Awake, My Soul, in Joyful Lays

Sometimes I just don’t feel like singing. But first, let me explain…

I grew up in a family that sang often. We sang in church. We sang in the car. We sang outside. We sang around the piano. We sang at school. We all had just ordinary voices, but we sang anyway.

Then I grew up.

Life was hard.

It became harder to sing.

When my Dad got sick with a brain tumor we watched him put his violin aside, and soon his voice was gone too.

It didn’t seem right to sing without him.

After he died it took me a year before I could sing without crying.

Many years later, as my Mother lay dying, the only thing that would make her stop whimpering was if we sang to her. So I found a hymn book and sang softly until my own tears prevented me from continuing. When she would start whimpering again I would sing until she calmed down… until tears choked my voice.

Again and again the cycle repeated itself. Those were hard days, but my sisters and I were glad we could be with her.

There have been other hard days, when singing seemed impossible. Yet, singing should not be dependent on how we feel, but because we owe our God praise.

Below is a song I find myself singing when I don’t feel like singing.

Notice the words in the first verse...”He justly claims a song from me…”

We sing, not because our life is free from trouble. We sing, because we have a Great Redeemer who has rescued our souls from hell.

There will be trouble here. But this isn’t all there is. We have eternity to look forward to. This trouble will seem little when we are face to face with our Savior. In the meantime we remember His care of us in the here and now. We remember that He asks us to sing, to remember, to cling to this God who day by day covers us with His lovingkindness.

David wrote the following words when he had to flee to the wilderness of Judah, when his son, Absalom, took over the throne. (See II Samuel 15:23-30; 17:16)

“Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise Thee.

So I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name…

For Thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy.” Psalm 63:3,4 & 9

David wept when he was in trouble, but he also didn’t stop singing. Neither should we.

Samuel Medley 1738-1799

Awake, my soul in joyful lays, And sing thy great Redeemer’s praise; He justly claims a song from me, His lovingkindness, oh, how free! Lovingkindness, lovingkindness, His lovingkindness, oh, how free!

He saw me ruined by the fall, Yet loved me not-with-standing all; He saved me from my lost estate, His lovingkindness, oh, how great! Lovingkindness, lovingkindness, His lovingkindness, oh, how great!

Tho’ numerous hosts of mighty foes, Tho’ earth and hell my way oppose, He safely leads my soul along, His lovingkindness, oh, how strong! Lovingkindness, lovingkindness, His lovingkindness, oh, how strong!

When trouble, like a gloomy cloud, Has gathered thick and thundered loud, He near my soul has always stood, His lovingkindness, oh, how good! Lovingkindness, lovingkindness, His lovingkindness, oh, how good!

Soon shall we mount and soar away to the bright realms of endless day, And sing, with rapture and surprise, His lovingkindness, in the skies. Lovingkindness, lovingkindness, His lovingkindness, in the skies.

Castles and Cats

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A few years ago my husband and I visited Wales with our youngest daughter. We rented a flat, sight unseen, through the internet. After arriving in Conway by train we found our way to the flat and unlocked the door with the key that had been sent to us. We unpacked, bought some groceries at the market and settled in for a few days.

The location was perfect. We could walk anywhere we wanted and we could see the castle from some of the rear windows. We went to bed expecting to explore as much as we could in the morning.

I woke in the middle of the night to hear my husband yelling.

Get off of me!

My bleary eyes quickly focused on a big cat resting on his chest. My husband threw it onto the floor, but it jumped right back on the bed.

He picked the cat up and put it outside on the street. We went back to bed a little shaken, but unharmed. A few minutes later the cat was back.

What in the world…do they give cats their own keys in Wales? My husband put him outside again and this time he shut our bedroom door as well. We slept through the rest of the night without incident.

Imagine our surprise when we opened our bedroom door in the morning to see the cat, again. She came in and swiftly jumped on the bed, like she belonged there. We were puzzled by her presence. We thought maybe the owners had a cat they failed to tell us about. A kind of spy to make sure we didn’t do damage to their property. We tolerated her, wondering if we should feed her? We didn’t.

When we left to explore for the day, we put her out and carefully locked the door behind us…again.

We explored the castle, did some shopping, ate lunch did more shopping and came home tired.

The cat was there to greet us…inside the flat.

That’s when we noticed the back door had a “cat door” built into it. It didn’t matter how many times we put the cat out and locked the door. The cat would continue to come back in.

I tried contacting the owner, asking her if they had a cat. She didn’t get back to me until after we had left Conway. She informed us that they did not have a cat, and she hoped we hadn’t let a wild cat into the flat. (There seem to be several in this town.) She was more than a little angry.

Her response puzzled me. You can say you don’t want cats, but if you have a cat door they are going to find their way in. That’s like leaving a trail of cheese into your house and then being surprised when mice show up.

I know there are lessons to be learned from all of this. I will let you jump to your own conclusions… excuse me while I seal up some cat doors.

Overwhelming Trouble

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I have lived through periods of being overwhelmed. My details aren’t important. Insert your own circumstances into the story I am about to tell you.

One particularly difficult period went on for a few years. I would often talk to God about “this mess that is my life.” I could see no way forward. It was impossible to go back. The circumstances I found myself in were beyond my control and way beyond my ability. It wasn’t a matter of trying harder, it was a matter of being completely undone.

My life was like a train wreck. Twisted metal blocking any clear path.

Sitting crumpled on my living room floor I cried out to God. “This is too hard. I am too weak. I can’t go on.” It was as if He whispered…”Can you get through this hour? I will be with you this hour.” “Take my hand. Moment by moment we will get through this.”

I wanted no part of this train wreck. I wanted a smooth easy existence with blessings floating down to my outstretched hands. God wanted my outstretched hands to be reaching for Him not His blessings.

Severe trouble shifted my focus from things He provides to God Himself. When everything else lay in ruins, God was the only thing left. He was offering to take my hand as I stumbled through the train wreck. The train wreck took years to get through. I still encounter remnants of it. When I do I am reminded of how far God has brought me. From constant, hopeless despair to a moment by moment existence holding tightly to my Father’s hand.

What have I learned? My utter sinfulness. My need, not for new circumstances, but to be right with God. My hope could not be found within myself, but within God’s redemption.

Whatever your circumstances there is hope. Not in yourself, but in God.

We are eternal beings. We will live forever. This life isn’t all there is. You have a choice to make. Living moment by moment with God now and for eternity, or turning away from His outstretched hand to live a miserable existence in this life and the next.

“For God so loved the world, (that means you) that He gave His only Son, (Jesus died for your sins) That whoever (that includes you) believes in Him should not perish (separation from God for eternity) but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV – (notes by me.)

For further study:

Unexpected Path (Wilderness Journey #7)

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Israel was free. Pharaoh had sent them away. (Exodus 12:31)

God went with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night until they reached a spot near the Red Sea. There they set up camp.

Pharaoh, regretting that he had lost all his slave labor, decided to bring them back. His chariots caught up to Israel where they were camped by the sea.

Israel panicked. First they cried out to God, and then quickly complained to Moses for taking them out of Egypt. “We would rather have been slaves forever than to die in the wilderness.” (my paraphrase)

Moses responded with…”Do not fear, stand by and see the salvation of the LORD…The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Next God tells the people to move forward. God tells Moses that a dry path will open through the Red Sea when he lifts up his staff.

While they move forward God moves behind them with his pillar of cloud along with his angel. They were a barrier, a protection from the Egyptian army.

All night the wind blew a dry path with walls of water on each side. Israel moved through to the other shore.

In the early morning Pharaoh follows this strange new path, but he doesn’t have the success the Israelites had. God causes confusion, their chariot wheels swerve and they drive with difficulty. Too late they realize God is fighting for Israel and at daybreak God “overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.”

An unexpected path led to Israel’s deliverance. It is not a path they could have imagined, or contrived. It was all of God. The incident shows God’s loving care for His people. Even in the midst of their complaining he took care of them.

What kind of trouble are you facing today? Are you in a difficult situation without any obvious means of escape? I know a God who does His best work in impossible circumstances. Believe that He is there with you. Turn to Him for help. He loves you like no other.

For further study: 

Exodus 14; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 9:9

 

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

“Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.”  John 14:1

Those are familiar words to all of us. Jesus was talking to his disciples. In a few short hours he would be arrested.

The current situation was alarming. Most of them had no idea how alarming it was.  They must have sensed Jesus was on edge, but even though he had tried to tell them of the trouble that was coming they couldn’t comprehend it.

He tried shifting their gaze from earthly trouble to heavenly peace. (John 14:2-3) It is a good place to rest our eyes. These days of sickness, unrest and trouble have been taking it’s toll on our children, our families, our countries, and our world. I can’t remember another time like this in my life. There have been wars, and local trouble, but this trouble is world wide.

What kind of power could make this such a world wide event? I can think of only one. Satan, himself. He is determined to destroy men and turn them against each other and more importantly against God.

We are reminded in Ephesians 6:12

“for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” 

My granddaughter, Arianna asked me the other day why God didn’t come and make the new heaven and the new earth now. (II Peter 3:13) Why was He waiting?

I paused, because I long for that too.  My answer was simple.

God is very patient. He is waiting for those that might yet decide to come to Him.

II Peter 3:8-9 “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 

Are you one of those He is waiting for? Have you turned to Him in repentance and accepted His forgiveness?

We each have a great need. Our sin has separated us from a holy God. Because He loves us He has made a way for us to come back to Him. Jesus took our punishment on the cross. Paid for our sin. He rose three days later and conquered death.  He asks us to repent and believe.

Repentance involves a change of direction.  Turning away from selfish and worldly pursuits and a turning to God.

There is trouble now.

I don’t know if it will be temporary or if this is the beginning of the end.

Wouldn’t now be a good time to make things right with God?

Ezekiel 18:32 puts it simply. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord, so repent and live.”

 

 For further study:

I Peter 5:8

“Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:28b

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2

Repentance and Forgiveness

America is hurting.

We all have family and friends in many of the cities that are in crisis.

I was talking to my brother-in-law who lives in the Minneapolis area. He wisely said that our country needs two things.

Repentance and Forgiveness

We all have a part to play in both.

We have sinned against each other, but more importantly, against a Holy God. We exclude Him from our lives and then are angry with Him when there is trouble.

Some of our politicians tell us God has no place. Seems to me we are reaping the result of that choice.

When men choose to turn their backs on God, He tends to leave them to their own devices. We are seeing that played out in our cities across the nation. It breaks my heart.

We would rather point fingers than deal with our own guilt.

We want to pin our neighbor to the wall, but are unwilling to admit to our own sick heart.

We want others to forgive us, but we are unwilling to forgive them. We don’t bother asking God for forgiveness, because we think He is irrelevant.

He is expected to act on our behalf, but we refuse to turn our face to Him in humility and repentance. Like a two year old demanding his way. (I have two grandsons that are two…I know of what I speak.)

Jeremiah 5:3b sums it up well.  “…But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”

Acts 3:19 pleads with us.  “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” 

The other half of the problem is forgiveness. If we have truly repented and turned our face to God then we need to forgive. This is not an easy task.

In Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asks Jesus… “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

I think Peter was proud of how often he had forgiven the unnamed offender. Jesus response puts him in his place.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

That would be 420 times! Unheard of!!

That doesn’t mean we are free to take revenge when the number reaches 421. (Yes, I am guilty of counting up in my head the number of offenses.) The spirit here is to forgive like God forgives. There are warnings about not offering the same forgiveness we have been given.

“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 11:25

To forgive is impossible. We don’t have the ability to forgive without God, but as we repent and turn our hearts to Him, the impossible becomes possible.

And so I pray that our country would repent and forgive. For it is the only way we will find healing.

For further study: Matthew 18:23-35; Psalm 32:5; Romans 10:9-11

 

 

 

 

 

I Need to See Something Good

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Show me something good… I need to see something good…

There are times in my life when I am surrounded by trouble. Deep discouragement overwhelms me. I find myself crying out to God…Show me something good…I need to see something good.

God in His mercy shows me good things. Things I have overlooked. Things I can’t see through the clouds that surrounded me. He shows me how He is working, unseen.

Lately I was reading about Thomas. He has gotten the unfortunate nickname of “Doubting Thomas”. (I shudder to think what my nickname would be if I was mentioned in the Bible.)

Thomas had been handpicked by Christ to be one of His disciples. He had spent more than three years walking the countryside, listening to, and working beside Him. He had left all to follow Jesus.

Now Jesus was dead and Thomas had given up hope. They all had. He was so discouraged that when reports started coming in that Jesus was alive, he couldn’t believe it. It was better not to get his hopes up. He didn’t dare believe it was true. It hurt too much.

When his fellow disciples tried to tell him they had seen the Lord he responded with…”Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

It wasn’t really a prayer, and yet it was. A desperate prayer to a God who had gone missing.

Eight days later when the disciples were together in a “locked” room Jesus suddenly appeared. After greeting them with, “Peace be with you.” He turned His gentle attention to Thomas.

“Reach here your finger, and see My hands, and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27)

Thomas’ immediate response was, “My Lord and my God!”

The relief must have been immense. What he didn’t dare hope for was true. His Lord was alive. His God wasn’t missing after all.

What came next must have broken his heart. “Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:29)

It breaks my heart as well. When I fail to believe because things are dark, when I ask to see good when I am discouraged… God is gracious, but He must long for me to trust Him in the dark. He must long for me to know that He is good even in the midst of trouble.

Teach us to Number our Days

January is more than half over and I am still contemplating what my goals should be for the new year. I attended too many funerals last year. There were at least half a dozen. January brought even more. It is a sad reminder that life is fleeting.

I have been settling in for the long haul and God reminds me that this life is just temporary. Heaven is waiting. This life that I cling to so fiercely will be but a flash when I am finally home with Him.

So what are my marching orders as I live day to day here? My husband pointed out to me the most mentioned command in the Bible. I was sure it was something about loving God and our neighbor. Ready?…

“Do not be afraid”  or “Do not fear”

God said it again and again. He said it to Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Moses, the nation of Israel. He said it to Hagar, a slave girl, who was afraid her son was going to die of thirst in the desert.

The Psalms are full of the command.

Psalm 23:4 “…I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

Many of the prophets said it multiple times. (Isaiah 35:4; 41:10; 41:13)

God sent angels to give the message to Daniel, Zecharias, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, women at the tomb.

Jesus also repeated it often to his disciples. Reminding them that they were worth more than the sparrows. (Matt. 10:31)

The command applies to me as well. “Do not fear!”  – Why? Because I have a God who is with me and guiding my steps.

He doesn’t promise that my path will be easy. There will still be trouble and funerals and dark days, but He is with me.  …and someday there will be no more crying. There will be no more sin. There will be no more fear.

For now I need to trust him with today. I need to have courage that he will provide the strength for what he has called me to do. I need to believe that this God, who cannot lie, will do more than I can ask or think. Knowing that this troubled life is but an instant compared to eternity.

 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Say to those with anxious heart, Take courage, fear not…” Isaiah 35:4

“For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, Do not fear, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

Psalm 23 – American Plains Indian Version

In my Wisconsin wanderings I came across a path beside a river.

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It led to this covered bridge which led to…

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This tiny chapel which was only big enough for about 20 people. (I apologize for the blurry picture.)

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We followed the path that led behind the chapel and found a series of small frames set on posts.

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Not all of the plaques were still readable so I have typed a copy below. I hope you enjoy reading Psalm 23 in this Plains Indian Version.

 

The GREAT FATHER above a SHEPHERD CHIEF is.

I am His and with Him I want not. 

He throws out to me a rope

and  the name of the rope is love

and  He draws me to where the grass is green 

and the water is not dangerous, 

and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. 

Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down

but He lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. 

His name is WONDERFUL. 

Sometime,

it may be very soon,  it may be a long, long time. 

He will draw me into a valley. 

It is dark there, but I’ll be afraid not, 

for it is in between those mountains 

that the SHEPHERD CHIEF will meet me 

and the hunger that I have in my heart  all through life will be satisfied.

He gives me a staff to lean upon.  

He spreads a table before me  with all kinds of foods. 

He puts His hand upon my head  and all the “tired” is gone. 

My cup He fills till it runs over. 

What I tell is true.

I lie not. 

These roads that are “away ahead”  will stay with me

through this life and after;

and afterwards I will go to live  in the great house

and sit down  with the SHEPHERD CHIEF forever.

~Isabel Crawford (Missionary to the Indians of the plains)

 

Safe

Safe in the arms of Jesus.

Safe?! You call this safe?

Hush, I’m safe. I’m safe.

Are you mad?! Look around you!

I tell you I’m safe!

But the storm! Look at the storm!

I know, I’m with the one who made it.

Don’t you see this could be the death of you?

Even so,…I’m safe…I’m safe.

 

“In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.” Nahum 1:3b

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For further study: Nahum 1:7, Job 30:22, 40:6; Psalm 83:15; Jonah 1:4;