Tag Archives: cancer

Worship Wednesday – MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” – My Story About This Song

Photo Credit: New Release Today

The film I Can Only Imagine debuted in the Spring of this year. It’s the story of how a young man, Bart Millard, came to compose one of the most beautiful poignant songs written in recent years.

Millard is the lead singer for the Christian band MercyMe. The song I Can Only Imagine was inspired by his own faith walk and the death of his father to cancer. The lyrics express the wonder at what Heaven will be like for us when our time comes. Photo Credit: To Save a Life

The film featuring this song chronicles Millard’s early life with an angry, abusive father. Bart hated his father, and although he was sure God could forgive his father, Bart believed he himself never would.

Bart Millard: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Was Born From a Life of Abuse – Jenny Rapson

It is a powerful story that resonates with many of us. My biological father (not this Dad) wasn’t physically violent toward me but he was emotionally abusive in his neglect and indifference toward us four children. Our older brother may have experienced worse abuse from our dad but he never talked about it. What makes me wonder is how angry he was as an adult. My brother died a few years ago, finally beginning to heal out of decades of bitterness and rage…just before he died.

This song and film, birthed out of a childhood marred by violence, remind me of how good God is and how He works healing even in the worst of situations.

My mom loved this song. I didn’t know its significance to her until right before her death in 2002. We were living overseas the year the song came out (2001, and I don’t remember even hearing it until Mom asked a friend to sing it for her, just days before she died. After her funeral, as we returned to “normal”, it seemed I heard that song every day for months. It had become wildly popular, winning two GMA Dove awards, and successfully crossing over to pop/country charts. That connection with her, day in and day out, helped me to grieve and heal the loss of the woman I loved most in the world. . Imagining her life in Heaven was very good for me…then and now.

Years later, when my older brother died, I heard the song again in an odd situation. We were visiting Dad, in the house where I grew up. My brother lived with them for many years, and I went into his bedroom. He had been gone for a few weeks at that time. There was an old-timey, pale blue box radio in the bathroom he used. I switched it on just to see what station he listened to. It was a Christian station which was strange because, although he was a Christian, he wasn’t into “churchy stuff”. The song that was playing when I turned on that radio was “I Can Only Imagine”. There…in a sacred moment, missing my brother, the Lord comforted me again…with this amazing song…and message.

Worship with me please.

I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine

Yeah

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the sun
I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you
I can only imagine, yeah
I can only imagine

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

I can only imagine*

Just this week, I saw the film for the first time…in the living room, lights dimmed, with sweet family. Some in my close circle of family and friends don’t rush to watch “Christian” films because, they say, they are too amateurish and trite. Not this one. Beautifully filmed, raw dialogue between Bart and his father, layer upon layer of brokenness. Then…the miracle of healing. Of God piercing through the pain and bringing beauty out of ugliness. Reconciling…first with Him…and then with each other.

See the film. Listen to Bart sing his own story of wondering about Heaven…and then let all that settle around you as it has me so many times…just the thought of what Heaven will be like…seeing my Mom again…my brother…others who have gone ahead…and especially the God of this universe…the One who saved me…the One who saved Bart’s Dad and Bart, and then the One gave Bart grace to forgive.

*Lyrics to I Can Only Imagine Written by Bart Millard

YouTube Video – Bart Millard Reveals the Origin of His Biggest Hit “I Can Only Imagine” – Huckabee

YouTube Video – I Can Only Imagine – “Forgiveness” Scene

YouTube Video – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

Worship Wednesday – Fear Is a Liar – Zach Williams

Photo Credit: Flickr, Lisa Hall-Wilson

Now this is what the LORD says–the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.1 John 4:18a

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

When we, or people we love, come under an attack of some sort, we respond. Always. Two physiological responses may immediately come to mind. We fight or fear (literally fleeing or just in our head). That fight or flight response is much researched and well-documented. My default is flight…in fear. If I have to, especially for the sake of my children or others needing help, I would fight, but fear would be part of that battle.

I too often go to fear. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you go to fight. Either one can be used in ways by our enemy to keep us from a third response. That being collecting our thoughts around what is true and acting in a way that gives space for God to fight for us. That does not mean we won’t be physically removed from a fight (to protect or for justice or mercy’s sake). Nor does it mean that we won’t be tempted to fear. The big however is that we are not defeated already by believing fear’s lies or by unleashing fury that hurts in its own right.

When I heard Zach Williams’ song Fear Is a Liar, the lyrics drew me in immediately. I knew that experience. That experience of fear being a voice in my head, telling me things that simply were not true…but sounded true. Paralyzing me when God means for me to be free. I am free in Him. Fear picks us up to throw us down somewhere dark and outside of who we really are. Fear is a liar…and is generated by the “father of lies”. At first, I struggled with the personification of fear in this song…but more and more, it is like battling with Satan himself, or one of his minions. The truth is that “greater is he (God) in me, than he (the evil one) in this world”. Photo Credit: Flickr, Artem Popov

My Mom and I, through the years, would often quote 2 Timothy 1:7 to each other. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” We both struggled with fear and needed to remind each other of the truth. Dave has often helped me come back to my senses with just the two-word imperative: “Pull up”. When we struggle with fear, our thoughts can grow more and more terrifying and send us on a deep dive, spiraling out of control. Just the reminder to “pull up” would spark my returning to remember what is true.

Those of us who fear need people in our lives who remind of us of the truth and the God of truth. Not in a platitudinous way. But in a way that wraps around us, stays with us, loves us through it. Who are your people?

[Sidebar: For those of you who default to fight or fury…the wisdom is the same. Return to what is true, what is full of love, what is genuine power. Being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” is not weakness; it is a right response that gives space for God to act.]

Worship with me and cancel the fear with the truth of God. Extinguish its darkness with the light of the perfect love of Jesus.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar*

Fear does not die easily. Often I have to pray myself out of fear before sleep at night, and praise my way out of picking it back up in the morning. This is after a lifetime of battling with fear. However, there is nothing sweeter…nothing…than knowing that God’s got this. Whatever “this” is. We live in a world full of scary and confusing struggle. We can’t see yet how it will all come out or what is happening in the unseen. Trusting God with what frightens and acting accordingly is how we deal with the struggle. We don’t retreat…but we don’t go it alone. That gives me joy, and I will not to be afraid.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – JesusJohn 16:33

*Lyrics to Fear is a Liar – Songwriters: Zach Williams, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Lindley Smith

Zach Williams Music

Worship Wednesday – No Fear – Same Power – Jeremy Camp

Fear Is a Liar – 91 Images on Pinterest

Worship Wednesday – I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin

Photo Credit: David Joyce, Flickr

Yesterday, driving to an appointment, an old Chris Tomlin song came on the radio. It touched my heart in an unusual way. Familiar words, I Lift My Hands stilled my thoughts for the moment. God drew me to Himself, and worship flowed. Not even thinking, one hand on the steering wheel, my other hand rose… I made a note on my phone of that old song and didn’t think about it again. Then early this morning, the Bible reading for today was in Psalm 63.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.Psalm 63:3-4

I wanted to write on joy today. Especially after reading Psalm 63-65. That unquenchable joy at all the good in our lives. New babies. Graduations. Weddings. Health. Milestones. Victories.

Then my newsfeed on Facebook brought the news that a friend’s sister died yesterday. Heidi Lodenstein – 47 years young. Adored by her husband. Two children at home. Glioblastoma. Devoted daughter of an all-loving God who chose not to heal the cancer here but received her Home, healed There. Sad? For that sweet family and friend group. Joy in grief?…abundantly so.

A Lament for Heidi – Cindy DeBoer

We lost a dear friend to glioblastoma a couple of years back as well. He left behind a much-loved wife and three darling little daughters. As we prayed through those months of his disease, while he fought for his life, we asked for miracles of healing. On this side of Heaven, it wasn’t meant to be.

At his funeral, Dave and I sat, tears on our faces, along with his family and friends. Sad with the loss of him. Yet, there was also something else. Something from so deep in us all, it had to push up and out. It was a strange and magnificent joy. How grateful we were to have known him. To have been a part of something bigger than all of us…with him. To be connected forever with each other by the God he trusted…and we trusted.

Joy. Even in that awful grief.

At that funeral, we lifted our hearts to the God who brought us all together…to be comforted together…and especially by Him. To breathe in the peace that we would see our friend again…whole and himself.

Whatever your situation is right now, my prayer for you is to know joy… May the object of your joy be the Lord Himself, who turns our weeping into dancing…our sorrow into joy [Psalm 30].

Worship with me.

Be still, there is a healer
His love is deeper than the sea
His mercy, it is unfailing
His arms are a fortress for the weak
Let faith arise
Let faith arise

[Chorus]
I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, you are my strength
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember
You are faithful, God, forever

Be still, there is a river
That flows from Calvary’s tree
A fountain for the thirsty
Pure grace that washes over me
So let faith arise
Let faith arise
Open my eyes
Open my eyes

[Chorus]*

Sometimes our thoughts take us place we weren’t aiming to go. Today I wanted to write about joy. It flowed out of sorrow…but it flowed full. 

Listen to the sound of my pleading when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary…May the Lord be praised, for He has heard the sound of my pleading. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song. The Lord is the strength of His people; He is a stronghold of salvation for His anointed. Save Your people, bless Your possession, shepherd them, and carry them forever. – Psalm 28:2, 6-9

[Postscript: Presently reading Rob Morgan‘s The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times. It came at a good time.]

YouTube Video – Chris Tomlin – I Lift My Hands – Official Lyric Video

*Lyrics to I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher

Story Behind the Song I Lift My Hands – New Release Today – Kevin Davis

God Gives Us Joy in Grief – John Piper

YouTube Video – With Hope – Steven Curtis Chapman

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times – Robert J. Morgan

Heath Has Finished His Race… – Deb Mills Writer

Worship Wednesday – the Faith to Believe

Photo Credit: Flickr

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8

For the first twenty years of my professional life, I was privileged to have close encounters with five life-changing realities. It was a season of caring for cancer patients and their families – when their diseases were raging and in the final days of life. These experiences galvanized my faith in God and how his image is embedded in us – his creation. These realities are:

  1. Courage in exceedingly hard places
  2. Deep enduring love across a harsh illness and when time is fleeting
  3. Hope mingled with humor
  4. Death isn’t final…our spirits go somewhere (for sure, they leave the body)
  5. Faith to believe

Caring for patients receiving chemotherapy and other treatments for life-threatening complications can prompt an intimate caring relationship. To watch patients (and families) deal with such hard and to be in a position to help them through it gave me a window to extend love and honor to dear ones in crisis.

Was there always courage? Was love always expressed between us all? Was humor or hope or faith a constant?

No…but remarkably, more often than not, this was what I observed… especially in those sustained by a relationship with God.

In the last couple of years, I personally have experienced a cancer diagnosis and a couple of respiratory emergencies that brought those same realities into my life. In such times, much in life gets clarity…a sharper focus, a deeper understanding.

Breathe has been a theme in my life for over a year now…put that together with the title of a film starring Andrew Garfield…and it caused me to NOT “skip the ad” on YouTube.Photo Credit: Breathe, YouTube

I was unaware of Robin Cavendish until I saw the trailer for the film Breathe. Cavendish was a Brit who developed polio at the young age of 28. He was paralyzed from the neck down and required a ventilator to breathe. In those days (1958), he would have been confined in a hospital for the remainder of his days. However, he nor his wife, Diana, would hear of it. After a year in hospital, he went home and adjusted to this very different life, as only Robin would. They had a child and he would be able to see him grow up (in fact, son Jonathan Cavendish produced this film). Robin was a pioneer in advocating for the disabled, especially those like him needing more extreme measures to live a more normal life. He died at 64.

[Since my years in graduate studies in rehab and cancer nursing…the courage I saw in so many patients and families…courage in struggle…never ceased to inspire me.]

I am always intrigued about “based on a true story” films. Reading up on Robin Cavendish’s story, my heart soared and then sank…fullstop at the short statement below:

Cavendish was an atheist.Wikipedia

I have never understood atheism. Even during spiritually flat and confusing times in my life, the existence of God has never been at question.

Especially watching beloved patients at the moment of death…their faces relaxing and their bodies emptying of who they really were. We don’t just stop existing…life here stops and starts at exactly the same moment…There.

Now that I know Robin Cavendish, he has my admiration and respect at how he took back his life and helped others do the same. I wonder if, before his life was done…if he had the faith to believe. One line in his obituary reads:

It is a strange irony that, though professing to be an unbeliever himself, he had a capacity for making other people feel closer to God.*

*Obituary – Robin Cavendish – Alice and Tim Renton

What a great gift is faith to believe. We don’t conjure it up. God Himself presents us the faith to believe…it is ours to reject or receive.

Worship with me. Below you will find two songs – Faith to Believe by Shane & Shane and Jesus Is Better by Austin Stone. Choose either or both in celebrating the God who gives us the faith to believe. [Then scroll down to the prayer at the end.]

YouTube Video – Shane & Shane – Faith to Believe – (with lyrics)

Give me the faith to believe You
When I’m stuck here in my fear
Give me the strength to trust You
When my vision’s blurred by tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the strength to believe

Even when I cannot see You
You’re still shining, You’re still shining
Even when I cannot hear You
You’re still calling out my name
Even when I cannot see You
Your arms are open
Always holding on to me
Give me the faith to believe

You say You’ll never leave me
Your love will conquer fear
You say Your day is coming
When You’ll wipe away my tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the faith to believe

Give me the faith to see the invisible
Give me the faith to believe the impossible
Give me the faith to receive the incredible
Oh give me the faith to believe it**

There is no other so sure and steady, my hope is held in your hand
When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand
Upon this rock I will stand

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Your kindly rule has shattered and broken the curse of sin’s tyranny
My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me
Your crimson flood covers me

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all***

Photo Credit: Flickr

Maybe this is the first step for atheists, too (it was for me)…so thankful for the faith to believe…to see the truth and beauty of Scripture. The Word of God walks us right up the staircase to be with Him – now and forever.

Thank You, God, for the faith to believe. With my whole being, I’m sure you daily, moment by moment, extend grace to all of humanity to know You, through one witness of Yourself or another. Help us to receive this grace. God, give us all this faith to believe.

**Lyrics to Faith to Believe – written by Shane Everett & Phil Wickham

***Lyrics to Jesus Is Better – written by Aaron Ivey & Brett Land

Nabeel Qureshi – 1983-2017 – Less About Religion, All About God

Photo Credit: Nabeel Qureshi

I am grieving today for someone who has touched my heart in a huge way, though we have never met.

Nabeel Qureshi is a son, brother, husband, and father. He is a writer, speaker, theologian, and medical doctor. Until recently he also was in treatment for a very aggressive cancer.

None of these descriptors speak to how deeply he has moved my heart and mind. His faith…and the God of his faith…speak volumes.

He is a follower of Jesus today, after being a devout Muslim. His relationship with God through Christ is laid out in detail in his books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God, But One. Much of his story and the object of his faith are also highlighted on several YouTube videos.

His courageous battle against cancer ended yesterday. At the age of 34. Father of a little girl. Just really at the beginning of his career.

I have never spent much energy in questioning God when one of us dies. My understanding of such things is so limited. Why Nabeel had to die so young is beyond my understanding. One thing I am convinced of is that just as God worked in his life, God will work in his death.

That’s why I’m writing this brief announcement of his passing… He is now in the presence of the God who loves him, the God whom he loves. God will comfort his family and friends and will provide for his wife and daughter. Many of us will know more of Nabeel in his death than we did in his life. I am thankful he wrote about his spiritual journey and spoke so lovingly and articulately about the God who drew him to Himself.

“After loving us with the most humble life and the most horrific death, Jesus told us, “As I have loved you, go and love one another.” How could I consider myself a follower of Jesus if I was not willing to live as He lived? To die as He died? To love the unloved and give hope to the hopeless?”Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

“All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing. I pray that I will meet you someday, my dear friend, so we can rejoice and praise God together for our joys and our sufferings.”Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

My first knowledge of Nabeel Qureshi‘s cancer and death yesterday was through Justin Taylor‘s blog posting. Please take the time to read it (and watch the videos included). If you have never heard of Nabeel Qureshi, you will have an introduction to him, his life, and his discovery and embrace of God. Below is Taylor’s close to his tribute of our brother Nabeel Qureshi.

Today, Nabeel Qureshi, beholding his Savior face to face, is able to declare what is true:

I have fought the good fight.

I have finished the race.

I have kept the faith.

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Entering into the joy of his Master, he undoubtedly heard the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”Justin Taylor

Postscript: I have dear Muslim friends who may take offense at his story. He spoke painfully in his book and vlogs about the loss of closeness with his beloved parents and sister…for a season. I was grateful to see that in his last-published vlog before his death, he spoke of them with gratitude as they were with him caring for him along with his wife, Michelle. Love is larger than anything that would separate us. So thankful for that.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God, But OneNabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi – 1983-2017 – Justin Taylor – The Gospel Coalition

Nabeel Qureshi – Quotes – Good Reads

YouTube Video – Vlog 33 – A Very Special Guest – My Dad! – Nabeel Qureshi

Why This Muslim-Turned-Christian Resonated With So Many Before His Death at 34 – Ravi Zacharias

Worship Wednesday – Then Came the Morning and It is Well With My Soul – Because He Lives – Guy Penrod

Photo Credit: Air Force

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
    a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse,
    army and warrior.Isaiah 43: 1-3, 16-17

I have never lost my home to a flood or fire. Dear friends have had that experience, and I see something in them that I want. Rock-solid faith in a mighty and merciful God. Is trouble part of what gets us to unshakeable faith (tornado- and hurricane-proof faith)?

My life today is comfortable. Hurricane Harvey is far from us, but the ravages of that storm are felt across the US. I can’t imagine all the losses. Houses, businesses…and worse, family members and friends. Lost to a tropical storm system that poured torrential rains across Texas for days.

The pictures and video of flooded neighborhoods in Houston would be unbelievable except that they are real.

We in the US are so sheltered, cushioned from much of what rocks the rest of the world. When nature unleashes its most destructive forces, we usually watch that on world news…not on local.

This time, we are confronted with the transient nature of stuff…even life itself. We want to comfort and help, and there are ways to do that. My heart is thrilled by those on orders or inclined to go into the storm to help – the military and police and all the many volunteers.

For this natural disaster, the reality of all that’s happening hangs heavy in my mind. How would I deal with such a calamity in my own life?

My hope is that I would cling to the Lord. The God who promises that He is always with us. He has shown Himself faithful in other dark places in our lives – losing loved ones through the years, saying hard goodbyes to friends, miscarriages, cancer diagnoses. I know He is there…it has been my experience.

So how will the folks in Houston get through this difficult, difficult place? Either clinging to God or seeking help elsewhere. He is there…for any who would take His hand…to help them get through until the morning.

A couple of nights ago, I struggled to get to sleep. Like my mama before me, fears and stresses follow me to bed, and taunt me to sort them out on my own. Finally, exhausted and aching with loneliness, I pray.

Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!Psalm 30:5b, 11-12

Yesterday was better…as is today…in His grace and in the light of His truth.

Today, I want to share three old Gospel songs that minister to my heart. Always. Even more when Guy Penrod sings them. A solo artist now, he has sung with the Gaither Vocal Band and is also a featured artist on the Gaither Homecoming TV specials.

Then Came the Morning is new to me (hearing it for the first time the morning after that fitful night). It relates to experiences of Jesus’ mother and disciples after his death, and then when they discovered him alive again, as he had promised.

Then came the morning
Shadows vanished before the sun
Death had lost and life had won
For morning had come.*

YouTube Video – Then Came the Morning – Guy Penrod – Written by: CHRIS CHRISTIAN, GLORIA GAITHER, WILLIAM GAITHER

*Lyrics – Then Came the Morning

It Is Well With My Soul is a song I’ve known since childhood. No matter what happens in life, it can be well with our souls. The story behind this song speaks to the relationship Horatio Spafford had with his God.

Having lost in a fire virtually everything they owned, the Spafford family made new plans, including a move from Chicago to France. Horatio Spafford planned the trip for his wife and four daughters to be as trouble-free as possible. To transport them from America to France, he booked passage on a huge ship, and made sure they had Christians with whom to fellowship in route. He planned to join them a few weeks later. In spite of much careful preparation, Mr. Spafford’s plans suddenly dissolved when the ship carrying his loved ones was rammed by another vessel and sank, carrying his four beloved daughters to the bottom. Anyone who has ever had their plans disrupted by the hand of God can understand Spafford’s plight. The next time you are in church,turn to the words of the great hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul”–words he penned as his ship passed over the watery grave of his four daughters! – Today in the Word, July, 1989, p. 27**

One of the verses of this tested and proven hymn of faith is:

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.*

YouTube Video – It Is Well With My Soul – Guy Penrod, David Phelps

*Lyrics of It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio Spafford

Lastly, a hymn that Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote and has touched millions of lives: Because He Lives. Such a great song reminding us that because He lives we have no need to fear.

Worship with me:

YouTube Video – Because He Lives, Guy Penrod

Lyrics – Because He Lives – Bill & Gloria Gaither

You will have no test of faith that will not fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient to the Lord. I never had a trial but when I got out of the deep river I found some poor pilgrim on the bank that I was able to help by that very experience.” – A.B. Simpson

No matter how dark the night, when the morning comes, we can find it is well with our souls, because He lives.

Guy Penrod

Gaither Homecoming

Floods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal Kill 1,200 and Leave Millions Homeless – Chloe Farand

**Trials – Sermon Illustrations

Worship Wednesday – I’m Just Unfinished – Mandisa

Photo Credit: CBN

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Philippians 1:6

So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:67-69

Why are we so hard on ourselves and each other? Intuitively, we know in our core, that we can be better…and that others should be. We mark behavior. We analyze successes and failures. We self-reference. Am I measuring up? Are you measuring up? To what?

All this judging should completely wear us out. Yet…we become unaware we are even doing it. In fact, our bent toward judging is probably one of the reasons we (Christians and those who don’t follow Christ) struggle with addictions…to turn off that part of our brain. Unfortunately, the safeguard of judging (that of critical and logical thinking) is also impacted here.

This whole lifestyle of having opinions and being sometimes critical spills over into our faith. We judge God.

We judge God. Listen to that. How strange for the Created to question the mind of the Creator! Yet, we struggle with what we don’t understand. We shake our heads and raise our “why” to Heaven. Or worse…some precious ones walk away from God…disappointed.

Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud – Philip Yancey

Christian artist Mandisa went through a very dark time spiritually and emotionally as she lost her best friend to cancer. Take the time to read her story, please. Her album Out of the Dark came out of her journey back to God after this terrible loss.

The song “Unfinished” (from that album) speaks so beautifully to our experience of not being where we want to be…hoped to be…and the truth of God’s work in us…and for us.

Worship with me.

Not scared to say it
I used to be the one
Preaching it to you
That you could overcome
I still believe it
But it ain’t easy

‘Cause that world I painted
Where things just all work out
It started changing
And I started having doubts
And it got me so down

But I picked myself back up
And I started telling me
No, my God’s not done
Making me a masterpiece
He’s still working on me

He started something good
And I’m gonna believe it
He started something good
And He’s gonna complete it
So I’ll celebrate the truth
His work in me ain’t through
I’m just unfinished

I know His history
And the kind of God He is
He might make it a mystery
But He’s proven I can trust in Him
And yeah, I believe it

Still working
Still, still working on me
He’s still working
Still, still working on me*

Mandisa’s Unfinished reminded me of an old praise chorus  sung by Steve Green.  Taken straight from Scripture, we are reminded that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it”.

With all our travels, we’ve been to some of the world’s great museums. In them, often there’s a painting by one of the Masters…unfinished. The artwork still shows off the fine hand of the painter…but it is incomplete…without detail. Stopped abruptly.

For us, God has promised we won’t forever be unfinished. He will complete what He’s started in our lives. For this reason alone, we are called to be gentle with ourselves and with each other. Reminding ourselves that we all are works in progress.

As for our judging God, in the crush of disappointment or confusion? I always go back to Peter’s words to Jesus (John 6:67-69) – “To whom would we go?” No one…nothing…is like Him.

We don’t yet know how it all comes out…but we know God. He will finish what He has begun.

*Lyrics to Unfinished – Songwriters: Ben Glover and Colby Wedgeworth

Why Are People So Judgmental? – Quora

Why Are Christians So Judgmental? – Jason Malec

Worship Wednesday – Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – Part 2

2014 Dec Blog pics - Stones of Remembrance 002

[Adapted from the Archives]

“…that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”Joshua 4:24

In a stressful week and a spiritually dull time, it’s been good to reflect on the work of GOD in our lives. 12 stones of remembrance are piled on my kitchen windowsill. 12 recollections out of the many times He has moved on our behalf. The first 6 are found here.

7) We moved overseas to work almost 20 years ago. Our children were young and we felt terribly young ourselves with the language skills of a preschooler. On arriving in a beautiful capital city in North Africa, with survival Arabic and the grace of God, my husband needed to find a house for us to rent. It seemed a daunting task.  That first morning, we prayed together, and he left the hotel to begin the search…by faith, really. Even hailing a taxi requires some cultural understanding of how it’s done there, and it took a few tries for him to “win” a ride. Finally a taxi driver invited him in, and off they went. In a country of 9 million Muslims, there were many 30 Christ-followers. In all this huge city, the taxi driver who stopped for him was one of those few.  Over the years, we have known the friendship of many wonderful Muslim people, but on this stressful first morning, to have the company of a brother was a special kindness of God. Housing was eventually found; that encounter was a special grace.

8) Sometimes God’s might and gentle care both shine through a seemingly insignificant situation. After some time in this North African country, work took us outside the capital city to a distant town. Now my husband would have to purchase a vehicle which we had not needed in the capital. Again, like so many seemingly simple processes, this took on a whole new level of complexity when done cross-culturally. The used car souk only happened on Sundays, and the bargaining process was incomprehensible. He was unsuccessful for weeks. Knowing our move was imminent added pressure. Finally, one Sunday, he just gave up. He walked up the ridge to the highway to catch a taxi and looked back over all the business of car sales, feeling hopeless. A taxi pulled over for him, and he got in. The driver said, “Are you buying or selling a car?” When my husband told him that he was unsuccessfully trying to buy a car, the driver asked what kind.  It turned out that the driver had a friend selling a car, just the kind we needed. Random, crazy, love-filled act of GOD.

9) While we were overseas, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It was a lymphoma and, by all rights, should have been cured, or at least arrested, by the treatment of that day. It was not to be so. For three years, Mom endured aggressive chemotherapy. The cancer was relentless. In the course of her treatment, she also had a severe Shingles attack that went into her nervous system and caused her pain for the rest of her life. We came back to the US for what would be her last year. My mom loved the LORD. She never prayed for healing, although we sure did. She only prayed for GOD to be glorified through this cancer. He answered her prayer…and ours, in a different way. Much of her life, she lamented that she didn’t hear GOD speak to her in ways she was sure he did with others. I asked her once, near the end, if He spoke to her now, and she smiled, and said, “All the time.” For her, the cancer was worth it.Fuji002 152a

[Since writing this blog originally, we’ve also lost our dad. He had both Alzheimer’s and colon cancer that was spreading. We had prayed for months that he would not be afraid as he lost his memories and that he would not be in pain in the end. God gloriously answered those prayers for us. We know it doesn’t always work out that way, especially with Alzheimer’s. We are so grateful.]

10) Losing my mom was especially hard, a “severe mercy”*. Losing my older brother was strange and complicated for me. Robert had what I would describe as a self-imposed hard life. He could be rough with those he loved the most, almost taunting them to desert him. Yet, he had a kind heart that would often betray his attempts to be distant from us. He finally did move away from all his family, building a house way out in the country. When mom died, I think the sense of home for Robert died with her. Two things I prayed for him, during this hermit season of his: that he would not die alone and that he would be reconciled to his family. Although we lived far away, we saw at a distance that Robert began softening in his conversations with us. On our last phone call, he actually sounded happy. He talked excitedly about meeting up with one brother and working on a project with the other brother. At the young age of 61, piercing chest pain forced a call for an ambulance, and he, not many hours later, died on the operating table. He did not die alone, surrounded by the surgical team who sought to repair a shredded aorta…and many in his family praying for him outside. He died short of repairing all his relationships, but he was moving miraculously in that direction…by God’s grace.2007 SepOct 046

*A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken – autobiography about losing his wife and finding God in the midst of the loss

11) Our oldest son, Nathan, is a classical guitarist. In his last year of college, he was to perform a Senior recital as part of his requirements for graduation. In the process of preparing for this recital, he developed a tendonitis from the hours of practice. His doctor told him he had to rest his hands for the 2 weeks prior to his recital. This could have been devastating to his performance. Nathan was able to practice the day before and the day of his recital. He was a bit shaken mentally because of those days without practice, but he determined to continue with the recital. I may be his mom, but his playing that day was technically brilliant and incredibly beautiful. Especially given the stress coming into that day. There was a row of us, family and close friends, praying for him through the recital. With every piece completed, it seemed we were more in a worship service than a concert. I filmed his performance, and later as we watched the video, we saw something very interesting. There was a light artifact of some sort, and it looked as if a shaft of light beamed down through his right hand. It was a picture of GOD being  there with Nathan, and we knew He was by Nathan’s performance. Nathan had played for all of us, and for an audience of One. He told us afterwards that his hands ranged from feeling ice cold and difficult to manage to feeling on fire and exquisitely painful…yet he played so well…and so to the glory of GOD.

Nathan & Bekkah Wedding Slideshow Final 060

YouTube Video of “Preludio” – one of Nathan Mills’ pieces during his Senior recital

Nathan Mills – Classical Guitarist, Composer, Arranger of Themes from Films, TV Shows, and VideoGames

12) Finally, the last stone of remembrance for today: being present when someone receives the LORD as her own. Many of you may have that experience on a regular basis. For me, spending so many years in North Africa, I have only personally had this experience a precious few times so far. One very dramatic time was when we came back to the US. A young woman I really didn’t know very well appeared at our women’s Bible study. There was an urgency about her…a quiet earnestness. She was there on a mission. The LORD had clearly been working in her heart and she wanted to settle things with Him. There was only a handful of women in the room, but the power of the Holy Spirit was so evident. While some of us explained how to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, the rest of us prayed…back and forth, as she talked, listened, cried…and then prayed aloud herself. Did one of us lead her to be a Christ-follower? No. We were merely and miraculously witnesses of a redeeming love. I wish you could have heard her pray…so full of humility, and longing, and finally peace. To witness the work of GOD in a life He drew to Himself…incredible.

Right now, as we are days away from this year’s Easter celebration, I am once again riveted by God’s reach into our lives. Just in this past year alone, He has been with us through great joys and great losses, a cancer diagnosis, much change in our work, and the birth of a precious grandchild. The handprint of God is everywhere…even on days when I have to get my heart quiet and my eyes focused to see. He is always near…it just takes us looking…and then remembering all the times before.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:13

Will there be days we forget? It happens… Fortunately, for us, even when we forget, He never does.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 49:15-16

Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – What Are You Remembering About God Today? – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Elevating Our Work – with John Burke and Benjamin Hardy

Photo Credit: Benjamin P. Hardy (l), John Burke (r)

On the weekend, I was catching up with a bunch of friends who gather occasionally to keep relationships up-to-date. The question around the table was “So what’s new and exciting?” That usually elicits baby news, job changes, latest relationship, and emotional or situational struggles. I was completely engaged in what they were all saying…and then it was my turn.

I had nothing.

After stammering over what I could add, I pretty much just confessed to the mundane nature of my life. Vanilla was the only flavor that came to mind.

On the drive home, clarity prevailed and the largeness of the past year’s events filled my mind’s eye like watching an action film on the big screen. More “new and exciting” than I imagined could happen in a year – a grandson’s birth, a cancer diagnosis, my father’s illness and death were just some of the scenes of the last several months.

Then, right there, in the dark car, I was filled with gratitude that a merciful God filled all of that with His presence. Sometimes I forget to say out loud how incredibly good God is to be in our lives…and to never leave us alone in the hard.

Today’s “new and exciting” is that I am cancer-free right now, that darling baby is the star of his own music video, and acute grief in losing our dad is shifting to savoring memories of all our years together.

There’s more though…
Later in the weekend, I read this enlightening piece written by Benjamin P. Hardy. He interviewed composer and pianist John Burke about how he pushes himself to create.
Burke listed out four strategies that he regularly uses to “elevate” his work.

1. Always Work on Something You’ve Never Done Before

2. Map It All Out From the Beginning

3. Apply More Layers of External Pressure Immediately

4. Put Creation Time On Your Daily Schedule

Read Hardy’s piece for the particulars of Burke’s creative habits.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

Burke’s approach to work, in general, and creating music, in specific resonated with me for two big reasons. The first, is that I had seen his system for creating in the habits of our composer/guitarist son, Nathan Mills (Beyond the Guitar). The second reason is that I see what the “new and exciting” had done to my own creative habits.

I had settled into a sameness, a smallness, that had become a prolonged recovery time for me. Healing was imperative, but there comes a time when we gather ourselves up and get back into life. The Hebrew King David’s example came sharply to mind – after praying and fasting for his terribly ill son – 2 Samuel 12:18-20 – at the news the child died, David rose up, washed and dressed, worshiped God, and ate.

The “new and exciting” for this Monday is to take John Burke’s strategies to heart. When a person gets her life back after a cancer diagnosis, and recovery is behind her, the best medicine is to get on with life…with a renewed passion and intentionality.

Thank you, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Hardy.

My husband has described this “elevating our work” with the phrase “Shifting to the next gear”. That’s what I want for this next chapter of my work life. I’ve been driving the service roads, and now it’s time to get back out on the highway. To adjust my life to a greater difficulty and higher speed.

Elevating our work requires adjusting our thinking in that direction as well. [See links below.]

I’m ready to take the next gear.

How about you?

John Burke: 4 Strategies to Continually Elevate Your Work – Benjamin P. Hardy

Persevere – My Interview with Grammy-Nominated Pianist and Composer, John Burke – Podcast – Katy Galli

John Burke – YouTube Channel

10 Steps to Successful Thought Leadership to Elevate Your Career and Your Organization – Glenn Llopis

A Health Blog – 10 Proven Ways to Help Boost Creative Thinking

Elevate Your Leadership – Marlene Chism

To Expand Your Influence, Elevate Your Capacity to Think – John Maxwell

Critical Thinking Exercises: 9 Facts and How They Elevate Your Mind – Katrina Manning

Worship Wednesday – We Won’t Be Shaken – Building 429

Photo Credit: ABC News

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.Hebrews 12:28

The longer we live, the more we have those stop-you-in-your-tracks, breath-catching experiences. Those “Do you remember where you were when……?” moments . Those consummately positive memories like our wedding day, the birth of a grandchild, or that time a guitarist son‘s music video goes viral.

These are not the experiences that take us to our knees (except in gratitude, for sure). What shakes our core are times we are faced with something so devastating we fear we cannot recover – a cancer diagnosis, the death of someone dear, or even what could have just happened in our lives this week.

When the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989 struck, it shook (literally and metaphorically) that community in California…and all of our nation. We had grown quite accustomed to a safe and settled America. A time of relative peace before the wars began again. Since then, we have had so many natural and international shakings, we wonder if the ground will ever again be still under our feet.

John Piper, after hearing the news of the 1989 earthquake, preached comfort and truth on the unshakeable Kingdom of God. As he started speaking, he prayed:

O Father in heaven, it’s times like this in the life of a nation when the voice of the Lord needs to be heard, and you have much to say, and we have little time in which to say it. So come, Father, boil everything down to the bare essentials, sharpen the arrow of your Word, may it sink home to do its appointed work of mercy in the lives of every person here. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.John Piper

The Christian group Building 429 well describes our experience as Christ-followers when faced with confusing and faith-shaking times. In the song We Won’t Be Shaken, we are reminded of the great truth that whatever we face in this culture and the larger world around us, God is always in the mix. God’s purposes are never thwarted and His love and mercies will help us stand, even when the earth shakes all around us. This is not platitude. We know it, because we’ve experienced it. We know God, because we’ve experienced Him…with us. In the darkness and in the shaking.

Worship with me.

This world has nothing for me
This life is not my own
I know you go before me
And I am not alone
This mountain rises higher
This way seems so unclear
But I know that you go with me
I will trust in you

Whatever will come my way
Through fire or pouring rain
We won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken
Oooh Oh Oh
Oooh Oh Oh
Oooh Oh Oh
No we won’t be shaken

You know my every longing
You’ve heard my every prayer
You’ve held me in my weakness
Cause you are always there
So I’ll stand in full surrender
It’s your way and not my own
My mind is set on nothing less
Than you and you alone
I will not be moved oh

Whatever will come my way
Through fire or pouring rain
We won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken

(3x)
We will trust in you
We will not be moved
We will trust in you*

Take time to read the transcript of Piper’s sermon. He closes with this appeal to those in his hearing who  do not yet know the God of the unshakeable kingdom:

Receive the kingdom that cannot be shaken. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you receive the kingdom like a little child, you will never enter it.” See how simple it is? What does “a little child” mean? It means you humble yourself and recognize that you can’t make a place for yourself to stand. You can’t cut it in life and make the future what it needs to be. You just humble yourself like a little child. You recognize that there’s a Father in heaven. You see the gift offered through his Son Jesus Christ—forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life and a firm kingdom that can’t be shaken—you extend your hands and say, “Sinner though I am, I receive it. This is now my portion forever and ever.” – John Piper

Photo Credit: Mariel Davenport

Lyrics to We Won’t Be Shaken by Building 429

YouTube Video – K-Love – Building 429 – We Won’t Be Shaken – LIVE

A Kingdom That Can Not Be Shaken – John Piper

Photo Credit: Pinterest