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”!

 

God’s Symphony

images[2]I was completely blown away when I read some facts about our universe, the many stars, planets, galaxies, and so on…our cosmos!  Its vastness can never truly be comprehended by human minds!  I love the definition of “cosmos” found in my Merriam-Webster dictionary:  “A systematic whole held to arise by and persist through the direct intervention of divine power.”

I believe they are talking about my God, who created it all!  Psalm 148 so beautifully expresses the concept of the entire universe singing praises to God through the “music of the spheres” as one songwriter so aptly put it.  Verse 3 says, “Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars!” (ESV)  Did you know that radio frequencies from pulsars (magnetized neutron stars)  thousands of light years away can now be picked up and heard by electromagnetic telescopic programs circling the earth?  We can now literally listen to the sounds of the universe day and night. These stars are sending radio signals into the universe….The stars are singing!

When you listen to some of these sounds from millions of miles away, which are heard on complex computer programs, it simply blows your mind to hear the different frequencies, tonal patterns and diversity of sound they produce.  God literally has His own string section!  I call it “God’s symphony” and I am sure He enjoys listening to it!

Psalm 148:7 goes on to say, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps….” (ESV)  Did you know that whales give off sounds that are quite musical while they are swimming around the world?  Many of these sounds have been recorded and their “praise” is very jubilant and quite melodic!  Verse 10 goes on to speak of “beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds” praising the Name of the Lord!  I know we hear cattle and animals making sounds which could very well be their way of communicating with their Creator, not to mention the beautiful singing we hear from the multitude of birds flying overhead.  Have you ever been sort of “down” or “depressed” and heard a bird singing outside of your window?  I know I have, and it instantly lifted my spirits!

The beautiful part of this psalm is that the Psalmist David waits until the end to include humans in his summary of those who praise the Lord….”Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and maidens together, old men and children!”  (verses 11 and 12 ESV)  I guess that just about includes everyone!  He concludes in verses 13 and 14 by saying, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for His people (could this be the wind section?), praise for all His saints, for the people of Israel who are near to Him.  Praise the Lord!”  (ESV)

Now, I firmly believe we are all Israelites if we have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted Him as our Savior.  We are called upon to worship Him, Yahveh, and His Son, Yeshua, who has redeemed us from our sins and given us Eternal Life! Have you sung to your Father today and joined in His Symphony?  The stars, planets and animals do not have a choice in conveying their worship…you and I do!  That is what makes our worship even sweeter to the Father’s ears! Why not “get your praise on” today!  He loves to hear your music!

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!