The Luckiest Man in the Bible: Thoughts on There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood

Who was the luckiest man in the Bible?

It wasn’t Paul, or Jonah, or Samson.

No, the luckiest man on the face of the earth was a man who was nailed to a cross. Not the man you normally thing about, but the one next to him.

“Lord, remember me when you get into your kingdom”

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Here’s a man who was condemned to die, probably justly. The Bible doesn’t say what crimes he committed, but Roman law at that time was generallly just, with one obvious exception. The punishment generally fit the crime. Maybe this man had been a murderer, or a thief.

But at that moment…maybe it was a brief moment when the people hurling insults stopped to get their lunch…at that moment, this man happened to have the ear of the Savior. So did the fellow a few feet away from him, on the other side.

“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Bad move. This was from the mouth of someone who was dealing with death unceremoniously. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, all in one sentence. He had become one of the accusers of Christ. If you don’t save me, you’re a liar. You have no power to save. You’re a fraud. He didn’t believe in Christ, but in one last ditch desperate attempt, he lashed out, caught up in the frenzy of the accusers below.

But our friend on the other side of the cross had made a decsiison. He had accepted his fate, and had confessed his sin. Who knows how he knew of Jesus’s power to save, but he did. Against popular sentiment too. Everyone at his feet and the fellow on the other side of Jesus were calling Jesus every terrible name imaginable. But somehow, this criminal saw Jesus clearly. Who he was….what he came on earth to do…and what to do about it.

This criminal was humble. The other one was proud. This criminal asked nothing more of Jesus than simply to remember him. The other one demanded that Jesus do according to what he wanted. This criminal knew that he was a sinner, and accepted his fate. The other was was unrepentant, looking for escape from accountability for his crimes. This criminal worshipped Jesus. The other one accused.

Which side of the cross are you on?

Every day, we need to make the decision that the criminals on the crosses made. Some people demand that God do what they want God to do, as if God were some kind of genie, granting wishes to us, the masters. Aren’t you God? Aren’t you an all-loving and powerful God? Then why did I get fired? What did my father get cancer? Why is my child dying? If you’re God you will do what I say. Save yourself and us.

Others are humble. Thy Will Be Done. I don’t deserve a thing from you, but I hope beyond hope that you’ll just remember me. Nothing else matters. I know there’s something better out there.I can’t see it, but I know you can. And that’s good enough for me. Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.

You bet that Jesus remembered that thief. Because Jesus never breaks a promise. And if Jesus remembered that wretched soul, how much more will he remember us?

————————————————————————————————-
1.
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

2.
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

3.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

4.
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

5.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

6.
Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!
’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine.

Starting Again After Tough Times: Thoughts on Nearer, My God, To Thee

“Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise”

This is the line that jumps out at me when I sing the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. The words are by Sarah F. Adams, inspired by the words of Genesis 28. Sarah Adams was no stranger to suffering. Her mother died when she was 5 years old. Her dream was to be an actress, not because she wanted attention, but because she felt that could be a ministry to people. But her health prevented her from doing this, so she turned to writing. She wrote this hymn at the age of 36. She died seven years later of tuberculosis.

The hymn itself has a storied history. In 1901, President McKinley, after being fatally shot, was reported to have said as his last words “‘Nearer, my God, to Thee, e’en though it be a cross’ has been my constant prayer”. In 1912, survivors of the Titanic recounted that this is what the ship’s band played as they knew they were dying.

But when you sing the lyrics of the hymn, you’ll find that it’s not so much about dying, as it is about living. About new beginnings. About brushing the dust off and going on.

The inspiration for this hymn was Genesis 28.

Jacob had just left home for the first time. He had just left his family. The brother he had grown up with now wanted to kill him. His mother told him to leave home because of that. His father’s health was ailing.

So, he set out, not sure of what was in store for him. Years later, he would refer to these days as “the day of my distress”.

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.

For all of his life, Jacob had been surrounded by his family, by servants, by animals, by good food, by a life filled with all his heart desired. Now, for the first time, he was alone, with nothing. He found a stone to use as a pillow and slept on the ground. One can only imagine how many tears this young man, suddenly so alone in the world, shed on that stone as he fell asleep.

And that’s when God gave him His promise. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”

Jacob did something right. He woke up, and then he took the stone on which he was sleeping, and he built an altar. He made a vow. He vowed that if the Lord did all He said, then the Lord would be his God, and the stone he set up would be God’s house (Beth-El), and he would dedicate a tenth of all he was given to the Lord.

When I first wrote this a few years ago, I was reeling from a broken engagement and I was in the process of moving to a new state. So these words had special significance to me, just as they did when I read them after I first left home eighteen years ago, and when my mom passed away fourteen years ago, and my dad passed away two years ago.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. If you’re not, you will be, probably many times in your life. And when you are, read these words again. But instead of reading the ones that God said to Jacob, read the ones that His son says to you:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

If you’ve encountered a tremendous loss, a loss beyond what words can express, nothing anyone says or does can bring what you’ve lost back. But where to go from here is your choice.

You have two choices. You can continue to wallow in self-pity and regret. You can dwell on the past, trying whatever you can do to conjure back a past which is gone forever. Trust me, I know the temptation is great to do this.

Or you can wake up, and remember what it is that the Lord told you. And from there, you can make a new beginning. You can take your stony griefs and raise your own Bethel, the house of God, in your heart.

What does this mean? Well, there’s an interesting thing about enduring terrible loss. Prayer suddenly becomes a lot easier. Why? Because it’s only in the rough times that we realize that only God has the ability to understand us and help us. Like Joseph took that heavy stone on which he laid his head, take your griefs and lay them before God.

Use them to build that altar–that marker in the ground which marks the first day of a new beginning.

No matter what has happened in the past, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, or losses you’ve endured…there’s one thing you can do. Make a clean new start. Pray a prayer like Jacob did. Ask God to watch over you on the journey you are taking. Ask God to give you what you need to sustain you through the journey, wherever it takes you.

Years later, Jacob returned to that same spot. Only this time, he returned married, children in tow, having been blessed immeasurably by God. It was here that he looked back and thought back to that day as a young man when he slept alone on this ground. He knew that God had indeed been with him wherever he had gone. And it was not long after that when Jacob was renamed Israel by God, and that he heard from God Himself how vast his descendants would be, and how from him nations and kings would come.

Whatever state you’re in today, sing this hymn. Think of how despite the loss you’ve gone through, that out of your stony griefs, God is waiting to hear that prayer from you. That prayer that turns to him for help. That prayer that says that you wish nothing more than to be Nearer to Him and to have Him be with you…from your own Bethel to the end of the age.

———————————————————————————

1.
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!

2.
Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.
Yet in my dreams I’d be
Nearer, my God to Thee.

Refrain

3.
There let the way appear, steps unto Heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me, in mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain

4.
Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be
Nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain

5.
Or, if on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I’ll fly,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain

6.
There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,
There in my Savior’s love, perfectly blest;
Age after age to be,
Nearer my God to Thee.

Refrain

What It Means to be “Redeemed by Christ”: Thoughts on Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It

I tend to think of myself as a pretty good driver. Unfortunately, there is one group who does not share my opinion, and this group is the New York State Police Department.

In 2004, I commuted to Westbury, Long Island from Montclair, NJ. It was about a 90 minute drive each way.

Well, everything was fine from September 2004 to February 2005. But in February, as I was driving off the Throgs Neck bridge, sure enough, I saw flashing lights behind me. I pulled off to the side, and a gruff police officer wrote me out a ticket. I was going 65 in a 45 mile an hour zone. I’ve gotten enough of these in my life to know I can’t argue my way out of it—it didn’t matter that everyone around me was going faster than me—bottom line is—the sign said 45, and if I was going 46, I had to accept the guilt…

So, I took the ticket and drove on to work. But one ticket wasn’t too bad.

The very next week, I was driving home from work. It was beginning to snow, so my boss told me I could go home early. I was thrilled. So I got in my car and started driving for NJ. The snow started to get heavy, so I wanted to get home before it got too bad. as I was approaching the Throg’s Neck Bridge…you guessed it.

Flashing lights.

A gruff police officer asking me if I knew how fast I was going.

45? I asked.

No, you were going over 60, he said. Then, he wrote me out a ticket.

At this point, I was starting to panic. These were two 6 point tickets. In New York state, as I would soon find out, if you get over 10 points in 18 months, they’ll revoke your license.

The court date for the first ticket came. I went to the court to fight the ticket. Now, in NJ, they have a racket where you show up to court, and you can plea bargain a 6 point ticket down to 3 points. Like I said, I got plenty of tickets in NJ, so I had this process down cold.

So, I walked into the NY court. It was different than NJ courts. I asked the court clerk where the prosecutor was. She said to me THERE IS NO PLEA BARGAINING IN OUR COURT. I had a sick feeling in my stomach.

I went before the judge and the police officer. The officer said that I was speeding. I said…I…may not have been speeding. The judge took 2 seconds to slam down his gavel. GUILTY. 6 points on my license.

Well, 14 months went by, and my second court date was approaching. And I decided…I should take a defensive driving class, and reduce my points…because once I’m convicted of the second ticket, I’m going to lose my license. But if I take a class…my 12 points would be reduced to 8…since it’s under 10 points, I wouldn’t lose my license.

So I signed up for a defensive class on the Internet. And early one Sunday morning, I got in my car and started driving to the class.

I got about three miles from my house…and…you guessed it.

Flashing lights behind me.

The officer gets out of his car. Do you know how fast you were going? 50 in a 35 mile an hour zone.

It was only a four point ticket, but no matter how you did the math, that was it. Game over. I was going to lose my license. Even with the defensive driving class, I would have too many points. Plus, New York has a law that if you’re convicted of 3 speeding tickets in 18 months, you lose your license for six months. I got 3 tickets in 14 months.

So I had to go to court two more times. And the second time, they would take my license away. It was only a matter of time.

I actually tried taking the bus to work to see what it’d be like. The buses on LI are not like the buses in New York City. My first attempt at taking the bus to work, I missed the stop I was supposed to get off for a transfer, so I ended up getting off the next stop and walking about 2 miles back to the previous stop. Of course, I missed the transfer, so I had to wait 40 minutes for the next bus. The bus was jammed with people, so I had to stand by the exhaust, breathing in the diesel gas. And finally, around noon, the bus rolled into work. Of course, the stop I got off was across a major highway, so I had to cross the highway without getting hit by a car. And I thought to myself…am I really going to do this for six months?

My life was about to take a drastic change.

The court date for my second ticket came up. I was in California when it came up, but I went on the Internet and found a lawyer who said he’d go in and represent me. He made sure I knew that win or lose, I would have to pay him his very high fee. I knew there was no chance I would win, but I had no choice—I was in California, and couldn’t fly back in time to appear myself. So I just told myself, I’ll throw away the money, just so I didn’t have to go to court myself or face the humiliation of being reprimanded by the judge.

A few weeks passed by. Every day, I dreaded going to my mailbox. I mean, I was terrified. I fully expected to find a letter from the DMV. Please come to the DMV right away and turn in your license. It will be suspended for 6 months.

Then, I got an e-mail in big letters.

Congratulations! We got your 6 Point Speeding ticket in the Queens North TVB dismissed. This is a tremendous victory. No fine, no points, no nothing! It is as if it never happened.

I read the e-mail at work, and I was stunned, but when it hit me what the e-mail said, I felt like jumping up from my desk and dancing and shouting it out. I excitedly told my co-worker sitting next to me. I forwarded the e-mail to my friends who knew about my dilemma. The lawyer asked if I would give a testimonial, and I gladly agreed to it.
And since that day, when I drive, I am very, very, very, very, very careful to stay under the speed limit. I don’t try to outrun yellow lights anymore. I signal when I turn. I smile when I see police officers. Because I realize how close I came to losing it all, and there is no way I’m going to get any more tickets.

Well, why am I telling you this story on a hymn lyrics blog? Turn to Hebrews 9:27-28 for the answer:

“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”

We have have two destinies in life. One is to die. One is to face judgement.

How are we going to be judged? We’ll be judged against God’s absolute law. And if the judge finds just one point in our lives that we did not follow that law 100%, we are condemned to eternal death.

There will be no plea bargaining. It doesn’t matter if 99% of your life, you did good deeds. You helped widows across the street. You gave your life savings to the poor. You spent hours and hours doing church work. Your behavior is better than everyone around you. None of that will matter.

If the judge finds just one little sin somewhere in your past—that’s enough to condemn you to eternal punishment. And as bad as the buses are in Long Island, I suspect they’re much worse in hell.

But that all changed, because someone showed up to court in your place. He got the charges against you dropped. All you needed to do was accept baptism. And the moment you come up out of the waters of baptism, it’s just like this e-mail says. It’s like it never happened. From the largest sin to the smallest. they’re not charged against you anymore. you don’t need to fear the judge anymore, because the court has dropped all charges against you.

Do you believe this has happened to you?

If so, jump up and dance for joy!
Tell your friends!

And just like I do when I get in my car every day…every single day, remember how you were once condemed to lose everything—not your drivers license, but your hope for eternity.

Remember how Jesus Christ went in your place and my place to the court and got all the charges dropped…through his suffering and his blood. He did this even though you and I didn’t deserve it. You and I should not have any hope. But we do. Against all odds and all logic, he gave you and me a second chance.

Knowing all this, how can we in good conscience even dream of breaking his law again?

And how can we not be filled with joy? See 1 Peter 1:8:

Though you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy..for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”:

So…take a moment to reflect on the enormity of what it really means to “be saved”.

Tell the world about it

E-mail your friends

Remind yourself that your salvation was not your right…it’s a privilege that was bought with blood

Obey God’s law, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because you feel so overwhelmingly grateful for this privilege that you would feel so shameful to continue to break the law after you have already been forgiven

And wake up every morning, remembering the one who got your charges dropped and who lets you start your life fresh, with promises that are new every morning.

1.
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.

Chorus
Redeemed, redeemed,
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed, redeemed,
His child and forever I am.

2.
Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
No language my rapture can tell;
I know that the light of His presence
With me doth continually dwell.

Chorus

3.
I think of my blessèd Redeemer,
I think of Him all the day long:
I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song.

Chorus

4.
I know there’s a crown that is waiting,
In yonder bright mansion for me,
And soon, with the spirits made perfect,
At home with the Lord I shall be.

Chorus

Being in Love: Thoughts on In the Garden

Have you ever been in love?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

What’s it like when you fall in love?

You know you’re in love when…

You think of that person every single day.

At random moments in the day, that person’s face pops up in your head

You can’t wait to speak to that person on the phone. Maybe you talk for hours, just to hear this person’s voice.

If you receive a letter from that person. You open it with anticipation…then you read it over and over again. When you get to the end of the letter, you’re disappointed, you just wish it would go on.

And if this person writes something giving the slightest indication that they feel the same way about you, it can make your whole day brighten up.

You can’t wait to see this person. The time you spend together seems to go by quickly. Hours go by like minutes. You wish you could be with this person all the time.

Even the quirks–those things about this person you don’t understand—you love anyway. In fact, those things make you love this person more.

And when you have misunderstandings—you work through them. You try to understand each other’s point of view, and you make compromises—meeting in the middle in a way that both sides are satisfied.

Does this sound about right?

Okay, now let me ask you this.

If I were to ask you, do you love Jesus Christ, what you would say?

I think all of us would say…yes, of course I love Him.
I go to church, I pray, I read the Bible. I even do church work.

But let me ask you again. Do you love Him?

Do you think of Him every single day?
At random moments in the day, does His face pop into your head?

Do you look forward all day to that moment of time at night when you can kneel in quietness and meet him in prayer? Do you hear the sound of His voice, so sweet that the birds hush their singing?

How about the love letter that God wrote to you? Do you open it with anticipation? Do you read it over and over again? I’m talking about the Bible of course. And every time that the Bible mentions how much God loves you, does that make your whole day brighten up?

And how about those moments when you are in God’s presence? Family altar time at home. Or church services. Do you feel that the time you spend with God goes by quickly, or do you feel that it just drags on and on?

And what happens when you and God have misunderstandings or disagreements? Do you just throw up your hands, and say, “God is God—he’ll do whatever he wants…i’m just a pawn in his big chess game…”. Or do you get on your knees and spend time to communicate to him. “God, I love you. I want to understand where you’re coming from, even if we have to talk all night. I am not happy with you, but because I love you, and I know you love me, I think we can work things out”.

Think through these questions…and then ask yourself again…do I really love God?

The Bible uses two kinds of love to describe God’s love.
The Bible describes God’s love as the love of a Father. We are God’s children.
The Bible also describes God’s love as the love of a Husband. We, the church, are God’s bride.

And as deep as human love feels to us sometimes…remember one thing—human love is just physical and emotional. But the love we have with God is spiritual. So human love is only a shadow…only a mere approximation of what God’s love is. Because human love is finite, but God’s love is infinite.

I think a lot of us did experience this kind of love when we first came to Christ. I know after I received the Holy Spirit 20 years ago, I made myself a firm commitment. I will pray every day…I will study God’s word inside and out…I will do work for him joyfully…not because I have to…not because anyone’s telling me to…not because I want anything from God in exchange…but only because…I love him

Over the years, things have changed. And so, I realize. I say I love God. But I don’t really.

It’s the same that happened to the church in Ephesus.

Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the high from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Do you love God?
Does your church love God, like a bride waiting to marry her husband?

Imagine for a second, an engaged couple. Imagine a bride who suddenly feels that spending time with her fiancé was boring and burdensome. Imagine if this bride dreaded having to talk to him on the phone…and felt no joy when she was around him…if she felt this way, should the wedding go on?

Well, as a church…if our worship of God becomes dry and feels burdensome…If we don’t look forward to prayer…If we don’t feel joy when we’re in the presence of God. Then we’re like that bride, and we’re not ready to be married.

I think it’s important for us as a church, and this means each of us individually as members of the church—to remember our first love.

And what this means is each one of us stepping back first and rediscovering his love for you and me.

You see, Jesus Christ is exactly the same as He was when we first committed to him

It’s we who have changed. It’s our lives which have become complicated. It’s we who have wandered away from him.

But the funny thing is…he still loves us anyway…he always has.

He still thinks about us every day
He still can’t wait for the moments that we decide to take time to talk to him
He cherishes the moments that we spend in his presence

So, as a bride, let’s wake up
Let’s remember back to the moment when we first accepted Jesus into our lives.

Start over. Forget what lies behind…forget whatever happened since that day that has separated you from him…If a sin has caused you to be separated from him, repent of that sin and leave it. If TV or Internet or work has separate you from him, cut back on those things and spend some more time with him. And if a person has disappointed you, and caused your faith to fall…remember one thing. Whatever this person said or did—those words and actions came from another human being, not from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is exactly the same as the day you committed yourself to him.

Toss aside everything that has caused you to forget your first love, and let’s prepare for the wedding day that’s written about in Revelation 19:7:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory
For the wedding of the Lamb has come
and His bride has made herself ready
fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear
(fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)

“In the Garden” is one of the nicest love songs ever written.

Now, when we hear the term ‘love song’ we tend to think of songs about physical love…the songs you hear on the radio…”baby, baby, this” and “jiggy, jiggy that”

But those songs aren’t really about love. Or if they are, it’s love on a very superficial level.

But hymns are the greatest love songs, because they’re about a pure, spiritual love–the love that God has for us. The love that all other love is modeled after. Whatever else people call “love”, it’s just a mere shadow of God’s love.

And with this hymn, think about it from a spiritual sense.

It’s about two who love each other meeting in a peaceful, quiet garden in the early morning.

A voice calls to the other.

They walk together

They talk together

They express how deeply they love each other.

Their hearts are filled with such joy, they don’t want to leave.

So the next time you kneel down to pray, don’t just present your laundry list of requests to God. Don’t ramble off platitudes and meaningless repetitions. Instead, plan a trip to the garden, where you can walk, and talk, and be together alone with the One who loves you more than anyone has ever loved you.

————————————————————

1.
I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses,

Chorus
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
and the Joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

2.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing,

Chorus

3.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go;
through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

Chorus

The Greatest Gift a Parent Can Give a Child: Thoughts on Precious Memories

Growing up, our family used to take a vacation every summer. We’d pack up the car and drive out for a week.

There were certain rituals that developed in our vacations.

I don’t know why, but I always loved to stay in the high floors of hotels. I guess I like to look out on the panoramic view. Well, whenever we’d check into a hotel, my dad would check in, and then as the clerk was choosing a room for us he’d announce, “My little son wants to stay on the top floor”. The person at the desk, of course, would smile as my face would get beet red, and give us the top floor. I knew that secretly, dad wanted to stay on the top floor too.

We did a lot of fishing. I think this is where my big brother, now a big ophthalmologist and avid fly fisherman, developed his love for fishing. We’d go out on a boat on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, and catch a bunch of sunnies.

We each did different things to preserve our memories. My mom took pictures. A lot of pictures. And her rule was, every single picture had to have a human being in it. Even if it was of a flower or a sign or a landmark, we had to somehow figure out how to get the family in the picture.

My sister wrote copious journals. This was well and good, until we got to our teenage years. Then, I knew she was just writing about how stupid little brother was today.

Me? I collected junk. Hotel shampoo, hotel stationery, free postcards. I’d keep them in a bag and store them away, opening them up every now and then to smell the smell of the hotel room (which, now that I’m old, I know is just cheap deodorizer…but back then, the smell was vacation magic).

We got to see a lot of things over the course of twenty years. My first live baseball game in Minneapolis. The Lamplighter Inn, a quaint little hotel in New Hampsire and Lake Sunapee. We saw Disney World, of course. We Niagara Falls and the CN Tower in Toronto. We visited Dad’s college in Texas, and the church in Chicago where Dad and Mom got married. We took in Luray’s Cavern in Virginia, went fishing in Minneapolis, and ate lobster in New England.

When I look back, though, it’s not what we saw that sits in my heart. It’s not what we did, it’s not the junk I collected, or how beautiful the photos we took were.

It’s the smiles. The laughter. The security of sleeping in the back seat of the car knowing that a loving father had everything under control. The security of hearing the humming of the hotel air conditioner in the middle of the night, knowing that a family filled with love surrounded me.

In other words, family vacations were all about love.

A father and a mother can work all their lives to leave their children an inheritance. Some leave them a lot of money, others real estate, others a business to run. Others push their children to become rich, or highly educated, or successful.

This is all very well and good. But money will be spent, real estate will be sold, and businesses will pass on to others. Wealth and education and success eventually fade away. But what is the only inheritance that will never fade away?

It’s the thing that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 13:9. It’s the one thing that never ends.

Love.

And God created something very wonderful to package that love in, so that you can carry it with you wherever you go and forever. He created precious memories.

If you’re a parent, or you teach kids in your church, or you’re just a friend to young people, remember one thing. Your duty is to leave a legacy for your kids. But what is the most precious thing you can give them? It’s not knowledge. It’s not a physical inheritance. The most precious thing you can give them are those precious memories. Create them now. Because everything else will pass away, but those memories will follow them for the rest of their lives, and into eternity.

———————————————————————————————————————
1.
Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul;
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfold.

Refrain
Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul;
In the still ness of the midnight,
Precous, sacred scenes unfold.

2.
Precious father, loving mother,
Fly across the lonely years;
And old homescenes of my childhood,
In fond memory appears.

Refrain

3.
In the stillness of the midnight,
Echoes from the past I hear;
Old time singing, gladness bringing,
From that lovely land somewhere.

Refrain

4.
As I travel on life’s pathway,
Know not what the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope grows fonder,
Precious memories flood my soul.

Refrain

Understanding the Artist by Looking at His Art: Thoughts on This is My Father’s World, Part II

I went to the Huntington Library in Southern California one Sunday on that same trip that I saw the wonderful sunset. One of my dear friends, Professor Li of Cal State Long Beach, brought me there, accompanied by his wife and one of his fellow professors.

It was an awesome day. For literally the first time in the few months I’d been in Southern California, the sky was a clear blue (no smog!). The sun was out, and there was also a cool breeze.

We started with “English Tea”. To picture what this is, just imagine a Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast. Then, imagine what the exact opposite of that is. Tea, finger sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and little fruit tarts with impeccably fresh fruit. Fancy-schmancy, to be sure, but to quote my little niece, “it was sooooo yummy”. And quite sophisticated!

Anyway, the Huntington Estate is a place to behold. I’ve been to other places like this in Russia, Paris, China and New York, but this one had its own uniqueness. Walking in, you immediately saw a bright arrangement of pansies and poppies in every color of the rainbow. There was a Japanese Tea Garden with a beautiful vista overlooking a pond with bright orange Koi fish. There was an herb garden where you could pick and smell herbs (I got to smell “hyssop” for the first time in my life). There’s the world’s biggest cactus garden with every variety of cacti you can imagine, in all kinds of intricate shapes and sizes and beautiful flowers. There were places where you could breathe in and experience absolutely glorious scents from fragrant flowers and plants.

I saw a hummingbird for about the second time in my life. As I pointed to it, it darted out of sight just as quickly as it appeared. There were beautiful bamboo stalks that were shiny and bright green, and about 10 inches in diameter. There was an incredible little red flower that consisted of two round petals, each interlocking perfectly symmetrically.

The magnolias were in full bloom, as were the azaleas and the pink cherry blossoms. The bright red Camellia flowers were too (I showed my cultural ignorance by failing to identify the tune that Professor Li was humming as from Verdi’s La Traviata, which of course was adapted from Dumas’ novel The Lady of the Camelias. Professor Li’s professor friend gave the right answer. Needless to say, I hung my head in shame).

After this, we went into a gallery with a nice art exhibition of British and American paintings of the 19th century. Some paintings were carefree, others deep and pensive, others downright disturbing. I’m no art aficionado, but looking at many of the paintings, I started to understand what the life of many of the artists must have been like. In so many cases, the artist put so much of himself into his painting that you could immediately understand a great deal about the artist just by looking at his work. Just by looking at different aspects of the painting, from the subject matter to the composition to even the individual brush strokes, you could glean clues about the artist himself.

Well, driving home that night, I saw a brilliant sunset over the mountains–the second beautiful sunset of that trip. And then it hit me.

Why do I love nature so much?

There are those who roll their eyes whenever I pontificate about a beautiful sunset or a sky full of stars. They tell me that these are just boring things that you can see anytime, and they don’t see the attraction. Then, they rush home to play their video games or watch TV. Well, I don’t fault these folks, but I wish they could understand what they’re missing.

I think I love nature so much because by looking at the creation, it tells me so much about the one who created it. God is the greatest artist ever. And God put so much of himself into everything that he created. He is in each flower petal and in each hummingbird and in the scent of a fresh rose and in the red hues of the sunset. And the most amazing thing is that he created these things out of love. He created these things for us. And while some try to understand God by doing deep research into theology or philosophy, sometimes I think you can learn a lot more about God just by opening your eyes and enjoying His creation.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…

– Romans 1:20

———————————————————————————————
1.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

2.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

3.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

4.
This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

5.
This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

6.
This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

Slow Down or You’ll Miss the Best Parts of Life: Thoughts on This is My Father’s World, Part I

A few years ago I took a business trip to Southern California. I had some extra time one night, and I had a pretty nice car–Hertz automatically upgraded me to a Ford Escape. So I decided to take the name of the car to heart and to drive where the road would take me. I just zipped down Interstate 5, and instead of getting off at my usual exit, I just decided to shoot straight down.

My ultimate goal was Mexico, but I decided I didn’t have time. It was about an hour away from sunset, so I decided to try to find a nice place to watch. Back then, I could always see the sun rise over Manhattan from my apartment window, but watching the sun set over the Pacific is a treat I don’t get to see very often.

So I pulled off to La Jolla (luckily, someone told me how to pronounce it before I got there). The beach was pretty crowded, as you might imagine. I drove and drove, and finally found parking. Everyone seemed to be there to watch the sunset. A lady with a camcorder was even recording it. I climbed down onto a rock and sat there.

The sunset was beautiful, as you might imagine. The sun just slowly inched its way down until it was nearly gone. Then, with a brilliant last gasp, it disappeared under the horizon. Instantly, most of the people in the crowded beach started to noisily make their ways back to their cars. The lady shut off her camcorder.

I decided to wait there. Soon, it was just me and a few people here and there. Pretty soon after that, it was just me.

After a few minutes, I started to get up myself. Then, I looked back at the horizon. The clouds over the horizon were absolutely glowing with a bright red streak across the sky. As darkness set, the sky was filled with the most amazing colors you can imagine, from a deep dark blue up top to peach color, to an orange color. The color of the waves changed from a dark green to a dramatic black. The sand sparkled under the waves. Soon after that, a single star appeared on the horizon. Then, the skies above were filled with them. I closed my eyes and thanked God for letting me be part of his creation.

I think about all those people who left, thinking the sunset was over the instant the sun disappeared. I think about all they missed. Then, I thought about our lives. Sometimes, in our fast food culture of instant gratification, we are so busy rushing to the next blessing that we forget to relax and to just appreciate the fullness of all the blessings that we already have. We spend so much time rushing to “tomorrow” that we forget about “today”. We forget that this world, and our lives, are creations of God, and that God is the ultimate designer of everything in the world that is beautiful.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, and in your life. Enjoy it.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

(Job 38:5-8)

——————————————————————————

1.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

2.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

3.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

4.
This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

5.
This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

6.
This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

 

Don’t Praise God Because You Have To, Praise God Because He’s God: Thoughts on How Great Thou Art

My niece Katie just turned 13, which means that I turned an age that I’d rather not think about.

When my Katie was just about 24 months old, I used to love to pick her up and she loved being picked up. She had just learned to talk around that time; she’d only say individual Chinese words here and there, mostly at random just to identify things she was pointing at. My sister-in-law, of course, was “mama”. She made up a new name for my brother–instead of the traditional “baba”, she called her dad “baaah beeee”! The word for “aunt” is “gu gu”, but since she couldn’t pronounce Gs, my sister was “doo dooooo!”. I, of course, was “suu suu”, or “uncle”.

One day we were in church…I was the only one in the room with her, so I picked her up to take her outside. As soon as I picked her up, I heard a little voice out of nowhere.

“suu suu how dwong!”

I turned around…wha? Who was that? Who said that? But there was no one around. Then I looked down into my arms. There was little Katie, by then she got distracted and was already turning her head to looking around at other things in the sky.

Now, this is the first time I’d ever heard her put a complete sentence together. And the sentence translated into English goes something like, ahem, “Uncle is so strong!”

I chuckled at her and gave her a big hug…what a little sweet talker!

Funny thing is, the rest of the day, I felt really good. Now in actuality, I wasn’t really all that strong…she was about the size and weight of a small bag of supermarket rice at that point. But in her eyes, after I picked her up, I might as well have been Mr. Universe.

There is something very innocent and very precious about the praise of a child. It’s pure. There are no ulterior motives. Their ability to praise hasn’t been hindered by years and years of being whittled down by life. No one has to put them up to it. They just observe something, and say it.

I sometimes think. When we kneel down and pray before God, what do we say to him? Usually, we ask him for this, we complain about that, we stare at our watches to see if the twenty minutes we allotted to prayer are up. How sad he must feel sometimes.

What we need to do is to learn how to once again look at God through the eyes of a child. Imagine the joy we can bring to our Heavenly Father, How happy would he feel if we could just tell him how wonderful he is. If we could just blurt out, “God is so strong!” for no other reason except…He is.

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
-Matthew 21:16

1.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed!

Chorus
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

2.
When thru the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.

Chorus

3.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scare can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin!

Chorus

4.
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

Chorus

About the ministry of a friend of mine

I don’t talk too much about my own church on this blog, partially because this site is intended to be for all Christians and not those of a particular denomination, but also because while I love my church, I haven’t been very happy with its leadership in the last few years. I won’t get into the grisly details, but one thing they’ve done that has really, really gotten me ticked off is how they’ve treated a man I admire more than just about any other person in the world.

He was an ordained minister in our church, who worked tirelessly for God, and whom, every time I hear him speak, I can feel the power of the Spirit in his words. And while I don’t speak the same language he speaks (he speaks Mandarin and French), and we only see each other maybe once every few years, I consider him a dear friend.

Last year, my friend was suddenly fired from his post as minister. To this day, I don’t understand what happened. His only crime, it appears, is that some of his preaching veered off from the very strict orthodoxy that our church “officially” approves of. It seems that few “wise” men in the leadership of the church decided that it was “heresy” and worse, those who were in the church who should have spoken up on his behalf were silent.

In all honesty, I’ve heard his so-called “controversial” preaching. His is a preaching style that encourages people to think, instead of just indoctrination by repeating the same things over and over. That’s what makes him “dangerous”, I suppose. But as I think about it, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, what shows the greater lack of faith–those who encourage people to question with boldness or those who encourage people to stay silent with blindfolded fear?

What I admire more about my friend is that he continued to serve the Lord. He’s not a rich man (none of the ministers in our church are), but he continued to preach the gospel in China, in the French-speaking parts of Africa, and in his home of France. And the remarkable thing is, he hasn’t let himself be overcome by evil, but he is overcoming evil with good.

I don’t get to hear many details of my friend’s ministry, but a few days ago another friend of mine posted letters he received from my friend while ministering in the regions of Rwanda and the Congo. These are areas of the world that have been racked by poverty and war, and to this day it’s dangerous to go there, especially for a foreigner. But my friend still goes there because our church members there are desperate to hear the gospel.

Usually, reports of his trips are in Chinese, but in this case they’ve been translated into English. You can read them here:

http://www.seventhousand.net/en/node/482

I feel amazed and in some cases ashamed when I read the accounts of his ministerial trips. Here I am in my air conditioned room, with my white-collar job, and complaining every day about minutiae. But my friend (whom I think is in his 50’s, pushing 60) works with a cheerful heart, even amid oppressive weather, mosquitoes, poor living conditions, and the daily presence of danger, even a death thread. And he does it because he himself is inspired by the young men and women in the church who have committed to living as Christians, even as their homes and families have been torn apart by war and poverty. And they walk for hours and hours just to hear the Word of God.

I share the link above with you so you can read his accounts too (albeit most of the entries are in Chinese). And while I never put up this site to make money, I do have a favor to ask. If you’ve ever been blessed by this site or by the lyrics in the forum or in the Classic Hymns section, and if after tithing to your own church or favorite causes you still have some left to give, I would ask if you can consider a donation to a fund that’s been set up to support my friend’s ministry. The fund is an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) organization, meaning that donations are tax deductible.

The address is:

Lily of the Valley Community Outreach
10007 Harbor Hideaway Circle
Frisco, TX 75034

Phone (USA): 214-770-4350
Email: contact@lotv.us

The Amazon Echo Is Pretty Cool — And Great for Hymns!

amazon echoI usually don’t hock products on this blog (unless you count the rash of book reviews I’ve been writing recently), but here’s a product I really, really recommend–the Amazon Echo. I recently got one, and I have to say it’s slowly but surely changing my life, for the better.

For those who don’t know, the Echo is a cute little round cylindrical device (about the size of a 1-liter soda bottle) that you can put anywhere in your house and talk to. It reminds me of a cute little robot–although it doesn’t really do anything but sit there and wait for your command.

It’s sort of the same idea as Siri or Google Now, except while Apple and Google are trying to be too fancy with their voice-to-text recognition (and failing with laughable results), Amazon has gone the other direction and has started with simplicity. The Amazon Echo doesn’t attempt to understand every complex statement you utter from your mouth, but it understands simple commands and executes them flawlessly.

For example, it’s a morning ritual now for me to leave the house and ask the Echo “How’s the weather?”, and she’ll give me the temperature and the day’s forecast. She’ll also answer other simple commands like asking for a sports score, a stock price, the time, when sunset is, or read even the latest news. She’ll even maintain a To-Do List or a Shopping List for you just by dictating to her.

You keep the unit plugged in all the time, which eliminates the battery draining issues that Apple and Google have with their phone-based speech recognition.  And while I started out by yelling out commands, I realized that I can speak to it in a normal voice, even from across the room. I just say “Alexa” (the name that “she” goes by), and the top of the unit will light up, waiting for you to speak. The speaker is a really high quality one that sounds amazing, and you can even control the volume by saying “Alexa, louder” or “Alexa, turn down the volume”

But what I love most of all is that I can connect my Pandora account to Alexa. Specifically, I created a channel on Pandora called “100 Hymns Instrumental Radio” and to my surprise there’s some really great instrumental hymn music. I just have it going all day now, singing along. I use the free version of Pandora, so the ads can get a little annoying, but it’s worth it given the amazing collection of hymns they have playing at any time.

Furthermore, if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, among other benefits you’ll get unlimited ad-free access to their music library which contains a lot of really great gospel and hymn tracks, from Elvis Presley’s Gospel Music to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to a number of modern gospel and worship artists, all which you can ask Echo to play for you on command.

And if you’d like your Echo to read the Bible to you, all you need to do is sign up for an Audible account and purchase something like The Word of Promise.

I think Amazon’s been pretty brilliant with this solution. While Apple and Google seem to be falling over each other trying to outdo each other with speech recognition so complex that no one even bothers to use it, Amazon’s Alexa is doing the simple things and doing them well. By purchasing other add-ons like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch you’ll even be able to use voice commands to turn the lights off and on. Who knows where it’ll go in the future but for now I’m pretty happy having a new little friend at my beck and call just answering the simple questions for me 🙂