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Who Was “Queen of Gospel Songwriters”?

Fanny J. Crosby #4If you have gone to church all of your life (as I have) or if you have only attended a few times for special services or events you, no doubt, have heard some of the following songs sung:  “Blessed Assurance”, “Near the Cross”, “To God Be the Glory” or “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior“.  What do they all have in common?  The lyricist to these and nearly 9,000 other Gospel songs and hymns is a woman whose name you may have heard; she was Frances Jane van Alstyne, and she went by her maiden name, Fanny J. Crosby.  She is known as the “Queen of Gospel Songwriters” and the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America”, with more than 100 million copies of her songs in print.  Perhaps no one has seen more of their songs included in church hymnals than Fanny Crosby.  But, what you may not know about her is the fact she was blind from shortly after birth!

 

Fanny J. Crosby was born on March 24, 1820 in the village of Brewster, New York, about 50 miles north of New York City, and traced her ancestry from Anna Brigham and Simon Crosby who arrived in Boston in 1635 and were among the founders of Harvard College.  When she was just six weeks old, she developed an inflammation of the eyes resulting in total blindness for the rest of her life.  Her father died when she was only six months old and she was raised by her devout Christian mother and maternal grandmother, who grounded her in Christian principles and helped her memorize long passages from the Bible.  She memorized five chapters of the Bible each week from the age of ten, and by age fifteen had memorized the four gospels, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), the Book of Proverbs, Song of Solomon and many of the Psalms!  Fanny later stated, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation.  If perfect earthly sight were offered  me  tomorrow I would not accept it.  I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

After her 1843 graduation from the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB) where she was a student for eight years and another two as a graduate pupil, learning among other things to play the piano, organ, harp and guitar, as well as sing, she lobbied in Washington, DC for support of education for the blind; was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate; gave a concert for Congress; spoke before a joint session of Congress; and recited original poems for several presidents, including John Quincy Adams, James K. Polk and Grover Cleveland, whom she had met while teaching at the NYIB, when he was only seventeen years old!  The two spent many hours together at the end of each day and he often transcribed the poems she had written as she dictated them to him.  In 1858 she married Alexander van Alstyne, Jr., who was also blind and had been a student at the NYIB.

Fanny J. Crosby #3

 

Fanny J. Crosby was a committed Christian who was a member of several different churches during her lifetime, including the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, where she served as a consecrated Baptist missionary, deaconess, and lay preacher, writing one of her most famous hymns, together with her minister Robert Lowry, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”, as well as many others.  Although Fanny wrote many political, patriotic, and popular songs, as well as three cantatas, (one written for the choir at the Mercer Street Presbyterian Church in Manhattan), she is best known for her Gospel songs and hymns which have endeared themselves to the hearts and souls of millions through the years.  Although she was criticized by hymnologists as writing “very weak and poor” lyrics which were considered “crudely sentimental” or “gushy and mawkishly sentimental” (attacking both her writing and theology), Fanny persevered with the gift God had entrusted to her.   The informal ballad style broke away from the staid, formal approach of earlier periods, touching deep emotions in singers and listeners alike; audiences thrilled to the genuine, heartfelt Christianity of her songs, placing a heightened emphasis on the conversion experience through Jesus Christ, with the emotions that accompany it, and the testimonies that reflect a genuine change of heart and lifestyle!  I believe they were anointed by the Holy Spirit!  She always asked the Lord to be her inspiration before writing a song, often composing six or seven hymns in one day!  Her poems and hymns were composed entirely in her mind and she worked on as many as twelve hymns at once before dictating them to an amanuensis (one employed to write from dictation); on one occasion she composed 40 hymns before transcription!

 

Over 8,000 of her songs were purchased by major publishing companies of the day (nearly 2,000 of them actually published in their hymnals),  and Fanny gave the majority of her earnings from her songs (often only $1 or $2  per song as a lyricist) to the poor and disabled. She truly had a heart of compassion and love and spent most of her adult years working in rescue missions and living near the slums of New York City.  It was her involvement in the city missions and a Manhattan prison that gave her the inspiration for “Rescue the Perishing”, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (used worldwide by Ira Sankey in his crusades with Dwight L. Moody in Britain in 1874), and “More Like Jesus”.  Even though Van and Fanny could have lived comfortably on his income from playing the organ at two churches in New York City and giving private music lessons, and hers as a poet and lyricist, the couple “had other priorities and gave away anything that was not necessary to their daily survival.”  The couple organized concerts with half the proceeds given to aid the poor.  Truly they personified Jesus’ words to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven….” Matt. 19:21

In 1859, the van Alstynes had a daughter names Frances who died in her sleep soon after birth.  The cause is not known for sure, but some believe she became ill with typhoid fever, and others have given SIDS as the cause.  As a result of this tragedy, Fanny was inspired to write the beautiful hymn which has been a comfort to so many in time of bereavement, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. Towards the end of her life, she would remark, “Now I am going to tell you of something that only my closest friends know.  I became a mother and knew a mother’s love.  God gave us a tender babe but the angels came down and took our infant up to God and to His throne.”

Another hymn which is one of my favorites is “My Savior First of All” which says,

“I shall know Him, I shall know Him, And redeemed by His side I shall stand; I shall know Him, I shall know Him; By the print of the nails in His hand.”

During times of great tragedy, as after the loss of her daughter, and even in challenging times caused by her lifelong blindness, Fanny could write such words, looking forward to the day when she would see Jesus and know Him by feeling the print of the nails in His hand!   The only way she knew how to “see” things, was by feel.  Think about the profound statement she made in that hymn…to “feel” the print of the nails in His hand!  She made the statement once, “When I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”   For the first time ever, she saw Jesus with eyes that were no longer blind!  This touches me deeply.

 

Fanny J. Crosby wrote so many, many more wonderful songs, some of which are basically unknown, and many which you and I have probably sung multiple times, such as “Jesus Is Calling”, “Will Jesus Find Us Watching?”, “Saved by Grace”, “He Hideth My Soul”, “I Am Thine, O Lord”, “Redeemed”, “Near the Cross” and “Close to Thee”.  She collaborated with numerous composers of melody including William H. Doane, an industrialist who composed melodies for an estimated 1500 of Crosby’s lyrics;  Ira Sankey, D.L. Moody’s song leader who made her basically a household name throughout the world by singing many of her songs in their meetings; and Robert Lowry, an American Baptist minister who also wrote “Shall We Gather at the River”, “Christ Arose!” and “Nothing But the Blood!” among others.

 

I think one of the most interesting stories is her collaboration with wealthy Methodist socialite Phoebe Palmer Knapp, whom she met in 1868, and who was married to Joseph Fairchild Knapp, co-founder of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company!  The Knapps published hymnals for the Sunday School of Saint John’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, where Knapp was Sunday School superintendent for 22 years.  Fanny co-wrote (lyrics) for 21 hymns in their hymnal “Notes of Joy”; Phoebe provided music for fourteen of them.   The best-known of all of these songs which the two women collaborated on is one you have probably sung many times, “Blessed Assurance”, which Fanny wrote the words to in the Knapps’ music room to Phoebe’s music, while staying at the Knapp Mansion in 1873.  I find it so interesting that the beautiful song which says, blessedassurance”, Jesus is mine was composed by an “insurance” man’s wife.  The two remained friends for life!

In her latter years, Fanny J. Crosby continued to be actively involved in her work with the missions of Manhattan and greater New York City, including speaking engagements, support and missionary work among America’s urban poor almost until the day she died in 1915 a month before her 95th birthday after moving to Bridgeport, Connecticut to be closer to her family.   Although her hymn writing declined in these last years of her life, the popularity of her lyrics as well as her winsome personality catapulted her to fame.  In 1975, Fanny was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Fanny J. CrosbyOne of my favorite Fanny J. Crosby songs is the well-known hymn, “Praise Him, Praise Him” which I recorded a few years ago in a bit of an up-tempo jazzy version; I hope she would have approved!  The melody is composed by Chester G. Allen.   I hope you will enjoy my arrangement as we celebrate the life and music of a remarkable woman devoted to God in spite of her challenges, and who was determined to write lyrics that would lift up Jesus and win people to Him!  Fanny had set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote a hymn she prayed it would bring men and women to Christ; she kept careful records of those reported to have been saved through her hymns!  I believe that goal has been surpassed many times over throughout the years as people of all ages continue to be blessed, inspired and changed through listening to the words of Fanny J. Crosby set to music!

 

 

Peace in the Midst of a Pandemic

Can it be possible?  We are literally experiencing a global pandemic…a new virus previously unheard of in humans, although veterinarians have been vaccinating cattle against a strain of it for many years!  Perhaps the fear and media hysteria surrounding this new Corona Virus have created more panic than reason, largely because this event is unprecedented.

 

One thing we as Christians can be assured of:  This event has not taken God by surprise!  He in His ultimate sovereignty has allowed this crisis to take place and as His children, we can believe Romans 8:28,  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (NASB)  We know God is at work and has allowed this to happen!

Let’s take a look at a few facts:  Global pandemics are not new; the term means, “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”

In 1918, the most severe pandemic of influenza in recent history took place.  It was the H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin, and it is estimated that about 500 million people (1/3 of the world’s population at that time) became infected with the virus.  At least 50 million worldwide died; in the United States there were 675,000 deaths.  This dwarfs the current pandemic by huge amounts!  My grandmother’s sister sadly lost her one-year-old twin sons to this horrible plague.  In 1956-1958 the “Asian flu” caused 1.1 million deaths worldwide, 116,000 here in the United States.  The flu epidemic of 1968, the “Hong Kong flu”, caused a death toll worldwide of over 1 million; and most recently  the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic of 2009-2010 infected 60.8 million worldwide, with nearly 13,000 U.S. deaths.  Do you remember this one?  Our Federal government passed a supplemental funding aid bill of $350 million dollars.  It seemed life went on pretty much as usual, although it was obviously horrific for those affected.

The Corona Virus (Covid-19 is apparently a bit different than the flu in that the bacteria attack the lungs instead of the stomach and is extremely contagious.   Also, the death rate is a bit higher than that of the flu, although most cases range from very mild to severe with a death rate a bit over 2%, and the vast majority of people with it recover.

Some people feel this is God’s judgment on people who have refused to repent of their sin.  There are a number of passages in the Old Testament where God sent plagues, pestilence, famine, wars and thousands and thousands were killed, because the nation of Israel refused to obey His laws and keep His commandments, preferring instead to worship in idolatry and  commit acts of debauchery.  You may want to read about some of these instances:  II Kings 17:6-20; II Chronicles 34:24-27; Isaiah 24:4-6,10; Amos 4:6-12.  In these cases either prophets were predicting horrible events in the future if they did not repent of their sins, or God Himself was explaining why He had done what He did… if they would not obey and serve Him instead of other gods, He would do thus and so; and then He would end by saying, “Yet you have not returned to me!”  But He continued to love them.

It is easy to see why God might want to send judgment on wicked people.  However, this is something that we must leave up to Him and not proclaim judgment if He has not directly stated that this is the case!  Of course, during the great tribulation on earth before His second coming (when the Church has already been raptured out), He will pour out His wrath on the earth by sending mighty plagues such as boils, hail, fire and other judgments.  These are detailed in Revelation 16.  Does the Word of God say that the people repented?  On the contrary it states that “they blasphemed God!”

 

So, you say, if this is not a judgment at this time, just what is it?  While we do not always know everything God is up to, I promise you we can trust Him!  He is at work and is allowing this pandemic not only to wake people up, giving them a chance to turn to Him, but to give us as His people a chance to show the world we do not fear these things, but our trust is in the Lord God! Our reaction during this time is so important!

When Habakkuk turned to God and asked the question, How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear?  I cry out to You, “Violence!” yet You do not save….Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld….”; God answered Him Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days—-you would not believe if you were told.  Habakkuk 1:2-5 (NASB)

 

Wow!  If God really told us everything He is up to, we would probably not be able to handle it!  He truly knows the end from the beginning and all He asks of us, His children, is to “trust, obey and leave the results to Me!”  That really frees us  from worry, doesn’t it?  So, in these trying days where you are perhaps feeling a bit inconvenienced, perhaps stressed because of the constant barrage of negative information flowing from the airwaves each day, afraid for what lies ahead, perhaps worrying that your finances will be drained, not to mention the fear of you or your loved ones succumbing to the virus itself, rise up in faith and stand on the promises of God!  II Timothy 1:7 says,  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)   Philippians 4:6 &7 tell us,  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (NASB)

Psalm 91 is one of the best psalms I know of to read, memorize and quote each day!  It speaks of God delivering us “from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence”; “a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you”; “no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling”, and on and on!  What beautiful words to live by!  Verses 1 and 2 start out,  He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” (NKJV)  What is there to fear when God is on our side?

I would like to close with a song I wrote several years ago called “In the Secret Place“….I took the title from Psalm 91 and I pray it will bless you in your worship time today!  Remember:  “For the child of God, as believers, the best is yet to come!”

 

 

Rebecca’s music is available on Pandora and Spotify, and by going to the link to the right on this page to “purchase Rebecca’s music”.

 

The Story of “Silent Night”

The beautiful and much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, has a very interesting story behind it….I thought you might enjoy hearing how this most famous carol came to be written!

The year was 1818 and a roving band of actors was traveling through the Austrian Alps performing their re-enactment of the story of Christ’s birth in towns all over the area. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, where they were scheduled to perform that evening in the small Church of St. Nicholas.

Unfortunately, the church organ was broken and unable to be repaired until after Christmas. Undeterred, the acting company simply moved their Christmas drama to a private home. In attendance that evening was an assistant priest of the church, Josef Mohr, a young man who had been born an illegitimate child on December 11, 1792 in  Salzburg.  He had become a Catholic priest in 1815 after he obtained a special papal dispensation that was required for illegitimate persons entering the priesthood. That night the beautiful presentation of the actors put him in a meditative mood, and instead of walking straight home, he took a longer route which included a quiet path up a hill overlooking the village below. As he looked down from the hilltop on the peaceful, snow-covered village, he reveled in the majestic silence of the wintry night and, gazing upon the picturesque winter scene, remembered a poem he had written a couple of years before about the night the angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on another hillside far away in Judea.

Mohr, who was very determined to introduce music in the mother tongue of the Austrian and German people, instead of insisting they sing songs and hear sermons in Latin which was not understood by anyone, decided that the words he had written might make a good simple carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The only problem was he had no music to which the poem could be sung! So the next day Father Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber. The organist had only a few hours to compose a melody for Mohr’s poem, and due to the fact the organ was inoperable, he had to come up with an extremely simple melody and chord pattern that could be sung with a guitar. Gruber managed to do just that, and by the time of the Christmas eve service, he had composed a simple but beautiful musical setting for the poem, one which could easily be sung by the common people and whose accompaniment could  be strummed on the guitar. They had just introduced a Christmas carol that could be sung without an organ!

On that Christmas Eve in 1818, the congregation heard for the very first time the beautiful carol, “Silent Night”, sung by Mohr and Gruber, who also accompanied them on his guitar.

Weeks later, when the organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived to repair the organ, he heard Gruber play his composition as he tested out the newly refurbished instrument. Deeply impressed by the beautiful, melodious carol, Mauracher took copies of the music and words to “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village of Kapfing. Two well-known singing families, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard and were captivated by the beautiful new song, putting it into their Christmas season repertoires.

The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, after they performed it for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, he ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve! Twenty years after it was written, the Rainers brought “Silent Night” to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside of New York City’s Trinity Church.  Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber had maintained their church work in relative obscurity through the years.  It was not until people began asking years later, as its popularity at Christmas increased, “Who wrote this beautiful song?” that  Gruber’s son spoke up and said, “I know the story of this song!” and produced a copy of it after his father’s death.  Josef Mohr died of complications from tuberculosis when he was not quite 56 years old, and is buried in the courtyard of a school he started in a small town in Austria during his priesthood.  Neither man ever knew the worldwide scope of the song they had penned that Christmas Eve in a small town in the mountains of Austria, but God used their talents in a remarkable way.  Even though Josef Mohr was a man who came from a less than desirable background at the time, God chose him to herald the message of the birth of the Savior through this beloved song!

In 1863, “Silent Night” was translated into English from the original German, and today the words of “Silent Night” are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world!  It has been recorded musically by over 740 artists all over the world, making it the most recorded song of all time!

The original German lyrics go something like this:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schlaft, einsam wacht;
Nur das traute heilige Paar,
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar;
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’, Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh’.

Did God in His sovereignty allow a simple church organ to “break down” and be out of commission at a most important time so that someone would compose a simple song, one that ordinarily would not be thought of as nearly complex enough for the traditional organ masterpieces of the day, later sung around the world as a best-loved rendition of His birth? Did God anoint two men who were moved by the events recorded in Matthew and Luke to compose perhaps the most famous of the carols that are sung all over the world to this day? I believe He did! I am thankful that they were obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to pen the words and music that will go down in history as one of the greatest songs ever written!

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright;
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild;
Sleep in Heavenly peace, Sleep in Heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight; 
Glories stream from Heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing, “Allelujah”;
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!

Please enjoy my arrangement of this beloved carol from my Christmas album “Proclaim the Joy!” (available also on Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, CD Baby and others)

The Harp and the King, Part II

David playing harp #2Last time we talked about how King Saul went from being an anointed King of Israel filled with God’s Spirit, to a tormented man troubled by an evil spirit causing him to exhibit disturbing and violent behavior.  Let’s pick up the story:

King Saul’s sin of offering a burnt offering to God instead of waiting on Samuel to come as he had said he would, resulted in God  taking the kingdom away from him and giving it to another, a “man after His own heart”…David!  The second sin is detailed in I Samuel 15 which you may want to read in entirety.  Briefly, God told Saul in verse 3, Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (NASB)  Pretty clear, wasn’t it?  Don’t let anything live, neither humans nor animals!  Well, after Saul and his army killed the entire population of the Amalekites, he decided to spare the life of the king, Agag, and “take him alive”, perhaps as a sort of trophy from the victory!  Verse 9 says, But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. (NASB)

So, once again we see Saul’s direct disobedience to God, as the prophet Samuel quickly found out when Saul told him, “Blessed are you of the Lord!  I have carried out the command of the Lord.”  But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”  Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” I Samuel 15:13-15 (NASB)

So, once again Saul lied and told “half truths”, blaming the people and making it appear they just wanted to sacrifice unto the Lord!  God asked nothing of Saul but his complete and total obedience and he did not give it to Him.  In fact, in verses 15, 20 and 21 he again reiterated his statement about sacrificing, blaming it on the people, and on and on.  Verses 22 and 23 are rather famous and often quoted:  “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”  I Samuel 15:22 & 23 (NKJV)

Note that at least two times Saul tried to continue with his lies and deception, but Samuel, through the discernment of God, saw right through it and continued to demand truth and transparency from Saul.  God told him in no uncertain terms that He had rejected him from being king.  His days of being king over Israel were numbered.  Finally in verse 24, we see Saul repenting at least to some extent.  Only God knows the contriteness of his heart.  He did not cry out to God in repentance, but he at least admitted his sin to Samuel in verses 24 and 25:  And Saul said unto Samuel, “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words:  because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.  Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.” (KJV)

Obviously Samuel was not very convinced of Saul’s sincerity, either, for he said to him in verse 26:  “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”  Verse 28, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” I Samuel 15:26 & 28 (NKJV)  Then Samuel proceeded to hack the wicked King Agag in pieces as God had originally instructed Saul to do.

So, what was the problem with Saul?  It is fairly obvious from these chapters that Saul did not have a contrite heart, one which was sold out to the Lord in every way, and which obeyed His voice totally.  He was deceptive, he tried to lie and cover up his sin and appeared prideful and arrogant.  Because of these things, God could not use him in the position of king as He had first intended.  So, in Chapter 16 we see Samuel going to the house of Jesse and anointing his youngest (and apparently the most unlikely) son to be the king of Israel upon Saul’s death, instead of continuing the line through Saul’s sons.  David was just a young teenager (most likely), a shepherd, ruddy, with bright eyes and good-looking, according to verse 12.  And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. (NKJV)  Verse 14 sadly tells us, But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. (KJV)

It appears that when God removed Saul from being king, He also removed the Holy Spirit’s anointing from him that allowed him to perform the many acts God used in showing His power to His people.  So, when the Holy Spirit departed, because of Saul’s direct disobedience to God, this allowed an evil spirit to come in and torment him.  When the Word of God says “from the Lord” it means “with God’s permission”.  I do not believe that a Spirit-filled Christian can be filled with demon spirits; the two cannot co-exist together in someone’s body.  I believe a Christian can be tempted or even oppressed at times by evil spirits, but when we use our weapons of warfare, the Word of God which is the sword of the Spirit, demons must flee!! They have no part in a spirit-filled Christian’s life.  Never give into satan’s lies or fears that you will be possessed by the enemy or his demonic attacks!  You have all of the tools you need to resist Him; remember James 4:7, Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (NASB)

So, while Saul opened himself up directly, because of his disobedience, to an evil spirit (demonic) with God’s permission, David, on the other hand, was filled with the Spirit of God from that day on, just as we today under the New Covenant are filled with the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and begin to live the new, overcoming life in Christ, free from sin’s domination!  If we sin, we have an advocate with the Father and can receive forgiveness, living that abundant life in Christ that the unbeliever has never experienced!  David knew what that life was like, and he began to play on his harp as he had never played before, under the new anointing of the Holy Spirit that was upon him!

So when Saul was tormented with evil spirits, he would call for David, as I Samuel 16:22 & 23 recount, ….“Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”  Soit came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him. (NASB)  Verse 18 just before this says David was “a skillful musician”.  That means he knew his music!  He practiced regularly, relied on the Lord to hone his musical skills, studied his craft and then left the rest up to the anointing of the Holy Spirit who in essence came upon him and “played through him” as he worshipped.  This was the secret to the evil spirit leaving Saul…the anointing of a skillful musician!  And this is not the last time we read of this.  Saul’s jealousy of David and the fact he knew he would be king instead of him, inspired Saul to attempt to kill David many times, several times in his own house with a spear poised to hurl at David.  I Samuel 19:9 & 10 reads,  Now there was an evil spirit from the Lord on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing the harp with his hand.  Saul tried to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, so that he stuck the spear in to the wall. And David fled and escaped that night. (NASB)  So, one had a spear in his hand; one had a harp in his hand,  but God delivered the one who  had an instrument of  God in his hand!

Always remember this:  There may be evil lurking nearby, even in the form of a jealous person in a rage who hates you.  They may even have a spear in their hand!  But, don’t forget, you have the power of God in the form of His Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and even as David’s hand was playing the harp, your hand can hold the Word of God, play and sing His promises, and hold onto the Hand of the One who will never let you go!  Don’t give up, child of God!  Jesus holds your hand and He has not forsaken you!  Perhaps God used the many times Saul tried to take David’s life as a way to inspire him to write the beautiful, anointed Psalms we sing and quote!  Who knows if he would have written them as praise to God if everything in his life were going well?  God works through adversity and many times through other people who mean to do us harm, to work good in our lives for His glory!  Never forget Romans 8:28 when you are tempted to give up, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” 

Does God use anointed music and musicians?  He surely does!  There is power in music to dispel the forces of evil.   That is why satan hates musicians sold out to God!  Keep playing and singing the praises of God and put the enemy to flight, as David  did for Saul!

David playing harp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harp and the King, Part I

David playing harp #3Have you ever read in God’s Word the accounts of how David, a lowly shepherd boy, came before the great King Saul and basically chased away a tormenting evil spirit from him simply by playing skillfully on a harp?  Have you ever wondered how he got into this condition, actually hurling weapons at David and acting like a crazy man?  Well, it’s quite a story and in order to fully understand it we need to get some background which I Samuel gives us.

When Israel begged God for a king so that they could be like other nations, He gave them their request, although the prophet Samuel warned them against this.  God spoke to Samuel in I Samuel 8:7, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (KJV); and again in verse 22, Obey their voice and make them a king. (ESV)   Even though God had told the people through His prophets that He did not want them to have a king, they insisted, and God chose a young man named Saul.  Chapter 9:1 & 2 reads, There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish…a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man.  There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.  From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. (ESV)

If you want to read the full story, begin in I Samuel 8 and read through chapter 10.  In I Samuel 10:24 we read, And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen?  There is none like him among the people.” And all the people  shouted, “Long live the king!” (ESV)  or as the King James puts it, “God save the king.”  They were really happy about this, and the story of how Saul was supernaturally directed by God to Samuel, chosen and anointed,  is an amazing story you should read for yourself in I Samuel 10!  The spirit of the Lord came upon Saul; it says in verses 9 & 10, .…God gave him (Saul) another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.  When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him and he prophesied among them.”  (ESV)  The people were amazed and knew that God’s Hand and Spirit were truly upon this handsome young man who was now King of Israel!

Wow, what a happy ending!  End of story?  Hardly!! Actually it was just the beginning and this is where the harp comes into play.  Please read on!

I Samuel 12 and 13:1-7 detail some of the battles and conquests that Saul presided over in the strength of the Lord.  The first verse of chapter 13 states that Saul reigned one year, then two, and all seemed to be going well.  Then two incidents occurred in which Saul sinned and did not fully obey God’s instructions.  Sound familiar?  God wanted complete obedience from his king and Saul did not give him this.  The first incident is recorded in chapter 13:8-14.  Saul decided he was tired of waiting seven days for the prophet Samuel to come, as he had said he would.  Instead of being patient, he, in verse 9, decided to take matters into his own hands.

We read, He (Saul) waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel.  But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him.  So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.”

 And he offered the burnt offering.  As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came.  And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.  Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’  So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly.  You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you.  For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not continue.  The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”  (ESV)

A couple of things stand out here.  First of all,  Saul had disobeyed the commandment of God that only priests were to offer burnt offerings!  Saul obviously knew this, but took matters into his own hands anyway and disobeyed God.  How often do we do the same thing in our own lives?  Saul’s actions displeased God and He through Samuel reprimanded him.  Secondly, Saul was not repentant about his actions.  He could have torn his robe, thrown himself to the ground begging for forgiveness or sat in sackcloth and ashes.  Instead he made up some excuse and told Samuel “he forced himself to offer the burnt offering!”  Remember, God always looks on the heart.  He knows everything before we tell Him and He does not look favorably upon deception and half-truths.  This is the reason he told Saul through the prophet Samuel that as of that day, his kingdom would not continue but He would give it to another, a man after His own heart.  Of course, as we all know, that man was David!

In my next blog tomorrow I will tell you about the second sin Saul committed and how a man with a harp helped him get through this time of mental illness and a tormenting evil spirit!

David playing harp #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part II

Worship[1]

Yesterday we discussed how King David called upon the singers and instrumentalists to accompany him in bringing the ark of God to its tent home…the Tabernacle of David!  I want to continue this story by pointing out several very interesting things that happened during this journey!

In I Chronicles 15 we are told of the musicians who were called upon to accompany the ark on its way to the tent David had pitched to house it until the building of the Temple could occur years later under King Solomon.  Verse 19 speaks of three singers, Heman, Asaph and Ethan, who were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze, as well!  Verse 20 details some who played psalteries (which is similar to today’s “zither” which looks somewhat like an autoharp; it is a stringed instrument, possibly a forerunner of the piano); verse 21 speaks of harps; and verse 24 mentions blowing with trumpets.

I Chronicles 15:27 says,  Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers.  David also wore an ephod of linen.  An ephod was a priestly garment or vestment for the high priest, so in essence David was acting as a priest in bringing the ark of God to its home, as he worshipped!  Verse 28 reads, Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres. (NASB)  Chapter 16, verse 1 tells us, And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. (NASB) It seems that the musicians were very jubilant, shouting, playing their instruments and really “having church”!

II Samuel 6:14 & 15 adds this note,  And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. (NASB)  I believe they were all worshipping, feeling the presence of the Lord very strongly, as they journeyed to the waiting tent, many dancing and shouting. Some played musical instruments, including  two of the priests who blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God! (I Chronicles 16:5 and 6 paraphrased)  In short, they were “getting happy” in the Lord!

How many musicians were there among the Levites, you ask?  I Chronicles 23:3-5 gives us the answer:  The Levites were numbered from thirty years old and upward, and their number by census of men was 38,000.  Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the Lord; and 6,000 were officers and judges, and 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise. (NASB) The number 4,000 indicates skillful musicians who had been trained and played instruments made by David in order to lead the singers and others in worship!  I find this to be very exciting!  Many of these ancient instruments are forerunners of those we have today, and some of them are still made in much the same way.  If David designed them, perhaps he had others who actually made them from a prototype.  Who knows?  He probably did not personally manufacture them all.  It would be interesting to know how the instruments really came to be made!  We do know that David and others accompanied those who sang the Psalms, as is written above many of them in the Book of Psalms.  There are 150 of them there, but more appear in several other Old Testament books; Jesus and Paul quoted them in the New Testament, as well, so it is assumed the Early Church also sang psalms, as the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:16,  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (KJV)

In I Chronicles 25:1 & 3 we read, Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;….six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the Lord. (NASB) Musicians were even used in warfare! Today, prophetic music is a powerful thing, and can be used in spiritual warfare!  The Holy Spirit releases His anointing which in turn can bring about deliverance and healing as a Spirit-filled musician plays on an instrument.  Case in point:  Remember when Saul called for a musician when he was tormented by demons and David played for him on the harp and the evil spirit departed from him? (I Samuel 16:23)

In addition to (or perhaps a part of) the 4,000 mentioned above, I Chronicles 25:6 & 7 tells us about others used in the house of the Lord to minister in music:  All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God.  Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king.  Their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288. (NASB)

And in conclusion, don’t forget Jehoshaphat, the righteous king who ruled hundreds of years after King David.  He also knew the power of anointed worship music, sometimes even sending the musicians and singers into battle before the army of Judah!  How would you have liked to be in that choir and orchestra?  Here are the words of II Chronicles 20:20b-22,  “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established.  Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.”  When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed. (NASB)  The dictionary says “rout” means “to defeat decisively or disastrously”!

Is there power in anointed music?  Absolutely!  God has used musicians time and time again for His divine purposes, not only to destroy the works of the enemy, but to bring us into His presence through the oil and sweet savor of the music He has created…a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness!  Come into the Holy of Holies and be refreshed as you play and sing before Him!  Truly God has given us this beautiful gift, so be encouraged today, fellow musician.  You are very special to God!!

I, as a musician, want to be a woman God can use in His Kingdom!  I want Him to say of me, as he said of King David of old, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.”  Acts 13:22 (NASB)  Is that your prayer today?

Listen to this song I wrote and recorded a few years ago based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23 & 24…. I hope you will pray this prayer with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part I

Worship[1]

Let me tell you a story about the singers and orchestra that led God’s people, the children of Israel, on many journeys, including battles and a journey to place the ark of God in a permanent home!

The story begins in I Chronicles 15:1 and 2:  David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (NKJV)  The story continues through the chapter with verse 16 stating, Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. (NKJV)

It is important to remember that as we study the Torah and the Law of God (primarily in the books of Exodus and Leviticus),  we become aware that the Levites were one of the twelve tribes and the only one of the tribes to be “priests” of God and minister to Him in the Tabernacle, which at that time was portable and could be carried.  It was a tent-like structure made of animal skins, rich tapestries and other coverings, curtains, ornate wood overlaid with gold, and beautiful furnishings.  The ark of God (often referred to as the Ark of the Covenant) was housed within the Holy of Holies and only the priests (Levites) were allowed in this area.  The Tabernacle was carried with the children of Israel during their many years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the “Promised Land”.

David desperately wanted to find a permanent home for the ark of God.  He desired to build a house, or temple, for God, but the Lord denied David this honor, telling him that because he had been a man of war, He would only allow it to be built by his son at a later time.  Solomon, David’s son, became king after David ruled for 40 years and built the temple, much of it planned out by his father!  But God allowed David to house the ark in a tent, as we read above, and that is where it remained until the completion of the temple at a later date.  This is where we get the terminology “The Tabernacle of David” because it refers to the glory of God brought into our lives through praise and worship! God is restoring this type of worship today, a spontaneous, non-structured, joyful “entering into His presence” experience.  Holy Spirit anointed instrumental and vocal musicians lead the way into the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant used to be located, but is now located within us as we enter into His presence!  We can come boldly before the Throne of Grace today as we enter in through our worship! (Hebrews 4:16)

What is interesting to me, as a musician, is the detail recorded in I Chronicles regarding the musical instruments the musicians played.   In chapter 15, verse 20 we read about several musicians playing “harps tuned to alamoth”, apparently a tuning scale of the day.   Verse 21 mentions six other musicians would “lead with lyres tuned to the sheminith”.  The Hebrew Interlinear Bible interprets this as, “with lyres on the octave” indicating a scale similar to ours today.  I find this fascinating!  Verse 22  says, Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful. (NASB) (A footnote says he was “trained”). This indicates that a portion of the Levites were musicians who apparently even taught music!  So, being a music teacher is very scriptural!  Psalm 33:3 says, Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (NASB) and Isaiah 23:16 says,  Take your harp….Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. (NASB)  I spent nearly 35 years as a music teacher, and I am glad that God found this to be important…stressing the need for playing skillfully!

These verses should give music directors, teachers, singers and instrumentalists cause for joy in their profession!  Now, let’s see how the musicians who were of the tribe of the Levites were supported on a day-to-day basis.  I Chronicles 9:33 reads, These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night. (NKJV)  They were obviously engaged in singing and playing instruments, as well as teaching, in the house of the Lord.  Nehemiah 11:22b & 23 tells us,  ...the singers in charge of the service of the house of God.  For it was the king’s command concerning them that a certain portion should be for the singers, a quota day by day. (NKJV) The ESV puts it this way, For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required.

So, music must have been extremely important to God, for He provided for the musicians in His House, not only as singers and instrumentalists, but as instructors of future musicians!  They were a part of the Levitical priesthood and as such, were provided for financially! Nehemiah 12:44-46 reads, On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites;….For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon.  For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. (NASB)

But, unfortunately, some had not been paid.   Nehemiah 13:10 & 11 tells us,  I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.  So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”  And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.” (ESV)  The NASB says, “Restored them to their posts.”  Nehemiah then speaks in the next verses about restoring the tithes and appointing treasurers over the storehouses so that the Levites and musicians could once again serve, being supported financially.  Verse 12 says,  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  Nehemiah put several “in charge of the storehouses” (in verse 13) for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.  Isn’t this fascinating how the tithes were distributed to also include the payment of musicians?

I will conclude this fascinating study with Part II tomorrow….Please don’t miss it!

A few years ago I recorded my arrangement of the beautiful praise song written by Fanny J. Crosby, “Praise Him!  Praise Him!”…it has a bit of a “jazzy” twist.  I hope you will enjoy this as you worship today!

 

 

 

 

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!”

 

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