God’s Crop by Beth Smith *

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When I was teaching high school, I had a poster in my classrooms. It was a picture of a flower growing out of a tiny crack in a mass of rocks.  The caption read, “Bloom where you are planted.” Good idea—maybe even a little inspirational—but how typical of a teacher to tell you to do something without giving so much as a clue as to how to do it!

How do we bloom in God’s garden? God has created us to bring him glory. As the Master Gardener, he puts us in the best soil, setting our roots in his love. And oh what love! In Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV), Paul writes: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

Once we’re planted, God takes care of us so that we can grow. He waters us. You’ve seen grass, plants, and flowers all curled up and about to die because of drought conditions. After a good rain they’re all plumped up and beautiful again.  We get droopy and dried up if we don’t read God’s Word. If you feel as if you’re going through a dry period, Isaiah 58:11 (NLT) provides this encouragement, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” Get in there. Read his Word. Get watered.

God also feeds his garden. We’re fed by his Word. “Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on his faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed” (Psalm 37:3 AMP). Maybe faithfulness is God’s weed and feed product. As we feed on his faithfulness, we begin to see that we can trust him more and more. That trust begins to kill the weeds of fear and doubt and worry.

Plants must also be pruned to keep them healthy. (We don’t like to talk about that very much.) Jesus said that God cuts off branches which bear no fruit, trimming and cleaning the ones that do bear fruit so that they will be even more fruitful. Pruning makes us more productive in his kingdom. It’s painful to us when we don’t agree with God about what needs to go. Of course, we know in our spirits that God knows best. Hard as it is, we need to say, “Cut away, Lord.”

In winter weather, we often see tarps, old sheets, and old table cloths thrown over plants to protect them. God protects us in cold, hard, and difficult times. Read Psalm 121 sometime soon. It will confirm God’s care and protection of you.

In the hands of the Master Gardener we can be sure we’ll flower. We’ll be fruitful. We’ll fulfill our purpose – to glorify Him. That’s the way we’ll show God’s love and goodness to the world around us.

*In case you’re new to this blog, Beth Smith is my mom. You can read more of her work in Every Wednesday Morning, available at etsy.com.

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A Hymn by Any Other Name…

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“Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise!” How true! Those words are from “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” and describe so eloquently our need for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Certainly hymns are not our only option when it comes to singing loudest praise. However, copyrights make recounting the lyrics of contemporary works a bit “sketchy,” as my kids would say. And so, let me simply nod to the more modern works you readers listed and say with you, “Well done!”

  • “Here I Am Lord” by James Kilbane
  • “In Christ Alone” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
  • “Because He Lives” by Bill and Gloria Gaither
  • “Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here” by Jesus Culture with Martin Smith
  • “This Little Light of Mine” (author disputed)

That last one, recommended by one of you with reserve, is actually published in at least 38 hymnals. Its simplicity mirrors the simplicity of our calling as Christians. Let it shine!

Loudest praise. Joyful noises. Making music in our hearts to the Lord. Worship tunes. The Book of Psalms. Historic Hymns. Scriptural Chants. We have a wealth of ways to lift our voices in adoration to the Lord who loves us.

When? As often as possible.

How? In whatever way we are inclined.

Why? Because all that is within us is meant to bless his holy name!

Was your favorite song of worship included in this blog series? I hope so! If not, tell me about it in the comments box. I’d love to read the ones I missed!

Powerful Poetry [1]

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Many of Thomas Chisolm’s 1200 plus poems were set to music. One became the beloved hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” So many times this year, in both joy and pain, I have sung these words within my soul: All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

The power of hymns! Charlotte Elliott wrote “Just As I Am.” Her brother, after many years of his own ministry, wondered if the fruit of his labors equaled the impact of the single hymn that included these words: “Yea, all I need in Thee to find.”

“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” written by Louisa Stead after great personal tragedy, leads me back to a place of peace every time I sing it. “Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus, just from sin and self to cease; just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace.” 

Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame was much more than a runner. He was also a missionary and a martyr. His favorite hymn was reportedly “Be Still My Soul.” I can imagine these words comforting him as he sat imprisoned in China: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side.”  I wonder, did he also fortify himself while praising the Lord with some of these lines?

  • “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.”
  • “Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”
  • “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am his own.”
  • Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, o Ruler of all.

Perhaps he drew strength from Martin Luther’s words: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,” also translated to read “With might of ours naught can be done.” How very true! We do indeed need him every hour. He meets our needs. He gives us peace. He delights in our praise.

[1] Many thanks to cyberhymnal.org, my chief resource in this blog series.

Troubled Tunes

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A neighbor of mine, when asked her favorite hymn, told me it depends on the day. Me too! Isn’t that one of the wonderful things about having so many hymns from which to choose? If you have an archive of lyrics in your heart and mind, you may discover wisdom, challenge, and encouragement beginning to play in the background of your day just when you need it most.

We so often sing only the first verse or two of a hymn, missing the wealth of wisdom in later verses. “How Great Thou Art” ranked second, after “Amazing Grace,” in a survey conducted by Christianity Today in 2001. It’s an old folk tune, translated by Stuart Hine. Its final verse, added by Hine midway through the last century, reads

“When burdens press, and seem beyond endurance, bowed down with grief, to Him I lift my face. And then in love, He brings me sweet assurance. ‘My child, for thee, sufficient is my grace.’” *

You’ve probably heard the story of Horatio Spafford, who penned “It Is Well with My Soul” after losing his precious children to a shipwreck, but have you sung these words, found at the end of the hymn?

“But Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait. The sky, not the grave is our goal. Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!”

Backstories add such richness to the songs we sing. The words of “Amazing Grace” meant more to me once I understood that its author, John Newton, was once a slave trader.

“The Lord has promised good to me. His Word my hope secures. He will my Shield and Portion be as long as life endures.” How’s that for words to carry us through a troubled time?

Fanny Crosby wrote “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” and another 8000+ hymns, topping even Charles Wesley, and she was blind from infancy! Her deep trust in the sovereign wisdom of our Lord led her to pen these words,

“For I know whate’er befalls me, Jesus doeth all things well.”

She said of her blindness, “I might not have written so many hymns to praise our God, had I been distracted by the visual beauty around me.” Fanny also penned “Blessed Assurance” and “Christ, the Lord Is Risen Today.” My, how I am thankful for the way God used Fanny Crosby!

I hope you are in the middle of an easy week. If not, I hope the quotes above, drawn from works by those who certainly knew the weight of difficulty, will lift your spirits, change your focus, and help bring you through whatever you are facing.

 

*Words: Stuart K. Hine Music: Swedish folk melody/adapt. and arr. Stuart K. Hine
© 1949, 1953 by The Stuart Hine Trust CIO. All rights in the USA its territories and possessions, except print rights, administered by Capitol CMG Publishing. USA, North and Central American print rights and all Canadian and South American rights administered by Hope Publishing Company. All other North and Central American rights administered by the Stuart Hine Trust CIO. Rest of the world rights administered by Integrity Music Europe. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Nutshell Sermons

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The power of a good hymn amazes me. It becomes a nutshell sermon, a few short lines running through my mind a dozen times in a day, teaching and re-teaching important truths from God’s Word. Consider for example “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” written by Charles Wesley to celebrate the first anniversary of his conversion to Christianity. (He described that day as the one on which his real, living life began.[1]) One of my favorite lines says,

Jesus! The name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease.”

Those twelve words, now nearly 300 years old, still answer the question of what to do with fear and sadness. Cry out to Jesus! He is always the answer.

I asked my Facebook friends to list their favorite hymns. They chose works by Charles Wesley more often than hymns by any other author. (No surprise, perhaps, since he wrote over 6000 pieces!) Let me share a few more lines from his works.

  • “My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” Those words from “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” are a wonderful description of conversion.
  • “My name is written on His hands.” In “Arise, My Soul Arise” Wesley reminds us of one of life’s greatest comforts.

While Charles Wesley did not write “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”—it was penned by Isaac Watts—he is credited with giving it this high compliment: “I would give up all my other hymns to have written this one.” That’s high praise from such a prolific songwriter. Here’s just a snippet from Watts’ beautiful piece.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so Devine, demands my soul, my life my all.”

My soul, my life, my all—are we giving that? The quotes from those four hymns are plenty to think about for this week. If time allows, please let me know how they change the way you go about this day. To God be the glory!

 

 

[1] Many thanks to cyberhymnal.org for providing the backstory information in this blog series.

Never Forgotten

mom cartoonWe all have times when we forget things. At my age, we call them “senior moments.” I like to say that I have a photographic memory. The thing is, most of the time I forget to take the lens cap off. And my husband Bert? Poor thing, sometimes he forgets my birthday, our anniversary, and who’s boss.

I wonder if we sometimes think God has forgotten us. Anytime we feel far away from God, we’re the ones who have moved, not God. Maybe we haven’t gone years without thinking of God, but have we gone months or weeks without acknowledging him or praying? Robert Robinson wrote these words to a hymn in 1758, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”[1] Why would we do that? I don’t know, yet some of us have. We’re especially prone to setting God aside in our lives when things are going well. Then we come back to him when hard times hit.

God has lovingly provided words we can use when we want to cry out to him for help. These verses are from Psalm 25:6-7(NLT). “Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth (I add “and my old age” here). Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.” After our cry for help comes confession of sin, asking for forgiveness, and hopefully a new commitment to stay close to God even in the good times.

We may forget God, but rest assured, he doesn’t forget us. Not ever. When the Israelites declared that the Lord had forgotten them, he answered, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But, even if that were possible, I would not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT). One version of the Bible goes on to say, “Your name is “tattooed” on my hand.” That means that nothing is going to wash it away.

The Bible is full of affirmations of God’s love for us. The greatest, of course, is that Jesus died for our sins. He gave his life for us so that we may follow him while we’re on earth and have life in heaven with him hereafter. When my children were young, I’d ask them, “How much do you love me?” They would open their arms wide and say, “I love you this much.” Christ opened his arms wide on the cross saying, “I love you this much.” Can we imagine that picture? Do we see our names on his hands? If we’ve come to trust Christ and accepted him as Lord and Savior, our names are there, tattooed forever. He doesn’t forget us, even when we ignore him.

If I open my arms wide and say, “Come on!” to my grandson, he runs to me for love, security, and comfort. I intend to do some running into God’s arms today, for I am prone to wander from him and to forget so easily all he has done. Won’t you run there with me?

Let’s remember him. He never forgets us. He loves us this much! And he says, “Come on.”

[1] “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson, 1758.