1433) In God We Trust

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Bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814; painting by Peter Rindlisbacher

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     Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) is best known for writing the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.  What is not so well know is that embedded within the lyrics of that great song was one phrase that also would have great significance for our nation.  Here’s the story.

     The war of 1812 was still going strong in 1814.  In that year, British forces stormed, bombed, and burned our capitol city, Washington, D.C.   The White House, the Capitol, and many other government buildings were in flames, and government officials had fled into Virginia.

     The British were attacking from the East, at Fort McHenry on the Chesapeake Bay.   If that fort fell, the British would go into Baltimore, and the new nation would be in great danger.  It was a desperate situation.

     Francis Scott Key was an American, but he was on a British warship, negotiating the release of a friend of President Monroe who was being held as a prisoner of war.  He had completed the negotiations and won the man’s release when the bombardment of Ft. McHenry started.  He would not be free to go back to American lines until the battle was over.  But what a view he would have of it!  He was out in the bay with all the British ships, watching the pounding they were giving the fort with their big cannons.  Could Fort McHenry survive?  He would know in the morning by seeing what flag was flying above the fort.

     Then, “By the dawn’s early light,” the flag, “what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,” was still flying, “broad stripes and bright stars,” and all.  Key was inspired to write down a few lines of a poem on that back of an old envelope he had in his pocket.

     Later on in the day, Key polished up the poem a bit and showed it to some friends.   They liked it, had it printed on handbills, and soon copies were being distributed all around the city.  A week after the battle the Baltimore newspaper published it, along with the tune of a popular drinking song.  The song’s popularity grew over the years, and in 1931 it was named our national anthem.

     Now for the ‘rest of the story.’  Seldom does anyone ever sing the last verse of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, but in that last verse are these two lines:

Then conquer we must, when our cause is just;

And this be our motto, “In God is our Trust.”

     When Key wrote those words, he had in mind Psalm 143:8 which reads as follows:  “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for in Thee do I trust.”  When he put those words into the song, he called it our motto.  At the time, this was more wishful thinking than anything else.  The United States had no national motto at the time, nor did they have any plans to establish one.

     Fifty years after the war of 1812 the words In God We Trust started appearing on our coins.  Then in 1956, that phrase was officially declared our national motto.  Not everyone is happy about that anymore, but it is still there, and it came from the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, and Psalm 143:8.

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This two cent piece, minted 1864-1873, was the first coin to include the In God We Trust motto.

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Psalm 143:8  —  Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 20:7  —  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 56:11  —  In God I trust and am not afraid.  What can man do to me?

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PSALM 71:1-3:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

1384) Have You Seen the Light? (c)

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     (…continued)  I once knew a lady who, right at the end of her life, ‘saw the light.’  Doris left the little town where I was a pastor fifty years before I arrived.  She moved out to California to make lots of money and live an exciting life, and that’s what she did— for fifty years.  Her mother, Helen, who I visited with monthly communion, was in failing health.  Doris, a widow now, was coming back home to care for her old mother until she died.  Helen told me that Doris might bring her to church once in a while, and she might not; but either way, Doris would not be going to church herself because she didn’t go to church all the while she was in California.  Church was not a part of her exciting life.

     I did not see either one for a while, but then one Sunday there was Helen, and also Doris, who sat through the whole service with her mother.  The next Sunday, they were both there again; and every Sunday from then on.  Then Doris said she wanted to join the church.  I said, “That is great, Doris, but tell me about this– all these years of never going to church, and now, you never miss.  What happened?”

     “Well,” Doris said, “it was something you said that first Sunday I brought Mom to church.  The rest of the sermon wasn’t all that good, but one line got me thinking.  You said that many people make careful preparations for their retirement, which they may not even get to enjoy; and they make no preparations for the rest of eternity, which they will most certainly face.”  Doris said, “That’s me.  I am all set for a very comfortable retirement, but I haven’t given a bit of thought to what comes next.  I thought it was time I start paying attention.  I want what Jesus has to offer, and I want to have Jesus in my life.”

     “Praise the Lord, she saw the light… Jesus came to her, and she let her dear Savior in.” 

     Not long after that, Doris’s comfortable retirement was ended by a sudden, fatal heart attack.  She died even before her old mother, and she was off to what was next; which for her, was now that place where there is “no more darkness, no more night, and no sorrow in sight.”  Praise the Lord!

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James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Psalm 85:8a  —  I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants…

Acts 3:19  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1383) Have You Seen the Light? (b)

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The Light of the World, 1854, William Holman Hunt, English painter  (1827-1910)

Jesus, bringing light, preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door (Revelation 3:20).

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     (…continued)  Matthew 4:16 tells us what it means to walk in this darkness.  The last half of the verse refers to those living in ‘the land of the shadow of death,’ and that is, of course, all of us.  Death is an ever-present threat, so we are all, always, living in its shadow.  We grieve the loss of those we have loved, we worry over the living, and we live with the knowledge that any day could be our last.  And it’s not only people that die.  Hopes and dreams also die, as the once bright future gradually grinds along into the distant past; and so much always remains unfulfilled, and so many plans end in disappointment.  Not only that, but relationships die and hearts are broken.  And even in those times when everything works out wonderfully, and the all dreams do come true, and relationships do work out, it is only for a little while, and then, as my mother used to say, “All good things must come to an end.”  We would be playing outside at the end of a perfect summer day, and even though we knew it was late and getting dark, we would not like to hear her say, “Time to come in now.”  As we walked into the house grumbling, she would say it every time, “All good things must come to an end.”  We got kind of tired of hearing it, but it was, and still is, the truth.  Good times end, hopes fizzle out, relationships fail, people die; and so we all know very well what the Bible means when it talks about walking in darkness and living in the land of the shadow of death. 

     But when you see the light of Jesus, your eyes are opened to his promise that, “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live;” so as Paul wrote, “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).  That truth changes everything.

     There is another kind of darkness.  Hank Williams referred to this darkness when he began the song with, “I wandered so aimless, my life filled with sin.”  I John 1 says:  “This is the message we heard from Jesus and declare to you; God is light, in him there is no darkness.  If we claim to be with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we confess our sins, and walk in the light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”  Hank Williams put it like this: “I was a fool to wander and stray, straight is the gate and narrow the way, but now I have traded the wrong for the right; Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”

     God did not give his commandments to pester us with busy work.  Rather, these commands simply teach us how to best live the life God has given to us, in this world that He has created for us.  He ought to know what works.  So when we sin and disobey God’s commands, we end up in the darkness of guilt and regret, of conflict and broken relationships and troubled communities, and in the darkness of fear and anxiety.  And this darkness comes not only from our own sins, but we are also hurt by the sins of others.  We are all familiar with the darkness of sin.  But when we see the light of Jesus, and obey his commands, life can be built on the solid foundation of his Word.

     There is still another kind of darkness, and this is the darkness of ingratitude, of being blind to all the wonders of God’s good creation.  It is the darkness of an ongoing bad attitude, focusing only on everything that is wrong in the world and in your life.  In every life there is plenty of evil, wickedness, troubles, bad luck, and frustration; and there are those who get way more than their share of such afflictions.  But no matter who you are, if that is all you see, you are in the darkness; you are blind to so many blessings, so much good, and so many promises.  You have got to pray that you, as the song says, can be “like the blind man that God gave back his sight.”  We all know people who have been clobbered around by life more than most, but they still find all kinds of reasons to thank and praise God and have a smile on their face.  That’s a powerful witness.  Seeing the light of Jesus means seeing and being grateful for the many ways he has blessed you.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”  In John 8:12, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Seeing the light of Jesus, then, means:  #1) being grateful for this life and all that is in it; #2) having the desire live how God wants you to live this life he has given you; and, #3) taking comfort in seeing this life in the context of God’s promise of eternal life.  (continued…)

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Matthew 4:16  —  The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Revelation 22:5  —   There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1382) Have You Seen the Light? (a)

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Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams, Jr.  (approx. 1950)

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     Seventy  years ago this week, Hank Williams, Sr. wrote the song “I Saw the Light.”  Earlier in the month, the 23-year old Williams and his band were returning to Montgomery, Alabama from a show in Fort Deposit, a little town 30 miles south of Montgomery.  Williams, however, was unable to stay awake for the short drive because he was passed out drunk, as usual after shows, in the back seat of the car.  As they were approaching the city, the driver, seeing the lights of the airport, announced to the band that they were almost home, saying, “I just saw the lights.”  Hank woke up, and a light must have went off in his mind, because a few days later he wrote what has become a Country and Gospel music classic.

     Just a few months before this, Williams auditioned for, and was rejected by, the Grand Ole Opry.  Just a few months later, he was a big star, signed a recording contract with MGM, and started turning out hit after hit—35 top ten singles in the next six years.  And then Hank Williams died, on New Year’s Day, 1953, at the age of 29, in the back seat of a car on the way to a concert.

     Williams was born with a spinal defect, made worse over the years by falling and fighting.  He lived with constant pain, became addicted to pain killers which he used to excess, and then to alcohol.  The continuous overuse of both, often consumed together, destroyed his heart.

     Williams was to perform that New Year’s Day in Canton, Ohio with several others.  The concert hall was already filled, when the other performers received word of Williams’ death.  It was announced it to the crowd, and many people started to laugh, thinking it was a joke.  But then the band softly started to play a song as a tribute.  The crowd quieted, realizing it was not a joke; and then began to sing along to “I Saw the Light.”

     The song is the testimony of a backslider, living in the hope of repentance, redemption, and a chance to start over.  Hank Williams did a lot of backsliding in his short life.  One might even say he was backsliding all the while.  He was raised in the Baptist church where his mother was the organist, but as an adult he did not talk about his faith, and gave little evidence of trying to live it.  But he sure could sing about the power of faith in Jesus, as he did in this wonderful song.  Whether he was expressing what was in his heart, or just writing words he thought might be popular enough to be another hit, only God knows.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”   “I Saw the Light” begins with these words: “I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin, I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in; then Jesus came like a stranger in the night, Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  Then in the refrain, Williams sings: “No more darkness, no more night… no sorrow in sight, I saw the light.”  That sounds a lot like Matthew 4:16 (which is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah 9:2).

     There are several more Bible references in the short song.  First, there is the part about Jesus coming as a stranger in the night.  The Bible actually says ‘thief in the night,’ and that you will find in Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 5.  In Revelation 22 we find the phrase “there will be no more night.”  In verse two, Williams sings about how he was, “Just like the blind man that God gave back his sight, praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  That’s in John chapter nine.  In the last verse there is a reference to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 when it says “straight is the gate and narrow the way.”  And the main reference to the image of light that is used in the song is in John 8:12, where Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  That’s eight Bible references in three verses—not bad for a backslider.  Williams spent much of his life in the darkness, not only with his drug and alcohol abuse, but also because of his lying, infidelity, irresponsibility, lack of loyalty, lack of faith, arrogance, and quick temper.  But it is clear he did know his Bible and he did know about Jesus.  We can only hope that somewhere along the line he really did what he sang about in verse one, and “let his dear Savior in.”

     Have seen the light?  Do you know what it means to walk in darkness, and to live in the land of the shadow of death?  Do you know what that is like?  And if so, are you familiar with the experience described by Matthew to have seen a great light, or, to have the light dawn in your life?  Do you know what that is like?  What is this darkness?  What is this light?  And what does it look like in one’s life?  What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world?  (continued…)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtolv9kM1qk

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1377) Sunday’s Sermon by Bono and Me (b)

          (…continued)  I realized that the key is in seeing our desires on two levels.  There are day to day desires and needs, and there are eternal desires and needs.  There are many concerns on the surface of life; and those are important and need to be tended to.  But there are also those deeper concerns that are always there, no matter how good or bad things are on the surface. 

            For example, I believe in Jesus as my Savior, and therefore I believe that even if were to I die today, I would be all right because the promises of Jesus are forever.  There was a time, many years ago, I did not know what to believe about life and death, and I was looking for something to believe in.  For many good reasons, I decided to believe in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life, so I am not looking anymore.  I found in Jesus what is true and what I need.  I have already looked at the other options and now, I’m all in with Jesus.  On that level, I have found what I am looking for.

            However, on another level, I am still looking for many things.  If a month ago right now you would have asked me if I had found everything I was looking for, I would have said “No!” because I was desperately looking for someone to fix my water heater at home.  So, that led to some frustration, because I couldn’t find what I was looking for— on that other level. 

            But one wrong move on the highway, and an ambulance ride to the intensive care unit of a hospital, and I would have forgotten all about that water heater.  But I would still be holding on to and taking comfort in that deeper hope.  We’re always going back and forth like that, between the smaller and larger concerns of life.

            I don’t know if Bono had any of that in mind when he wrote those lyrics, but the life of faith is always a challenge.  The song is not only about spiritual seeking and finding, but it is also about the ongoing struggle of faith. 

            I am reminded of that story in Mark chapter nine where a desperate father asks Jesus to heal his troubled son, saying to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us.”  Jesus replies, “What do you mean if?  Everything is possible for one who believes.”  And the man says, “Lord, I do believe; but help me overcome my unbelief.”  Belief and unbelief are there, in the same person, at the same time.  Isn’t that how it always is?  And the U2 song brilliantly reflects the same struggle, describing a believer who is declaring his faith; but one who is still searching, still wondering, still trying to figure it out, and still looking for more– of something.

            Keep in mind those two levels of need.  Deep down, those who believe in Jesus can indeed possess that ‘peace that passes all understanding.’  But on the surface, we still might be looking for more– a stronger faith, the strength to do the right thing, the ability to forgive someone at work, reconciliation with an estranged family member, a little peace and quiet once in a while, a day off, victory over temptation, a good report from the doctor, a visit from the son just down the street who hasn’t stopped in for weeks, or, a call back from the water heater repairman.  There are many different things we are still ‘looking for’ and have not found.

            Now, of course, we have to be careful.  We do have a tendency to want too much and expect too much on that surface level.  There is no need to be always unhappy about the normal day to day frustrations.  That’s life.  And the desire for a more secure income can become endless and impossible to satisfy.  And the quest for good health can become an obsession, and we are all, one day, going to die of something.  And no two people are always on the same page, so a part of life is learning to live with the differences.  And the Bible does say life is a test, and in this world you will have trouble, and God may not want to answer all your prayers and take away all your afflictions, because it is by those afflictions that we grow stronger in our faith and are reminded of our need for God.  So the Bible teaches us to be content, troubles and all.

            The Bible, in fact, teaches us how to live on both levels.  For those concerns on the surface, II Timothy says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out.  If you have food and clothing be content with that.”  The Bible also warns us about wearing ourselves out seeking that which does not satisfy.

            The Bible has even more to say about our hope and confidence on that deeper level.  Romans 14:8 says, “Whether we live or die we belong to the Lord.”  Philippians 1:21 says, “To live is to be in Christ, and then to die is gain.”  The 23rd Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Everything, even life itself, can be taken away, and we are still all right.

            Last Fall several of us gathered here for a few Thursday evenings to learn about Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, especially in the Middle-East.  You have seen these people on the news; Christians being targeted for their faith, driven from their homes, or killed by radical Muslim fanatics.  In the class we read a book and watched several video segments about these people.  We were amazed by the faith, persistence, forgiveness, strength, and joy of these people.  On the surface, they were lacking everything.  If you would have asked them what they were looking for, they could have told you they were looking for peace, safety, a way to feed their families that day, a place to sleep that night, a chance to go home again, and many were looking for missing loved ones.  They had lost so much.  And yet, deep down they were all right.  They were smiling and thanking God for the hope they had within them, for whatever meager blessings they did receive each day, and for the love of and presence of Jesus.  Deep down, they indeed had that ‘peace that passes all understanding.’  They were joyful because they still had what was most important.  They had Jesus and his promise of that place where there would be no more danger, no more grief, no more death or sadness or pain, anymore, for Jesus has said that he would make all things new.

            Bono wrote that song thirty years ago, so I don’t know whether or not he has finally found what he is looking for.  Actually, none of us ever get everything we are looking for.  This life always falls short, and we are always looking for something else, something better, an easier path, or, if nothing else, a little more time.  C. S. Lewis, always one with a brilliant insight into everything, turned such unfulfilled desires into a reason for faith, and even evidence there was something to hope for.  He said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

            Right!  The Bible says we were made for God and his home.  That is what we are looking for most of all. 

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1376) Sunday’s Sermon by Bono and Me (a)

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From my sermon on January 15, 2017

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     John 1:29, 32-38  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…  Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

     The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.   When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

     When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

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            The Gospel of John begins with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.  Several verses describe how John is proclaiming to the people about the One who is to come—the ‘true light of the world’ says John 1:9; the ‘Messiah’ says verse 20; the ‘chosen one of God’ says verse 34.  And then in verse 36 Jesus walks by, and John says to two of his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  The next verse then tells us that when the two men who had been followers of John heard this, they decided to follow Jesus. 

            Today’s sermon will be on the next verse (v. 38) which reads: “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’”  Other translations have Jesus putting the question like this:  What seek ye? or What are you after? or What are you looking for?

            Well, no matter how you translate it, these are all good questions for a sermon.  What are you after?  What do you want?  Do you have it?  What are you looking for?  Have you found it?  And if not, when do you think you will find it?

            Thirty years ago right about now, the Irish band U2 was working on an interesting song about this very thing.  The name of the song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and it’s been praised for its unique blend of American Gospel music and Celtic soul music.  It was released in the Spring of 1987 went to the top of the charts in the United States.  Rolling Stone magazine lists it at #93 of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  Hear and see it below on You-tube.  If you don’t catch all the words, don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on them later…

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-5YC_oHjE

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      This song was written by U2’s lead vocalist Paul Hewson, better known by his nickname, Bono.  His friends gave him that nickname when he was a teenager.  Bono is short for ‘bonovox,’ which is Latin for ‘good voice.’  Bono is an international superstar, famous not only for his music, but also for his humanitarian work all over the world.  He is a one man world relief organization, has given tens of millions of dollars to help others, and is constantly pestering other celebrities to do the same.  Few people have done more than Bono to alleviate poverty, disease, and illiteracy in the world.  He, along with Melinda and Bill Gates were Time magazine’s ‘Persons of the Year’ in 2005 for this incredible work.

            Bono is a Christian.  And his faith is not limited to the water-down, flimsy, ‘God is nice and so we should be nice’ type of Christianity of so many celebrities.  Bono is very outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, Savior of the world, and no one else like him has ever lived; and Jesus Christ died for our sins, because we are all sinners (and not all that ‘nice,’ anyway); and we need Grace, not karma, not some vague spirituality, and not some silly inner voice.  We need Jesus, Bono says, so believe in Jesus and you will be all right, or else, you will not be all right.   Bono is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk that way, and people who interview him usually don’t know how to handle that.  That are not used to that from rock stars.  Like many big rock stars, Bono can also be an arrogant loud mouth, he swears too much on stage (at least he used to), and he has been very critical of the church, sometimes in an unfair and uninformed way.  Criticism is always needed, though sometimes his lack of perspective is annoying.  And Bono would be the first to admit he is still a sinner in need of God’s grace; but he is indeed a Christian and a good man.

            Now to the song.  It starts out like a love song, “I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, I have crawled, I have scaled walls—only to be with you.”  So, who is ‘you’?  We don’t know yet, but it’s probably some young lady he is pursuing.  That’s what it sounds like so far, and even more so in the next verse when it talks about kissing honey lips and this burning desire. 

            But then comes something unexpected.  The following verse says, “I believe in the Kingdom come.”  Wow!  What does that sound like?  It sounds to me like the Lord’s Prayer.  And then we finally found out who the “you” is that he wants to be with.  Listen to this verse: “You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains, you carried the cross of my shame… you know I believe it.”  Believing in the cross that breaks my bonds and takes away my shame.  It is sounding like an old Gospel hymn, which is precisely what Bono and the band said influenced the writing of this song.  He is doing everything he can, he says, only to be with Jesus.

            Now, for the confusing part.  After that verse affirming his faith in Jesus, the song goes back to the refrain again, and repeats several more times, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  What?  It sounded like he did.  He believes in the Kingdom come, and believes in the one who loosed his chains and took away his shame on the cross.  So what does he mean he still hasn’t found it? 

            A few years ago I taught a class called “Rock (and Roll) of Ages” in which I looked at what was going on spiritually in some of my old favorite rock and roll, and country songs (google ’emailmeditations rock and roll of ages,’ #290 and the  following meditations) .  I wanted to include this song, but I couldn’t make any sense out of it, so I didn’t use it.

            But this week, when I read these words from Jesus in John 1, it came to me when I asked myself, “Am I still looking for anything?”  Of course I am.  But don’t I, also, already believe in Jesus?  Yes, of course.  So what’s going on?  (continued…)

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You have made me for yourself, O Lord, and my heart is restless until I rest in you.

–St. Augustine  (354-430)

1264) “Where Could I Go But to the Lord?”

 coats

   James B. Coats (1901-1961) spent most of his life teaching music in public schools in Mississippi.  For over thirty years he was a deacon in the Baptist church, and later answered a call to the ministry.  He also wrote several Gospel songs including “A Wonderful Place”, “My Soul Shall Live On”, “I’m Winging My Way Back Home”, and “Tomorrow May Mean Goodbye.”  In 1992 J. B. Coats was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

     In 1940 Coats wrote what was to become his most enduring song, “Where Could I Go But to the Lord.”  The inspiration for the song came some years earlier when Mr. Coats was at the bedside of one of his dying neighbors, an African-American gentleman named Joe Keyes.  Mr. Coats asked Mr. Keyes if he knew where he would spend eternity when he died.  Mr. Keyes simply replied, “Where could I go but to the Lord?”  Some years later Coats included these words in this gospel song.  It has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, Bill and Gloria Gaither, and many others (see below).

     The hymn asks a simple, yet profound, question:  Where could I go but to the Lord?  This is an acknowledgement that there is no one that can save us but God.  Sometimes we lean on doctors, family, friends, the Church, or our finances to get us through; and all of those things can be tools God uses to help us through difficult times.  But our only ultimate hope is in Jesus.  When we “face the chilling hand of death,” where can we go “but to the Lord”?  (based on a blog by Enid and Austin Bhebe, August 16, 2013 at:  www.austinbhebe.wordpress.com)

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John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Acts 4:12  —  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

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“In the midst of life we are in death, of whom may we seek comfort but of Thee, O Lord.”

–From the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.

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WHERE COULD I GO BUT TO THE LORD?  by J. B. Coats

Living below in this old sinful word,
Hardly a comfort can afford;
Striving alone to face temptations sore,
Where could I go but to the Lord?

Chorus
Where could I go, O where could I go,
Seeking a refuge for my soul?
Needing a friend to save me in the end,
Where could I go but to the Lord?

Neighbors are kind, I love them eve’ry one,
We get along in sweet accord;
But when my soul needs manna from above,
Where could I go but to the Lord?  Chorus

Life here is grand with friends I love so dear;
Comfort I get from God’s own word;
Yet when I face the chilling hand of death,
Where could I go but to the Lord?  Chorus

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For two popular recordings of “Where Could I Go?” go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPexD4ilCUA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w3BOJ5V3nE

1029) What’s Important to You?

Joey+Rory

By Jeff Koch in World magazine ( http://www.wng.org ), February 6, 2016 issue, pp. 54-55.

     Many music stars wonder what they’ll wear to the Grammy Awards ceremony on February 15.  Joey Martin Feek of the Grammy-nominated country music duo Joey+Rory wonders whether she’ll be alive.

     The husband-and-wife team in 2012 released “When I’m Gone” (see below), the song of a dying wife who encourages her grieving husband and family.  Then the song came true:  Two years later, soon after the birth of their daughter Indiana, Joey learned she had cervical cancer.  Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy followed, but cancer won and Joey entered hospice care in October, with a forecast of six to nine months to live.

     Joey, 40, said in December that she hoped to survive to see the release of the Joey+Rory hymns album on Feb. 12, the Grammys, and Indiana’s second birthday on February 17.

     Joey and Rory first broke on the scene with their charming 2008 album The Life of a Song, which crackled with humor, sass, and finger-lickin’ good musical chops.  Joey’s silver-threaded voice mingled with Rory’s tangy harmonies to serve up pithy commentary on life and the music business.  Opening track “Play the Song” employed a bluesy country-shuffle to poke fun at music label executives who worry and nitpick, “It’s too fast, it’s too slow / it’s too country, too rock and roll / it’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long / Yeah, and it’s too bad they don’t just play the song!”

     The execs needn’t have worried.  Joey and Rory quickly captured the ears of critics and fans alike with witty and winsome songs that combined modern sensibilities with an unabashed love of classic country values like hard work, rugged independence, love of nature, and respect for family and faith.  Joey’s embrace of traditional female roles in “That’s Important to Me” (see below) bordered on downright counter-cultural when she crooned, “Having somebody to share my life / loving my husband and being a wife / and being the very best mother I can be / That’s important to me.”

     December’s surprise Grammy nomination was for the couple’s performance of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” (see below).  The music video shows the couple readying for the birth of Indiana, who was later diagnosed with Down syndrome.  On his blog, ‘This Life I Live,’ Rory explained: “During the pregnancy, we never did an ultrasound, or saw a doctor, nor would it have made any difference if we had.  We trusted that God would give us the baby He wanted us to have… and He has.  Out of all the parents in the world, He has chosen us to care for and raise this special gift.”

     The couple’s moving story and transparent blogging have attracted media attention from across the country.  In one post, next to pictures of Joey’s emaciated body and loss of hair, Rory reflected, “Though now, she can no longer get out of bed … you would think she’s her normal self.  Thinner.  Much thinner…  But she is beautiful.  When God begins to take the light from the outside … the light inside just shines all that much brighter.”

     Rory called the season’s first snow “manna from heaven,” because it brought comfort during one of Joey’s darkest moments.  “I want to raise our baby,” she had cried.  “I want to be the one to teach her.”  Yet the sight of snow shot a bolt of light into Joey’s heart as she admitted, “I didn’t think I’d get to see snow again.”  She then raised her eyes upward and said, “If this is the last snow I ever see, thank you, Jesus.”

     For now it’s one day at a time.  Christmas was a treasured milestone.  Rory wrote, “The prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us” for the holidays.  But Christmas Day came and a smiling Joey celebrated with the family— what Rory called “the best gift of all.”  He wrote, “We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.”

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THAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME by Timothy Jon Johnson, Rory Feek, and Joey Martin

 See and hear it at:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/795019008555/

Not planning our day around a TV set
Paying our bills and staying out of debt
That’s important to me

Opening the windows and letting in air
Holding hands when we’re saying a prayer
That’s important to me
Yeah, that’s important to me

Having somebody to share my life
Loving my husband and being a wife
And the very best mother I can be
That’s important to me

Telling the truth and being real
Feeding my family a home cooked meal
That’s important to me
That’s important to me

Planting a garden and watching it grow
Keeping it country on the radio
That’s important to me
Yeah, that’s important to me

Always having you to hold
Being beside you when we grow old
And they plant us ‘neath that big old tree
That’s important to me

Believing our dreams will take us somewhere
Still being ourselves if we ever get there
That’s important to me

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Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

I Thessalonians 4:11-12  —  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life:  You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —   Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

–Psalm 23:4a

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Here are three more songs by Joey + Rory:

This Song’s for You:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/vb.15044507815/752335671505/?type=2&theater

If I Needed You:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2WrfeHK3Yw

A video of daughter Indiana:

https://www.facebook.com/joeyandrory/videos/vb.15044507815/10153170492687816/?type=2&theater

When I’m Gone:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcpjSMmWUDw

970) Peace on Earth?

Varvel

San Bernardino, California; December 2, 2015

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     As in the picture above, the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day expresses the sad message that “there is no peace on earth.”  The song was originally written as a poem, Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).  Longfellow’s first wife, Mary, died in 1835 at the age of 22 after a miscarriage.  He was deeply saddened by her death, writing “One thought occupies me night and day…  She is dead — She is dead!  All day I am weary and sad.”  Eight years later he married Frances Appleton, and they had six children.  In an accident at their home in 1861 Frances’ dress caught fire and she was badly burned.  Longfellow was also severely burned as he tried to save her.  Frances died the next day, and though Longfellow’s burns healed, he was again heartbroken.  That was the same year the American Civil War broke out and for four years the nation was torn apart by that long nightmare.  In November of 1863 Longfellow’s son Charles was severely wounded in a battle in Virginia.  

     On Christmas day of that year Longfellow heard the church bells ringing and wrote Christmas Bells.  The poem expresses his despair, saying that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men;” but then concludes on the word of hope that God will prevail and there will again be peace.

     The poem was first set to music in 1872 by English organist John Calkin.  Only five of the seven stanzas are in the commonly used version, but there have been other musical arrangements and other versions of the lyrics.

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Christmas Bells

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!”

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The song “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” performed by Casting Crowns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F756Mjxxrvc

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Luke 2:13-14  —  Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

–From a 1955 song by Sy and Jill Miller

909) Don’t You Wish?

sad pictures

     Michael Greene is a wonderful British theologian, priest, Christian apologist, and author of a pile of books.  Among other places where Michael has served, he was the rector of St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford, England.  While he was rector there, he made several efforts to reach out to the students and faculty at Oxford.  On one occasion, St. Aldate’s sponsored a wine and cheese tasting party for the theological faculty at Oxford.

     As the evening wore on, one of the women on the faculty got a bit tipsy and leaned over and said to Michael, “You know, don’t you, that I don’t think any of this (Christian faith) is true?”

     Michael whispered to her, “I know, but don’t you wish it were?”

     Michael said that she was deeply moved and looked so very sad.

–Steve Brown, Three Free Sins, 2012, page 173.

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I dreamed I walked in heaven just the other night
There was so much beauty, so much light
Don’t you wish it was true?…

An angel took my hand
Said you don’t have to hurry
Got all the time in the world don’t worry
Don’t you wish it was true
Lord don’t you wish it was true

What if tomorrow everybody was your friend
Anyone could take you in
No matter what or where you been
What if tomorrow everybody had enough
The world wasn’t quite so rough
Lord don’t you wish it was true

He said the worlds gonna change and it’s startin’ today
There’ll be no more armies, no more hate
Don’t you wish it was true
Don’t you wish it was true

And all the little children will live happily
There’ll be singin’ and laughter
Sweet harmony
Don’t you wish it was true
Lord don’t you wish it was true

What if tomorrow everybody under the sun
Was happy just to live as one
No borders or battles to be won
What if tomorrow everybody was your friend
Happiness would never end
Lord, Don’t you wish it was true…
Alright!… What a beautiful day!

For official video go to:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cyZvqetODY

For more on this song go to:

https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/295-dont-you-wish-it-was-true/

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Ecclesiastes 3:11a  —  God has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart…

Psalm 38:9  —  All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.

Proverbs 13:12  —  Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:19  —  A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil.

Hebrews 11:16  —  They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

II Corinthians 5:2  —  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling.

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Lord Jesus, you have prepared a wonderful place for us.  Prepare us, also, for that place.  Amen.