Late Winter Flowers

The plum trees are the first to celebrate the end of winter.  They burst into bloom with the first mild weather in January.


Our plum trees include some old pink ornamental plums with red foliage.   The dark bark has lichens on the north side.   There are also a couple of varieties of native plums with red/green or light green leaves and white blossoms and small fruit.

Next come the daffadils and some other early bulbs.

Our climate is so mild that some of the perennial shrubs are in bloom and will continue for most of the year. Mexican sage and several varieties of lavender are loaded with purple blossoms.     

It isn’t warm enough for most citrus, but lemons do well  and are setting on new blossoms while still carrying mature fruit from last year. 

Our cala lilies are also very early and prolific this year after good rains and then a warm January.   I love seeing the lilies and daffodils in bright light just after the rain, except when they get so loaded with water that they bend down and become breakfast for slugs.

 

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The Holy Woman

Every once in a while, my Dad or I meet someone with an unusual question. It usually goes something like, “What happened to that holy woman who lived at Alma Heights?  A long time ago, she walked down from the school one night and prayed for me.  I’ll never forget her.”  Then the person will recount a night from the 1970’s when they were partying on the lawn in front of the school, perhaps in the deep shadows of the big cypress trees.

Our family lived on the campus, in the white house up the hill above the school.  My brother Joe and I were aware of the guys, usually older teens, who would sit in the dark down there. We called them “hippies,” a catch-all term replaced by “stoners”  a few years later. Miss Stetson, our serene school principal, paid us a dollar each week for picking up bags of trash in front of the school. Sometimes we found beers cans that weren’t empty. I would pour out the nasty liquid, curious and fearful at the thought that someone like me could learn to enjoy something so vile. 

We recognized the favorite spots of the “hippies” by the quality and quantity of the trash left behind. Usually it was down near the street under the cypress, but sometimes they must have wanted more privacy, because we would find evidence left further up the hill. There was a dark area hidden by a willow thicket with a tangle of blackberry thorns, poison oak, and an old native plum tree. We climbed the rickety tree to pick handfuls of the small fruit and sometimes paid for it with some stickers in hands and a poison oak rash the next day.

Just above the thicket was a steep bank with a small gap between young cypress that Dad had planted near our house.    One summer, Dad set up an old green tent trailer from the WWII era in the front lawn and let Joe and me live out there so we could paint our bedroom. The painting went along at a snail’s pace. The longer it took us to finish, the longer we could sleep outside. Sometimes our wildest young friends, Scott and Nick, would stay over. We didn’t always get a lot of sleep those nights.

Scott had an amazing gift that kept us in somewhat of an uproar.  It’s still a mystery to me, but Scott could apparently summon up an unlimited supply of farts. I was a little in awe of him. I would try to eat things that would help me match his output, but I’d have to fake flatulence by blowing on my forearm. Joe and Nick couldn’t do much better.

One night out in the tent trailer, we got a little more adventuresome as we considered the problem of the large supply of banana squash that my father kept stored in the firewood shed. Dad had a garden, and he planted lots of things we were glad to eat.  He also planted okra one year, and Pastor Cather, Joe, and I conspired to divert the water away from the okra patch to prevent it from ever reaching our dinner table.

The second worst thing Dad planted was banana squash. Those squash were enormous.    They fit in nicely with the firewood logs in the wood shed. We were a large family, but when Mom opened up one of those gigantic squash, she had a solid source of nutrition that could last us for days and days. She put slabs on a cookie sheet and baked them with a bit of butter and brown sugar on top. It smelled really nice in the oven, but it was a hard to eat a whole piece. 

Joe and my little sisters complained about the banana squash, so Mom and Dad would require them to take a nice chunk and  watch them fight through it. I was a little sneakier, so I pleased my parents by cheerfully taking large pieces of squash.  The trick was to eat the sweet layer on top and then get the chunk into my pocket during an exciting part of the meal. I would then excuse myself to use the bathroom or to check outside for the newspaper or something. Even on warm evenings, I would tend to wear a loose-fitting jacket to dinner if I smelled banana squash baking.

I don’t remember which boy had the brilliant idea one night out in the tent trailer. It was an idea that solved a number of problems. We were annoyed with the hippies who left lots of trash down on the hillside by the school. We were annoyed with the banana squash. We were in need of something to do that was more entertaining than waiting for Scott to “rip another rouser.” 

The inspiring solution was to take a banana squash or two from the shed, cut off ammunition-sized chunks, sneak over to the gap in the cypress trees, and fling the pieces over the willow thicket into the cluster of hippies. For added impact, we got out Taco, our little black dog with the big bark, to come out to chase the banana squash chunks.

I’ve tried to imagine what it might have felt like to be one of those hippies that night. I would guess that they weren’t really having all that much fun. They probably did not get to sleep out in tent trailers at night, and they probably were not required to eat home-grown banana squash by hard-working and devoted parents. They probably needed prayer. But we delivered chunks of squash and a crazy little dog that you could never quite see in the dark.

There was some cursing and then a rapid exodus from the target zone. Taco bounded joyfully up the hill, and the four of us were choking back excited bursts of laughter. I remember wondering if the hippies might get mad at us and counterattack.   They seemed to embody everything evil, and we thought of ourselves as courageous to be taking them on at night with just some banana squash and a small dog.  What if they came to find us?  We couldn’t  get Dad. He would find out about the squash.

The hippies must be in their 50’s or 60’s by now, and none of them have returned with stories about the night they were frightened off by a demon dog and somebody throwing vegetables.  The story is of a holy woman and her prayers.

Miss Stetson knew about the kids, their substance abuse, and all the trash they left behind. Sometimes she would get a group of us children together on a Saturday morning. Then she would lead us around the campus, picking up bags of trash and praying for the “young people” who obviously needed to know Christ and His love.

One man recounted to Dad that he had frequently come with his friends to party on the hillside, and that a holy woman had suddenly but quietly arrived among their circle and asked, “Now wouldn’t it be good for us to read some Bible verses together?”  She had opened the scriptures and read in her serene voice, and then she had prayed, and the prayer had a power that was something this guy had never known. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

e remembered it decades later, and he was still alive in spite of a rough start, He believed that God had heard this holy woman’s prayer. Now he’s a Dad who prays with his daughter, and his daughter is the chaplain in our high school. She loves to pray with other students, some who have no one praying with them in their homes. 

When I was a Child, not Dancing during Revival Week

I Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Reverend William Portune was a white-haired, wiry, and fiery evangelist who visited Pacifica once a year during the week before Easter.   He dressed all in black, except for a small patch of white peeking through a strange rectangle in his collar.   We eagerly anticipated Easter vacation because there was no school.   At best, we had mixed feelings about having revival services with Brother Portune speaking every evening from Sunday through Good Friday.  But, there was the Easter egg hunt to look forward to on Saturday morning, and the revival services promised to bring a stimulating balance of conviction and entertainment.

Brother Portune was a holiness preacher.  We could count on him to deliver a vigorous sermon each night, challenging us to consider our great need for salvation and sanctification.   There were opportunities for all of us to experience either or both works of grace, since the potential for a fall from grace was also available to all.   Previous experiences of grace did not preclude us from additional experiences, due to the likelihood of a return to sin in between.

I knew of one lady, Mrs. Mabel Higgins, who testified to receiving both salvation and sanctification during the first service she attended at our church.   She was now efficiently credentialed, but we would have all been glad if she had continued to make some spiritual progress thereafter.

I don’t remember ever thinking that Miss Stetson or my parents or Mr. and Mrs. Cather might fall from grace.  They were steady.   On the other hand, I knew for certain i was sinful, and that my brother and sisters and the Cather girls were sinful.   Our sins were pretty obvious.   Joe and I teased the girls too much, and we delayed doing our chores, and we punched each other, and we were beginning to have thoughts we were not sure we should  have.

I also knew the girls were sinful.   They would fuss and fight, and they would tell on us in various despicable ways.   I was really annoyed when they would whine, just loud enough for Mom to hear, “David, stop it!” especially when I was doing something nice and funny that they should have been able to appreciate.    Joe and I never told on people.  It was against our manly code of honor.   We would commiserate with each other and reinforce the code with the simple summary statement, “Girls fuss!”

I had prayed for salvation many times.  Sanctification, a somewhat more solid condition characterized by a holy life, didn’t really seem like a good fit.   I don’t remember praying for it, despite Brother Portune’s annual urging.   It seemed more reasonable and less presumptuous to just renew my prayers for salvation.   Easter revival services provided a good opportunity for me to receive the first work of grace again, as needed.  I also can distinctly remember realizing my need for salvation during scary car rides on the more dangerous roads in the area, Sharp Park and “Devil’s Slide.”

I remember fighting with Joe in the back seat of the car on a curvy road, and Dad took his eyes off the road long enough to stare back us and scare us sufficiently to cause an immediate mini revival service right there in the back seat.  Joe and I begged Dad to pay attention to his driving, and we replaced our punching with praying.   We knew we were not ready to meet our Maker.

The real highlight of the revival services was not the preaching or the prayer time.   It was the dancing.   It was a blessed irony that in our Holiness church, which frowned on all secular dance, dancing was not only allowed during revival services, it was strongly encouraged.  Brother Portune challenged us to dance as an authentication of our sanctification.  People could even dance with each other, as long as the partners were of the same gender.   At any time, especially during the song service, Brother Portune would rouse himself or be roused, jump up out his seat on the stage, and lead the faithful in marching and dancing to the Lord.

The requirement to dance seemed another reason not to seek the second work of grace.   The last thing I wanted to do was to dance in church, and it seemed safer to aspire to a lesser spiritual condition in order to reduce the pressure to dance.   Joe and I never discussed this, but I think he had reached this same conclusion.    If Joe had gotten sanctified and taken up dancing, maybe it would have become more palatable for me.    The fact that my Dad seemed to dance only with great moderation under the urging of Brother Portune was reassuring.   I knew that my Dad was a saint, and if he only danced slightly, then surely God wouldn’t expect much of Joe and me.

We certainly did not want to join the dancing,  but we delighted in watching it from the pews.     Usually, the form the dance took was a sort of hybrid between a parade and a line dance.   The dancers could choose their individual moves, but more often than not, they moved together in a circle around the chapel.   Miss Stetson’s dance seemed pure.   Her face was radiant, her eyes lifted up, and her right hand, cupped open toward heaven, pumped gently above her, as she glided gracefully around the chapel.

The best dance I remember was when Brother Portune took both of Mr. Cather’s hands in his, and the evangelist and the pastor  spun about together on the stage above the prayer altars.   Brother Portune was probably twice as old as Mr. Cather, but he was adequately lithe and very enthusiastic.   Mr. Cather was pretty enthusiastic, but he also looked liked he might be feeling just a little silly.    We understood his dilemma.   As the church pastor, he had to cooperate with the traveling evangelist, but we knew there was no need to worry that we’d be pressured to dance during the other 51 weeks of the year.

My mom was off the hook, occupied either with the piano or an infant or both.   I was usually the first in line for babysitting duties, so with a bit of luck, I could be holding a baby sister while mom played the piano, and I would be adequately honorable, though not dancing.   Joe escaped a lot of scrutiny by passively supervising me.  These were important jobs that perhaps gave us some jewels in our heavenly crowns, even though we never danced.

Cheryl Cather was an interesting example for us younger children.  She was a few years older and had a boyfriend named Bob Brooks.   We were pretty sure that they may have done some unauthorized kissing, but Cheryl still seemed a little more inclined toward sanctification and some corresponding dancing during revival week.   It was hard to know what to make of it.

My younger sisters and their friends, Yvonne, Cindy, and Brenda Cather, were known to join the line dance most evenings.   They were a little more free-spirited than Joe and I, plus they were probably more likely to succumb to the pressure to join in without realizing the theological implications.   I enjoyed seeing them dance, and I’m fairly sure that I never teased them about it later.   I felt a twinge of conscience for not dancing, and I certainly did not want to inhibit their spiritual development.    There was much to be considered.

There came a year when we heard that Reverend Portune would not be up to making the trip out to California for Revival Week, and I think we were genuinely disappointed.  While we liked the idea of more free time during Easter vacation, we knew that something good had been lost.    The lack of services every night gave the adults, and especially my Mom, more time to put into the Easter egg hunt on Saturday morning and more preparation for the Good Friday and Easter services.   We began to think more about neighbors from our community, and we began inviting other children to come to the Easter egg hunt.   More people from our community would attend better prepared Easter Sunday services.   The Good Friday service became a cooperative service involving several small local churches, even some Baptists with their strange ideas about the eternal security of the believers.

Secular dancing is still generally frowned upon in our denomination, and I don’t remember much, if any, sacred dancing happening again in our little chapel, except perhaps an occasional few moments of blessing led by Lois Stetson and another saint or two.   A couple of ancient gentlemen, Brother John Fairly and Brother James McRobbie, joined our gathering in the following years, and they were comfortable with shouting out praises and marching about.

My Dad was actually a very enthusiastic dancer in the privacy of our home, and especially under the influence of the gospel music of the Bill Gaither Trio.   We loved watching him dance, wearing Mom’s white plush bathrobe, to the Gaither classic “Get All Excited.”    It was the real thing, but a little too wild for church.  We never doubted that he really did “get all excited . . . that Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings,” and it was a relief to know that he could let us in on some of his excitement, but would not be acting goofy in public.

I still am a bit uncomfortable in my skin during church services.   The songs that are designed to inspire physical displays such as hand raising feel manipulative.  “I stand, I stand, in awe of You” always makes me think of all the passages where the awe of the Almighty leads one to adopt a more lowly posture.   A newer song, “The Stand” has  a general lack of clarity and seems intended primarily to inspire standing and raising of arms.   I suppose that I should want to do these things.

At present, I’m content to follow my Dad’s example, keeping my behavior in public worship rather understated, while slipping into more freedom in the privacy of my own home.   My children enjoy mimicking my dancing, and they did all they could to convince me to dance at my niece’s wedding reception.  Not too long after I hit the dance floor and showed a few of my better moves, they were encouraging me to sit back down.   My grown children follow Christ, and are able to hold their own while dancing at wedding receptions, but they do not participate in sacred dance, as far as I know.  It’s really quite intriguing.

My daughter would like me to make a little progress in my dancing prior to a potential father/daughter dance at her wedding someday.  It would be fun to sneak in some dance lessons without anyone knowing.   My family would be amazed to see Emily and me moving gracefully together across the floor together on her special day.  I’d enjoy setting the bar really high for her groom.   Maybe in such a glorious moment, my inhibitions will fade, and I’ll discover some delightful integration of  the secular and sacred in my life.  Maybe I’ll just be alive, loving my daughter, knowing the delight of my wife and children, and feeling the smiles of my Dad and of my Heavenly Father.

Grades are like Money

Grades are the currency of the academic world.   Like money, they can be useful.   Like money, they can help us become evil if we love them.   The scriptures remind us that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”   Like money, grades should not become an end in themselves, nor should they be seen as the key resource needed for progress.   A student who piles up good grades in her transcript without seeking knowledge is like a miser who collects and adds up his gold coins in order to admire them.    She is likely to become yet another boring and aimless adult who is the proud owner of a great G.P.A.

A beautiful transcript filled with A’s is no guarantee of future success in academics or in life. On the other hand, a beautiful transcript filled with A’s can be one great indicator that a student has learned well, has been growing in diligence, and has learned to understand how to work well with other people.   

Learning is the end of education, and so grades are used in most schools to support learning.   To the extent that they support learning, they are useful.   They become a problem to the extent that they undermine learning.   Grades potentially motivate students to just cram for tests, to cheat, to take shortcuts, to satisfy others’ expectations, and to beat the system.    They also can also be a tool that a wise teacher uses to track student learning, that a student uses to help evaluate her own progress, and that helps both teachers and students identify the next priorities for learning.  

I believe that it harms students to get a good grade in a course without learning the skills and knowledge that are the purpose for the course.    A teacher is responsible to assess students on actual learning, not just on completion of assignments, test taking skills, and short-term memory of facts.   A student is responsible to become a learner and needs curiousity, determination, gratitude and a growing joy in gaining skills and knowledge.   This is the path of learning, and it leads a student toward success in college, a flourishing life, and toward the God, the Source of life, truth, and every good thing.

The Best Song We Sang Today

So, here’s the idea.  In order to encourage myself to look for the good, I should do some reflective writing about the best song we sing in church and chapel services.   I tend to poke fun at songs that seem poorly written, shallow, or theologically sketchy, but it can result in a crummy attitude.

Song #11 “How He Loves” October 14, 2011 by John Mark McMillan

This song really annoyed me the first times I heard it.   I thought simply about its metaphors and didn’t care for God’s love being compared to a hurricane or his grace an ocean in which we’re all sinking.   The “sloppy wet kiss” line repulsed me.   It bugged me so much that I scoffed at the song with some students on at least two different occasions.

A couple of things have happened to change my mind.  First, someone on our team changed the line to “unforeseen kiss” which helps me not think of God as a St. Bernard or Golden Retriever or some other such sloppy wet smoocher.

More importantly, as we sang it this morning, I was sitting behind my friend Ted, who just learned on Friday that his cancer has no treatment, and that he can’t expect to live more than months.  Ted is a young dad with a couple of darling little girls and a loving wife.    I’m begging God to heal him.

We prayed with Ted, and I looked into his chemo-sunken eyes, full of tears and questions.   He isn’t afraid for himself, but he can’t help but think his kids need a dad.   There are no simple answers to Ted’s questions.   He’s planning to enjoy the next days and weeks as much as possible. They want to go to Hawaii.   They want to live and love and be together.

Maybe God’s love is like a hurricane.     Maybe I should just stop saying negative things about songs that are a blessing to people who are hurting.   Maybe I need to close my mouth and drown a bit in His grace.    It hit me this morning to think about this song from Ted or Julie’s perspective.  It knocked me off the comfort of the sidelines where it was easy to criticize.   I pray that Ted and Julie can see God’s beauty at this time and be completely and repeatedly assured of God’s awesome and, sometimes, terrible love.

The guy who wrote this was writing in response to the death of a close friend.   The song touches on the difficult idea of fellowship in suffering and our desperate need for a very deep and overwhelming sense of God’s love and grace even while being blown away by pain that cannot be explained.    This recording has a bit about his friend that I haven’t heard in church:   http://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DU0luHiWwi08

Song #10 “You Never Let Go”  March 27, 2011  by Matt Redman

This song is based in a lot of scriptures,  (see scripture references with lyrics below) and it is focused on a couple of great ideas that keep it coherent.   Some songs are like eating a weird assortment of food from a potluck rather than a planned meal.  The writer just piles up sort of related lyrics in order to fit something to the tune.   Matt Redman is a good chef on this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIAdgLR1ZGw

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death     Psalm 23
Your perfect love is casting out fear                               I John 4:18
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life    Mark 4:35-40
I won’t turn back
I know you are near   Acts 17:27And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me    Psalm 23
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?  Psalm 27
Whom then shall I fear?   (Chorus:)
Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low 
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me   Romans 8And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on   Hebrews 12:3
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles      Psalm 27
But until that day comes
We’ll live to know You here on the earth    II Timothy 1:12

Song #9 March 20, 2011 “Amazing Love”   Chris Tomlin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUO0NhsaGKc&feature=related

The sense of wonder in our salvation is nicely conveyed by the words and music of this song.   Our leader adapted the lyrics just a bit to say In all I do I want to honor You.   This sits well with me, because it seems more honest than claiming to honor the King in all I do.  Pastor Dave mentioned the problem of “presumptuous promises” this morning.   That seemed like a good way to label the problem with some of the comprehensive commitments that we tend to make in song, perhaps with little thought or true resolve.

It’s my joy to honor You is a thought that is clear and honest.  We chase after good feelings in all sorts of ways, but bringing honor to our King really does bring deep joy.  Proclaiming the truth that Jesus is King is clearly the right thing.   Nothing subjective about it, God reigns.   To the extent that we live within the love of His rule, we are blessed.    He isn’t King because we make Him King.  He is King, and we are living in unreality when we give our allegiance to ourselves or anyone else besides Him.

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted, You were condemned.
I am alive and well, Your spirit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.
Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

You are my King
Jesus You are my King

Song #8 March 13, 2011 “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” 

by Stuart Townsend

The ideas, and poetry, and tune of this song are good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV2zMZ-nZ7k&feature=related

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powr’s, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

©1995 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music
Words and Music by Stuart Townend

Song #7 March 6, 2011   “All Creatures of Our God and King”  St. Francis of Asisi ca. 1225, translated by William Draper about 1919.    Tune by Peter Von Brachel, 1623, with some harmony work by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 20th century.

This is a nice Fernando Ortega version.   It’s a blended interpretation that seems to blend  the traditional, ancient roots of the song with some nice, contemporary orchestration and vocal interpretation:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2wcWU8KTT0&feature=related

A close translation of the original song is rather surprising.  The verse about Mother Earth will raise some eyebrows, and the verse about death is a perspective we don’t typically share.   The verse about death was written at the time of St. Francis’ death.

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

Refrain

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

Refrain

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

Refrain

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

Refrain

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!

Refrain

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.

Refrain

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

A close translation of the original Italian (this is either the first or one of the first ever literary works in Italian):

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

Song #6 February 27, 2010.  “Lead Me to the Cross” by Brooke Fraser

I appreciated this song during our church service this morning.  The first thing that pulled me in was Becky playing the flute (When that girl plays, I listen!)  but then the lyrics hit me and seem aligned with scripture, and contain a coherent group of thoughts.  I’m inserting scripture references next to related lyrics in the song below.

One line, “Rid me of myself, I belong to You” bugs me a bit.   Salvation redeems and fulfils and completes us, it doesn’t “rid” us of us.   I’m going to take it as meaning “Rid me of my sin”  or “I am not my own.”

Definition  of “Death to Self” from A Dallas Willard Dictionary

Death to self is the result of self-denial. It is the state of tender indifference to the outcries of one’s desires, with the attendant elimination of their power over one’s will, in which one is freed to worship and enjoy God now and eternally. (45)

“So the self-denial of Matthew 16:24 and elsewhere in the Gospels is always the surrender of a lesser, dying self for a greater eternal one—the person God intended in creating you.” (Willard, 2002, 68)

“[T]hose who are dead to self are not controlled in thought, feeling, or action by self-exaltation or by the will to have their own way, but are easily controlled by love of God and neighbor. They still have some sensitivity to self-will, no doubt, and are never totally beyond the possibility of falling under subjugation to it. Only a proper discipline and grace will prevent this from actually happening. But they no longer are locked in a struggle with it.” (Willard, 2002, 73)

Savior I come       Rev. 22:17; Is. 55:1.
Quiet my soul remember    Ps. 23; Ps. 131:2; Is. 30:15 
Redemptions hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom    Heb. 9:15
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost   Phil. 3:7

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out   Rom. 5:5; I Tim. 1:14
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You   Rom. 7:4; 14:8
Lead me, lead me to the cross    Heb. 12:1-3

You were as I
Tempted and tried
Human   Heb. 4:15
The Word became flesh    John 1:1-3
Bore my sin and death   I Pet. 2:24
Now you’re risen

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart   Ps. 43:3, Ps. 33:11

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZQReG2WSko&feature=related

Song #5 February 20, 2010.  “Blessed Be Your Name”

Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (ESV)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6xo5KogzaI&feature=related

Gratitude and praise, whatever our circumstances, is powerful.  I appreciate the way this song focuses on the choice to grateful.  So many songs promise absolute, whole, complete surrender of our entire being.  I worry that these promises have become cheap, easily sung, but not really considered.

A good indicator of genuine faith and commitment is gratitude to God during difficult times.   I think of our friend, Linda Ashley, who has been grateful and faithful as her husband Sam suffered strokes and then died a few weeks later.   Paul exhorts us in his epistles to give thanks in all things and for all things.

Matt Redman and his wife experienced severe personal loss, and then in the days after September 11, 2011 they wrote this song to help people deal with the fear and loss that had hit so many.

Song #4.  February 13, 2011.   “Take My Life and Let it Be Consecrated”

By Francis HavergalFrances Havergal, an English poet and songwriter from middle of the 19th century.   She was a pastor’s kid and started writing poems when she was 7.   She later studied in Germany, read Hebrew and Greek, and knew several modern languages.     She was often sick and died in her early 40’s, but had a big impact through her writings.    She had a crisis experience of deeper consecration a few years before her death.   She was very aware of the words of “Take My Life” and sought to live them out.  She claimed near the end of her life to have come close to consecration in all of the areas except for that of love (v. 6) where she still realized a great need for growth.

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

We sang other songs of consecration today, but I think this is the best.  We sang a contemporary tune that’s simpler musically (the Chris Tomlin version), but I don’t think  it’s better, and we skipped half the verses.   Sigh.  I looked for a video version online that does all the verses as written by Francis, but everyone seems to know better than to use it as written by the extremely devoted, intelligent, and skillful author.

Not a new insight, but I have to say that it’s unfortunate that the title of the song is usually written as “Take My Life and Let it Be.”    The idea is pretty well shot without “Consecrated” at the end of the line.   Maybe Miss Havergal needs to take the blame for putting the meaning at risk for the sake of the meter and rhyme.    No.   I don’t think so.  We just need to sing it through as written and let the thoughts flow all the way from beginning to end.   It’s very coherent.

This prayer humbly asks God to take the action of taking my life.    This seems better to me than the probably overstated, “Lord, I give you my life, I give you my soul, I live for you alone . . .” type of commitments in a lot of the more recent songs.   I barely understand myself and my motivations, and I barely understand God.   Some things I know are that my ability to be truly consecrated is slight, but that God is all powerful and can reform me.   “His strength is made perfect in weakness.”   I need him to take me.

Havergal wrote some other great poems and songs.   This is a poem that goes well with “Take My Life:”

Whose I Am    
Jesus, Master, whose I am,
   Purchased Thine alone to be,
By Thy blood, O spotless Lamb,
   Shed so willingly for me;
Let my heart be all Thine own,
Let me live to Thee alone.Other lords have long held sway;
   Now, Thy name alone to bear,
Thy dear voice alone obey,
   Is my daily, hourly prayer.
Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
Nothing else my joy can be.Jesus, Master! I am Thine;
   Keep me faithful, keep me near;
Let Thy presence in me shine
   All my homeward way to cheer.
Jesus! at Thy feet I fall,
Oh, be Thou my All-in-all.

Song #3.  February 6, 2011.   Micah 7:7 and 4:5   Luis Garcia, 1994

But as for me I watch and hope for the Lord

I wait for God my Savior, my God will hear me. (2 X)

We will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever. (2 X)

This has a catchy and simple tune, and it puts together Micah 7:7 with Micah 4:5 in a memorable way that links a sense of a present confidence in God with a commitment to continue in His way for all of time.

It doesn’t seem to be a song this is commonly in use.   I couldn’t find a good video link to post here.

Song #2.  February 2, 2011.  “I Will Exalt You”

This is a simple, calm chorus that is easy to sing with straightforward, meaningful words that teach us a lot about God’s character and some of His names.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U62ng4Sl7Xc&feature=related

I will exalt You
I will exalt You
I will exalt You
You are my God

Chorus:
My hiding place My safe refuge
My treasure Lord You are
My friend and King Anointed One
Most Holy.

Song #1.  January 30, 2011.  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

This song is beautifully written and full of deep insights throughout.   “Tune my heart to sing Thy praise” reminds me of C.S. Lewis teaching in The Four Loves that we need God’s grace even to receive agape love.   Our hearts need tuning and greater capacity!   And what a prayer, that I would learn a song from heaven in order to praise the King of Heaven!

An A/B rhyme scheme throughout the song works well and does not compromise the coherent message.

The last verse, rarely published or sung:

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

I can understand a reluctance to use this verse, since it seems to be requesting immediate bodily death in order to expedite life in the realms of endless day.   It also requires “clothed” to be sung in two syllables.   I like it as a sort of hyperbole, balancing a constant tendency of mine toward limited, temporal perspectives.

A quick search brings you the opportunity to hear this song done by many people in many different styles.   Its truth and beauty are transcendant.

LINKS:

MTC Version. Very classy, and it doesn\’t leave out the wonderful part about raising my Ebenezer. Ebenezers need some raising.

About Ebenezer:  http://www.revneal.org/Writings/whatsan.htm

To read all the verses without any recent amendments and for a bit of information about the author and composer, see http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/comethou.htm

Along the same lines, check out the following blog.  Very thought-provoking and convicting.

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2009/11/contemporary-worship-pop-culture-and.html