Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true, crooned Elvis in the 1950s. Most of us have been in situations where people have rejected us. Especially when we have given our hearts to someone or to a special task or a long-time job, rejection by others can feel really cruel.

We learn in scripture that rejection is as old as mankind. Leah felt rejected by her husband Jacob because he loved Rachel more than he loved her. Rachel felt rejected by God because she didn’t have children when Leah did. Joseph felt rejected in Egypt after his brothers had sold him into slavery. He ended up dejected in a prison because men who promised to help him get out had forgotten him.

In the New Testament, a young John Mark went with Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey, but decided to go home at some point in the work. This caused Paul to reject him from a future journey with him. AND, our Lord was called The Stone which the builders rejected in Matthew 21:42.

How did these “rejected” Biblical figures fare after their rejection? Surprisingly, we see that while they may have felt the cruelty of rejection at one point in their lives, God had good plans for their futures. Leah’s six sons became fathers of the Hebrew nation. Rachel gave birth to Joseph, through whom God spared His people Israel. Joseph became a leader in Egypt, second-in-command only to Pharaoh. Through Joseph, God’s people were saved from a devastating famine.

John Mark, rejected by the Apostle Paul, was chosen by Barnabas for future missionary travels, and later was even commended by Paul as a “fellow worker” in Philemon 24. This same John Mark is credited with writing the second gospel. And what about Jesus? The verse in Matthew 21:42 goes on to say that He became the “Chief Cornerstone.”

When we feel the cruel teeth of rejection, we can take encouragement from these Bible characters. Though they went through trials that felt like the end of their dreams, God had different plans, and instead of rejecting them, elevated them for His work through them. We can look forward to God’s purposes for us regardless of the decisions made about us by others. He has the last word!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I can’t move forward looking at the past. Enough time has been wasted already. As Joel Osteen pointed out in a recent sermon, there is a reason why the windshield on your car is bigger than the rear-view mirror. I just wish my headlights were brighter than my tail-lights!

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Friday, October 21, 2011

Staff Infection?

In belonging to the staff of a church—where I am also a member of that church—I have a greater stake in the work I do there because of my desire that the church, and not just my work, succeed.

As a staff member, I have more ownership than a regular member of the church because of the tremendous investment of my own philosophy, gifts, time, energy, and pure hard work in building a program God has led me to develop. As the director of musical groups, I also have a far different connection with people than other members because of my work in fostering people’s musical abilities and theological understanding over a period of many years. The longer the time as a staff member, the more influence and ownership I have.

But, now that I am no longer a staff member, I have nearly no ownership in the church or its musical program. An ordinary member has more influence, more responsibility, and more to possess than I do. The loss of my position equates to the loss of my place in that church.

Ordinary church members cannot possibly understand the pain and loss that a staff member feels when he or she may no longer serve as a staff member. Some say that a solution is to insist that staff members never become actual members of the church they serve. I think that’s a mistake. In order to enter into wholehearted service, I must also become a member and partner in every aspect of church life.

So now, I sit in a dilemma. I wait on God to show me the next step. I’m glad I can count on the fact that He is always faithful.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Out of the Mouth...

An unholy alliance, a nation of thousands traveling the wilderness, and a donkey that talks: quite a story! Numbers 22-24 tells us the story of the evil king of Moab, Balak, and the evil pagan prophet Balaam, AND the donkey.

Balak became concerned for his nation when he heard about the neighboring tribes that the Israelite armies had destroyed in their journey to the Promised Land. This nation was now nearing his own land. Balak didn’t know that God had commanded Moses not to allow any harm to the Moabites. But, because he didn’t know the God of the Israel, or have the humility to ask for mercy, he cooked up a plan to curse this wandering nation.

Balak had heard about the false prophet, Balaam, and sent servants to implore him to come and put a curse on Israel. (This prophet did evil, as Israel later would experience, but in this instance, God had another plan for this unlikely servant.) Balaam refused to go and curse Israel the first time, so Balak sent a second team with a more enticing invitation which included a monetary reward. This time, Balaam agreed to go because God told him he could go if he spoke HIS word to Israel. BUT, as he traveled along, God knew Balaam’s heart wasn’t submissive as it should be to Him.

Then God used the donkey! As they walked along, the Angel of the Lord appeared in the road. Balaam didn’t see him but the donkey did. The stubborn donkey stopped, and refused to go ahead. When Balaam beat him, “the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth,” and finally the Angel of the Lord was able to get Balaam’s attention. The scripture says, “Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes.” This encounter apparently caused Balaam to fear God and cautiously allow Himself to speak only what God was to put in his mouth over Israel.

God spoke through this unlikely prophet four blessings on Israel. The first, “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?” The second, “The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them…It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’” The third, “May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” and the fourth, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (meaning the Messiah will come from this nation!)

Charles Spurgeon writes these words concerning this obscure story:
Ungodly men, like [Balak and] Balaam, may cunningly plot the overthrow of the Lord’s Israel; but with all the secrecy and policy they are doomed to fail. Their powder is damp, the edge of their sword is blunted. They gather together; but as the Lord is not with them, they gather together in vain. We may sit still, and let them weave their nets, for we shall not be taken in by them. Though they call in the aid of Beelzebub, and employ all his serpentine craft, it will avail them nothing: the spells will not work, the divination will deceive them…We need not fear the fiend himself, nor any of those secret enemies whose words are full of deceit and whose plans are deep and unfathomable. They cannot hurt those who trust in the living God.
We can have the assurance that because God has blessed us in Christ, we are blessed, and no one can curse us or separate us from His love. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Favorite Fall Song

Something told the wild geese it was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden,
something whispered, "Snow."

Leaves were green and stirring, Berries luster glossed.
But beneath warm feathers
something cautioned, "Frost."

All the sagging orchards steamed with amber spice.
But each wild breast stiffened
at remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese it was time to fly.
Summer sun was on their wings.
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Door

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Matthew 10:14

Several years ago I saw the hand reach out and snatch the welcome mat inside. I had spent a long time loving that place, the people and their children. I had shared generously of my goods and my gifts. But I still went back.

Recently, I heard the door slam shut when I came near. They didn’t want my brand of ministry, I guess. They didn’t like the friends I chose to honor because of my friends’ love for Christ, and they didn’t care if I stayed away.

The last day there, with a loud click, I heard the bolt slide into place. I was not welcome to return. That seems to be the will of the people.

Yet, with all that said, I know that God can open closed doors. To the angel of the church of Philadelphia, John the Apostle wrote, What He opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelation 3:7.

So, I heard the door shut. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of waiting to see whether God leads for me to “shake the dust off my feet,” or whether he opens a door NO ONE can shut. In either case I must exercise faith. I stand waiting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tell Old Pharaoh!

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:2-3

Americans don’t think much of public school teachers who go on strike to get bigger salaries and leave their students without adequate education. People look down on parents who neglect their children to give in to their own pleasures and addictions. Employees have little respect for bosses who take advantage of them and overwork them in order to line their own pockets.

I’ve been thinking about Pharaoh in the Bible story of the Exodus. He was a leader of a great country. He seemed to realize the benefits of the hardworking Hebrews among the Egyptians, but cared nothing about their plight or their well-being. They already worked at the back-breaking job of making bricks. In Exodus chapter five, we read that after Moses first asked to have them released to go “home” to Canaan, Pharaoh ordered that the slave drivers make the work harder for them, but to require the same quota of bricks.

Well, you say, the Hebrews worked as slaves, not as Pharaoh’s own people. He didn’t have to treat them in the same way he would treat the Egyptians.

But, as the story progresses, because of Pharaoh’s stubborn heart, God brings ten increasingly horrific plagues on the Egyptians. Did Pharaoh at all have his people in his heart? It appears he considered only his own selfish reasons when deciding to put up a fight to keep the slaves in his country, thus making his own people pay the price.

Unfortunately, there exist leaders like this wherever we look. Especially when we hear of pastors, church elders, priests, bishops who rule with only their own agendas in mind, we react to the unfairness. God gave us the picture of “shepherds” over His people in Jeremiah 23 and other places in the Old Testament. The picture of “shepherds” continues in the New Testament. Even Jesus, the great example of the Good Shepherd, showed us how Christian leaders should treat the people in their care.

Pray for church leaders everywhere, that first of all, like Paul, they might have their people “in their hearts.” Paul calls it “the affection of Christ Jesus.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pigs and Lipstick

You’ve heard this saying: You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig—meaning: You can dress up a lie all you want, but it is still a lie.

Charles Spurgeon put it more delicately when he wrote in the early 19th century: A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In a Hole

Will Rogers said, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Why do otherwise intelligent adults seem to ignore this outlook? The farther down they dig, the less daylight they have on the situation, and the worse off they make things. They cannot even hear corrective measures from those who would rescue them and the situation they have created.

I observe that adults in this predicament primarily cannot admit they are wrong. At the first twinge of conscience or the first doubt about their actions, they should have investigated, reflected, and done an “about face.” God calls this “repentance.” But, instead, pride, or shame brings these persons to the place where they begin to “cover up” their wrongful deeds. They use a shovel to dig more dirt, and end up digging further down in the hole. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to get out of the hole.

Sometimes people in a hole of their own making cry out for sympathy from onlookers. They try to reason that this digging is a necessary remedy, that they really do have the right idea. They dig deeper, and before they know it, others have fallen into the pit with them. They convince each other that they can get out by burrowing a tunnel or by hunkering down together.

But God has made a way for people in this kind of predicament to get out. Corrie Ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” He can and will rescue us if we humble ourselves and cry out to Him. He always hears the honest prayer of His children. So, if you are in a hole of your own making, pick up the ladder of confession He provides instead of the shovel of pride. God will meet you on the first rung!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stepford Christians

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11: 13-15

The 1975 movie, The Stepford Wives, has remained in my memory, not only as a very bizarre story, but as an example of how very like the Men’s Association our enemy, the prince of this world, Satan, operates.

The story takes place in an affluent idyllic town of Stepford, Connecticut. A new resident, Joanna, notices how strange all the women seem to appear. They are fawning wives, mindless, and perfect in every way. What she doesn’t realize is that one by one, the husbands of the Men’s Association who make it their mission to completely control their wives, have killed off their wives one-by-one and replaced them with perfectly engineered robots that look identical to the wives—without the flaws. These formerly very successful professional women now think only of pleasing their husbands in every way, and have given up any resemblance to their own personhood.

Joanna watched as one of her more “normal” neighbors seemed to go through a similar metamorphosis. For one thing, the tennis court in the back yard was dug up and replaced with a putting green for her husband. Only when her own family became victims of the Men’s Association, does she try to escape for her own life.

We would all love to be the perfect model of a Christian, not only pleasing to God, but especially to each other. We study the right “moves” and imitate them. We learn to play the game of “church” and never allow our own sinful natures to become visible. To acknowledge sin, to repent, to ask forgiveness takes too much humility. To do that we would have to admit we cannot live the Christian life in our own strength.

While it may be honorable to overlook faults in others and to look for the best in each other and in our churches, to just plain cover-up sin and hide horrific wrong-doing should never be tolerated. Christ did not die for people who pretend to be without fault. He died for sinners, and welcomes anyone who in reality comes to Him in honest confession.

The world, like Joanna, watches us. Anything that smacks of phoneyism is clearly evident to them. Why would they want to join a group of perfect people anyway, when they know their own hearts. We glorify God the most when we rely on Him for His grace to live life according to His desires, and when we willingly acknowledge and repent of our sins. Away with the plastic complexion and the nylon hair, and the mindless play-act!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Setting the Table

They [Israelites] spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” Psalm 78:19 NIV

I know something about setting a table. After all, as a Junior High 4-H member, I earned a badge by giving a demonstration about how to set a table. Ever since that time, I find that I enjoy setting the table for guests more than just about any other preparation. I also like restaurants that use real tablecloths and cloth napkins, the kind of place that says, “We prepared for your visit.”

What does a beautiful table with lavish food represent, particularly in the Bible? I believe that most of all, it denotes a hospitable welcome. In verses that speak of God and the table, we see that the guests are honored by the preparation. Even when we live among our enemies, as in Psalm 23, God says to them in effect, “Look who I love and honor.” You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5).

As a result of the invitation to Christ’s table, we can delight in His lavish provision. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love. (Song 2:3-5).

Not only have I set a table, I have lived in the desert. Oh, not a desert with sand and heat, but one of waiting for God, one of hospital corridors, one of surrounding enemies, and one of unfulfilled dreams. In these places, I come with faith to God, and say, “Spread me a table in this place,” and He does.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

David and Saul

The Psalms with all their varied loveliness, so adapted to human woe, their seraphic unfolding of the life of communion, could not have been, but for the inner crucifixion in the heart of the sweet singer of Israel brought about by the mad persecutions of Saul.
~F.J. Huegel

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Pet Peeves

People who drive below the posted speed limit. This is especially true of old men in hats. If they have a dog on the front seat, it’s even worse!

Supermarket Rearrangements: Why are the Fruit Loops where the prune juice used to be? Can you help me find the toilet paper?

Meetings that are cancelled after I arrive for them. This is downright maddening, especially if they are cancelled because of bad weather!

Packing peanuts: Why do they stick to everything, and refuse to leave the box?

Those sticky advertisements that they plant smack-dab over the picture on the front page of the newspaper.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaching Essentials

After an adult lifetime of teaching children how to sing, I must say that rhythm instruments, Orff instruments, even a piano can be useful items, but the main essentials still remain a good teacher, a blackboard and a fair sized room.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fear and Love

[The Lord] fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him. Psalm 145:19-20.

C’mon, C’mon, C’mon. Go away, Go away, Go away. Most of us have watched children react when they see a clown, or some other potentially scary object by covering their eyes, but peering through their fingers. They really want to look, but they have a reserve about it.

Scripture tells us that we should fear God, but also love him. What characteristic causes these reactions? God is holy and we are not. As James Montgomery Boice writes, “Holiness intrigues us, as the unknown always does. We are drawn to it. But at the same time we are in danger of being undone, and fear being undone by the confrontation.” Yet if our love for God does not contain this fear, we haven’t really seen God as he is.

In my estimation, too many people don’t experience the “fear of God.” Some refer to him as “the man upstairs” or the “Big Daddy.” This kind of familiarity does not show that the person has really experienced the presence of the Holy One. Franz Delitzsch, a German Lutheran theologian of the 19th Century wrote, “Fear and love belong inseparable together. For fear without love is an unfree, servile disposition, and love without fear, bold-faced familiarity; the one dishonors the all-gracious One, and the other the all-exalted One.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Damper Pedal

What one thing can reveal an accomplished pianist from an amateur? Something hardly noticeable, but absolutely essential to good playing—the damper pedal that helps connect one note to the next, warm up the tone of the phrase, and generally nuance the music. However, pedaling should never steal the show by blurring a passage and ruining the clarity of the sound. An accomplished pianist knows the amount of pedaling to use based on the style of the piece and the acoustics of the room in which he or she plays. Harmonic pedaling is good for hymns and chorales. Flutter pedaling works in baroque and classical pieces, and sonorous pedaling (a kind of sophisticated blurring) in impressionistic pieces.

Did you think pedaling mattered so much? Unless you particularly notice, that part of the playing rarely will catch your attention. Next time you watch a good pianist, take note of the ways in which he or she plays the pedals.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Indelible Engraving

Our senior church choir is working on a piece of music set to the this wonderful text.

Write thy blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraven, that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from thy love. Be thou to me a strong tower of defense, a conforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, a very present help in trouble, and a guide to heaven through the many temptations and dangers of this life. Amen.

Thomas a Kempis