Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New Song

Psalm 96:1-2 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Singing has always been a great joy in my life. I am blessed to be able to sing and praise God every Sunday with our church band, Crossroads. My husband, Danny, is our lead vocalist and guitarist; David, our drummer, sings both lead and harmony; Rob rules the bass, and I sing harmony, add a second guitar if desired, and play rhythm instruments. We are still grieving the recent departure of Anita, our soprano, as she resigned her position as music minister at our church. She did promise to rejoin us in the future and, believe you me, we're holding her to it! For now, though, it's just the four of us.

We have been a consistent group for five years now. In that time, as you might well imagine, we have amassed quite of repertoire of praise songs - over one-hundred and still growing. When I tote Danny's and my songbooks into church, I count that as my weight-lifting exercise for the day! We have practiced together diligently throughout the years, so much so that a Sunday morning review and rehearsal before the service is more than adequate preparation for us. This is never the case, however, when Danny selects a new song for us to learn; then, it's time to listen to it on YouTube and attend Tuesday evening practice ready to hammer it out.

While learning new material has its challenges, the rewards are exceedingly great. Our collaboration and encouragements offered as we practice a new song serve to bind us more firmly together, more like a family than just a band. We share a mutual thrill of excitement when we've mastered a song and anticipate its presentation to the congregation the following Sunday. We may drag ourselves to practice after a long day at work, weary and unenthusiastic, but the moment we begin to play and praise, our worries and cares melt away as readily as snow in the spring sunshine. We are renewed, re-energized, and reawakened to the joy the Lord takes in a new song.

When Lent began this year, many of you decided to give up "old songs" and try singing new ones. Has this helped you to grow more fully in the gifts God has given you? Are you strengthened in your walk with Him? How difficult has it been to forsake old habits and adopt new disciplines? Are you praying more? Caring more? Discovering a deeper, more abiding faith? Let me, and others, know how your Lenten journey is going by leaving your comments below.

In the meantime, if you would like to hear Crossroads' songs, old and new, tune into our website at www.kumcrossroads.shutterfly.com.

Blessings!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Will Lift My Eyes


Psalm 121:1-2 I lift my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ever since we spent our honeymoon there in April 2005, Danny and I have faithfully returned to the Nantahala Mountains in North Carolina for our vacations. We usually visit in April for our anniversary (this year, we went over the February break to take the boys skiing) and over Thanksgiving in lieu of giving each other Christmas gifts. We have enjoyed delightful stays in a number of different luxury log cabins - my idea of "roughing it" - and, while each experience created unique memories for us, there has always be
en one constant: the indescribable peace found in these ancient mountains.

In the Nantahalas, Danny and I share in days litera
lly filled with mountain-top moments. We never tire of watching the play of the sun and clouds across the majestic vistas during the day or standing outdoors at night to view the myriad of stars that city lights conceal. We are at once awed, humbled and comforted by the infinite glory of God's creation surrounding us. His presence is palpable in His handiwork and in us as He rejuvenates and reconnects us to Him and to one another. Our time of recreation is truly one of RE-creation! By the time our bittersweet departure day arrives, we are enabled to return to our valleys, counting our blessings, knowing that the Lord is with us through it all.

When you find yourself walking in a valley of shadow, sadness, fear, or doubt, can you lift your eyes to the mountains? Can you persevere through trials and tribulations knowing that your help, your salvation, comes from the Lord who loves you without measure? If you are slogging your way through a seemingly hopeless valley right now, know that Jesus is with you every step of the way. Place your hand in His. Trust Him. Let Him guide you, help you, heal you. In Him, find the tranquility of the mountain top amidst life's stormy seas.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Hanging Out to Dry


John 3:8 - The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Last week, a dear friend e-mailed me a list of some eco-friendly things one could do for Lent. As my husband, Danny, is a regional director for Energy Star, we already engage in many of the suggested activities: using LED or compact-florescent lights; composting; recycling paper, plastic, and cans; using cloth shopping bags and cloth, instead of paper, napkins; installing occupancy sensors; sealing air ducts; insulating the attic, and, my all-time favorite, drying clothes outside. The latter activity is always the one that evokes hor
rified gasps of disbelief from his audience when Danny gives presentations on energy efficiency. They are literally shocked at the notion of anyone hanging out clothes, especially in winter, when dryers are so handy and accessible.

Danny explains that dryers are basically motors and motors use energy; there is no such creature as an Energy Star dryer! We pay for the electricity our dryers use, but the sun and wind are free for the taking. When someone protests that their homeowner's association doesn't permit clotheslines, Danny urges them to go to the board and argue the facts: energy costs will continue to escalate, crunching families' precarious budgets even further; energy that is free is the sensible alternative.

While the practical advantages of hanging clothes outdoors are manifold, I find the aesthetic aspects even more appealing. Nothing beats snuggling in bed between sheets that have been dried outside; their soothing fragrance and softness reminds me of lying on cool, green grass in the early spring sunshine. When I open my wardrobe to dress in the morning, I am greeted by that same comforting scent. I even relish the rough texture of our towels; being dried on the line, they absorb moisture more readily and stay smelling fresh longer.


For those of you doubting the lure of the clothesline at this juncture, allow me to address some questions others have asked me in the past.
  • Aren't your jeans too stiff? Yes, at first, but they soften up within ten minutes of wearing.
  • Don't your clothes wrinkle? No, especially on a breezy day; it blows the wrinkles right out (wish it would do that for my face!).
  • Is summer the best time to hang laundry outside? Not if you live below the Mason-Dixon line. You can dry clothes outside anytime unless it is a) raining, or b) below freezing.
  • Aren't you self-conscious about drying, er, you know, your intimates outdoors for all to see? Not an issue for me as our backyard is secluded. You can always hang underwear, etc. indoors on a wooden rack.
  • Isn't hanging up and taking down clothes from the line an extra chore? It is, if you choose to look at it that way, but if I threw my clothes in the dryer, I'd miss out on the mesmerizing show I call "Clothes with the Wind".
I don't care if it's full sun, partly cloudy, or mostly cloudy. If there is a stiff, consistent breeze, my clothes will dry in half the anticipated time. That's not the best part, though. What I adore is watching the wind whipping the napkins like so many frantic flags, lifting the sheets until they hover horizontally, cracking and snapping like a flustered sail, tossing the t-shirts manically up and over the line. I can "see" the wind in the shifting, shuddering dance of the clothes; I can hear it when it slaps the sheets or snaps the napkins. In this witness, I am always reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, sent first by God as promised through Christ to the disciples as a mighty, rushing wind. He tells me that when I, like my clothes, am feeling "hung out to dry", He is here with me, working through me, renewing my strength, reviving my soul.

How do you see, hear and feel the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, in your life at this moment? Whether it is in a roaring wind or a whispered breath, know He is always there with you.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How Is Your Lenten Season Progressing?

Mark 8:34 - Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."


One week has passed since Ash Wednesday. How are you coming along with your give-ups/take-ons this Lenten season? I will share with you my experiences thus far and invite you to reciprocate with your own in the comments section of my blog or on Facebook.

My give-up this Lent was computer solitaire. I must admit, for the first several days, my fingers itched to click that icon on my desktop. I literally had to stop and consciously recall why I had chosen to do this and think about what I should be doing in it's place. Last Sunday, our first "mini-Easter", I did allow myself to play several rounds only to discover that the allure it held for me less than a week before had waned significantly. My take-ons were thankfully superseding my desire for the game.

My first take-on for Lent was to write a blog at least once a week; so far, so good. I've been blessed with some wonderful ideas as of late and my new aim is to complete at least two each week.

The second take-on was to maintain a written prayer list (I am on a prayer chain at my church) and to conscientiously pray for each individual/family on a daily basis. On average, I might receive three requests per week, but that did not hold true this week and last. In seven days, my list burgeoned from three to thirty; God certainly knows how to keep things challenging! I have become, through praying consistently for others, much more mindful of C. S. Lewis' statement: Prayer doesn't change God, it changes me". Focusing on the needs and concerns of others and lifting them up to the Lord in prayer removes my "me" factor and increases my capacity for compassion toward all God's children.

Take-on three was a Bible study entitled Peter - Learning to Be Like Jesus. As there are only twelve chapters, I am completing two per week. The first two lessons centered on obedience and prayer. Both coerced me to take a good, hard look at my walk with Christ. Am I following Him in the ways He ordained for me? Loving others as He commanded? Seeking His will for my life? Praying that His will, not mine, be done? Thanking and praising Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? We were discussing questions similar to these in our Monday Bible study group when Gabe offered this simple yet profound insight.

"I may have said out loud only once before, 'I love you, God'. Maybe that's what He wants most to hear from us."

If light-bulbs had been suspended above our heads, they would have blazed simultaneously. How obvious it should have been to us all that the One who first loved us would want to hear that we love Him back? He knows our needs before we ask, but doesn't He value our prayers and supplications offered to Him? Of course! I realized in a flash what my prayers, what my life, needed. I resolved to tell God daily how much I love Him, to make this Lenten revelation a life-long and joyful practice.

Now, it's your turn. What insights or lessons or struggles or miracles have you encountered during Lent? I pray that your stories shared will be a blessing to all who read them!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent - Part Two

Many heartfelt thanks to all of you who responded to the blog, Lent - Part One! I hope in sharing your terrific ideas here, someone who has yet to decide what to give-up/take-on for Lent will be inspired to choose one of your disciplines. I've put these in list form for easier reading.

GIVING UP:
  • Chocolate
  • Condiments
  • Milk
  • Dessert
  • All meat and animal by-products (I'm impressed!)
  • Facebook
  • Computer games, on-line and off
  • I-pod
  • Profanity
  • Negative thoughts about others
TAKING ON:
  • Spending more time with family
  • Establishing set prayer times and routines
  • Studying a particular book in the Bible
  • Developing a grateful attitude in all things
  • Praying daily for our troops
  • Saying extra prayers for family members
  • Reading Christian blogs subscribed to but too often ignored
  • Doing everything daily to recall Christ's great sacrifice for us
  • Breaking habits that lead to weight gain (One could argue that this could go under "Giving Up", too.)
So, what am I giving-up/taking-on for Lent? I am abstaining from playing computer solitaire - I am SO addicted to it and it is nothing but a colossal waste of time. Instead, I plan to complete a Bible study entitled "Peter - Learning to Be Like Jesus", to write down (already started this one) all prayer requests and pray daily for those listed, and to write at least one inspirational blog per week.

Know, too, my friends: If the going gets tough, each Sunday throughout Lent is considered a "mini-Easter", a time when you are allowed, if you choose, to indulge in that piece of chocolate or glass of milk. And, should a negative thought pop into your head when someone cuts you off in traffic or a curse escape your lips, ask God to forgive you and don't forget to forgive yourself, too. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither were your habits. View the changes you are making as opportunities to form a closer and more intimate relationship with Christ. Take up your cross and follow with joy the One who banished sin and death by His death and resurrection.

May this Lenten season be filled with unexpected and wondrous blessings for all of you!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lent - Part One

Lent is the season in the church year when Christians emulate Jesus' retreat into the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism. It is a time for reflection, prayer, penitence, and self-denial as we prepare to be virtually buried with Christ in the tomb and resurrected with Him on that glorious Easter morning.

In both ancient and medieval times, Lenten practices revolved around food consumption; meat and, in many cases, animal by-products were forbidden although fish was an allowed substitute. "Carnival", the celebration on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, literally means "farewell to meat"! Today, many people still choose this discipline, embracing vegetarianism for Lent or banning a particularly favored food item from their diet such as chocolate, coffee, or ice cream.

Going the food route is all well and good, especially if your denial of these particular pleasures turns your heart and mind toward God for strength to resist temptation and to focus on Him. I would also suggest, however, in this age of technological tempters, that there may be other pastimes we too often fall prey to instead of reading our Bibles or enriching our prayer lives. You might want to analyze how much television you are watching, how often you are hopping on Facebook to play Farmville, or how frequently you are surfing the web when it's not work-related. Are you "Tweeting" like mad? Is there a game on your computer that daily calls your name? Have you just about worn out your Wii?

As much as giving up a food or an activity is crucial during Lent, I have found it just as important to take on a new discipline to fill the void, one which constructively helps me to grow in my spiritual walk. Could you consider joining a prayer group or Bible study or start one yourself? Can you designate more time at home for prayer and meditation? Are you available to volunteer at a homeless shelter, a retirement home, or a food pantry?

As Lent approaches, I hope each one of you will honestly and humbly reflect upon what pastimes are hindering a closer relationship with God and prayerfully consider what needs to be both set aside and done during these 40 days. I invite you to leave your comments on what you will be doing for Lent, either here on my blog or on Facebook. In Lent - Part Two, I will share these anonymously with other readers and also disclose what I have decided to give up and take on for the season.

I'm looking forward to hearing from all of you! Blessings!

The Battle Rages On

Today's blog is one I originally posted in November of 2013.  And no, the leaves here have not yet started to turn, but I know some o...