What Jesus’ Resurrection Means to Me!

A few weeks ago when my husband and I were privileged to visit Israel as part of a wonderful group tour, we visited the Garden Tomb, believed to be the exact burial site of Jesus some 2000 years ago.

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As I stepped inside the tomb, a sense of awe and reverence enveloped me, as I realized I was viewing the spot where His disciples had laid Him in grief and disbelief, not knowing that in three days He would rise from the dead, never to be in that tomb again!

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As I studied the accounts of His crucifixion and resurrection in the four Gospels, several thoughts came to mind. First of all, I thought about the various interrogations he had to endure.  Initially,  upon his arrest, he was led before the high priest, Caiaphas, as recorded in Matthew 26:57-68.

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Here is a picture of the very road He walked up, on His way to Caiaphas’s home.  It is on a rather steep hill overlooking Jerusalem, and  we also walked outside in the courtyard believed to be the same one in which Peter denied Jesus three times (verses 69-75).  It was rather chilling and thought provoking, to say the least. Then Jesus was led to the governor, Pilate, where He was again questioned, and finally released to the crowd who wanted Jesus crucified instead of a notorious prisoner, Barabbas.   To add to the insult, the governor’s soldiers  took Jesus into his headquarters, gathering the whole battalion before Him, stripped Him and put a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns on him, and a reed in His right hand, kneeling before Him and mocking, “Hail, King of the Jews!” before putting His clothes back on Him and leading Him away to be crucified.  (Paraphrased from Matthew 27:1-31)

 

Another thing that stood out to me from our visit was that in Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, and John 19:17, we read that the place they led Jesus to be crucified  was “Golgotha” or Hebrew for “the place of a skull”.  (In the King James Version, Luke 23:33 calls the place “Calvary” but that is the only mention of that name).  When I saw the back side of the tomb, it really does resemble a skull.

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Golgotha, “Place of a skull”

Our guide told us that Jesus was very likely crucified here next to the tomb at a busy highway intersection, just outside the walls of the city.  No one was permitted to be crucified within the city walls.  It was the ultimate humiliation!  When I think that my precious Savior endured the shame, torture, pain and suffering all for me and my sins, as well as the sins of the whole world, it brings me to tears!  This is what the Gospel message about God’s grace is all about…that the King of Kings would die for us, unworthy though we are!  I thank God for sending His Son for me, fulfilling the sacrifices God demanded and becoming the Sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world.  We know Jesus was crucified just before Passover began; that is why He had to be buried before sundown, the beginning of this high Sabbath (Passover), one of the feasts God had set in place centuries before.  Jesus fulfilled Passover when He became the Lamb of God and took our sin, making sacrifices unnecessary!  When the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom at the time He died (Matthew 27:51-54), God sent a sign that we can now enter the Holy of Holies through the righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hallelujah!

 

Another thing that struck me as I read the various accounts in the Gospels, was the fact Jesus first appeared to women…Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, who had come to His grave with sweet spices to anoint His body.  Of course, we know the story about how frightened they were, of the angel who told them Jesus was not there but was risen, and even of Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus, thinking He was the gardener.  But, once they realized He really had risen from the dead, these two women, along with another named Joanna, and other women (Luke 24:9 & 10) believed and went to tell the eleven disciples!  What stands out to me is that in two places, both Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:11, we are told that the disciples “believed them not” but “their words seemed to them as idle tales”!  Finally, John 20:2-8, written by the Apostle John, one of the twelve, records the fact that he and Peter finally ran to the sepulcher, and finding it empty with the napkin and other linen cloths with which Jesus had been wrapped simply lying on the ground, they believed!  To me, as a woman, I find it beautiful that Jesus first appeared to women, who even though initially frightened, when they saw it was Him, believed! This is the real story of Jesus’ Resurrection…the fact that those who followed Him believed!  They could have gone to their graves doubting, but they received His forgiveness and Eternal Life through believing on Him!  This is the Gospel message today, as well.  We must accept God’s gift of Eternal Life through His Son, believe He has forgiven our sins, and receive Him as our personal Savior from sin.  It is as simple as that!

 

The last point that stood out to me as a result of our recent trip, and through reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, was that He told the women to whom He appeared to tell the other disciples to “meet Him in Galilee”.  In Matthew 28:7 and Mark 16:7,  the angel told the women to convey this message to the others, and in verse Matthew 28:10 Jesus, Himself told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (ESV)  I thought this was very interesting because we spent several days in this region and it is over seventy miles from Jerusalem!  I am told that in Jesus’ day, an average day’s journey was 20 miles, so it would have been a trip of over three days for the disciples to meet Him there. It took some faith on their part to make this journey!  But, thankfully, they did meet Him there, because in Matthew 28:16 we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him….” (ESV)  John 21:1 tells us, “After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…” (ESV)

 

These two passages prove that the disciples actually made the trip up to Galilee.  My husband and I stayed for several days in Tiberius, which is right on the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberias is another name for it), and the area is rather hilly.  It was a perfect place for Jesus to sit and teach his disciples in a boat on the sea, or preach to crowds on one of the hilly areas which is really like a natural amphitheater.  So, I think it is fitting that Jesus would want to conclude His earthly ministry with more time spent here in Galilee with His disciples.  It was here in John 21 that Jesus’ last recorded miracle occurs, that of a tremendous catch of fish (verse 11 says 153 large fish!) when they let down their nets at His Word and enjoyed a breakfast of fish and bread on the beach with Him!  A beautiful church was built on this site many centuries ago, and we were privileged to stand right there on this beach where Jesus appeared for the third time to His disciples following His resurrection (verse 14).

Modern boat on the Sea of Galilee (Tiberius)

Modern boat on the Sea of Galilee (Tiberius)

 

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead speaks to me in so many ways and I could go on and on about His mighty miracles, but the greatest thing to remember about this special day we celebrate Sunday is this:  Because Jesus died and arose from the dead, He brings salvation to all who will believe in Him, and this is the only way to the Father!  John summed it up in his Gospel, John 20:31, “…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (ESV)  I thank God that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  Have you taken this step?  If not, you can do it right now by asking Him into your heart to cleanse you from all sin.  Simply ask His forgiveness and receive Him today as your Savior!  You will never be the same again!  You will experience His peace and joy and the eternal life promised only to the believer.  You will have a new song in your heart forever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Does “Palm Sunday” Mean?

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One of thousands of beautiful groves of palm trees in the country of Israel!

 

Perhaps you have sung songs with the words “Hosanna” or “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” contained in them…there are a number of these songs that are sung in our churches today.  They are used in our praise and worship to bless the Lord and exalt His Name!  Do you know where these phrases originated?

 

Not long ago my husband and I were privileged to visit the country of Israel for ten days and tour many of the historic sites where God manifested His power to the children of Israel, and where Jesus walked, taught and performed many miracles over 2,000 years ago!  One of the streets on which we walked was believed to have been the very road that Jesus traversed riding on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem with the crowds waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks in the road before Him and bestowing the greatest honor upon Him.  We read of this event in the Gospel of Mark 11:1-10, where verses 7-10 read,  They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it.  And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.  Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord; blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the Highest!” (NASB)

 

John 12:12 & 13 recounts the story in a similar way:  On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast (the Feast of the Passover was just five days away), when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (NASB)

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Here is a photo my husband took a few weeks ago when we walked this very road from the Mount of Olives down into Jerusalem, a very steep incline!  I had such a feeling of awe, knowing that my Savior had no doubt ridden a donkey down this same path, hearing words of adulation and praise from the people who had observed His miracles and were sure He was their long-promised Messiah.

 

Alas, the praise and honor they were giving to Jesus (Yeshua, in Hebrew) did not last long!  Five days later, after observing the Passover meal (the Last Supper as we call it) with His disciples in the upper room, Jesus walked in the same direction to the Mount of Olives on that very road…Mark 14:26 says,  After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  On the way, at the base of the mountain, is a beautiful garden called Gethsemane, which we also visited.  Verse 32 says,  They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.”  The chapter then goes on to detail His great agony as He prayed throughout the evening prior to His arrest, knowing full well what awaited Him in the coming hours.

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Here is a portion of the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane as it looks today.  It is still a very sacred and moving place to visit.  To me, the irony of the whole story is that as you read further on in Mark 14, in three places Jesus asks His disciples to pray with him and three times He comes back to find them sleeping.  Only a few days earlier, they had been with Him shouting out “Hosanna!” in praise to their King, but when He asked them to pray with Him for a few hours, they were unable to stay awake.  Instead of being critical of the disciples, I ask myself, “Can I pray when the Lord asks me to intercede for someone?  Can I crucify my flesh and stay awake long enough to pray until the burden is lifted and I know that I am victorious in the midst of the situation or crisis?”  Jesus understood our humanity and fleshly inadequacy when He spoke to His disciples, not in an angry manner, but as a father would lovingly correct a child. He told them in verse 38,  Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (NASB)

 

So, this Sunday as you wave palms branches and sing “Hosanna to the King of Kings!”, may you be aware not only of His great love for you, but of the fact that Jesus experienced the pain of rejection, of people turning their backs on Him, and of those closest to Him being unable to “stay the course” when He needed them most.  Let His healing balm cleanse and soothe your deepest feelings of rejection and hurt, knowing that He experienced it all before we were even born, and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Throne of God!  Hosanna!  Praise be to God!

Lessons I Learned from a Bird

In Job 35:11 (NASB) we read, “Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?”  Could God use a bird to deliver a spiritual lesson to us?  My husband, Russell Bafford, had a chance to experience this very thing and I invited him to share it with us today on my blog:
Several years ago, I had this encounter with a bird….
While walking along the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky one sunny morning I saw a bird standing still at the edge of the river.  He had long, skinny legs and a long, narrow beak … probably a heron of some kind.  He remained motionless for the longest time.  I became mesmerized at the sight of him standing there, and focused on him wondering what was going to happen.  Then, all of a sudden, bam!  He poked his long beak down into the water just a few inches in front of his legs, and he came up with a small fish which he promptly swallowed.  Shortly after that he flew off.  After reflecting on what I had just seen, here are the nine things I learned from that episode.
1. This bird knew where to go to find what he needed.  Not to a junkyard… not to a barnyard…not to a desert…not to a mountaintop … not to a mall parking lot … not to a football field … not to a rooftop … but rather to the river.  Are you looking for a job in the wrong place?  There aren’t many cowboy jobs in downtown New York.  If you want to make surfboards, you better not look for a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  If you are looking for a Christian companion, go to where those Christians hang out … probably not to the local taverns and bars.  (He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.   Prov. 13:20)
2. He had to leave his resting place to find what he needed.  This took some effort on his part.  It would have been easier for him to stay in his bed, and hope the food would come to him.  But even this bird, with his bird brain, knew better than that.  He knew he had to go out and look for himself.  Do you wish you had a job, but wish someone would come to your door to offer you one?  Do you wish you had more friends, and wish they would come to your door offering to befriend you?  Get a bird brain … go look for what you desire!
3. He didn’t know the exact location of where his food would appear, but he did know the general vicinity of where it was most likely to appear.  Even though the river is about a mile wide, he only went to the river’s edge.  A fish that was 20 feet beneath the surface wouldn’t do him much good; he had to have something just a few inches down.  A 50 pound fish would be too much for him to handle, but a one ounce fish was just about the right size.  Could you really handle a million dollars right now if it was dumped into your lap?  Would a thousand dollars be easier for you to manage?  Our Lord told us to pray for our DAILY bread … not a year’s supply!  There must be a reason for that.
4. He looked for his needs using the physical characteristics, senses, skills, and attributes with which God had endowed him.  Those skinny legs look an awful lot like another reed growing up out of the water’s edge.  His eyes were several inches above the water giving him a pretty wide view of the water around him.  Be real with yourself.  God gave you much more than a bird’s brain!  Make a serious assessment of your skills, talents, attributes, and interests keeping in mind they are a gift from God proportioned to you in just the right amount according to His divine will.  Don’t be surprised if others don’t have the same exact mix of attributes … that’s because God made you unique!
5. He had patience… he stayed at it until his needs were met … he never gave up.  This took time.  He was willing to spend the time needed.  How long are you willing to wait on an answer to prayer from the Lord?  Look at some examples we have from scripture … when Moses went up Mount Sinai to seek the Lord, he was more than just a new believer.  He was more than a neophyte in spiritual things.  After leaving Egypt the first time, he spent 40 years biding his time in a foreign land most likely gaining some maturity in his spiritual life.  Then God finally told him to go back to Egypt, and bring His people out.  Moses saw and participated in some mind-boggling miracles brought about by God’s own hand.  And now this giant of the faith was summoned by God himself to ascend Mount Sinai for further instructions.  But once he was up there he waited … one hour … two hours … three hours … then one day … then two days … then three days … still no response from God … (How patient are you when you pray?  If we were really spiritual, we would all get an immediate response from God, right?) … Moses waited another day … then another … then after seven days had past, God finally spoke to him.  If this spiritual giant of the faith had to wait a full week before God answered him, how long should we be prepared to wait on our sovereign Lord?
6. He was focused on the task at hand … not distracted by other things going on around him.  There was a lot of background noise around him.  There was a lot of other activity by animals and people going on around him while he was trying to stay focused.  These other distractions did not care about his needs; they were unconcerned about his goals and objectives.  The distractive influences had their own agendas that were different from his.  Do you start with good intentions only to take your eye off the ball when the first distraction comes along?  Then, once distracted, do you go back to the task you started?  Did you ever begin a discipline of regular prayer & devotion time only to be distracted?  Did you go back to resume the practice?  There is a reason they are called DISCIPLES … because it involves discipline.   Let us learn from this bird and resolve to emulate his focus and his discipline.
7. He recognized what he needed when he saw it.  He had a pretty good idea of what his goal looked like.  Things that did not match his goal were ignored.  It has been said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.”  People often struggle for years to get a goal established in their lives.  Most Christians want to know what God’s will is for their lives.  This is a good place to remember Romans 12:2 which says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)  Are you looking to the celebrities in America’s popular culture for advice and direction?  Look somewhere else.  The key to knowing God’s will is to renew our minds to think His thoughts, to look at things the way He sees them, to respond the way our Lord would respond, to embrace and exercise the same value system our Lord has demonstrated for us.  This is not easy, but it is something to which each serious Christian should aspire.
8. He took what he needed when it got within his reach.  Even if he spotted a perfect fish 10 feet away it wouldn’t do him much good because it was beyond his reach.  It had to be within his reach.  Is it a surprise to you when God provides that for which you have prayed?  Should it be a surprise?  It should be a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving, but should it really be a surprise to us when God answers our prayers?
9. When his need was met, he went on to something else … as if he was confident God would meet that same need again on another day in a similar way.  Remember how Jesus told us to pray   “… give us this day our daily bread …”
I really learned a lot from that bird.  How about you?

Why Do We Praise the Lord?

Rebecca playing at First BaptistHave you ever wondered why people  talk about “praising the Lord” and “I just feel like giving praise to God!” and other such terms?  Is this merely a part of their creed or religious ritual or is there truly more to this than is often expressed?

I did a word study of the word “praise” and one definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the following:  “To glorify (a god or saint) especially by the attribution of perfections”.  The Book of Psalms, which contains 150 such song/poems mostly written by the Psalmist David, tells us hundreds of times to “praise the Lord” and “let everything that has breath praise the Lord”!  Truly our God is perfect and deserves to be praised!

Why does God want to be praised?  Are there any benefits for us as human beings for praising Him?

The answer to the first question is simple:  He created us, is perfect in every way, and longs for His creation to give back to Him in some way, communicating gratitude and thanksgiving.  He knows we don’t have to do this; in fact Luke 19:40 tells of Jesus answering those who were upset with the people blessing him and crying out to Him as He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (ESV)   This verse proves that although God can command inanimate objects or creatures to praise Him, He chooses not to force human beings to do so.  That is exactly the reason our praises to Him bring so much joy to the heart of God…because we do not have to do so!

The blessings as a result of praising God are innumerable!  When we give praise even in trying situations, it releases the hand of the Almighty to work on our behalf.  It frees our innermost spirit being from the hatred or anger because of circumstances, often beyond our control, to joy and forgiveness, because one cannot praise the Lord and be bitter at another person or upset about some event in our lives!  If we truly praise God with grateful hearts just because of who He is, we then can place each situation into His capable hands, trusting Him to work on our behalf.  By truly being grateful, thanking and praising Him, and then obeying His voice, He will then lead us to the next step and each day with Him will truly be an adventure.  Taking matters into our own hands, blaming God instead of praising Him, and trying to work out the situation by our own strength is really futile and counter-productive.  True praise gives the situation to God and trusts Him to bring about the outcome that will be most glorifying to Him!

The famous songwriter of yesteryear, Fanny J. Crosby, though blind from birth, still  penned literally thousands of songs of praise and worship to God in her lifetime, many of which we still sing today!  One of my favorites is “Praise Him! Praise Him!”    If she could praise Him, why can’t I do that?  Please listen to my arrangement of this hymn in a jazz style arrangement I did some years ago, along with a few friends.  I hope you will enjoy it!  And remember, “Always be a worshipper, because He loves to hear your praises!”

 

The Royal Wedding

In just a few days over two billion people around the world will watch with rapt attention and awe as Prince Harry of Great Britain takes a wife, the American actress Meghan Markle.  The pomp, ceremony and pageantry portrayed by the British monarchy for this event will most likely rival anything most of us have ever envisioned or witnessed before.  With many centuries of tradition rich in colorful displays of grandeur, the royals know how to throw a grandiose party!

 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

 

Not that this is the first time we have seen such majestic displays of royal splendor!  I remember vividly getting up at 2:00 AM to watch the grand wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana!  It was a fairy tale wedding if there ever was one, but sadly the fairy tale did not last, as we are all too well aware of.  Then a few years ago, I also enjoyed watching Prince William wed Princess Kate, once again playing splendidly to the world’s stage via satellite TV.

What is the tremendous fascination we have with the royals?  No doubt their seemingly charmed lives with not a care in the world, including financial worries, captivates us, allowing us to fantasize about what being a prince or princess, king or queen might be like.  But, in reality, as has been pointed out numerous times, many of them disdain the limelight, the fishbowl existence where every word and action, both good and bad, can be flashed around the world in seconds with the aid of social media.  The lack of privacy and the ability to come and go as one wants, precludes the ability in some instances to really enjoy life and the freedom we all desire!

But, a more compelling reason for us to watch Prince Harry marry the woman he loves is that we have watched him grow up; we remember his birth, the adorable little boy he was, his sadness when his mother was tragically killed when he was still a boy, his attempts at growing up, with some embarrassing moments, and now his hopefully finding true love!  The same is true for his brother William, Duke of Cambridge.

Whatever the reason, the entire world will be watching as a man and woman in love say their “I do’s” and vow to live together til “death do us part”.  Did you know there will be another event, culminating in a marriage, that will be watched by even more people than the royal wedding?  The Bible says in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He (Jesus) is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him….”  (NKJV)  In I Thessalonians 4:16 we read, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (NKJV)

This is the promise and blessed hope for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior!  What a wonderful day that will be!  Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones who have gone on in death before us, but we will see Jesus in all of His splendor and glory and worship the King of Kings forever and ever!  This will certainly dwarf any spectacle that royals on earth can create!  The Bible goes on to detail another marriage, one that will last for Eternity!  In Revelation 19:7, John the Revelator writes, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  Most theologians agree that the “wife” he is referring to here is the true Church of Jesus Christ, the born again believers who will be married for eternity to Christ, and rule and reign with Him in royal spendor, far exceeding any pomp and pageantry we can ever imagine here on earth!

So, as you view the Royal Wedding, with all of its beauty and glamour, enjoy it and celebrate with the prince and princess!  But, never forget, that another marriage, one which will last for all eternity, is coming for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and made Him Lord of their lives.  That is the marriage I am looking forward to! As the majestic hymn states:

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!  Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all;

Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball;

To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all;

O that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall;

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!

(Words by Edward Perronet, 1779 and John Rippon, 1787)

There is coming a day when every eye shall behold the King of Kings in His splendor and glory and worship at His feet.  That is the Royal Wedding I want to be a part of!  Are you ready if Christ should come back today?  You can make Him Lord of your life this very moment….He is waiting for you to open the door to your heart!  Will you do it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How God Worked in Handel’s Life

Do you sometimes feel discouraged as a musician or composer?  Do you perhaps feel that no one really wants to hear your “stuff”, but it is just an uphill battle to get something noticed, let alone published?  Of course, this could apply to other areas of life, as well, not just in the musical realm, but musicians are notoriously “melancholy” in temperament (look it up if you are unfamilar with this word!) and can be on  the proverbial “Cloud 9” one day and down in the dumps, lower than the ground, the next!  Often their moods depend on external situations, for they tend to overemphasize the negative in a given situation.

In the music realm (because this blog is primarily about music matters), it is true that countless great, talented musicians go largely unnoticed while seemingly less-talented people “make it” in the music scene because they were “discovered” byt the right person or label.  Sometimes this can be disheartening.  I have a friend in Texas who is a very successful writer of contemporary praise and worship songs.  If I mentioned his name, you would no doubt be familiar with his songs, which are sung all over the world in most churches.  However, there was a time when he was a “nobody” and a worship leader at a small church close to where I lived.  He had written a song that got “picked up” by one of the hottest contemporary singers on the planet; a well-known publisher of praise and worship songs took notice, and the rest is history!  Now everything he writes turns to “gold” in the business, as they say.  Were his previous songs not any good?  Did this mean he was a better writer than many, many other Christian songwriters?  Or, was it, perhaps, God’s time for his ministry to come forth?  As he and I talked, we both agreed that was the case!  God has a timing for each musician to come forth and fulfill the destiny He has planned for them…if we will be patient!

     Now here is an amazing story that I’ll bet you didn’t know; it’s about the great composer George Frederick Handel, who wrote the music to Messiah which debuted in Dublin, Ireland in 1742.  Just a few years ago a unique video of mall “shoppers” (who were really musicians planted in the crowd) singing this wonderful oratorio’s (a sacred opera) signature piece, “The Hallelujah Chorus”,  went viral and has now been seen by nearly 50 million people around the world!  I am sure you are familiar with the Messiah because at Christmas it is presented countless times in locations worldwide.  What you probably didn’t know is “the rest of the story” about Handel, an amazing example of God’s love and timing!

Born in Germany in 1685, he always had an aptitude for music.  Although his father wanted him to study law, he was more interested in music.  His mother bought him a harpsichord which they secretly kept in the attic away from his father.  Handel wrote his first work at the age of twelve and studied music at the University of Halle in his hometown in Germany.  In 1712 he moved to England where he experienced some success with his various compositions, including operas, concertos and other instrumental works, but ultimately was faced with financial failure which threatened to overwhelm him.  His occasional commercial successes soon met with financial disaster and as he drove himself relentlessly to recover from one failure after another, his health also began to fail.  By 1741 he was swimming in debt and it seemed certain he would land in debtors’ prison.

But, God had not forgotten George Frederick Handel!  That same year became the turning point for him when his close friend, Charles Jennens, gave him a libretto (a text) for a sacred work.  It was exclusively 73 Bible verses focusing on the prophecies concerning the foretelling and coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, both from the Old and New Testaments.  A charity in Dublin, called the Foundling Hospital, which was an institution caring for newborn infants abandoned by their unknown, poverty-stricken parents, who were sometimes in prison, was putting on its annual benefit, and paid him to write something for the performance.

For 24 days, in August and September of 1741, Handel barely ate as he worked almost constantly composing this beautiful work we know as Messiah!  In fact, he told a friend he could barely keep up with the notation as the melodies and ideas flowed from within, directly from God Himself!  At one point, the composer had tears in his eyes and cried out to his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!”  He had just finished writing the “Hallelujah” chorus.   Every word was from the Bible, 42 verses from the Old Testament and 31 from the New Testament.  Finally, the day Handel had waited for arrived and Messiah was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742!  It was very successful, the proceeds of which, it is said, freed 142 men from debtors’ prison!  The Foundling Hospital became Handel’s favorite charity, to which he gave liberally, up until his death in 1759.  He is today still revered as one of the greatest composers to ever live and is buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

So, out of this genius’s pain and despair, seemingly the low point of his life, came a work of beauty and praise to his Creator, the likes of which have never been surpassed!  Handel could never have dreamed how this beautiful work would continue to uplift and bless millions of people the world over for centuries to come.  One man put it this way:  “Handel was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty.”  Remember, God has a perfect time for everything, including bringing your ministry forth at a time when He will gain the most glory!  Be encouraged this day, my friend!

Could a Christmas Song Stop a War?

Nativity sceneYou have no doubt heard the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night, which is played and sung around the world, beautifully proclaiming the night our Savior was born in a manger in Bethlehem!  But, when I searched more deeply into the origins of this beloved carol, I was somewhat surprised by what I found.

Here is how the story goes:  A parish priest in a small town in France commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass.  Placide Cappeau read the account of Christ’s birth in the Gospel of Luke one night while traveling to Paris, and finished the poem “O Holy Night” by the time he reached the city.  He asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adam, to compose the music for his poem, and three weeks later, the beautiful song was sung for the first time in the village on Christmas Eve 1847.

Initially, Cantique de Noel, the song’s French name, was widely sung and loved by the Church in France, but when some of the leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist, and the musical composer, Adam, was a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services.  But, as is the case so often with truly great music, the common French people loved the song and continued to sing it!

The song came to the United States via John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War, who translated it from French into English in 1858.  He was greatly moved by the line in the third verse:

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother;

and in His Name all oppression shall cease….

Dwight published the words of the song in his magazine and quickly found favor with the people in the North during the war.

Even though the song was banned in France, it was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve, 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and started singing the song’s first line in French.  After he had sung all three verses, a German soldier emerged and started singing, “Von Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her….”, the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day!   Soon afterward, the French Church re-embraced the beloved song, Cantique de Noel, known to us in this country as O Holy Night.  It continues to be sung around the world and will no doubt remain on the list of most beloved Christmas songs!  I believe wherever this song is sung, a quiet, reverent atmosphere of praise and worship to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is created.

I love to play this song each Christmas and have combined it with the Italian carol, Gesu Bambino, in this live performance I did in Utah at Canyons Church a few years ago.  I hope you will enjoy this and worship the King of Kings with me!

 

(For more of my music videos, including this one, please visit my You Tube channel, Rebecca Baker Bafford).

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