Friday, June 26, 2015

The Worrier's Hymnal

You probably know, as I do, some chronic worriers. If they
 wrote a hymnbook, it might include songs like these:

THE GLOOM GOSPEL (sung to tune of “Rock of Ages”)
I’m a worrier, I think the worst,
I’m so anxious I could burst.
I dwell on the negatives,
All the awful life can give.
Yes, I know that it’s a sin,
But my worries always win.

EXPECTING THE WORST  (sung to tune of “God Will Take Care of You”)
Worry, worry, life is not fair,
I might be breathing polluted air.
Every new ache and pain gives me alarm.
Inflation might force me to move to a barn.

Chorus:
An-xi-ety is my way.
Anything bad might happen today.
Accidents, illness or robbed by a bum—
Worrying expects it to come.

Maybe you caught the irony, that the tunes to both bogus “hymns” are stalwart hymns of trust in God. “Rock of Ages,” begins the first, “cleft for me,/Let me hide myself in thee.” As for the second, there’s an interesting story about its composition in 1904 by a pastor’s wife, Civilla Martin. She was among the prolific hymn lyricists of her time, reportedly writing several hundred songs. Next to “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” this is her best known.

Civilla had some health issues, and one Sunday wasn’t well enough to accompany her pastor-husband to a preaching request several hours’ journey from their home.  He seriously considered cancelling it so he could stay home with her.  His young son persuaded him to go, saying, “Father, don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you are away?” While he was away preaching, Civilla wrote the four stanzas that begin:
Be not dismayed whatever betide,/God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,/God will take care of you.
Chorus: God will take care of you,/Through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,/God will take care of you.

 What specific Bible text inspired her isn’t known, though she may have been thinking of some verses in Philippians 4:
“Do not be anxious about anything” (4:6)
“My God will meet all your needs” (4:19)
Or, from 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you.”

Civilla knew the best cure for worry: a steady dose of trust in the God who “will take care of you.”  By the way, her husband, also a musician, wrote the tune to it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Last edition

My work as a newspaper reporter taught me the value of the “last edition” deadline. If a news story needed updates or corrections, five minutes after deadline was too late! That work-day experience came to mind on Memorial Day, when my husband and older sister made their annual trip to the cemetery where their parents and many relatives are buried. While they trimmed grass away from headstones and left flowers in the bouquet cylinders, I wandered among older headstones that included epitaphs. Pausing at this one, I wondered who chose the verse. A parent, hoping their lives as a couple pleased God? Or their children, seeing the steadfast fruit of the parents’ lives? I know I’d want “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” spoken over my life.
The verse comes out of Jesus’ parables about servants, one told in Matthew 25 with “talents” and the other in Luke 19 with “minas.” In both cases, two servants invested to the master’s gain, and one did nothing. The angry master called the neglectful servant “wicked” and “lazy,” hardly what you’d want put on your tombstone.
Later, walking under the cemetery’s entrance arch, I thought how those of us on “this side” of the sod still have time to invest our lives in God’s priorities. But only He knows how much time that will be. Eternity could beckon after a short or long illness, or surprise our loved ones with its swiftness. A few months ago, a church friend was getting ready to go to Bible study. In her kitchen, she collapsed and died. My entire family could have perished in 1997 when a drunk driver smashed into our car.  Then last fall, a careless teen driver totaled our car. Crawling out of it, we realized we’d been given another “second chance.”
 
I’ve been reading a book by Gerald Sittser, professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, who lost his daughter, wife and mother in a wreck caused by a drunk driver (who also perished along with his passenger).  Left to raise his surviving three children alone, Sittser wrote: “I chose in the aftermath of the accident to try to live a redemptive life. I had had enough of suffering and wanted no more” (The Will of God as a Way of Life, Zondervan, 2000, p. 95).
 
Whenever we redeem pain for the good of others and the glory of God, we are being “good and faithful servants.”  Sittser added this perspective, that our role in life is like the Jewish expression Tikkun Olam, meaning “fix the world.”  As God’s co-workers in “fixing the world” we “serve the common good, care for the needy, strive for justice, produce useful goods, provide helpful services, and create beautiful works of art” (pp. 207-208).
 
I didn’t know the couple whose headstone recalls Jesus’ parable of the faithful stewards. When their final deadline came—death—there was no more adding to their story. The time to “edit” our lives and make needed spiritual changes is now. The readers of our “story” are all around us.          

Friday, June 12, 2015

Roots and blisters

I made a blistering attack against our lawn dandelions the other week.  Yes, “blistering,” for my garden “poker” gouged a large, painful blister in my palm. Despite my best efforts, most of the roots broke off mid-way down, giving then a second chance to bloom. Indeed, they did, their sunny heads turning to airborne seeds that laughed “Gotcha” before I could attack the offspring. Oh, those rascal roots of our fallen, weedy world. I’m grateful the Bible gives us another picture of good roots: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…” (Ephesians  3:17).
 
Rooted in love.  That was big on Paul’s mind as he reflected on his ministry of taking the Gospel message to Gentiles—that is, the rest of the non-Jewish world. I like how the Amplified New Testament  opens up the English equivalents of the original Greek of this text:  “May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell—settle down, abide, make His permanent home—in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love.”

I recently read a helpful word picture of “rootedness” while reading Leighton Ford’s book The Attentive Life. He told of the day he and a friend took a hike and came to two hardwood trees perched on top of a large boulder. Unable to draw sustenance from rock, the trees had grown a long root system that snaked over the boulder to the soil below. “As we looked at this ingenious root system, it seemed to pose a question: What is the root system of my life?  Is it deep and wide and long and strong enough to withstand the pressures of each day?" (The Attentive Life, IVP,2008, p.82).
 
Paul adds to the picture of “love roots” in this passage:  “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7).  The result of “love roots” is the flower of gratitude!  I re-read that verse after an blistering encounter with an ungrateful person who has some significant "anger" roots. That person's high on my prayer list!

But thankful for dandelions? Okay, I can find some reasons. They're  a cheerful yellow that begs to be picked for a bouquet for mommy.  Doing that is a rite of passage for little children, right?  Plus, I’m due to teach my toddler grandson the fine art of blowing off their woolly seed heads. I’ll try to time it so the wind doesn’t blow them into my neighbor’s yard!  

 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hang-ups and Hanging-Ups

When the weather turns warmer, I choose my clothesline over the dryer.  This saves electricity, plus “hanging time” is also “thinking time.” That day, as I snapped clothespins onto towels and shirts, the word “hang-ups” came to mind with its double meaning for laundry and troubled minds. Before I could think too much about troubled people I care about, I was distracted by the brilliant chorus of various birds in nearby trees. I thought of the old song, “His eye is on the sparrow,” affirming God’s incomprehensible watch-care. He cares even more than I can imagine for the loved ones whose problems can easily discourage me.

The song enjoyed renewed fame when actress-singer Ethel Walters, who rose from poverty to entertainment fame, used its title for her 1951 autobiography. But the song was originally written in 1905 by a New York pastor’s wife named Civilla Martin. The Martins had become friends with the Doolittles, an older couple who’d long battled illnesses. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for twenty years, and her husband used a wheelchair to get to work. Yet the couple was known for bringing inspiration and cheer to those around them. On one visit with the Doolittles, Pastor Martin asked the secret of their hope. Mrs. Doolittle, alluding to Jesus’ illustration about God’s omniscience via care of bird life, remarked simply, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Her simple yet profound reply gripped the Martins. Civilla went home and wrote the lyrics, and the next day mailed them to prolific hymnist Charles Gabriel, who wrote the tune. (See last week's blog for Gabriel's story.)

The song refers to these verses:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31)
 
Civilla expressed the same theme in a song she wrote a year earlier: “God Will Take Care of You.” But the simple words of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” are what came to me that laundry morning as I hung up socks and shirts. Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come...When Jesus is my portion, My constant friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”
 
When I snapped the clothespin on the last sock, I went back in the house to other chores.  Inside, I couldn’t hear the birds sing anymore. But my heart replayed the much-needed reminder they provided that day--that nothing, even what I pray about with feeble faith, is outside the loving watch-care of God. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Seeing Jesus: Oh that will be glory!

How does one illustrate "glory"? One way:
through the glory of God's creation. Here,
looking up through a pink dogwood tree.
The word “glory” has been on my mind, along with a wonderful old hymn whose refrain replies to the prospect of seeing Jesus after death:
Oh, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.

Composed in 1900 by Charles Gabriel, who wrote verse and/or tunes to some 7,000 hymns, it was part of the turn in 19th century Gospel music from meditative to energetic, easily-sung hymns. The hymn grew out of Gabriel’s friendship with Ed Card, director of the Sunshine Rescue Mission in St. Louis, Mo. Card was known for his smile and nicknamed “Old Glory Face.” He was legend for exclaiming “Glory!” when he preached, and ended prayers with “And that will be glory for me!” The song he inspired Gabriel to write came to the attention of international evangelists, whose use popularized it around the world. Before Card died, he reportedly had the joy of singing Gabriel’s hymn and knowing his life had been its inspiration.
 
Gabriel was born in 1856 in an Iowa prairie shanty. Christians gathered in his family’s home, with his father usually serving as leader. Early on, Gabriel loved music. He taught himself to play the family’s little reed organ, and the lad told his mom he’d someday write a famous song. She replied, “My boy, I would rather have you write a song that will help somebody than see you President of the United States.”

Among his songs that “helped somebody” were “Send the Light,” “I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” “What a Savior,” “He is so Precious to Me,” and “More Like the Master,” He also wrote the tunes to others’ lyrics for “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” “Higher Ground,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “Since Jesus Came into My Heart.”

Many of these are part of the “music fabric” of my spiritual life. But recently I’ve been drawn back to these hopeful words from Gabriel’s hymn:
When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

What an amazing thing—to know a God who is high and exalted, but intimate and tender, who cared enough to visit this earth in Jesus Christ. The Bible says God sent an archangel named “Gabriel” to announce the birth of the Messiah. “Gabriel” means “devoted to God,” and how appropriate that a gifted man from a poor home, his last name “Gabriel,” should grow up to “announce” the good news of Jesus through song!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Joy-gifts

Last week the Seattle paper featured a Norwegian immigrant who just turned 100, and whose life story included eluding capture by the Nazis by a daring, two-day journey by skis over the mountains to Sweden. Eventually, he immigrated to America, settling in Seattle.  When the reporter asked what helped him live so long, he nixed his daughter’s suggestions of eating lots of fish and drinking ten to twelve cups of coffee a day. Instead, he said, “It’s not good to be a sourpuss.  Learn to be happy.”

His reply reminded me of the apostle Paul’s advice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Remarkably, this advice with the bookmark of Philippians 4:4 came from someone who was also a hunted man, and would be executed by the Romans.  Paul wasn’t saying we would live trouble-free lives and be happy-happy-happy.   Instead, no matter what happens, we’re to keep our focus on Jesus, the crucified, risen, and coming-again Lord. It’s called perspective.

I've learned that God has creative ways of reminding me about perspective. The other morning, after praying about some negative people in my life, I was feeling discouraged.  Would they ever let God change their lives? Walking outside, I noticed a freshly-opened rose, sparkling with water drops from the night’s rain. Yes, it had thorns up and down the stem, just as daily life holds its share of pokes and pains. Sourpusses dwell on the thorns. But God continues to remind me to focus on the beauty He offers.  This rose was absolutely splendid, so I took this photo and also downloaded it for the “wallpaper” of my computer screen.  If that rose brought me such pleasure, how much more it must have pleased God when He created it!

To repeat the counsel of that old Norwegian man, “It’s not good to be a sourpuss.  Learn to be happy.”  We can opt to fuss about life’s thorns, or choose to behold the gifts of beauty, grace and hope we have in Christ. By the way, the old man’s birthday will include meeting the king of Norway, for the third time, when that monarch comes to Seattle.  It’s unlikely I’ll live to 100, but I’m confident of meeting the King of Kings in eternity!

P.S.  In an earlier blog (April 24) I included a photo of my second grandson, Zion, born with a cleft lip and palate. Here he is two weeks after his first surgery to close the nose and lip gap. I look at this and say, “Beautiful!”  Too bad you can’t hear the baby laughter when I took this photo with his dad. More surgeries are ahead, but we’re focusing on the rose, not the thorns, and thanking God along the way.

 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fraidy Cat

I was vacuuming the house and had just pushed the cleaner into the bedroom when I heard a scuffle and saw a gray form streak across the bed.  I soon realized I had just experienced a close encounter with a “fraidy cat” who had been sleeping under the bed. Our family cat, who yowls and hisses down any feline threatening his territory, has two traumatic fears in his furry brain.  One is our toddler grandson coming through the door.  The other is a vacuum cleaner. That benign machine, which sucks up his constantly shedding fur, becomes to him a yowling monster.
 
As we laugh off his antics, we jokingly attribute them to his “deprived childhood.” He came to us as a kitten of about two or three months, rescued from a culvert at a park next to a hydroelectric dam. My husband and son had gone there one August 1st to escape the blistering summer afternoon (while I sweated out cooking dinner at home). These men of my family have soft hearts, and hearing a weak “meow,” lured out the critter with chicken nuggets found in a sack in a nearby garbage can. At that time, many illegally dumped unwanted small animals in the park’s shrubs, leading to feral rabbits and cats. Nearby coyotes found the area a wonderful feeding station.

 The old movie title “Guess who’s coming to dinner” took on new meaning when my husband and son walked in at dinnertime with a wide-eyed, scrawny kitten wrapped in an old towel. He inhaled a saucer of milk and made a dent in another saucer of tuna.

 “If we keep him, he will be an ‘outside cat,’” my husband said, knowing my allergies to cats.  Famous last words.  He will soon start his fifteenth year with us, half of that as the “only child” (feline type) after our son and daughter grew up. Well into his senior “feline” years, he much prefers the inside of the house where he can keep an eye on his food dish.

As I pondered the life of Augie (so named for being found on August 1), I thought of the fears many of us pull out of the culverts of our lives. My 50th high school reunion is coming up, and my adolescence isn’t really something I want to review. I did okay in high school. I was in the top ten academically and concertmistress of the high school orchestra. But I wasn’t into makeup and trendy clothes. And hair? My mom cut my hair while I sat on the rim of the bathtub. Beauty shop “cuts” didn’t fit in the family budget. One of my favorite classes was trigonometry, where we were seated alphabetically and which put me right in front of (be still my soul) the student-body president. But I didn’t date or go to dances. My friends came out of a core of similarly down-to-earth teens who were a part of “Horizon Club,” the teen version of Camp Fire.

As for the fear of “not fitting in”—oh, the adolescent mind. Oh, the adolescent bullies. One time on a crowded stairwell between classes, I felt someone poking into my back. When I arrived in English class, someone pulled a paper with an uncomplimentary name off my back. Did that ruin me for life? Of course not. The bullies were the ones “not fitting in.” As I grew up, God prepared the experiences that helped me learn to relate to people and stand out above the conforming crowd. High school was, well, high school.  I left that way behind.

Most of us have learned the old King James version of 2 Timothy 1:7:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
That verse comes out of Paul’s last preserved letter to Timothy. The old apostle knew his own death was likely not far away. He was urging the young pastor to be a confident, bold Christian leader. And so it is for us. God is greater than any fear based on a long-ago event. He changes us as we walk in faith with Him, with the purpose of bringing glory to Him. We often quote that verse to someone who, as a chronically worried and anxious adult, needs the gentle reminder that such behavior doesn’t honor God.

When we behave like “fraidy cats,” unwilling to face down what we perceive to be a threat, we’re forgetting the principle just a few verses later: “God…has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).

Grace thanks the noisy vacuum cleaner, and Purpose rubs up against the toddler.