Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Sometimes it seems that God is all we have. Our only hope, our only companion, whatever. That’s not so bad! Remember he is all-sufficient, all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, all-mighty and altogether lovely. And because we know Christ, we have it all!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Lamb?

One of the teachers in my elementary school lived on a farm and brought in a spring lamb one day for her fourth graders. The lamb stayed in a small child’s plastic pool for the day, and the other classes took turns coming in for a look. The younger the classes, the more they seemed to enjoy spending time with the lamb.

The next school year, this teacher transferred to first grade. In the spring, children began noticing that she would be having a baby soon. One of the first graders, who had obviously been impressed with the lamb the year before asked, “Mrs. Barber, are you going to have a baby or a lamb?”

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Sweep

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9

As part of a research project, I asked a classroom aide to visit my classroom on several occasions to make a “sweep” study. My study had to do with the focus of whole classes, and to which activities they paid the most attention. For each activity I did within my half hour class, I supplied a seating chart with four indicators of attentive behavior and four of inattentive. This helper was to watch a child for a couple of seconds, make a plus or minus mark on the page, and then go to the next child, canvassing each child many times throughout an activity. I grouped my various activities into general categories to obtain my results.

Based on this anecdotal research, I was able to produce some findings about individual students, about interest in my diverse activities, and about various whole classes. Some conclusions I expected to find, but others surprised me. I learned that when I was caught up in teaching, I sometimes concluded incorrectly.

We can be sure though, that God sees all with absolute attention and true conclusions. Not only does he look at the outward appearance, but he also looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7). Unlike some annoying students who always looked inattentive, but could answer every question correctly that I posed to them, God sees not only our actions, but also our heart motivation. May this fact serve us as a comfort or a warning!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mercy Me, Mabel!

Concert season in public school always stretched me to the max. Not only did I plan the music and train my choirs, but I usually accompanied them too (in later years using a pre-recorded digital piano). I developed the programs, which my creative husband desk-top published for me, had them printed through the school print shop, ordered the choral risers and oversaw their placement, set up the sound system and sent letters to parents with expectations, etc.

The day of the program, I would set up the 75 chairs I needed in my classroom for the choir when they arrived for warm-ups and line-up. I welcomed them and their families before the concert, and had the sole responsibility for supervising the children and keeping them relatively quiet and focused before they went to the auditorium.

Once in awhile, I had a teacher there to help me on the night of the program, but very seldom. Some years the principal didn’t even show up for the concert! I simply assumed accountability for EVERYTHING.

Now in my retirement, I direct two smaller children’s choirs at my church. I also am the church organist and play in the adult bell choir. When my children sing, I can’t watch them, worry about whether they get robes on and off, and if they get back to sit with parents when they finish singing.

I have some wonderful helpers. They organize the children, supervise them, discipline them when necessary, robe them and line them up according to my instructions. At the time of their presentation in worship or at a concert, I simply step up and conduct them. What a joy to realize this kind of support!

Some leaders find it hard to relinquish any control over their constituents. They somehow feel that they lose respect, or loyalty of the group because other people use their gifts to help them. What a mistake! What I’ve learned from this situation is that a good leader knows how to relinquish control to capable people, and to gratefully accept the assistance. Mercy me, Mabel! It’s not all about you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Surprise! Surprise!

Moses deserved better! At least it appeared that way at the end of his story. He had reluctantly accepted God’s assignment to lead his people out of Egypt into Canaan; what must have appeared to Moses to be a short leadership term in comparison to how it actually turned out. He spent 40 years leading God’s stubborn and disobedient people through the wilderness. He judged their disputes, oversaw the building of a tabernacle, and skillfully directed and taught these thousands of Israelites as they traveled.

Now came the time for Moses to finally cross into Canaan—the long awaited dream. In Moses’ own words: At that time I pleaded with the Lord: “O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand…let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country AND LEBANON”...″That is enough,” the Lord said, “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, SINCE YOU ARE NOT GOING TO CROSS THIS JORDAN.” (Deuteronomy 3:23f—NIV emphasis mine). See, Moses had disobeyed the Lord in anger at one point, and God had told him he had ruined his chances for going into Canaan.

But, imagine Moses’ surprise when almost two thousand years later he stood in the Holy Land for the first time at Jesus’ Transfiguration. We recognize Peter, James and John’s astonishment over the events of that day. But, consider Moses! He appeared there too. Bible scholars believe the mountain on which they stood was Mt. Hermon which stands in northern Israel overlooking Lebanon.

Maybe you think a dream of yours will never come to pass. Or, that God can’t or won’t fulfill some promise you have waited and prayed and believed for. Remember, he is the God of the Ages. He sees far more than we ever can, and has wonderful plans for all of us that will surprise us!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stirring the Squash

I hated squash as a child. But, my parents always made me take “one bite.” Trouble was, I sometimes gagged and I couldn’t bring myself to even taste the stuff. So, to solve the problem the best way I knew how, I would stir the squash around on my plate and make it look like I had tried it.

Now that I am grown, I have met people who operate with this kind of tactic in their work. They want to appear as competent employees, doing their jobs well, and performing to everyone’s satisfaction. However, like my behavior when I was a child, they have learned to “stir the squash.”

Under pressure from the Board of Education over low test scores, a school superintendant announces he will add 15 minutes to the length of the school day. Trouble was, he only lengthened the day for staff. The students’ schedule was tied to the bus company’s time constraints. He had stirred the squash.

As a secretary, the young woman rushed around the office, the picture of efficiency whenever anyone asked for her help. Yet, she NEVER met deadlines, and made promises to everyone that she never intended to fulfill. She dropped off her work for other secretaries to finish, in her mad rush to get on to something more fun. She learned how to stir the squash.

When we run into these kinds of people, we should let their examples teach us. If all we want is to make a good impression, then we can stir the squash too. However, if we want our work to reflect our character, we need to take our “bite” out of the work and do what we can to remain honest and competent.


The word “surrounded” carries with it both a terrifying and a comforting connotation. A suspect in a crime, when surrounded by numbers of law enforcement officers usually has no way out. An army surrounded by the enemy stands in a very dangerous situation.

Yet, when surrounded by love and care, a person can thrive and live well. Scripture refers to God as surrounding his people and speaks of the ways his goodness comes to them. Psalm 37:7 says that God surrounds us in trouble with songs of deliverance. Psalm 5:12 speaks of God surrounding the righteous with favor. In Psalm 125:2 we read about the permanence of God’s surrounding love, like the mountains that stand around Jerusalem.

Elisha’s servant felt alone, and when God showed him the hills full of horses and chariots of fire, he knew he was surrounded by the Lord’s protection. (2 Kings 6:16-17). Hebrews 12:1 assures us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to inspire us to perseverance.

Whatever need you have today, remember that God has thought of everything, and has a way of surrounding you with every grace imaginable. Even when armies of evil or trouble look to destroy you, God is able to shield you and keep you safe.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Doodyville and Friends

Those of us from the early Boomers remember the Howdy Doody Show on black and white T.V. My sister and I loved to watch Buffalo Bob Smith and his puppet friends, Howdy, Flub-a-Dub, and the live characters Chief Thundercloud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring,  and of course, Clarabell the clown. I was always intrigued by the name of the mayor of Doodyville, Mr. Phineas T. Bluster. He had eyebrows that shot straight up when he was surprised and his grumpy nature never changed.

Imagine my surprise when I read about another Phinehas in scripture. His story can be found in Numbers 25. His anger over the practices of the Israelites, called by God’s name, caused him to act against their sin. In Numbers 25:10 we read, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore, tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’”

Zeal, a word Scripture extols, is a word that we don’t use very often. It means “passion” and Paul told us in Romans 12:11 to “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” When Jesus got angry over the money changers in the temple, his disciples referred back to Psalm 69:9 and said, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”

Now before we go wrecking furniture or polishing our spears, we do have a warning in Proverbs 19:2. “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the mark.” We see a live example of zeal without knowledge in the life of Peter. One example was his suggestion to build shelters on the Mount of Transfiguration. I have to think, though, that Jesus especially loved Peter for this characteristic of zeal in his Christian life. Paul was zealous too, without knowledge, and killed Christians before he himself met Jesus on the way to Damascus. But his zeal as a Christian helped establish the church.

These negative examples should not frighten us from passionately doing God’s work. God loves those who guard the honor of His name and courageously fight to hold His banner high. And that’s no bluster!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Playing in the Bell Choir

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV

I play high G and A in the bell choir. Because I have access only to those notes (and their flats and sharps), I cannot play a piece of music alone. To successfully play a melody, I need the help of my co-players. None of us has a more important part than any other. We all need each other. The team work involved means helping each other with page turns, giving assistance when a neighbor needs a third hand, and staying together with the director.

Chaos would ensue if everyone played at his or her own speed, or ignored other players. Like the Body of Christ, we need each other’s part, each other’s help, each other’s contribution. When one member is absent, a piece of the puzzle is missing—the melody just isn’t complete.

God has designed his Body like a bell choir. None of us can brag that we don’t need each other. A beautiful expression of our love for Christ comes alive when we TOGETHER offer ourselves as his instruments.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8 NIV

I had some unbelievably obnoxious students. They stood out in the crowd. Teachers all knew them and saw them coming. Yet, we had a duty to teach them, to treat them fairly, and, if we named Christ, to love them. My patience was tried every day for the boy that always disrupted by sitting in someone else’s chair, or who yelled out, or made noises, or stood on the desk. Or the girl that danced around behind me or loved to jump up when I turned my back.

Yet, the Bible says God loved us, even when we lived in defiance of him. Henry Law said of us sinners: “Everything in them is calculated to excite alienation.”

God’s unbelievable love reaches out to us anyway. His love is greater than our sin, even at our most ugly moments. In his, Great House of God, Max Lucado states, “Knowing full well the trouble you would be, and the price He would pay, He signed His name next to yours and changed your name to His and took you home.”

This kind of love ought to inspire us to love those we find difficult. With God’s grace, he makes this kind of love possible.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pet Peeves

  1. Why does my microwave oven beep every 30 seconds after the food is ready, and my conventional oven timer beeps only once?
  2. The use of “bring” and “take:” A person “takes” a package to the post office, but “brings” one in the house from the front porch.
  3. Grammar in general: Don’t get me started.
  4. The page-turns for the organist in choir music: Editors seem to like to punish organists at page turns with registration and key changes, while the choir pauses between verses.
  5. Shrink wrap: Need I say more?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

MY Students

I can remember the day that my teaching changed for the better. For several years, my elementary school had multiple music teachers, all assigned elsewhere, and filling their schedules with classes at my school. I also had a chunk of the classes. This worked all right on paper. The children all received their twice a week 30 minutes of music instruction. Yet, every year they might have a different music teacher who had his or her own style and lesson materials. Although the curriculum among all of us teachers might have been the same, we still needed to catch up the children with our strategies and classroom procedures.

Then one year, the administration assigned me full time at “my” elementary school. Although before I had the major piece of this school, now I had it all. I could claim these 350+ students as MINE. I would be acquainted with what I had taught them and what they were expected to know from year to year. If I slipped up in teaching them in some area, it would show up in their learning. Likewise, my strengths as a teacher would show through as I saw these children year after year throughout elementary school.

The knowledge of this made me proud and I took more of a personal interest in each child. I also felt a great deal of gratification when the oldest children sang well, or chose to continue with their music education with an instrument after they left me.

God must be like that too. He didn’t just want students. He wanted us to belong to him. In that way he watches our progress, takes pride in our faithfulness to him, and someday will present us to his Father in Heaven. He calls us HIS people, HIS children, HIS servants, HIS followers, even HIS workmanship! How privileged we are to have that kind of loving attention and ownership. Praise be to God!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Grease Monkey

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psalm 24:3-4 NIV

I took the car to the service station to fill the tires with air. What would appear to most people as a simple task proved to be outside the norm for me. After I filled the first tire, I noticed the grime on my hand, and it didn’t improve as I worked to fill the others. When I got home, I realized not only did I have black gunk all over my hands, but in smudges on my new coat as well. I defiled everything I touched!

I want the Lord to find me acceptable as his servant. Just as I had to clean up myself before I could begin my tasks of making the bed, or cooking, God requires clean hands before we attempt our service for him. Even though he may have cleansed our sinful hearts many years ago, our hands get filthy from touching the world. He wants purity in his servants, rather than the filth of the world.

God is willing to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness when we come to him. Before you begin your work for him today, make sure your hands are clean!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rolled Away

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Joshua 5:9

Have you ever felt like the Enemy has you in a cave from which you can’t escape? And, just to make sure you can’t get out, does it feel like he has rolled a stone in front of the door. “There,” he says. “No exit!” Circumstances seem totally against you. Against his strong armed tactics you know how weak you are. The truth has been covered up in so many ways that it seems it will never come out, and you will never see deliverance.

In a situation like this, remember two Bible stories. The story of Daniel in the lion’s den speaks of this kind of impossible retreat. Not only did his enemies throw him in the hole, they placed a heavy stone over the opening. Even if Daniel had attempted an escape, the stone doubled his incapability. Yet, God allowed Daniel to triumph, and brought him out alive.

The resurrection story also speaks of a large stone placed over the door of a cave by Jesus’ enemies, in order to make his escape impossible, or a rescue. A dead body hidden in a cave with a stone sealing the entrance assured the plans and cover-up of those who thought they had the power in this situation. Yet, God rolled away that stone too!

Hidden evil, cover-ups, strong armed schemes of man hold no power over the will of our Almighty God. Thank him, and look for his rescue. He can roll the stone away for you, just as he did for Daniel and for his only Son.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beyond Cute

Children are cute. No doubt about it. But, msguided adults, even certified music teachers, think this quality trumps all others when it comes to preparing children for musical performance. The most telling measure of this thinking shows up in the printed program of a children’s concert. It also shows up in the expectations (or lack of them) from parents and music directors when putting a group of children in front of an audience (or church congregation).

The literature chosen for children speaks volumes about the musical standards for this age performing group. It remains my view that children can sing far better music (though not necessarily harder) than directors often teach them. I also believe that children can appreciate far better music than adults think they can. The leader who respects the children in his or her choir enough to choose worthy music will reap the rewards of these youngsters enjoying and feeling pride in their abilities to make “real” music. Children can sing fun pieces as one of many on a balanced program, but making the whole program out of these reminds me of a meal consisting only of desserts.

Children also can sing with good posture, attentiveness to a conductor, and with good pitch and rhythm. One group of singers I once witnessed wandered about the platform and had to be “corralled” by their teachers long enough to get through their numbers. This kind of performance, excused by the expression, “Aren’t they cute?” just doesn’t allow children the dignity they deserve and the standards that we should hold for them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Land of the Living

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

Have you had times in your life when you felt like you lived in the land of death? I remember struggling with the health and deteriorating mental state of my mother-in-law living in our home. When she died, the Lord spoke to me from this verse.

My husband’s health problems over a period of 12 years caused us to live in a constant world of hospital corridors, lab technicians, surgeons, and too many office visits with doctors to count. Add to this the wound care at home and the scary trips to the Emergency Room. Now that his health seems stable, I remember this verse.

Sometimes during a particularly long and difficult period of deadly emotional turmoil, this verse can serve to encourage us. God doesn’t intend for us to live in the land of death. We can be confident that he will bring us, through his goodness, back into the land of the living: music, singing, children, laughter, purpose, health. Praise be to his name.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Modern Musical Terms

●Adagio Fromaggio: To play in a slow and cheesy manner.
●AnDante: A musical composition that is infernally slow.
●Angus Dei: To play with a divine, beefy tone.
●Anti-phonal: Referring to the prohibition of cell phones in the concert hall.
●A Patella: Unaccompanied knee-slapping.
●Appologgiatura: A composition, solo or instrument, you regret playing.

Shining Faces

Psalm 19 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Psalm 8 says, speaking of God, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” But then it goes on to add, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor.”

Could it be that we share in God’s glory? Some say that glory is just grace “grown up.” Moses’ face shined with God’s glory when he came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. Does God still fill his people with that kind of visible glory? Yes. I believe that God intends us to bear witness even in our countenances.

Just like a mirror, we need to reflect God’s glory, but we must pay close attention to the cleanness of the glass. Ask God today to cleanse and shine his image in you, so that everywhere you go he can declare his glory through you.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Playing School

My father picked up an old school desk at an auction and it provided me many hours as a pretend teacher. Sometimes I practiced on my little sister and cousin, or playmates. Most often, however, a doll or stuffed animal played the part of student. I would use the blackboard and imagine how much I would enjoy teaching.

Fifteen or so years later, I actually did become a teacher, and found myself in front of classes of children. In the first years of my professional life, it seemed that the lessons themselves concerned me the most. I would spend hours calculating how children would enjoy the lessons, and what content I would present. I actually did develop pretty good lessons in those years, and felt satisfied with my teaching.

However, as I grew older and more experienced, something else took on more importance than finely crafted lesson plans. I began pondering and reflecting on my teaching to see if the students actually learned the material I produced. Did what I presented yield knowledgeable and skillful learners or did the students only play the part like my dolls?

Over the years I have observed teachers and even preachers who can expound on their subject with interest and skill, but who never seem to care if their learners actually learn. If you teach or preach, consider the results. Do your students actually show progress or are you just playing school together?