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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Overgrown Branches

My wife got an ear full of my belly-aching this evening.

We've talked for weeks about needing to cut back the crepe myrtles before they start putting on new growth. And, I remembered this afternoon that this was a task that we had considered doing today.

So, it's not like we put it off this year. The problem was that we've put it off a few years.

Of course, I thought I had it in hand, I have an electric saw that I've used in the past and it makes pretty quick work of these branches.

So, I get it out and get to work. Part way through, I notice a problem and stop to look. Oh, no! The chain had slipped off. Now, some of you yard experts are ready to say, "well, just put it back on." Unfortunately, this is a specialty type of saw and I will have to look at some instructions, figure out how to get it out and put it back on. Yard work is not my forte, and my maintenance of tools doesn't go much beyond oil and gas.

So, now I'm part way through a job, it's getting late and I need to get on with it, not spend an hour or more figuring out how to repair my saw.

Well, it's the old pruning loppers to the rescue. And, now having put off the pruning a few years creates an issue. Many of these branches are thick and tough. I'm no strong man, so I'm pulling with everything I've got to cut through some of these branches and by the time I get to a stopping point, I'm tired, sore, and aggravated. And, still I have to move all of these unwieldy branches - that I had planned to saw into smaller, handier pieces with that now useless saw - out of the front and side yard.

Gratefully, my wife stepped in to assist in moving the branches, making it a much easier and enjoyable task than the one I was looking at earlier. However, she patiently listened to my griping as we started. (She's a lovely woman.)

It was even her idea to turn this evening's episode into this post.

Our lives can be going along without us taking care of things that need to be done, the laundry piles up, the car doesn't get serviced, the air filter doesn't get changed. OK, you're rolling your eyes, but I'm sure there is something in your life that you put off. Perhaps it's an unpleasant task. Could be it's just procrastination. Maybe something else seems more important at the moment. Relationships could fit into this category.

Maybe it's our relationship with God. "Oops, I didn't pray today." "Oh, no, I haven't read my Bible in a few days." "Meditate on scripture, with these children, I don't have time." In the Christian life these are called disciplines and sometimes we are not disciplined.

Then, we develop overgrown branches, and though we think we've got it under control, something goes wrong and we have a problem. This happens to most, if not all, of us along the journey. I'm so grateful for a merciful, loving God, but He does discipline us for our failure to trust Him, honor Him, and serve Him.

Prayer, Bible reading and study, scripture meditation, loving others, sharing the Good News with those who need to hear it. Let's allow God to prune our branches before they get overgrown.

A Hymn for Us:

1. Savior, teach me day by day
Love's sweet lesson to obey;
Sweeter lesson cannot be,
Loving Him who first loved me.

2. With a child's glad heart of love
At Thy bidding may I move,
Prompt to serve and follow Thee,
Loving Him who first loved me.

3. Teach me thus Thy steps to trace,
Strong to follow in Thy grace,
Learning how to love from Thee,
Loving Him who first loved me.

4. Thus may I rejoice to show
That I feel the love I owe;
Singing, till Thy face I see,
Of His love who first loved me.

"Savior, Teach Me Day by Day" by Jane E. Leeson


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Saturday, February 20, 2021

God Sees - Cause for Concern or Calm

In preparing to write this I watched a video of Ray Stevens song, "Santa Claus Is Watching You," with that humorous line, "he's everywhere, he's everywhere."

Well, I'm pretty sure that's not true about good ole Saint Nick, but we know that God is everywhere (there's a big word for it) and that He sees and knows everything (there's another big word for that one as well). Now if we think of God as if he were Ray's Santa, then that can be a scary proposition.

Sometimes parents even pull this one out to help control their children's behavior. Unfortunately, that can lead those children to a misunderstanding of God and His character.

It's true that God does notice our sin and rebellion against Him. He doesn't turn a blind eye and look the other way when we choose to do wrong. But, it's also wrong to characterize Him as the great judge in the sky who is always looking for people who do wrong so that He can punish them.

Psalm 139 puts a balance to God's character when it comes to seeing us.

On the one hand, there is nowhere that we can go to escape the One who searches for us and knows us. But, on the other He knows everything about us because He created us and loves us. The psalmist says that the knowledge of this is "too wonderful for me." He concludes this section of the psalm with these words:

"How precious also are Your thoughts for me, God! How vast is the sum of them!" Psalm 139:17 NASB

This morning I was reading in Genesis 22 about Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.

I knew that this was the source of one of the names of God: Jehovah-Jireh. And, many of us know this name as God Who Provides. In fact, there is a song, "Jehovah Jireh, My Provider."

So, now I'm reading the story and get to the part where Isaac notices the wood, the knife, and the fire, but that there is no lamb for the sacrifice. At this point, Abraham answers "God will provide for Himself the lamb." Then I see the footnote: literally "see." OK, maybe we get to the important word later, so I keep reading. I read about Abraham being stopped by an angel of the Lord and him seeing the ram caught by its horns in the thicket. This ram becomes the sacrifice and Abraham names the place - ah, here it is - "The LORD Will Provide." Oops, footnote again: literally "the LORD will see."

Next I look it up and true enough, the word that we transliterate as 'jireh' is basically the word "see." However, there's not the sense of God as the distant one who just looks at us, but the sense that He sees as One who can and will act on our behalf.

There is a lot that we can unpack from this one chapter. But today, this was the biggest thing that struck me: God sees and cares.

In August, my work as a full-time minister of music came to an end along with the security that it provided. Since then I've been honored to lead the congregational music worship each Sunday morning at a local church while I ply my hand at using the gifts and skills God has given me to both seek to be an encouragement and inspiration to others and to provide for my family's needs. It's different, it's challenging, it's exciting, it's scary.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I'm pretty sure that many, if not most, of you have been impacted in ways that have challenged the way you are used to doing things. Perhaps it's caused unexpected changes in your life. The Isaac of our way of doing things has been tied and laid on the altar.

But, God sees! He knows. He cares. His plans for us are beyond our understanding. His ways and thoughts rise above what our brains can conceive.

Oh, yes, we need to be careful not to sin because God can see us all the time. However, the more important lesson and impact is that God love us - so much that He willingly made His Only Son the sacrifice for our sin. If He would do that, will He not daily care for us, providing that which we need, when we need it?

As I look back, God has been faithfully good to me.

So is the fact that God can see us a matter of concern or a matter of calm?

By faith, I say, "calm." Why? God. Sees. Me.

1 Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

2 Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

3 No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon his breast,
God will take care of you.

God will take care of you,
through ev'ry day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

"God Will Take Care of You" by Civilla D. Martin



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Friday, February 12, 2021

Whose Character Are You?

I think I was like most children. When it came time to play with others, we would sometimes choose to mimic favorite tv characters. "You be ..., and I'll be ..." were the words we would use. Who were some of our favorite characters to play?

Even when we grow up, we often model our lives after other people either consciously or subconsciously. How many times do I catch myself saying, "that reminds me of something my dad would do"? Others choose to follow the examples of sports heroes, successful business executives, or others.

Last week while I was reading my Bible in Colossians 3, as a church musician, I was immediately drawn to verse 16. Then I noticed the surrounding verses. Here in these few verses, 12-17, was spelled out a life to truly model ours after - the life of Christ.

It even inspired me to create a graphic series to share with others. I'll share them here with you.

The Heart of Christ: Colossians 3:12-13

Here is a list of characteristics that should be at the heart of who we are. They should exude ("ooze" would be a good gooey word here) from us.

The Love of Christ: Colossians 3:14

Through this we can reach out to others, building bridges so that the love of Christ is evident to those around us.

The Peace of Christ: Colossians 3:15

We can have both external peace with others in the body of Christ, with whom we might even disagree, but also inner peace, peace with God and with ourselves. Each of these will lead us to gratitude.

The Word of Christ: Colossians 3:16

More than just reading God's Word, we are called to internalize it. In this way, it can give us instruction and direction. With it, we are also able to help others in their faith and life. And, in it, we learn to sing with rejoicing and thankfulness for all that God's has done and is doing.

The Name of Christ: Colossians 3:17

Not just the ending to our prayers, the name of Christ invokes the entirety of His being. We are to do everything... just... like... Jesus!

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of his saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of his holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

3 More about Jesus in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing his voice in ev'ry line,
Making each faithful saying mine.

4 More about Jesus on his throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More if His kingdom's sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of peace.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

"More About Jesus Would I Know"
E. E. Hewitt (1887)

May we choose our character to emulate well. Let's all be more like Jesus.


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Friday, February 5, 2021

Skinny Jeans or Gray Hair

Disclaimer: I have a pair of designer jeans that were given to me. My wife tells me they look good on me. Personally, they're not that comfortable. I also have gray hair.

Youth vs. Age. Wisdom vs. Beauty. Hmmm...

For a while, it seemed to us old guys as if churches only wanted beautiful, young worship leader who could strum a guitar and had a nice voice. But today, I think that's an over simplification.

Just as there is a stereotype for young worship leaders, there is also one for the mature worship leader. The old guys are thought to not like or want the newer music. Unfortunately, there's probably a basis for both stereotypes. I know there sometimes is for us old guys.

Honestly, I love hymns, I love the piano. And, I love the organ. Right now my business is based around the desire to encourage hymnody and support piano worship.

But, I also love many of the new songs as well. In addition to the piano, I play keyboards, synthesizers, guitars (acoustic and electric), and bass guitar. I even have a cajon and castanets. Before I left my last full-time church, I was not only leading the music for the traditional worship service, but also playing the keyboard for the contemporary  worship service. And, I enjoyed both!

My thoughts:

Younger church musicians should know about ministry - what it means to be a pastor to your musicians and the people of your congregation. They should know church history, especially the history of church music. They should understand the differences and the values of hymns and modern worship songs in the life of God's people. They should understand the scriptural basis of worship - true worship - and it's "more than a song." (Yes, I've heard of Matt Redman.)

Older church musicians would do well to become familiar with the newer styles and flavors of church music. No, not all of it's great, but have you looked through some old hymnals lately - not all is great in there either. Let me repeat a sentence: we should understand the differences and the values of hymns and modern worship songs in the life of God's people. We need to recognize that music has always been shaped by the culture. Even in seminary back in the 70's and 80's, Dr. T.W. Hunt talked about the cultural influence of music in missionary work. In some ways, we are doing missionary work today in our local church worship.

It's not about having the latest greatest, and it's not about upholding the grand tradition. As I see it, there are two things that we should concern ourselves with:

Worship God and minister to people!

If we get that right, it shouldn't matter whether we wear skinny jeans or have gray hair - or both.


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The Popular Hymnal

The Popular Hymnal is another of my hymnals from the publisher, Robert H. Coleman. For some reason this name strikes me as being a...