Archives

He Is Risen!

musicnote[1]One of my favorite hymns is “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, whose words were written by Charles Wesley, brother of the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley.  The Wesley brothers were both involved in active ministry and faithful followers of Christ.  Charles lived from 1707-1788 and wrote hundreds of hymns during his lifetime.  It seems no Resurrection Sunday service is complete without singing this beautiful hymn!

But, with all of the fanfare and excitement surrounding this holiday celebrated annually each spring, it is important to look at some facts concerning Easter.  First of all, the holiday as celebrated today, has pagan origins, not always pleasant to look at.  The name is derived from “Eostre”, an Anglo-Saxon goddess who was celebrated at a pagan spring festival celebrating the vernal equinox.  She was the “dawn goddess”.  Going even further back in history, the roots of the celebration can be traced all the way back to Nimrod, grandson of Noah, and his wife Semiramis, who is also known as “Ishtar”.  The Feast of Ishtar was started thousands of years ago by Nimrod, who wanted to be worshipped as the “Sun God”, and his wife, known as the “moon goddess”, goddess of spring and fertility, and the Queen of Heaven. This feast celebrated the rebirth or reincarnation of nature and the goddess of nature. Nimrod built the city of Babel, where God confounded the languages at the Tower of Babel.  Their wickedness was known throughout the earth!.

Jesus Christ’s (Yeshua, the Messiah) resurrection occurred just after Passover, on the Jewish Feast of First Fruits, celebrated the first Sunday morning after Passover.  For centuries Christians celebrated on this day, but in AD325, Roman Emperor Constantine, presiding over the large council at Nicea, set the date of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (explaining the wide difference in dates for Easter each year), and in seeking to “Christianize” the pagans and the entire world, decided to give new names and meanings to the old pagan festival celebrating fertility in order to keep people happy who were already celebrating these events.  Thus, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection was combined with a pagan fertility festival and renamed Easter!  All of these facts are readily available online if you care to do the research.

The truth is, the Early Church did not celebrate Easter, but rather the Passover; rabbits and eggs have nothing to do with Christ’s resurrection, but rather are symbols of the ancient pagan fertility rites; sunrise services looking to the East are based on pagan customs (Ezekiel 8:15-18) and Good Friday and Lent are manmade events. Jesus predicted that He would be in the ground “three days and three nights”, so the math just does not work if you believe he was crucified on Good Friday. The truth is, he was more than likely crucified on Thursday morning, embalmed and laid in the tomb before sundown on Thursday, as the Jews were prohibited from working on the Passover, which was Friday (a day on the Jewish calendar is from sundown to sundown); Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his twelve disciples probably on Wednesday evening, a night earlier, as he knew he would be dead by the next evening when Passover was to be celebrated. Then, the regular Sabbath was Saturday, and the biblical Feast of First Fruits was celebrated on that Sunday following the first Sabbath after Passover. Jesus arose from the dead at the dawning of the first day, Sunday, thus becoming the “first fruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20-23). He not only fulfilled His promise to rise again after three days and three nights (the math works here!), but He fulfilled the Sabbath and the Feast of First Fruits! He became our Passover Lamb with His atonement for our sins, as well. When the veil of the temple was torn in two at Jesus’ crucifixion, God was giving us a sign that Christ had indeed fulfilled the requirements of the Law, becoming our sin offering so we might have Eternal Life!

So, knowing all of the pagan origins of this holiday and the fact that even many churches today continue to combine the pagan with the spiritual, perhaps in ignorance, should we refuse to observe this Resurrection Sunday? Emphatically not! This day celebrates the greatest event in history…the resurrection and eventual ascension to Heaven of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sent down to us by our Heavenly Father to show us the way to God by giving His life for us and providing His blood as atonement for our sins! It is a final work, a once-and-for all event, spoken by our Lord when He uttered the words, “It Is Finished!” By accepting His finished work, we enter into salvation from our sins and Eternal Life is assured! We do not have to work for our salvation; it is a free gift, provided through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection!

So, how shall we celebrate this day? On Resurrection Sunday, let us join with millions around the world in singing Charles Wesley’s song, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, knowing that we are not celebrating a mixture of pagan symbols and man-made ceremonies that are not in the Word of God, but a risen Savior!  Let us rejoice out of a deep sense of awe and gratitude for what our Lord did for us on Calvary and through His resurrection, providing salvation through Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”!

 

Ethel Waters

images[7]When I was sixteen-years-old I attended a Billy Graham evangelistic crusade in Winnipeg, Manitoba that profoundly changed my life.  Of course, the world-famous articulate and persuasive ministry of the great evangelist, anointed by the Holy Spirit, was enough to make an indelible mark on my life forever.  Even though I had given my life to the Lord at the early age of four, I was totally awed by the thousands of people who thronged forward to make decisions to follow Jesus.  In addition, I will never forget watching Mr. Graham’s pianist, Tedd Smith, warming up on the keyboard and accompanying the crusade choir made up of men and women from many churches.  I thrilled to the voice of George Beverly Shea and enjoyed Cliff Barrows’ congregational song leading.  The whole experience left me in awe.

But the one thing that literally moved me to tears, and I shall never forget the experience, was a sweet, elderly African-American woman by the name of Ethel Waters, who sang “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”.  She prefaced the song with, “Listen, children….”, and from the first line, “Why should I feel discouraged...” which she articulated with such a nuance of feeling, tears began to come to my eyes!  As she proceeded through several choruses of, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free; His eye is on the sparrow; And I know He watches me!”  with the mass choir singing along in the background, I really thought I might be raptured at any moment!  The sheer ecstasy of the whole performance left me feeling like I had been sitting at Jesus’ feet.  It wasn’t even that her voice was the most elegant or dynamic that I had ever heard, but the fact she was able to project to her audience something we all felt way down deep in our souls, that intangible quality that literally brought us into the presence of God!  It was definitely the anointing of the Holy Spirit!

Ethel Waters didn’t always use her talents to sing anointed songs of praise and worship to God.  In fact, she didn’t surrender her life to the Lord until she was in her late 50’s.  She was born in Pennsylvania around the turn of the century, the unwanted product of a rape!  Her mother, Louise Anderson, was raped at knife point when she was only thirteen years old by a middle class mixed-race pianist and family acquaintance by the name of John Waters.  Raised in poverty by her grandmother, Ethel grew up in the slums of Philadelphia and neighboring cities, seldom living anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time.  She later recollected in her autobiography,  His Eye Is On the Sparrow, “No one raised me; I just ran wild.  I never was a child.  I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.”  She married at age 13 but soon left her abusive husband and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel working for $4.75 a week.

However, God had His hand on Ethel.  She soon began singing and dancing, as well as performing at church functions.  In 1917 she made her debut on the black vaudeville circuit and performed in Harlem nightclubs in the 1920’s.  Soon she entered the “white time” vaudeville circuit, becoming one of America’s most celebrated and highest-paid entertainers.  At New York City’s “Cotton Club” she introduced what would become one of her #1 hits on the Billboard charts, “Stormy Weather”.  She wrote of her performance, “I was singing the story of my misery and confusion, the story of the wrongs and outrages done to me by people I had loved and trusted.” Later Irving Berlin, impressed by her soulful performance of this song, wrote “Supper Time”, a song about a lynching, for Ethel to perform in a Broadway revue.  She became the first African-American star of a national radio show, was cast several times as a dramatic actress on Broadway and in the movies, and had three of her recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Still, with all of her success, and even a wonderful husband whom she married in 1938, Ethel knew something was missing!  In the late 1950’s Ethel walked down that famous aisle in a Billy Graham crusade and gave her life to Christ!  Her life was never the same! After becoming a born-again Christian, she dedicated the remainder of her life, until her death in 1977, to touring with and singing at many of the Billy Graham crusades, as well as recording several albums of sacred music for Word Records.  Her life was transformed by the power of Jesus Christ!

Talented musicians have always made a deep impression on me, but for this sixteen-year-old girl sitting in that audience so many years ago, the anointing and impact of the music of Ethel Waters would never leave.  God used her to bless a teenager who decided to use her talents in the same way to influence many for Christ!  I hope to see her and share her music in Heaven one day!

 

 

 

Did God Invent “Selfies”?

selfie[1]We live in an undisputed digital age, the likes of which has never before occurred in the history of mankind!  We as “social media conscious” humans enjoy taking “selfies” to share with our friends and colleagues,”tweeting” about our latest conquests or lack of them, “posting” our latest adventures complete with pictures, and generally using our online connections to gratify our need for social acceptance and personal validation.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with this…society accepts this fact and we comply accordingly!  If we are tired of our “selfie” we change it!  If we are bored we “post”!  If we need a pat on the back or a compliment, we brag in a cute way!  You know the old adage, “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted!”  Well, at least it makes us feel better in some sort of way!

But, did you know that God was the original inventor of the “selfie”?  Well, if you don’t believe me, just read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  (KJV)

Of course, you may say, that means to speak to one another in a corporate setting such as the local congregation.  But wait!  Could it be that God knew we needed to speak some things to OURSELVES first before we could share them with someone else?  Could it be that we needed to reinforce the goodness of God, His provision for us, His blessings in our lives, to OURSELVES so we could really get these facts into our spirits?  Perhaps He really did invent the original “SELFIE”!

Yes, I understand that we are not to be “self-centered” or “narcissistic”, a word derived from the Latin “Narcissus”, a legendary young person from Greek mythology who was constantly looking at his reflection in a pool of water and was turned into the narcissus flower!  We know that in order to be totally fulfilled and happy in Christ we must look outwardly, not inwardly to ourselves all of the time.  We must put God first, then others, and in many ways, ourselves last.  As the old song says, “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!”  Have you ever known a person who was always unhappy, feeling sorry for himself and seemingly going through endless trials and disappointments in his life, simply because he had never learned to look outside of himself and see how he could be a blessing to someone else probably suffering much more badly than himself?  This is very true and a principle of life! We gain joy by giving of ourselves to others and getting our minds off of our own problems!

However, having said that, could it be that God wants us to look “inward” and “speak to ourselves” for just a moment or two about His love, power, goodness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing, abundance, and on and on, so that we actually may “convince” ourselves that this is true?  It is like programming a computer in many ways.  We must first program our minds to think correctly about the Word and what we have been given through Christ!  We must first convince ourselves that He is good, that He is Lord, that He is sovereign, that He is in control in every area of our lives BEFORE we can truly worship Him in spirit and in truth; before we can truly share His love with another; before we can be a blessing to those we come in contact with; before we can spread the truth of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ!

So, why not take just a moment today to speak to YOURSELF in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, meditating and singing about His love, goodness, power and greatness!  After you have finished doing this then SHARE this love with someone nearby.  Then you can share with “one another”, collectively “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:20, ESV)  Yes, our praise is directed TO and FOR our Lord not only for what He has done for us, but for who He is!  But, do you suppose maybe we first have to speak to OURSELVES, just like we need that occasional picture “selfie” that makes us feel so special, in order to convince our minds that He really is good and His mercy endures forever?  Looking “inward” in reflective self-examination and introspection is not always a bad thing!  I think that God knew we needed this when He made Ephesians 5:19 a part of Holy Scripture!  Think about this the next time you post that “selfie”!

 

The Power of Music to Lift, Heal and Inspire!

Worship[1]A few weeks ago my husband and I decided to take a trip to the Grand Canyon.  I had never actually been there before (only flown over it several times), and the whole experience was above and beyond my expectations!  I was simply overtaken with awe and wonder at the majesty and grandeur of this magnificent work of art which our Heavenly Father made for us to enjoy!

The verses in Psalm 95:1-5 came to me.  They read, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.  For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods.  In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also.  The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land.”  (NKJV)

The Grand Canyon, which is one mile deep, certainly demonstrates the height of the hills and the deep places of the earth.  We also read that His hands formed the dry land; He also made the sea.  Even if God used the erosion process from the mighty Colorado River to design the gorgeous colored rock formations, it was His hands that guided the flow of the river!

This passage speaks about singing before the Lord and coming before His presence with thanksgiving, joyfully shouting to Him with psalms!  Did you know that God loves to hear our praises?  He is the greatest example of someone singing to the ones He loves.  The prophet Zephaniah writes, “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zeph. 3:17, NKJV)

If God rejoices over us, His children, with singing and gladness, shouldn’t we do the same in worship back to Him?  We have so much to be thankful for, even when we experience sorrow and suffering.  We know that He will ultimately never give us anything to endure that is not for our good and that in the end we will come through each trial in victory!  This alone is something to shout and sing about!

Did you know that for years researchers have studied why and how music has such an enormous effect on people?  They have concluded that one of the most amazing properties of music is that it can reach parts of the brain and evoke memories that speech simply can’t reach!  This is the reason therapists often use music from a patient’s past to connect with them, often bringing dementia patients and stroke victims into the present through hearing a song and enabling them to connect with reality and speak again.  The reason for this is that a different part of the brain is used in singing and making music than in normal speech.  That is why many  people who have a stuttering problem can sing words with no difficulty!

Music has been found to boost athletic performance, help with science and mathematics skills, soothe and heal injuries, help depression, autism, and Alzheimer’s, as well as increase academic performance in general.  Don’t you think our Heavenly Father, the great God of the Universe, knew there was a certain compartment in our brains that only music could fill?  Shouldn’t we be using this beautiful gift He gave us to give back to Him in praise and worship?  After all, the primary reason why we were created is to give praise and glory to our Creator!  Our fellowship with Him will last throughout Eternity, so don’t you think it’s time we started using the gift of music He gave us?  Even if you don’t feel you have much musical ability; even if you don’t think you can hardly carry a tune; even if you don’t play a musical instrument, start in your own way to worship Him!  Try singing some of the Psalms or praise songs, or just worship Him with your own words!  You’ll be amazed at the uplifting effects!  Put on a praise CD and sing along if you are feeling down in the dumps; try singing along to some upbeat tunes as you do your housework or drive through freeway traffic; beautiful soothing worship music can help you unwind at day’s end and heal your troubled heart, helping you get to sleep faster.

We don’t need to know why music has such power in order to benefit from it.  Although it may remain an amazing and wondrous mystery, I believe God gave music to us, in the same way He formed the majestic Grand Canyon, for our enjoyment!  A great musician once remarked, “I believe one of the main purposes in God giving us music is to teach the spiritual principle of unity and oneness.  In a choir, band, or orchestra, each works in perfect harmony for a common goal.”  I agree!  Each time I have been a part of a musical group, the feeling of oneness during the performance has been exhilarating.  Could this experience give us glimpses into the spiritual unity of Heaven?

Some of today’s music, sadly, does not bring peace, nor does it edify; neither does it bring unity or sound harmonious.  Some music may sound more like tuning up part of a symphony orchestra, rather than of the symphony!  Great anthems and hymns of the Church, along with more contemporary praise and worship music that glorifies God, can bring a person into His presence like nothing else!  I challenge you to begin making music to the Lord in any way that you can….He loves to hear your praises!

 

There’s Power in the Name of Jesus!

images[5]  musicnote[1] Do you believe in the statement, “There is power in the Name of Jesus”? Have you ever thought about even singing that Name to the Enemy of our souls, who has to flee?

I just read an amazing story that I was unaware of, but it is well documented.  It has to do with the old hymn we all know and sing in our churches, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”   The lyrics, written in 1779 by Rev. Edward Perronet, a British minister and close friend of John and Charles Wesley, have been translated into almost every existing language and the song has often been called the “National Anthem of Christendom.”

In the early 1800’s a missionary by the name of Reverend E. P. Scott was living in India attempting to reach the native people for Christ.  At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but against the advice of his fellow missionaries, he set out alone to visit a remote village, determined to share the Gospel with a dangerous savage tribe.

After a journey of a few days, Scott was met by a large group of warriors who quickly surrounded him, each one pointing a spear towards his heart.  The missionary expected that he would die, so he made a decision to use his last few breaths to glorify God, while hopefully stirring something within the hearts of his captors.  He was a musician who always carried his violin with him, so he took it out, closed his eyes, and began to play and sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” in the native language of the warriors.  He fully expected to feel the agony of the spears being plunged into his heart at any second.

Amazingly, after singing the first verse, the second, the third and then beginning the fourth, Rev. Scott realized he was still standing, and that the angry warriors around him had become peacefully quiet!  As he slowly opened his eyes, he saw every spear lowered!  There stood those mighty warriors, with tears in their eyes.   The power of the Name of Jesus had just been demonstrated once again!

The warriors invited Rev. Scott to stay with them!  He lived among them for over two years, sharing the love of God with them and leading many of them to Christ!  The power of just one song sung in a moment of crisis changed the lives of many that day, accomplishing what a hundred sermons may never have been able to do!

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2 9-11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

There is ultimate power in the Name of Jesus!  I challenge you to speak and sing that Name against the onslaughts of the Enemy in your life, whether it be for a physical, spiritual, financial, emotional or other need in your life. He responds when we call His Name out in prayer and praise….He is ever present to hear and answer us, even when things seem darkest.  I hope you will sing the words of this song in praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name, let angels prostrate fall;

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

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

*****

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, ye ransomed from the Fall;

Hail Him who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all;

Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 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.

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;

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

A Word About Worship

As I was going through some of my old “stuff” the other day (you know, the ever-present need to throw some things away!), I ran across an issue of “The East Texas Christian Monthly” newspaper from January 1996.  I used to do a regular monthly column on worship in it and, sure enough, after thumbing through the pages I found the following which I wrote 18 years ago!  I decided to share it with you as I think it is as relevant today as it was back then.  I hope you will be blessed by it:

A Word About Worship

As I was contemplating what type of New Year’s resolutions to try and make (or better yet, try to keep!), I thought of ways in which my worship times with the Lord could become more meaningful this year.  I know that our quiet times alone with God can mean the difference between being productive in His Kingdom, and never really accomplishing what He intended us to do with our lives.

With this in mind, I wrote down four guidelines that I feel are essential to true worship—things that mean the difference between knowing the Father’s heart and will for us, and just haphazardly wandering through life never knowing God’s perfect will and plan for our lives.  Here are the four guidelines to help in developing a worship time with the Lord:

1.  Be consistent.  Make time each day for worship.  This is not easy to do in our hectic “rat race” type lifestyles, but it can be done if we determine it as a priority in each day.

2.  Make quality time for the Lord.  The quantity, or amount, of time is not as important as the way in which we spend it.  Some days we may be able to sit in His presence for an hour or more, reading the Word, meditating, worshipping, singing to Him, letting Him speak to us, etc.; and then, there may be those days where we have only a few minutes while driving to work or getting ready for our day in which to talk to our Lord and listen to His voice in our hearts.  However, if we are sincere, He will speak to us, and we can commune with Him even while going about our work.  We can catch quiet moments alone with Him that are precious beyond description!

3.  I must realize that to be truly effective in ministry to others, I must first worship privately.  I am only as effective publicly as I have been privately in my worship time.

4.  Be obedient to His voice and the impressions given by the Holy Spirit during my worship times.  We can gain much direction for our lives and ministries through His Word and that “still small voice” speaking to our spirits during these quiet times.  This will often be the beginning of direction from God for the plan He has for us and the way in which He wants to use us in some area of ministry.  Always be sensitive to His leading in this way!

I challenge you to begin to have a quality worship time with God this New Year.  Your Christian life will never be the same!

The Story of “Amazing Grace”

Perhaps the most famous, best-loved hymn ever written is “Amazing Grace”, penned by Anglican clergyman John Newton in late 1772 for a prayer meeting. The story of how God brought this hardened sea captain to a knowledge of saving grace is indeed remarkable!

Born in 1725 in London, England to a shipping merchant father and devout Christian mother who died of tuberculosis when he was not quite seven years old, John joined his father on a ship as an apprentice when he was only eleven. A headstrong, disobedient young man, he denounced his faith while still in his teens, joined the Royal Navy for a time and, after deserting, joined the crew of a slave ship where he began his career in slave trading.

After openly mocking the ship’s captain, creating obscene poems and songs about him that became popular with the crew, and entering into violent disagreements with several colleagues onboard, he was ordered to be chained like the slaves the ship carried, starved almost to death and imprisoned at sea. He was then enslaved and forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone in West Africa for several months until his father intervened and one of his ship captain friends picked him up on another ship bound for England.

While aboard this ship called the “Greyhound”, Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. Even among the sailors, known for their foul-mouthed cursing, Newton was admonished several times not only for using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery. In March 1748, while the “Greyhound” was in the North Atlantic, a violent storm came up, so rough that it swept overboard a crew member who was standing where Newton had been moments before. After hours of manually pumping water from the ship’s decks, expecting to capsize at any moment, John Newton turned to the captain and said, “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!” During the next eleven hours he continued to ponder his divine challenge.

About two weeks later, after the battered ship and starving crew landed in Ireland, Newton remembered a book he had read aboard ship, The Christian’s Pattern, a summary of the 15th Century The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, and his uttered phrase in a moment of desperation. He began to ask if he was worthy of God’s mercy and grace or in any way redeemable as he had not only neglected his faith but directly opposed it, mocking others who showed theirs, deriding and denouncing God as a myth. He began to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him.

Although John Newton pointed to this time in his life as his conversion, he continued in the slave trade through several voyages up the rivers of Africa, now as a captain, procuring slaves offered for sale in larger ports and subsequently transporting them to North America. Two days before he was to embark on his fourth slave-trading expedition, a mysterious illness temporarily paralyzed him. His doctors advised him not to sail. Even though he was subsequently promised a position as a ship’s captain with cargo unrelated to slavery, he never sailed again. The replacement captain of the ship he was to command when he became ill was later murdered in a shipboard slave uprising. God’s hand was upon John Newton!

He was only thirty-years-old when he ended his slave trading career. Teaching himself Latin, Greek and theology, he and his new wife, Mary, took a pastorate in Olney, England, after the Earl of Dartmouth, impressed with Newton’s story of his conversion and renunciation of the slave trade, sponsored him for ordination. Newton soon became friends with people like Charles and John Wesley, who had encouraged Newton to go into the clergy and was the founder of the Methodist Church; George Whitfield, a famous Church of England evangelistic preacher; and William Cowper, a gifted hymn writer (“There Is a Fountain” among others). Newton and Cowper began weekly prayer meetings in 1768 and attempted to present a poem or hymn at each one.  “Amazing Grace” was probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, 1773. In 1779 a collection of the poems these two men had written for their services in Olney was bound and published anonymously under title “Olney Hymns”. Newton contributed 280 of the 348 texts and titled his best known poem, “I Chronicles 17:16-17, Faith’s Review and Expectation” with the first line: “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)”, no doubt thinking back on his remarkable conversion from a sinful life of shame! The entire first stanza, speaking of a “wretch like me”, undoubtedly expresses his regret over years spent in the slave trade.

Newton soon joined forces with a young man named William Wilberforce, the British member of Parliament who led the campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire which culminated in the Slave Trade Act 1807, and became an ardent and outspoken abolitionist.

Years later, in 1847, William Walker assigned Newton’s words to a traditional song named “New Britain”, and published the song in the United States in his songbook, “Southern Harmony”. It was an immediate success and became enormously popular all over the country. A new verse, not written by Newton, was added by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her best-selling 1852 anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which had been passed down orally in African-American communities for at least 50 years:

When we’ve been there ten-thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

“Amazing Grace” continues to be an emblem of the Christian faith today, as well as a symbol of hope during tragedies like the Civil War, the persecution of various groups such as African-American slaves, the Cherokees who sang it while on their “Trail of Tears” as a way of coping with their ongoing battle, and all of us who suffer in one way or another. If it were not for God’s “Amazing Grace” where would any of us be?

Created to Worship

 

Rebecca Baker 4Did you ever wonder why you were born and placed on this earth in the first place?  Many people do, and their quest to find the answers as to the purpose for being here often leads them in very strange directions!  Some pursue mind-expanding drugs; some explore Eastern religions and self-help courses; there are those who are convinced we have been reincarnated from something or someone who lived thousands of years back in history; or perhaps in a “former life” we were really a toad…who knows? Then they get into the strange belief that everything has a spirit; your great-grandmother may have come back as a tree, and if plants and animals are the same as us, we must do everything to save them!  This is the basis for the New Age movement.  Of course, they believe we must save the planet because God does not necessarily exist and, even if  He did, He may be unable to maintain this vast Cosmos, including our galaxy, as He has for untold eons of time!  Our small planet must be in danger and He needs our help to ensure it does not disintegrate!

Of course, the real crux of the problem is that humans have a God-shaped void in their hearts and souls which only their Creator can fulfill!  Until they come into a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ, and allow Him to be Lord of their lives, they will continue in their misery, trying all sorts of perversion, illicit sex, drugs, alcohol and pleasure which in the end will only leave them feeling emptier than when they started!

So, getting back to my question: “Why was I created?”…the answer is simple:  God created us to have fellowship with Him and maintain the earth, including having dominion over all created things, until He chooses to come again and bring those who are in relationship with Him unto Himself for Eternity!  Jesus said in Matthew 24:35:  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  (ESV)  So, if these things are doomed for destruction at some point anyway, making way for the New Heaven and New Earth (Isaiah 66:22 and 2 Peter 3:13), why don’t we spend more time practicing our worship of God, who we will be with through Eternity, entering into His presence on a daily basis, instead of worrying about things we cannot change?  I believe we have our priorities all wrong!  Jesus said in  Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  (ESV)  I believe Jesus was speaking of the material  and  mundane things of life we place so much importance on, while totally neglecting the Eternal values in which we should be more interested.

So, how can we enter into His presence in worship?  I believe there are many ways to do this, not the least important of which is singing and playing instruments before Him!  Even as our Heavenly Father loves to hear our praises, it builds us up, as well. I love Ephesians 5:19,  “…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  (NKJV)  Another favorite of mine that says nearly the same thing is 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.”  (ESV)

I believe the reason God wants His children to speak and sing their worship aloud is because He knows it builds us up in our innermost beings, edifying and fulfilling a need that is built into all human beings to worship someone or something higher than they are!  We were created to worship our Maker and nothing else in the world will satisfy this deepest of all longings!  Even the best love relationship in the world; the most wonderful spouse or children; the biggest mansion ever built; the finest cars, planes, boats and material trappings; jet-setting the world in luxury; and all that this world can offer will never fulfill this longing for God!  It is why you have a longing to worship Him, and as you do so, you will sense His peace and joy in your life; the daily cares, loneliness and stress of life will fade away as you bask in His presence!

I Corinthians 1:9  says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (NKJV)  Let us practice the words of Psalm 95:6, just one of hundreds of admonitions to worship in the book of Psalms:  “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  (NKJV)  Have you worshipped your Creator today?

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)

Hope

The word “hope” is often used casually in day-to-day conversation as a word which conveys a desire for something to happen in the future.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it this way, “To cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, to expect with confidence; trust“.

I would like to share a few words today of how this word “hope” has played a role in my own life!

I was thinking back the other day on my earlier life, particularly my teen-age years…awhile ago!!  I have fond memories of many things, some not so pleasant, some wonderful…but sandwiched in between each memory is a little thing I can only define as “hope”.  What made those years so special and poignant in my mind today is the fact I was looking forward with anticipation and hope to my adult life, where I “hoped” to fulfill all of my dreams and ambitions!  I could hardly wait to get out of school, to begin my career, to get married, to start a family, on and on.  I could see my music career blossom (I hoped!), my handsome husband and adorable children, my gorgeous home, lots of travel, lovely clothes, lots of money to spend, and on and on!  Did all of my hopes materialize?  Well, you probably know from your own life that rarely do things turn out the way you “hoped” they would!  Did that mean I was a failure?  Or did God perhaps have a slightly different plan in mind for my life than I had “hoped” for?

Sure, many of the things I hoped would happen certainly did, but not always in the way I had envisioned. Was my life a success?  “Hopefully” in God’s eyes it has been.  Certainly, in my mind, I have failed to achieve the great dreams of my youth.  However, maybe a far more important goal has been reached; that of being a blessing to even one person who needed to receive a touch from the Lord; encouraging even one person in their walk with God; leading someone to Christ; blessing someone with the gift of music; teaching a young child to play an instrument or sing God’s praises! Did it always involve the big stage or worldwide adulation?  Hardly!  However, God, who is the final judge on success and achievement sees us all on a completely different scale than the world does.  It is by His standards that I hope to someday be judged and hear Him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!”

So, how does “hope” play into my life now that I am older and have much of it to look back on? I look to the Psalmist David, who said in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”  (ESV)  In Psalm 42:5 he says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”  (ESV)

Even as we get older (and we are all on that path!) we should never give up on “hope“, which is really trust in God!  Hope for the future; hope for our nation; hope for our children and grandchildren; hope that the ministry God has destined for us to fulfill will be brought forth in our lifetime; hope for abundance in every area of our lives, spiritual as well as material!  Hopelessness brings despair, which leads to despondency.  At this time of year many people are deeply lonely as the holiday season conjures up old, painful memories.  Some even resort to taking their own lives during this time, listening to Satan’s lies that there is no hope for them and therefore they should end the misery they are feeling.  Some have chronic pain and health concerns in their physical bodies that make them want to give up and “throw in the towel”, so to speak.  Today, I would like to encourage everyone who feels a sense of hopelessness in their lives to look up and let God bring you into joy and victory through His Word and your praise and worship to Him!  Proverbs 10:28 says,, “The hope of the righteous brings joy….”  (ESV) and Paul writes in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  (ESV)

Should we lose hope as we grow older and realize that some of our dreams did not transpire and our lives turned out quite differently than we anticipated?  Absolutely not!  We need to continue to hope for the future, realizing that if we had received everything we thought we wanted, our lives would probably be a big mess in many ways!  Our Sovereign God knows best what (and who) we need in our lives, and even as we look backward with fond memories, being careful not to “live in the past”,  we can also look ahead to even better days, days of fulfillment of God’s promises to us, our children and grandchildren, rewarding days filled with the benefits of a life lived for the Lord and confidence achieved through valuable lessons learned!

Perhaps you are waiting on God for the fulfillment of a dream or the ability to carry out the ministry you believe He has called you to!  Perhaps you are waiting for that special someone to love, one who will become your spouse!  Never give up hope….God has a timing for all things as you trust Him!  Just give your circumstances to God and watch Him work as you leave them in His hands!  By way of personal testimony, I became a widow over seven years ago when God called my husband home after he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  I really never knew what loneliness was until I was forced to come home to an empty house night after night.  Even though I looked for love and found some romantic relationships during this time, I did not find my “Mr. Right” immediately.  When I had all but given up hope of ever finding my “life’s companion”, God brought my wonderful husband to me and we have been happily married for almost three years now!  He knew just the right person was there for me and He knew the right time for us to meet!  So, never give up hope!

What does all of this have to do with music?  Well, I would start singing songs about “hope” to the Lord….you might start with the old hymn, “The Solid Rock”,  which says,  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!”  Never lose HOPE, and don’t forget that FAITH goes along with hope!!