alone--
I must tell Jesus
I must tell Jesus
Jesus can help me--Jesus alone. 

And this hymn is the reason behind our new baby's name . . . 

Years ago, I went through a series of heavy trials, trials that felt "unbearable" to me. I had been misunderstood and crushed, my reputation attacked by some who thought me vulnerable and a frustration to them. 

I cried out to the Lord and He brought me over and over to this hymn - "I Must Tell Jesus" - written by a man named Elisha Hoffman. 

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.


I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
He is a kind, compassionate friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.


Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior;
One Who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
He all my cares and sorrows will share

O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
Over the world the victory to win.


Over and over, "I must tell Jesus;" He alone knew my sorrow; He alone could help me and defend me and cause my heart to leap and to sing for joy. 

Shortly after these events, the Lord miraculously brought one of the greatest joys into my life - my marriage to my dear husband and friend after a long (5-year) engagement. 

My Lord and Savior faithfully protected me and allowed me to stand in the midst of my trials through His grace. Then, He lovingly restored me, and lifted up my face, just as He did with His servant Job after a time of severe suffering and anguish.

He is faithful. 

And so we chose the name "Elisha" for our son, after the name of that hymn writer, to the glory of the Father . . .

And for the sake of remembrance of the Lord's mercies.

Because His mercies endure forever, His faithfulness through generations. 

The words of the old hymns remind me.

And I am glad. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Perseverance, Plodding, and the Father's Pleasure

"For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done. whether good or bad."

II Corinthians 5:10
I think of my teabag, soaking, drenched in the steaming water and I think, "That's how my life, my moments should be--steeped like a teabag in prayer, saturated with the heaviness of petitions uttered, silent groanings, deep cries to the Almighty from the depth of gratitude and sometimes desperation. 

Because sometimes we are desperate. 

And sometimes we are grateful and our thankfulness pours out like a gurgling, bubbling joyful stream, and we just can't contain it. 

I remember moments like these--slow brimming tearful moments, silent, heavy praise to my Father of mercy--

The day that our five-year engagement suddenly snapped closed in what could only be a miraculous triumph of the Father's kindness and faithfulness. 

The morning in the garden when I realized and felt the Father's love for me.

The day that my baby came into the world and lay in my aching arms. 

Those days . . . 

And there are those times when all of a sudden, after long hours, days, months, years of plodding and praying and fearing and wondering and listening, when the Lord breaks through and we see His hand working where we hadn't seen it before. 

Some area of obedience, where we have listened to the Spirit's voice, maybe in praying for an unsaved loved one or friend, maybe in an area that we are learning faithfulness and self-control, maybe a breakthrough in our prayer life--our Baal Perizim where we suddenly "see" the hand of the Lord in a fresh way blessing the obedience that we offered through His Spirit. 

A moment like this came quietly for me a little while ago. Not like a gust of power or wind, but quietly and I saw the Lord's hand.  One of my favorite quotes is of the Baptist missionary William Carey. When asked about the "secret" to his "success" with missions, he answered that he "could plod." He could continue year after year after year in a given pursuit without "giving up," (even when there were no visible results) when he knew that the work was of God. 

After my baby was born and when I began to bring her to church, I felt led to keep her with me through the worship service--to teach her slowly from when she was very little to be able to eventually sit quietly in the worship service with the intent of worshiping together as a family through the entire service. (I bring this up as a situation in which the Lord taught me to "plod" in an area that I felt He desired for me to obey Him in--not as a form for every family/person to follow. Although I believe that worshiping as a family is important, the Lord can lead different families in different ways in this area, and it is between them and the Lord to determine the individual course that He would have their family take. The important thing is that a family is walking with and listening to the Lord and that their desire is toward true worship. Obviously, this may take a different form for a larger family or for a family with a toddler and an infant, for a single mother, and so on.) 

At any rate, I believed that the Lord had laid this particular course of obedience upon my heart in my individual circumstances. Week after week I sat in the back of the church and kept my baby and now toddler with me during the time when the worship service was held. At first, I had to go in and out of the sanctuary many times when she was fussy, noisy, etc. But as time wore on, she began to sit for longer periods of time through the beginning of the service, before the sermon was given. When the Pastor began speaking (usually a good 45-minute sermon or so) I took my daughter into the foyer, right outside the sanctuary and sat there on a folding chair with her as if we were still sitting in the worship service and where I could faintly hear the sermon. Again, at first, we could only sit outside for a few minutes, but as the weeks wore on, we have been able to sit quietly for longer periods of time (aided by a snack, and the Lord's mercy--with quite a few "ups and downs" :-)). 

It struck me the other week, that Debbie finally seemed to understand (in her age-appropriate way) that we are quiet when we worship and that different behavior is expected of us in church than during playtime, time at home, etc. She is becoming more interested in the hymns as I point them out to her and direct her focus on what is going on around her. She looks at the Bible when we read it and understands that something "different" is happening. She is increasingly more attentive to the different parts of the service. 

When I am no longer able to keep Debbie quiet in the foyer, we go to a quiet room somewhere else in the church and again I speak softly to her and we do "quiet" activities together until we hear the last hymn being sung. I'm trying to impress upon her the "spirit" of worshiping the Lord with other believers in the way that I feel that the Lord has led me--and of course, He may lead someone else in a completely different way.

But I say this to illustrate the principle of "plodding" in an area where the Lord is drawing your heart toward some particular step of obedience. Many weeks, I felt like "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting so much energy and effort into this?" And some weeks my daughter is not as attentive and sometimes she's distracted, and I've felt discouraged. But I want to teach her this principle of "worship," and so I plod on . . . 

And then, all of a sudden, it seemed, the Lord showed me that He was blessing this obedience. I noticed a small change in Debbie, and my heart was glad in Him and in what He had done through simple, plodding obedience. 

For some reason, the Lord has continually impressed that principle on my heart, that is, the principle of "plodding." For years I walked for exercise, day, after day after day in sunny weather or bad, usually going along the same route for months and months. This, in some kind of a "practical" way taught me how to "plod," something that I've needed to learn in my life. The simple act of day after day doing the same activity was building not only a physical, but also a mental endurance and stamina in my person that has helped me in my walk with the Lord.

My Mom was talking to my sister and me in the car the other day and she said something that stuck with me. She said (in reference to how we as Christians can become complacent in different areas of our lives and more and more like the world), "Be fanatical! Don't be normal like everyone else!" Her words strongly impressed upon me the urgency of walking, plodding, living my life as a follower, a lover of Jesus Christ. And she meant it not in the sense of being a misfit or a fanatic just for the sake of drawing attention to oneself, but in the sense of determinedly obeying the Lord even when others were choosing a "wider," "easier" way. 

And it's so easy to be "normal," to be a little bit spiritual and a lot like the world--distracted, shifty, our hearts set on things that are passing away and rejecting what is eternal.

How well I know . . . 

And when everyone else forsook Him, He turned to His disciples and asked them if they would also go away (implied--"like everyone else")  And Peter answered, "To Whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" (John 6:67-68)

To whom shall we go? To pleasures, to more and more entertainment? To friends or food or pets or work? Or to the One who has the words of eternal life?

To Him I go . . .

 This has been an extremely useful article for me, written by Noel and John Piper: