Tuesday, September 25, 2012

With Glowing Heart

When the leader of the instrumental ensemble at church read the text of the hymn arrangement they would play next, the words caught my attention first. The great hymns weave theology as well as beauty into their lines. A character in a novel I read once commented, after her first church visit, that the congregation was singing poetry, but it went by in such a rush that they couldn't enjoy it. As I recall, her idea was to give everyone a few minutes to read the text and take it in before they sang. Reading this hymn yesterday afternoon reminded me that she might have been on to something.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, it was the words which first captured my attention. I was quite certain they were new to me, and I wondered the author's identity. The man at the chancel obliged my unspoken query, but it sounded like he'd said, "Francis Scott Key." Surely I'd heard wrong. Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." The bulletin confirmed that Mr. Key did, in fact, write the hymn in question. A brief Internet search produced a list of several other hymns he penned, but this one has best retained its place in hymnals even more than two-and-a-half centuries after its author's death.

Mr. Key, a lawyer by vocation, served faithfully in a lay capacity in his local church. In the first and fourth verses, the amateur poet lamented the poverty of his praise and asked God for help and blessing on his words. In the middle stanzas, he called on his soul to praise God and poetically pleaded his case to his soul with many evidences of God's praiseworthy grace. Although the hymn directly addressed only God and the author's inmost self, overhearing the prayerful testimony and claiming it as my own encouraged me. I pray your praise might also glow a little more for the reading.

Lord, with Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee
Francis Scott Key (1779-1843)

Lord, with glowing heart I'd praise Thee,
For the bliss Thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavor;
This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
Can my love be warmed to praise.

Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,
Wretched wanderer, far astray;
Found thee lost, and kindly brought thee
From the paths of death away;
Praise, with love's devoutest feeling,
Him Who saw thy guilt-born fear,
And the light of hope revealing,
Bade the blood-stained cross appear.

Praise thy Savior God that drew thee
To that cross, new life to give,
Held a blood sealed pardon to thee,
Bade thee look to Him and live.
Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,
Roused thee from thy fatal ease;
Praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,
Praise the grace that whispered peace.

Lord, this bosom's ardent feeling
Vainly would my lips express.
Low before Thy footstool kneeling,
Deign Thy suppliant's prayer to bless:
Let Thy grace, my soul's chief treasure,
Love's pure flame within me raise;
And, since words can never measure,
Let my life show forth Thy praise.
   Text credit: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/lord-with-glowing-heart-i-d-praise-thee/

"Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee":
My Savior God that drew me to that cross, new life to give
The one, full, perfect, eternal atonement worked by the Lord Jesus Christ
The grace that whispered peace to this sinner when she looked to Him at last

Catching up on my Bible study homework in time
Honest, vulnerable group discussion Wednesday last
Reminders that the Lord only allows sifting because something needs sifting out
Learning from Spurgeon about prayer
Finishing a breathtakingly poignant and beautiful novel

Flu vaccine that didn't leave my shoulder stiff and sore
Lunch visit with my parents
The way my dad listens and prays
Seeing them thrive in ministry and time together, gifts of Dad's retirement

Favorite whole grain bread on sale
Excellent Mexican food
Date at A Real Bookstore
Courageous pastor preaching sermon on church discipline and sin's impact on community

Quiet home days to begin slowly catching up on things neglected in busy season
Spider lilies blooming
Acorns clattering on roof (fall has arrived!)
Tired old sagging fence removed and posts set for new one
Remembering the Homegoing of the beautiful woman who set such a striking example of choosing joy in the midst of great affliction

sharing in community with Ann, Laura, and Jen

from the gratitude journal, #7389-7409

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Focal Point

My reading Saturday morning included 2 Corinthians 4. It's a favorite chapter (like Ebony, I say that a lot), but I confess to reading hastily and partially, rushing through preparations for the Living Proof Live simulcast with my mother at her home.

Knowing me as He does, the Lord gave me another chance at getting the hint. In the midst of the first teaching session of the simulcast, Beth Moore starts talking about jars of clay, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, . . . I drew in breath, whispered to my mom, "That's 2 Corinthians 4. I just read that this morning."

The day's exhortations held so many lovely, personally helpful thoughts, however, that this one might have been lost among showier treasures, so the Lord sent a third witness, a man I didn't know reading the epistolary portion in the Sunday service. The reedy monotone of his recitation could not conceal the words I should have been expecting by now. For the third time in 24 hours, from three different translations, once again the Lord presented me with these thoughts from 2 Corinthians 4:6ff (HCSB here):

For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.  And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, and therefore speak.  We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.
Therefore we do not give up.
Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction [Or trouble, or tribulation, or trials, or oppression; the Gk word has a lit meaning of being under pressure, mgn] is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
It appears here that Paul is not enjoying the best of days. He describes the "seen," "temporary" circumstances of Timothy and himself this way:
  • pressured in every way
  • perplexed
  • persecuted
  • struck down.

If he had stopped there, this passage would not be cherished by so many, including myself, as a source of hope and encouragement. Thankfully, he does not stop there. If you notice, the list in the text is composed of contrasts, indicated by the repetition of "but not":
  • pressured in every way but not crushed
  • perplexed but not in despair
  • persecuted but not abandoned
  • struck down but not destroyed.

Why in the world are they not crushed by despair and abandonment in their sorrows? The good apostle explains that, too, beginning with a trio of "so that" clauses:
  • We always carry about the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (v.10).
  • We who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus' life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh (v.11).
  • Everything is for your benefit, so that grace . . . may cause thanksgiving to increase to God's glory (v.15).
Paul and Timothy persevere in their afflictions in the expectation that the life of the risen Christ will be manifest in them even as they "carry about the death of Jesus." They persevere in the expectation that the same God who raised Jesus will raise them and reunite them with the Corinthians in the presence of God (v.14). They persevere in their afflictions for the sake of the Corinthians, in the expectation that the grace they receive will multiply thanksgiving among God's people and thus glorify God.

Those hopes are so great that they do not give up, even though earlier in the letter he had written, "we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life" (1:8).

This chapter concludes with another series of contrasts which support me  in my afflictions more than all the preceding ones, although I grant that my afflictions are so far surpassed by Paul's that they hardly seem worthy of the name. The seen present, he says, involves affliction and the destruction of the outer person, but this is temporary, momentary, and light. The unseen gain, on the other hand, is glory and the renewal of the inner person, and this glory is eternal, absolutely incomparable, and weighty.

Paul looks through the lens of faith and chooses not to focus on the ugliness and sorrows of the foreground but instead to shift his focus to the unseen, eternal glory in the distance.

Crumbles, this finds some of you in quite serious afflictions. I do not mean in any way to make light of your suffering. Nonetheless, I take God at His word. Even though difficult to believe and impossible for me to imagine, someday even the worst this life can inflict on us will shrink to the significance of so many grains of sand in oysters' flesh. The glory awaiting us in the kingdom of God is so magnificent and weighty that it will seem a heap of shell-bursting pearls, overwhelmingly beautiful and valuable beside the bit of grit, yet produced by those same afflictions, in that day light and momentary by comparison.

You are hurting now, but piles of pearls await you. What is more (retreating to 4:6-7) the chips and cracks in our clay jars now are the places through which "the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ" shines out of the believer's life into a dark world. It boggles the mind, doesn't it?
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
May you experience the reality of that overflowing comfort through Christ in your need today. God grant that we may be able to say with Paul, "Therefore, we do not give up."


For myself, I do not give up pushing back the enemy's attempts at discouragement with thanksgiving to my good, strong, and loving God:
~this texted prayer and counsel from a friend: "May His Abundant Grace wash over your spirit as you continue to press in. This ministry of bearing burdens is only possible in proportion to the Grace we appropriate."
~simply wonderful small group discussion at Bible study with two Russian ladies and a young mother I'd not gotten to know in the spring
~the Holy Spirit prompting two friends to pray for needs before I knew of them

~strength for a busy medical schedule and rapid-fire changes of plans
~resolution of three different prescription problems which occurred in the same 48-hour period
~a last-minute opening with my rheumatologist to accommodate a change in Allen's work schedule so he could participate in the appointment
~a good appointment that encouraged us and took two things *off* my task list for this week (still needing doing, but not urgently)
~doctor's orders always to have something fun to anticipate (planned or spontaneous, she said, whichever is less stressful, but have the idea in mind)

~a wonderful Living Proof (Beth Moore) simulcast that could have been tailor-made for me
~enough takeaways for at least a week of posts
~wonderful encouragement from her own battle with fear this year (If this is your struggle, you might find help in a multiple-page list of "Fear Not" Scriptures she compiled for herself and has shared with us at her ministry's blog.)
~Travis Cottrell and team's worship leadership for the event

~unpleasant, unexpected phone conversations which did not catch my Lord by surprise, though they blindsided me
~answers for a loved one's recent medical concerns, even though they weren't the answers we wanted

~electronic and "real" letters from friends
~first tiny, faint hints of leaves starting to turn
~intermittent drizzle all weekend
(#7322-7338 in the Joy Dare journal)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Praise as Prayer

David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals (2 Sam. 6:5, NIV1984).

David pours out his soul to bless, praise, and admire the great God for his lovingkindness to such poor, vile wretches. "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psa. 103:1-4). Thus is the prayer of the saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving and yet is still prayer. This is a mystery: God's people pray with their praises, as it is written, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phi 4:6). A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevails with Him unspeakably (John Bunyan, Prayer).
When the enemies are many and the burdens weighty, I am tempted to white-knuckle my prayers, heaping one "fix this now" petition atop another, the urgency increasing with the feeling of not being heard.

At such times, perhaps even more than at easier, more ebullient times, praise is the habit of heart I need to cultivate. Praise ascribes to the Lord the honor due His name and reminds me of His character and work (in short, His utter sufficiency for the needs at hand). Praise nails my hopes to the God who is great and good. Sometimes, praising God from the truth of His Word is the best weapon to wield in our intercession.

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chron. 20:22, NIV1984).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3):
~For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless (!) in His sight (Eph. 1:4).
~In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves (1:5-6).
~In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace, that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (1:7-8).
~ And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (1:9-10).
~ In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory (1:11-12, this weeks verses).

~results back from the GI biopsies showed no abnormalities except mild, chronic stomach inflammation and nothing whatsoever to explain chest pain or swallowing difficulty (we will speak to my rheumatologist next week before deciding about the one remaining GI diagnostic option)
~eye exam today showed everything stable
~relief of checking off the last medical homework assignment before my next lupus check next week
~strength for an unusual number and degree of obligations outside the house
~sleeping better at night

~release from prison of Iranian pastor who had been charged with apostasy because of his Christian faith and ministry (WORLD news report at this link)
~another faithful witness who loved Christ more than her own earthly life (prayers needed for this worker's family and colleagues, follow-up story at this link)
~the heroic actions of so many on that sad Tuesday, 11 years ago today
~the sacrificial service of our military personnel and first responders right now

~watching the white and the great grey herons soar above the pond
~a bright planet gleaming in the sky between the crescent moon and breaking dawn
Phone camera - the moon seemed so much bigger and the planet brighter in person.
~a pair of new yellow birds taking nourishment from the Turk's cap

Photo: Big Al

~lovely fellowship with the ladies at the first Bible study gathering of fall
~courage to leave my comfort zone for lunch with a neighborhood acquaintance

~Allen's successful completion of a yard project
~record-breaking hot weather finally relenting enough for him to resume bicycle commute
~roses he brought home with the groceries
(gratitude journal, #7264-7285)

To the many of you who have encouraged me with kind, thoughtful comments in the last few weeks, thank you. A crowded schedule has meant inadequate time to respond to you all or even post at my usual intervals. Please know that you are not forgotten; on the contrary, you are daily remembered with gratitude before the Father. You are a blessing. May the Lord bless you with every sort of blessing you need today and with heart-eyes to see and thank Him.

Monday, September 3, 2012

First Gifts of September

It's a quiet holiday here, too hot even to grill out. We're working on projects, preparing for an appointment tomorrow, and anticipating a supper with my parents.

Isn't it funny how we slow or stop our labors on Labor Day? One thing I mustn't ever stop is praising and thanking God for His many good gifts, even the hard things becoming blessed in His hands.

Thank You, Lord, for this past week of graces:
~long-awaited lunch with a friend finally come to fruition
~rare, unexpected lunch and afternoon with baby sister
~talking heart to heart
~wisdom from You for the moment's need
~watching her get purple polish on her nails, laughing over the color

~husband picking up a prepared dinner for us and skipping his gym class to spend time with me after a long, wearying day
~long weekend with my beloved
~putting someone else's desires and needs ahead of my own (definitely grace!)
~all the folks who work hard with hands and bodies, doing labor I could never do and serving with such little notice or applause

3 gifts summer:
~froggy in the garden when the sprinkler runs

~lizard in a jar, amazing the little nephews
~air conditioner working hard in car and home

3 gifts cut:
~fresh treat log diced for Ebony's training rewards
~husband sawing off tree branches that were scraping the roof
~the covenant You cut with us in the Lamb who takes away sins

3 gifts yellow:
~lantana bursting into fresh blooms

~birthday flowers for a sister
~slice of her cake brought home to share

~women's Bible study resuming Wednesday
~this week's memory verses:
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10, NIV1984).
(still taking the Joy Dare, counting God's good gifts #7175-7194)