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Archive for April, 2014

 

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Every time…

…I drive down a street canopied by interlaced trees, I think of the elms standing sentry over the town of my childhood.

Every time…

…I hear Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell, I’m transported back to my wedding day.

Every time…

…I stroke soft velvet, I remember the turquoise velvet dress my mother wore—over fifty years ago.

Every time…

…I eat raspberries, my grandmother comes to mind. She made the best jam with fresh berries from her own bushes in the backyard.

Every time…

…I smell a wood fire, visions of family-reunion picnics float in my memory.

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Our senses are powerful catalysts for memories and emotional response.  But out of the five, researchers say the most powerful is the sense of smell.

So when the ancients read this scripture verse, what images came to their minds?

“All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad” (Psalm 45:8).

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First, a bit of background might be helpful:

Psalm 45 was composed for a royal wedding. Verse eight, about the groom’s robes, might refer to a long-held custom in the Middle East of perfuming one’s clothing, especially for special occasions.

But the imagery of the psalm also speaks prophetically of another “wedding”–between Christ and his bride, the church.

Many of the descriptors for the Groom fit Jesus perfectly:

 “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever…In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds” (vs. 2-4).

But if the psalm is a word-picture for the relationship of Christ to his church, what is the significance of verse 8? Why the description of his robes, fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia?

Perhaps the pleasing, aromatic scents represent all the pleasing virtues Jesus embodied: his love, wisdom, and grace.

Perhaps they are also an allusion to his burial.  In ancient times, spices were also used in the embalming process.

After the crucifixion, you’ll remember that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, who brought seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to wrap within the linen burial strips (John 19:38-40).

Why would the same spices be used at Jesus’ death and at the great Wedding Supper yet to come?

 

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Bible teacher, Ray Stedman, explains: The resplendent wedding described in Psalm 45 is made possible by a death—the death of the Groom himself.  Only out of his death could come this glorious celebration. And now, the fragrance of his beauty is everywhere!

Have you ever hugged someone and then carried away with you the scent of that person’s cologne?

The aroma of Christ should cling to us just like that.

“Everywhere we go people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Message).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord Jesus, I delight in the sweet fragrance of all your glorious attributes.  May my words and actions diffuse your exquisite fragrance of life, love and grace to everyone around me.

 

(Photo and art credits: http://www.saveourelms.com; http://www.footage.shuttershock.com; http://www.dwellingintheowrd.wordpress.com; http://www.divinerevelations.info.)

 

 

 

 

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Defeat may serve as well as victory

To shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind

The boughs drink in new beauty and the trunk

Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief

Can know the mighty rapture.  Sorrows come

To stretch out spaces in the heart of joy.

–Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

Mr. Markham–educator, author, and poet– gives us much to contemplate in just eight lines, beginning with the first seven words:

“Defeat may serve as well as victory.”

No, thank you, my spirit says.  Defeat is humiliating, uncomfortable, and depressing.

Mr. Markham inspires a different perspective and a note-to-self:  God may very well bring defeats into my life “to shake my soul and let the glory out.”

Reminds me of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who tried to run from God.  The Lord told him to go east to Nineveh, an important city of Assyria.  Instead he headed west, boarding a ship for Tarshish.

But a fierce storm churned the seas into a boil.  In desperation to appease the gods, the sailors hurled Jonah overboard.  Surely in those tense moments of near-drowning and then being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah felt crushing defeat.  His life was over; it was just a matter of seconds.

Yet he didn’t die.  Hour after hour in the utter blackness of the fish’s belly, he remained alive.

No doubt he felt shaken in his soul, and in his distress, he called to the Lord (2:1ff).

God heard his prayer and commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land.

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 Then the Lord repeated Jonah’s marching orders: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (3:1).

This time Jonah obeyed, and the glory came forth.   Jonah preached and the people repented. God had compassion upon the citizens of Nineveh, and did not bring destruction upon them.

What appeared to be a mortal defeat for Jonah turned into a glorious revival for a wicked city.

Read Mr. Markham’s poem again and you’ll discover more benefits of defeat, as outcomes of:

  • Straining in the wind.  Pressing on during adversity results in perseverance and strength of character.
  • Drinking in new beauty.  During times of distress we’re more aware of God’s glorious attributes at work in our spirits–attributes such as empowerment, faithfulness, peace, and grace.
  • Sending down deep roots.  Defeat often brings us to new depths of surrender and submission.  It also brings us to new depths of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17).
  • Experiencing grief.  Only those that know a mighty grief can know the mighty rapture.  Like diamonds against dark velvet, joy needs a backdrop of sadness in order to be appreciated fully.
  • Experiencing sorrow.  Sorrows create space for joy.  Joy is never so sweet and overwhelming as after sorrow.

God knows what he’s doing, and he doesn’t waste time or effort.  False starts and fruitless endeavors just don’t happen with our perfect Heavenly Father.

Therefore, when defeat comes into my life or yours, we can rest assured he is accomplishing his good purpose for us.

There will be victory in defeat.

Guaranteed.

 

(photo and art credits:  www.zazzle.co.nz.com; http://www.searchforbibletruths.blogspot.com.)

 

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Tonight, the Thursday before Easter, we remember the Last Supper and the heart-wrenching scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

In a matter of hours from that moment, Jesus would face unimaginable pain and suffering. Yet his prayers were not only for himself that night. He prayed for his disciples, and he even prayed for us—those who would believe in him in the future. (I marvel at such selflessness in a time of supreme crisis.) His desire was that God’s love and his presence would be in us (John 17:26).

As a result of his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus made possible the fulfillment of that prayer. Our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ indwells every believer (Colossians 1:27).

Think of it! The all-powerful, all-wise Lord of the universe lives within us! Such an overwhelming, puzzling concept. What could that mean in practical terms?

I like Sarah Young’s explanation: We are intertwined with him in an intimacy involving every fiber of our beings (Jesus Calling, p. 332).

It means that God makes available to us everything we need:

  • Power to handle life’s challenges (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • Wisdom to determine right actions from wrong (James 1:5).
  • Access to talk to him at any time (Hebrews 4:16).
  • Personalized purpose, to fulfill a God-ordained plan (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • Hope that can never be disappointed (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Resources that can never be exhausted (Philippians 4:19).

It means that in Christ we have:

  • Complete forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Everlasting life (John 3:16).
  • Overflowing joy (Psalm 16:11).
  • Deep peace (John 14:27).
  • Attentive care (1 Peter 5:7).

Sometimes I act like the Israelites on their trek to the Promised Land. Remember the manna God provided so they wouldn’t go hungry? It tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31). That sounds like baklava!! Yet they became so accustomed to the provision, they began to complain. Manna wasn’t good enough after a while.  “Yes, Lord,” they may have said.  “You have been very gracious to provide manna.  But we need meat!”

These blessings of “Christ-in-us” listed above are more precious even than miraculous manna. How could I take such astounding blessings for granted? Add to that the incredible price Jesus paid so I could enjoy those blessings. How dare I think, Yes, Lord, you have been very gracious, but I need more.

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Dearest Jesus, as I contemplate your deep distress in the Garden, your suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers, and the unfathomable pain you endured on the cross, my petty wants become inconsequential.

Oh, God, forgive me for allowing familiarity to dull the senses—the senses of awe and gratitude for the sacrifice you made.  Willingly.  Lovingly.  

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).  

So be it.

 

(Art credit:  www.ldschurchnews.com.)

 

 

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Northern Cardinal

 

For several weeks this spring we enjoyed a special visitor to our home, a male cardinal.

At least once each day he perched on the window sill above our front door.  His head would cock from side to side as he considered his reflection in the glass. Then he would flutter upwards, sometimes as high as two feet or so, his wings batting against the window.

 

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No doubt he thought the reflection was another cardinal, and he wasn’t about to allow an interloper to move in on his territory!

Every morning I heard his fluttering wings against the glass and stood to watch his proprietary dance.

What if he hurts himself, I thought. Too bad I can’t communicate with the little guy, and let him know his fight for territory is unnecessary.

 M-m-m-m.

We humans ARE capable of receiving communication.  And God has graciously given us his Word–full of infallible wisdom–so we don’t waste time and energy on worthless pursuits.

Too often, though, I am like that little cardinal, fluttering my wings in a frenzy of self-gratification, or questions that have no answers, or worthless contemplation of what ifs.  The results are as unproductive and meaningless as territorial rituals with a nonexistent rival.

Unlike that red bird, I can understand instruction, but sometimes I fail to pay attention.

It’s not as if God hasn’t clearly explained through many scriptures the way to peace and contentment. Some are embarrassingly familiar:

Do not fret…Trust in the Lord and do good…Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this (Psalm 37:1-5).  [So, it boils down to this:  Am I going to believe that God will do what he says?  Am I going to lean into him and trust?]

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  [That principle applies to gifts of time and effort as well as monetary.  And just how often does the giver experience more blessing than the receiver?  Almost always!]

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and you minds in Christi Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). [Note to self:  Focus on your all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God.  He is bigger than any problem, any need.]

Instead of beating my wings in a flutter-frenzy, I want to take inspiration from another activity cardinals are known for:  singing!

I lift my voice in praise to you, my God and King!

Your majesty and greatness are beyond comprehension,

yet you care for me.

You extend your mercy to forgive,

your grace to provide,

your wisdom to direct,

your strength to uphold.

Everything you do is right.

May my heart be steadfast

to trust you and follow your Word.

Turn my heart toward your ways

and away from worthless pursuits.

If I’m serving and singing, I won’t have time for flutter-frenzies!

(Photo credits: http://www.planetofbirds.com; http://www.coldhandswarmearth.blogspot.com.)

 

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The musical notes appeared on the score as fast as he could draw them.

Melodies and harmonies not only filled his mind, they resonated in his soul. In fact, they consumed him. He ate little and barely slept. For twenty-four days he wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.

The music maestro? George Frederic Handel (1685-1751).

 

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The composition? Messiah.

Imagine the magnitude of composing such a lengthy piece in such a short time. My personal copy of the vocal score is 252 pages. That would mean Handel produced more than ten pages per day—not just a line of melody, but often four-part harmonies for twenty choral numbers AND orchestration for the entire piece. No doubt most of us would struggle to copy that much music, much less create it.

One of Handel’s biographer’s, Sir Newman Flower wrote, “Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the history of music composition.”

The idea for the oratorio actually originated with Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens. He was a librettist, a writer of operatic text. He and Handel had collaborated on three previous works.

Jennens wrote to Handel in 1741 that he wanted to create an anthology of scripture on the life of the Messiah. His idea was to tell the story of Christ, strictly through passages of scripture set to music. Jennen’s text included seventy-two verses.

Handel immediately became enthused about the idea. Perhaps he saw the potential for such a piece during an era when illiteracy was widespread and Bibles much too expensive for most people to own. This composition would teach the scriptures through music.

So he created the concept of oratorio: a musical composition for voices and instruments, narrating a sacred story without dramatic action or costumes.

Handel told Jennens it would probably take a year to compose all the music for so much text. But he finished in less than four weeks, never leaving the house during that time.

I can only imagine Handel’s euphoria as he sensed God’s inspiration of the glorious melodies and ingenious harmonies.

Upon completing the “Hallelujah” chorus, he turned to his servant with tears in his eyes. “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself,” he cried.

Sometime during those twenty-four days, a friend visited Handel and found him sobbing with intense emotion. Handel could not put into words the depth of his spiritual experience as he composed. Later he borrowed words from Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2), in an effort to recount the indescribable:

 

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(“Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.”)

According to music scholar, Richard Luckett, the number of errors in Handel’s draft is remarkably small for a document of its length. Might that be another indication of divine inspiration?

Surely Handel realized that the music had not come from his creative abilities alone. At the end of his manuscript is the inscription: SDG—Soli Deo Gloria, which means “to God alone the glory.”

Because we often associate Messiah with Christmas, we may think the first performance occurred during Advent. But Handel intended the oratorio to be an Easter offering. The debut occurred on April 13, 1742—two hundred seventy-two years ago this Sunday. Handel conducted the performance himself.

A reviewer of that first concert wrote, “The sublime, the grand, and the tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.”

That assessment has remained accurate through the decades, even till now.

For many years I sang in choirs that performed Messiah without knowing the story behind the oratorio.  Now, more than ever, I add my voice to Handel’s and millions across the years who proclaim, “Soli Deo Gloria–to God alone the glory,” for this magnificent piece of music.

I hope you feel the same.

 

(Sources:  www.beliefnet.com; http://www.thinkinaction.org; http://www.christians.com; http://www.christianity.com; http://www.patheos.com.)

 

(Photo & art credits:  www.prints.bl.uk; http://www.baroquemusic.org; http://www.izquotes.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Does your to-do list for tomorrow include such items as:

  • Send birthday, get-well, or encouragement cards?
  • Attend a meeting or rehearsal at church?
  • Prepare for teaching a Bible study or Sunday School lesson?
  • Pick up your husband’s prescription?
  • Prepare for dinner guests?

Young woman cooking in her kitchen

Our days are often filled with small deeds. We tend to think they’re insignificant and therefore, so are we.

But that negative evaluation is not from God!

“Who despises the day of small things?” he spoke to Zechariah (4:10).

In fact, evidence indicates that God loves to take small, seemingly insignificant actions, and use them in creative, powerful ways:

  • A piece of wood thrown into bitter water turned it sweet (Exodus 15:25).
  • A cord hung from a window saved a family from destruction (Joshua 2:17-21).
  • An army of 300 defeated a powerful enemy, just by blowing trumpets and breaking clay jars to expose torchlight (Judges 7).
  • A dab of mud applied to a man’s blind eyes restored his sight (John 9).
  • Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons became healing agents as they were laid upon the sick ((Acts 19:12).

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It doesn’t matter that we’re not famous, wealthy, intellectual, or strong, because it is “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,'” says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).

Might = strength, resources, and ability.  If that describes you, wonderful!  But those blessings alone will not guarantee significance.

Power = persistence, resolve, and consistency.  Again, if you are able to power through with effort and efficiency to accomplish much, terrific!  But what’s truly important is if the effort is achieving God’s purpose.

Granted, God has given us talents and gifts, opportunities and choices.  We must be prayerful and wise in the ways we use them.

John Wesley advised:

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(“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever  you can.”)

Just remember:  apart from the Lord Almighty, we accomplish nothing worthwhile (John 15:5).

On the other hand, little is much–IF God is in it.

He rejoices in what is right, you see, not necessarily in what is big.

So, when you feel like a nobody who’s accomplishing nothing, be mindful of this:

Does the place you’re called to labor

Seem small and little known?

It is great if God is in it

And He’ll not forget His own.

–Kitty Suffield

(Art & photo credits:  www.whattoexpect.com; http://www.auyouth.com; http://www.kokabella.com.)

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“I just got a call from Mary, “ Frieda began.  “And you are not going to believe this.”

Frieda was the chairperson for the parsonage committee of our church.  The congregation had just purchased a newer home for their clergy family (Us!), one that was closer to the church.

Some new furniture would also be required.   (Back then, parsonages were supposed to be furnished, too.)  Frieda  had called to tell me about an interesting development.

She had just happened to mention to Mary, our choir director, that the committee was shopping for parsonage furniture. Mary had said, “Well, I’ve got a whole storage unit full of furniture, and I need to sell it!”

“ What do you have?” Frieda asked.

 

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The more items Mary listed, the more excited Frieda became:  A dining room table and four chairs, a matching buffet, a bedroom set, a curio cabinet —just happened to match a number of items on our list.

Within a day or two, Frieda and I visited the storage unit with Mary.  The furniture was in good condition and lovely—much of it off-white, which suited our Florida climate.  Dear Mary was more than fair on the price of it all.  That left more in the budget for other expenditures.

My one concern was the number of chairs for the dining room table.   If only there were six, it would be perfect, I thought.  Frieda and I decided to check some thrift stores.  Perhaps we’d find two chairs that would at least coordinate with Mary’s set.

 

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Can you imagine our surprise when we just happened to find two chairs almost identical to Mary’s?  The seat covers were different, but when all six chairs were reupholstered, you’d have to look very carefully to notice any difference.

Each of you  surely have some “just-so-happened” stories of your own.  Isn’t it delightful to be at just the right place at the right time to enjoy such coincidences?

Actually, in a universe under the control of God Almighty, such events are much more than coincidence; they’re God-incidents.  He’s the one doing the orchestrating.  How do I know?  Scripture tells us:

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Jesus taught the same truth:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

In addition, the Bible is full of examples:

  • The Egyptian princess just happened to find Moses in the bulrushes.
  • The Israelite spies just happened to meet Rahab, a woman willing to help them escape Jericho’s authorities.
  • Ruth just happened to choose Boaz’ field for gleaning.
  • David just happened to be a marksman with a slingshot, when Goliath and the Philistines threatened Israel.
  • Esther just happened to be chosen queen of Persia, as Haman was plotting to annihilate the Jews.

 

 

 

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Our all-knowing God foresees each need.  And before we’re even aware of what’s around the corner, he is already there.  He has already supplied.

What a gracious, faithful God he is!

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Thank you, oh Lord, for the countless times you have engineered events for my benefit.  In actuality, those occasions when I recognize your handiwork are probably just a small sampling of the hundreds (thousands?) of times you’ve supernaturally provided, protected, and guided.

And you’re not finished yet!  Your faithfulness will continue until I am safely home in heaven, because you will not “be false to your faithfulness” (Psalm 89:33b).  Not ever.

Oh, how I want to be faithful to you in return!

 

(Art and photo credits:  www.overstock.com; http://www.sammyvintage.com; http://www.catholicradiodramas.com.)

 

 

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Notes to our Prayer Supporters

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immerse in God, emerge refreshed

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But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

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