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!

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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!

Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.

 

Beth on Being Happy*

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*By Beth Smith

Is it true that the only difference between a yard sale and a trash pick-up is how close to the road the stuff is placed?

Why don’t we ever hear father-in-law jokes?

If you take NyQuil and NoDoz at the same time, will you dream you couldn’t sleep?

Life is full of questions, some funny and some serious. Here’s a common one. How can we be happy? We can start by being ready to laugh at life and at ourselves, quick to look for the humorous side of things. Laughter doesn’t solve our problems, but it can make them easier to bear for a while.

Most of us think we can be happy only when things are going well, but the Bible tells us how to be happy Christians no matter what. The Amplified Bible uses the word “happy” as a synonym for the word “blessed.” So, in looking to be happy, we can look at how to be blessed. The book of Psalms tell us that blessed or happy is the man (or woman) who:

  • is forgiven of sin (32:1).
  • trusts and takes refuge in the Lord (34:8).
  • helps the poor and weak (41:1).
  • continually sings praises to God (84:4).
  • fears the Lord and delights in obeying him (112:1) .

Proverbs says those are blessed who

  • keep God’s ways (8:32).
  • listen to God (8:34).

And Matthew chapter five lists these qualities of a happy person:

  • aware of a need for God.
  • gentle and lowly.
  • desiring righteousness.
  • merciful.
  • pure in heart.
  • peacemaking.
  • persecuted for following God.

Obviously, God has plenty of advice for us on how to be happy. I want to stress just two ways today. First, we need to be happy and thankful for a heavenly Father who loves us enough to discipline and correct us. Sometimes, when things are hard for me, when I am not getting my own way about things, I can almost hear God saying, “I’m allowing this situation only for your own good, because I love you. You need to change something in your life. I want you to be happy, and you will never be happy or have joy on the path you are following right now. Come on, follow me.”

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that, while discipline is painful, it leads to a rich harvest of right living. So, as odd as it may sound, we need to be happy that God will discipline us.

Here’s a second way the Bible tells us we can be happy and blessed. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Psalm 128: 1-2).

What does this tell us we should do? Fear and follow. Acknowledge our Lord as the Almighty God. Worship him. Obey him. Emulate Jesus. Will that be hard? Yes, because our flesh is weak and rebellious, and because Satan does not want us to be happy. But Jesus wants us to be happy – to be blessed and full of joy.

How can we become happy Christians? A full answer to that question would surely fill at least one book. These principles do not cover everything, but they are a great place to start:

  • Worship God.
  • Obey his commands.
  • Receive his discipline.
  • Follow his instructions.
  • And do it all with joy.

Steps to Happiness

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I skimmed a book last night, one that described a plan for greater happiness. It listed several steps the author felt were sure to increase inner joy. While I wasn’t too crazy about the godless slant, I found the suggestions interesting, because each one corresponded to instructions our Lord has given us:

The first step was to be still and learn to meditate. If you have any doubt that God wants us to learn to quiet our hearts and turn our thoughts to him, please take a look at last week’s blog. Do you spend any time just being silent each day, letting your body rest while your thoughts turn to the One who loves you most? If not, as the old commercial said, “Try it! You’ll like it!” Set a timer for 10 minutes and see how it goes.

Step two was to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Do a Bible Gateway search on the word “thank” in the NIV version, and you’ll get 133 responses. Here’s just one to consider today. “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:13b-20). You can read about Steve’s very practical advice on giving thanks here. Of course, it’s not a bad idea to extend that attitude of gratitude to those around you as well.

Another word of advice was to slow down. I couldn’t agree more. We live in a hustle bustle, hurry-up-and-make-it-on-your-own world. But the Bible says our Lord wants to give us rest. (We can start by keeping the Sabbath.) He also asks us to wait on his timing. That lines up with the author’s chapter on patience. Slow down. Lighten up. Those have been hard lessons for me to learn. I’m still learning them, in fact, and have written about them several times including, here and here.

The author suggested that we need to learn to be better at giving and receiving. Surely the greatest key to a life of joy or happiness is the receiving of God’s grace. And how many other gifts does God have for those of us who are willing to receive them? Are we listening? Paying attention as our Lord speaks and leads us and offers to meet our every need? And then, of course, the Bible has plenty to say about giving to others with great cheer.

I’m blessed with a healthy dose of happiness. From birth? From upbringing? From a host of happy circumstances, or is that merely my happy perspective on things? I can’t tell you with any certainty. I do know that I agree with the title of this song by Ira Stanphill, “Happiness is to know the Savior,” and following our Lord’s advice in all the areas mentioned above certainly can’t hurt!