A Lesson in Ministry

I am currently on a tour with members of the Knoxville Choral Society. We are visiting towns in Belgium and France. At this moment, I am sitting on a bus, driving through the French countryside on the way to Bayeux, France; a town, not too far from Normandy and the D-Day beaches. 

This past Friday, we found ourselves in the City of Brussels, Belgium. A city still on a high level of alert after the terror attacks in March. Everywhere we went, there were armed guards with their assault rifles at the ready, diligent in their task to protect their city and citizens. Honestly, it was quite sobering.There is light in this town, though, and we found it in a small Catholic parish, quite close to the city square or as they call it, “Grand Place.” The church was the Church of Saint Marie-Madeline. A 13th century church with beautiful stained-glass windows, and filled with people possessing warm smiles and a Priest with a heart that far exceeds the size of his parish.  

 
When we arrived for rehearsal that morning, the Priest greeted us heartily and began to tell us the story of a refugee family they had been housing at the church for a few days. They were in process of finding permanent housing for the family and you could see on his face that he was very burdened with the physical and spiritual needs of this family. My thoughts immediately turned to “Family Promise” and my own church’s participation in a ministry devoted to ministering to homeless families. 

The Priest mentioned they would be taking an offering that evening after the mass and our concert to help with the needs of the family. The translation wasn’t lost on these generous Tennessee Volunteers that I travel with, and we were taking up our own offering on the way to the service to present to the Priest. I use the words generous, because these 50+ souls I am traveling with are some of the most gracious, loving and generous folks I have ever had the pleasure of being associated. 

I had the honor of presenting our offering to the priest after the concert. His eyes were filled with such thankfulness and surprise. I shared with him about the Family Promise ministry “back home” and how I knew this must be a daunting task for a small parish church to take on. We exchanged hugs and wishes for continued ministry and blessings. It was a moment that will be engraved on my heart for many years to come. 

As I was reflecting on it later, I realized ministry and love for our fellow man exceeds the boundaries of religious affiliation. As I sat in the mass that evening, the liturgy and rote of worship was quite foreign to me. So gratifying though to see the lifting of prayers to God, the love shared in that small church and the language of music was experienced and understood by all.  

Selah. 

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How beautiful……..

There is an old adage that says “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”.  The underlying thought being if there is no one around to acknowledge an event, does it matter?

Look at the old adage from this perspective.  If I give my all at my job and my supervisor never acknowledges my hard work, does it matter that I am a diligent worker?  If a person devotes themselves in service to others and is never told ‘thank you’, is their service in vain?  If an artist paints a beautiful canvas that is never appreciated, is the canvas less beautiful? Why would a singer want to sing a song when no one comes to listen?

For people of faith, there is always the answer that our loving God sees, hears and knows all that happens with each of us.  His unfathomable loves envelopes and encompasses us and has the ability to fill us with His perfect peace.  Scripture says He delights over us with singing, and  I believe that to be absolutely true.  I also believe God put us on this earth together to be a source of encouragement for one another.  As fellow believers, we need to lift up one another on this bumpy road called life.

Take a look around you.  If you are surrounded by more than 3 people, chances are one of those 3 folks feels insignificant.  On at least an occasional basis, they wonder if there is any purpose to their life.  They will think during their darkest times that if they weren’t around, it might go unnoticed. They may be hungering for someone to love them and appreciate them; they want to know that if they “fall”, someone “hears” them.  Everyone deserves to feel as if they are important to someone else.  No one should walk alone in this lifetime.  To think that there is no one out there who loves and appreciates you for who you are is a lonely and depressing existence.

phontoYou might think your kind
word, heartfelt thank you or words of appreciation are just a small gesture. Chances are, though, they could be just the words a co-worker needs to hear to motivate them today.  Your quick thank-you note or email to someone might be the catalyst for them to continue their acts of service.  Your smile or encouragement could be the difference to an artist or musician to continue on their creative path.  YOU CAN CERTAINLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR SOMEONE TODAY.

Stop.  Take a moment.  Look around.  Who around you needs a word of encouragement?

Selah

 

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That Old King James

I heard a country song the other day (yes, there is some country music I listen to) and the lyrics made me take notice for just a brief moment.  The singer is reminiscing about his beloved grandfather and how he acquired a brand new King James Bible when he was 8 years old.  The song goes on to talk about how the Bible is passed down through a couple of generations, what it means to each recipient and the faith each one of them had in “that Old King James.”

My own copy of scripture is starting to show some signs of age.  No, it isn’t a King James translation, but this particular Bible is becoming well worn.  I’ve had it for several years now and it has been with me through joys and triumphs, tears and gladness.  The parchment paper is becoming thinner, some of my handwritten notes have started to fade with time and the binding is starting to fray in places.  The Book seems to open without effort to the familiar and favorite scriptures I have been to time and again.

imageAs I was reading one of those familiar passages this morning, my thoughts turned to my Dad. He had one of those “old King James” my country crooner sings about. It wasn’t a fancy Bible, certainly not a study edition like mine. Just a simple red-letter copy of scripture.  I could picture it in his hands each Sunday as we went to church.  I remembered it on Wednesday evenings when we would go to Bible study.  He used that Bible to prepare Sunday School lessons, and no doubt he turned to it countless times for comfort and strength.  It is certainly well-worn.  There are numerous notes in the margins, all in my Dad’s meticulous handwriting.

You can learn a lot about a person by picking up their favorite Bible. My Dad was a man of deep faith; his faith was firmly rooted in his knowledge of scripture.  He could point the way to salvation in Jesus on the “Roman Road” with his small Bible.  And he studied Revelation – a lot! He walks the streets of heaven now – all scripture fulfilled for him. How glorious that must be!

I hope someday my Bible might, too, be a journal of my faith. Perhaps my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews will consider it a legacy. At the very least, I hope they can look through the pages and know that “my faith found a resting place.”  I pray, like my dad’s old King James, my Bible can be a lasting Ebenezer of faith, hope and love.

And…..by the way…… I have some well-loved hymnals, too. 🙂

“You’ll find on every other page yellow lines or tear drop stains;
Every chapter of that good book, been through cancer, war and crazy kids
and all the stupid things I did.
Now the cover’s torn and the leather’s worn on that Old King James”
From “That Old King James”  by Philip White and Mark Nessler
as sung by Scotty McCreery

Selah

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The Joy of the Lord is My Strength

I Choose Joy……….

I choose joy in the face of unanswered prayers. imageI choose joy in the midst of an uncertain tomorrow. I choose joy in my loneliness. I choose joy when the darkness of grief and unhappiness overwhelm me. I choose joy when the world around me chooses violence and hate. I choose joy when others choose to hurt with their words and their actions. I choose joy when I feel the sting of rejection. I choose joy when I just don’t understand.

Why do I choose joy?

Because by making the conscious choice, I do not rely on the circumstances of my life to dictate my happiness. By choosing joy, I follow the commandments of my Lord to point others to Him. By choosing joy, I show love, mercy, respect, grace. By choosing joy, I live in the light rather than the darkness. By choosing joy, I walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, by choosing joy….. I trust there is a God who is greater than whatever I am facing at the moment.  I say to those around me, I believe in His unconditional love, and I will live in the midst of that love – JOYFULLY!

The Lord is my strength……. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him. Psalms 28:7

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Nehemiah 8:10b

Selah

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How He Loves Us

 

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I pray that you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.        Eph 3:18

Have you spent time thinking about how much God loves you?  Does it amaze you?  It should……… Our minds cannot possibly comprehend the depth and measure of God’s great love for us. It seems to be one of the greatest mysteries of man. Even the Apostle Paul when writing to the church in Ephesus, tried to urge them to grasp the fullness and greatness of God’s love so they could understand how much more He could do in their lives.

The greatest love I have ever experienced in my life is the love I have for my children, Jay and Emily. I have loved them deeply from the moment I knew of their existence inside my body. I never knew such a great love could exist as when I saw their beautiful faces for the first time. I cannot imagine a greater love in this world than a mother for a child, but God’s love is deeper than even my love for my children.

I have never seen a sweeter love than the love between my parents. Even in his last days, when Alzheimer’s had robbed him of so much, I could still see love in my Daddy’s eyes for his sweet wife. And I watched in awe, time and time again, as my Mother, true to the love she committed to so many years before, continued to care and watch over her dear husband.  In a world of throw-away marriages, it was mind boggling to watch such care and devotion.  As wonderful as their love is, God’s love is even sweeter.

As a musician, there is probably no greater expression of love than that found in a beautifully prepared piece of well-written music. The performer has poured heart and soul into the notes and rhythm, bringing them to life with his or her interpretation and expression. Yet, even the most exquisite music is pale in comparison to God’s great love.  And without His love, music is just “tinkling brass” or “clanging cymbals.”

I cannot comprehend this vast, deep love of God.  My finite mind is much too shallow. All I can do is accept what this love brings to me. It affords me the ability to love my children even more.  It offers me the hope that I, too, someday might experience something close to the kind of love my parents had.  God’s love gives me passion to perform my music so others see the path to God; so others see grace, hope, mercy.  Most of all, it gives me the assurance that one day I will stand in the presence of this amazing Love.  When I do, every fear will be gone, every worry erased, every tear wiped away, and I will know Him.  And I will know the width and length and height and depth of His endless, matchless love.

Selah.

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The Reason We Sing!

Words are beautiful and powerful.  Those same words, set to a musical line, can have a compelling impact upon the listener.  When those words become alive in the heart of the singer, the song becomes not just beautiful melodies, lines and words, but an exquisite message from the heart.  A glimpse into the life of the singer.  A brief moment where you see the heart of the musician connected to their Savior and God.

I had the rare privilege of experiencing this three times in the past several weeks.  It has renewed my thought of why we sing; why the text of a song is so important, and why we need to sing with conviction the message we are delivering.

My first experience was personal.  I had the opportunity to sing Dan Forrest’s beautiful new arrangement of the 18th century Charles Wesley text, “And Can It Be?”.  As I was preparing to sing, the message of the song came alive and fresh for me.  I began to meditate on the great love of a Savior who not only died for me, but pursued death for me.  How can that kind of love exist?  What compels someone to sacrifice their life for the very one who caused their death to begin with? Amazing love, indeed.  Uncomprehensible love. Love unbounding. Mystifying grace.  The thought was overwhelming to me.  And as I sit here on Easter morning, about to celebrate the same Love, risen from the dead, I am still completely overwhelmed that He died for me.

The second experience was a lesson in simplicity.  I have been assisting a friend lately who wanted to improve his singing.  Starting out, I thought this would be a short-term thing, just a few lessons in the basics of good singing.  Turns out, he is pretty serious about becoming a better singer and I have enjoyed helping him on this journey.  He, too, sang in church recently.  A more contemporary text than I sang, but a very strong message.  We had a short period of time to put this song together, and in true fashion, I took on a greater task than I really had time to accomplish.  Also true to form, I couldn’t rest or stop until it was “perfect”.  I will confess, my friends, I can quickly put undue expectations and pressure on myself in the name of ministry. God showed me how completely unnecessary that all is on my part as my friend/student sang last Sunday morning. The message of the song was at the forefront of the presentation and was all that was needed. This happened not because of ANYTHING I had done, but because of the beautiful heart of the one doing the singing.  He was in-tune (pun intended) with his Savior.  The message of the cross being a place of redemptive mercy for all was heard throughout the sanctuary.

Our final Lenten worship was on Good Friday.  An introspective day all on its own, other events of the week brought me to this service feeling quiet and thoughtful.  There was a beautiful reading of the seven last words of Jesus from the cross, but it was the solo singing of a simple hymn that stirred my heart.  It is a hymn I am somewhat unfamiliar with, “The Purple Robe”.  The text is a beautiful poem of Jesus’ journey to the cross, the scorn of the guards, the sin of man that put him there and the redeeming love that kept him there.  I watched the face of our soloist as he sang the words, “I see my Savior die.”  I saw the pain and sorrow in his face as those words pierced his heart.  I felt the tear that ran down my cheek as I felt the pain alongside him.  I heard his strong voice struggle for composure to continue to sing the text of love and mercy.  What a beautiful lesson in vulnerability he taught all of us on Good Friday.

Yes, words are beautiful and powerful.  Words set to musical line are spellbinding and captivating.

How fortunate are we to have such a gift to convey the message of God’s love, sacrifice and grace. I pray I always remember the reason I sing……….

Selah.

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Singin’ in the Rain

It has rained on and off now for several days. There has been very little sunshine to break through the heavy gray clouds. Several days in a row of this kind of weather can lead to a gloomy outlook or a dark state of mind. We all need sunshine – light – into our lives and souls to drive out the darkness.

A downcast spirit had crept into my heart this morning, and then, very faintly, I heard a sweet sound. In the midst of the hard rain and the rushing wind, I heard a bird singing her morning song.  I have no idea who she was singing to, but I do know WHY she was singing on a rainy, gloomy morning. She was singing because that is what her Creator created her to do. The cold and dampness of the weather could not stop her from singing her morning song.  She knew no other way to begin her day.  She had to sing!

I quickly realized I need to be more like the little bird. The circumstances of my day should not stop me from being who God created me to be. A gloomy day should not equal a gloomy spirit. A trying problem should not mean an anxious heart. A disappointment should not rob me of my joy. A rainy day should not take away my song……

God created me to love Him and to love my neighbor. He created me to worship and bring Him an offering of praise. He created me in His image, as His child. My life needs to be a reflection of His creation and just like the little bird, I need to always be willing to sing my song.

Selah.

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