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.

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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.

Questions from a Traveler

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Spring of 2017 brought great adventure. Steve and I left home for weeks, enjoying the world, our “kids”, each other…and taking time to re-think how the next season of our lives should look. Here are four questions I’ve found myself asking as I reflect back on the experience:

What is home? For ten weeks, I rarely slept in the Houston house that I call home. Furthermore, we’ll be moving from that address before the summer ends. Even though I am a homebody, I’ve been able to remain sane. I’m finally learning that particular walls and windows aren’t that important. When I have Steve with me, work to do, and a quiet place to pray, I can settle in. (Okay, having a kitchen helps, too.) Maybe home isn’t where the heart is, but where the Lord is. And since he’s everywhere, he can make us feel at home wherever he sends us.

How much stuff do we really need? I’m usually limited to one small suitcase and a backpack when we travel. I pile what I want to take on our bed, then start putting things back until I have a collection of items that will actually fit. When I’m finished packing, I’m always amazed at how much is still on my shelves and in my closet (and in the whole house, for that matter.) I rarely miss any of those items when I’m gone. This will be an important lesson to remember as we decide what goes with us to our next home. Furthermore, it’s time for me to think twice about how much time and money I ever need to spend adding to my belongings. There’s generally a better place to allocate those resources.

Do we keep the Story before us? I’ve spent countless hours in art museums lately. Many are chock full of tremendous paintings and sculptures that tell the story of Christ—his birth, his death, his resurrection. Each one evokes in me a moment of worship, of thanksgiving. But we can’t spend all our days in art museums. We need to be about the business of living—at the office, at home, in the car, out on errands. Even on those days, we need to keep the Story before us. As we attempt to keep our minds on Christ, art—perhaps in the form of music, pictures, or printed Bible verses—can help.

Do we grasp that Story with elation? I was in Germany on Easter Sunday. At 10:50 a church bell began to peal. Another joined it, then another. Soon the whole city seemed to be exploding in melodious proclamation. “He is risen!” I imagined the elation of the disciples as they shouted the discovery to one another. I need to recapture that elation every day.

On the easy days, on the hard days, the truth remains: He Lives! We have a good reason to rejoice!

Mind the Gap

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If you ever travel to London, you’ll need to remember two key safety rules.

  1. When crossing the street: The traffic nearest you is coming from your right.
  2. As you step out of the underground train (or The Tube): Mind the gap.

“Mind the gap” is a phrase I hope will stick in your brain over the coming weeks. Here’s why. A few blog posts back, I quoted Matthew Kelly (paraphrased as accurately as I could remember) saying, “If I just lived out one Gospel reading 100%, my life would change radically. I need to work on the gap between that life and the life I am living now.”

Ah, that gap. We all face it. This morning I received news that made me really angry. I want to lash out, to use my wicked tongue to strike at those who have hurt me by making a decision with which I do not agree. But…probably not what Jesus would do.

We need to be fully schooled in salvation by grace, but we also need to stay fully aware of the gap. Are we measuring ourselves against the characters we see on TV? The characters that live down the street? Maybe the ones in our own family? Have we found someone, somewhere, who makes us look good by comparison?  Comparison is always a losing game, except when we compare ourselves to Christ. He is our model.

Romans 8:29 tells us God’s plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are not there yet! The gap is where we pray for our lives to be transformed, but transformation can be a painful process. Sometimes we have to give up favorite habits or adopt new ones we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. (Sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and pray for those who have made us mad!) As with all things, this will only happen by the power of God, and is reason enough for us to begin each day with prayer. Sometimes I like to pray through song. I hope you’ll join me in listening to this musical prayer by Eddie Espinosa and continue to ask our Lord to help you mind the gap. Change My Heart, Oh God

 

 

Listen! Listen

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I grew up in a delightful family. My home was filled with lots of love. I remember spirited games of chess and canasta and paddleball (think racquetball on an outdoor court). We enjoyed good food, frequent guests, and plenty of laughter. Some of the laughter was over the same jokes enjoyed time after time.

When a new and uninitiated guest joined us, my dad would ask, “What’s that coming out of your nose?” After a moment of embarrassed confusion on the part of our visitor, he would continue, “Air! There’s air coming out of your nose!”

Then sometimes he’d say, “Listen! Listen!” After an awkward pause, he would add, “Somebody’s saying ‘Listen!’” We always laughed.

The other day, as I was thinking about my dad’s funny lines, the one about listening struck me in a new way. Taken more seriously, it comes out this way:

Listen! Listen! Because there’s always someone out there practically begging that you listen!

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. Some of my hurting friends need me most as a prayer partner and a listening ear. In fact, I often have to remind myself that they need my ear but not my mouth, my empathy but not my advice.

Pride can lead us away from the smaller tasks the Holy Spirit hands us. Becoming a compassionate listener isn’t very glamorous. In fact, it’s a ministry of the nearly invisible. It falls into the “He must increase; I must decrease” part of the Christian walk. But it is powerful. It is a silent language of love. Today I want to encourage you to allow a part of your busy life to be eaten up by the gift of an attentive ear, because if you listen, listen, you will almost certainly hear someone crying out, “Listen!”

Fight Fear by Beth Smith

coat-of-arms-1762562_1280-swordsWe all have fears, but it’s easy to think, “Our fears are rational. Theirs, the fears we see in other people’s lives, just come from a lack of faith.” That isn’t right. We should never make light of others’ fears, for we haven’t lived their lives – haven’t experienced their sufferings or traumas.

I’ve experienced God’s love and faithfulness many times, and I’ve surrendered many fears to Him. I have one, though, that I give to him and take back over and over again. I am afraid in fast, heavy traffic. I struggle with an irrational, gut fear that we’re going to be in a wreck. You may be thinking, “How childish! How very unspiritual of her! Why doesn’t she just trust God?” Believe me, I’m working on it.

May I give you the background of this fear? The night before my eleventh birthday, my beautiful sixteen-year-old sister was killed in a horrible automobile accident. Five of the seven people in the car died instantly. Tragic. But people recover emotionally from much worse, and I recovered from the loss of my sister. My parents, however, kept pictures—8 x 10 inch black and white glossies—of the mangled car in which my sister died. They kept them in our family photo album. I saw that wrecked car thousands of times.

Have I evoked your sympathies? Are you thinking, “Well, then, that’s okay? She has reason to be afraid.” If so, stop it. Don’t sympathize with me. Help me to change with your reminders from God’s Word. We don’t have to be fearful, no matter what our flesh, the devil, or our experiences tell us. We don’t have to panic in the face of our fears. We have God’s power. We can fight fear with faith.

We can push aside the mental pictures, the thoughts, the dread, and the ugly fear.

  • “God has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity or cowardice, of craven and cringing fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a calm and well balanced mind and discipline and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 AMP).
  • In God have I put my trust and confident reliance; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:11 AMP).
  • You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry ‘Abba Father’” (Romans 8:15).

We don’t have to be slaves to our fears. I heard a Bible teacher on television say that fear is an acrostic for “False evidence appearing real.” Isn’t that very often the case with our fears? We have God as our Father. We can run from the fears into his loving arms, where we will find peace and hope.