“I Am Free”

You know you’ve had a cleansing, freeing breakthrough of an experience when…

For longer than I’d like to admit, work with my guide-dog has been a sore subject. Actually, work of any kind has been a bit touchy. Post-traumatic stress has been a thorn in my flesh for a number of years, and a true fear of over stimulating or challenging work has been with me since 2010. My mother was diagnosed with MS during my final semester at university; I had been taking seven classes and working part-time at the university’s writing center. Somehow, I came to associate multiple sclerosis and medical crises in general with hard work…

So, that was my reasoning behind fear of work. But why with my precious guide-dog, Natasha? Because the school from which I obtained her was likewise very difficult for me. The work was strenuous, and the environment so extroverted that my spiritual life felt profoundly threatened from day to day. And–this may come as a surprise to most people–most visually-impaired people, even those with a guide-dog, do not always find orientation and mobility easy. Guide-dog work requires full, intense concentration. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times, remember your foot position in conjunction with your dog’s paws, attempt to figure out when to correct distracted behavior and when to simply continue on your walk, and especially judge traffic. Your guide-dog won’t do that for you, though s/he has been trained to get you out of danger should you misjudge. But, really, it’s up to you to listen for traffic and give the “forward” command accordingly.

Ever since I got Natasha, I had been working with her on a consistent basis, but had always found it laborious. There was no listening to the crunching of leaves underfoot or taking in the numerous sets of chimes hung in neighbors’ yards. So when it came time to take her for her usual walk this afternoon, I was less than enthusiastic. Actually, that’s the best use of hyperbole I’ve ever encountered–I had been dreading guide-dog work all day. We all have to do what we have to do, though, so I began to rig the two of us up: a two-pound leather harness for Natasha, and a treat pouch for me. The biscuits inside would be dispensed if Natasha did something particularly reward-worthy.

And then, we set off. The first part of our walk around the neighborhood was unremarkable. We listened for traffic, we maneuvered our way through commands, we crossed intersections, we traversed our way around mailboxes and lawn mowers. It was challenging as always, but somehow exhilarating, too.

Then, it happened. It was such a small moment that it almost slipped by me, unnoticed. I had been letting my mind wander just a bit. I was thinking of words that my sister and I had coined, of intriguing prepositions, and of the juncture between life and linguistics. Yes, I know I’m eccentric… Anyway, just at that moment, Natasha took me to the curb of our sixth intersection. She stopped, just as she had been trained to do, and awaited my next command. A breeze ruffled my skirt and blew my hair into my face. And all at once, I realized that I was having fun. That, for the first time since I had acquired Natasha, I was overjoyed to be working with my guide-dog, my companion. All afternoon, we had been working in perfect rhythm, and I had been loving every moment of it.

“Natasha, forward!” I don’t think I’ve ever spoken such beautiful words, in the physical realm, in many months.

The rest of that walk was unpolished. Natasha became a little distracted by a rabbit, and I had to correct her and keep her from becoming too distracted. But–oh!–it was one of the most perfect walks we’ve ever experienced together. If only there were some way to express to Natasha what I had been experiencing! Because, you see, it must have affected her, too. Dogs can tell when you aren’t enjoying something, even if you do put on a pleasant demeanor when interacting with them. But perhaps she felt it–from my end of the harness handle right through to the straps that went around her chest and belly. Dogs can also tell when you’re relaxed, and when there’s almost nothing you would rather be doing than interacting with them.

When we got home, I could contain myself no longer. Sitting down on the porch–embroidered skirt and all–I began loving on my dog for all she was worth. Rub, rub, tail-wag, tail-wag. “Oh, good girl! Good, good girl, Tashi. OOOOOOOOH, praise the Lord! Thank You, thank You, Jesus.” In that moment and given the context, both sentiments were absolutely appropriate.

I can’t explain it, but the Lord has set me free in all work-related areas. No longer do I equate challenging activities with arduous chores or labor. Not my vocation, not work with Natasha–NOTHING! Just one more step in continuing the healing the Lord has wrought in my life.

“Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One”

Being in a writative mood: Good for me, since it means that I feel restored, cleansed, freed from some lingering pain I had been experiencing over the past several days. Challenging for you, since it means you must read my ramblings!

Not ten minutes ago, the Lord once again reiterated to my heart that He cares about all things in our lives, be they impossibly great or thoroughly insignificant in the whole scope of life.

All I really wanted today was a chai tea ltte. A hot, spicy chai that would warm me from the inside out. A drink filled with flare and sweetened with honey–and milk! Milk and honey–God’s promises. And, on a sentimental note, a hot tub for the tongue, relaxing and soothng those taste buds and my heart until both were satisfied. Sady, I really couldn’t have one of these delights because my blood levels have been a bit high lately and I really didn’t know how a chai would affect them. Besides, only Sister-of-Mine, whom I shall allegorically call Hannah knows how to make good chais, and she wasn’t particularly in the mood to go fussing around with honey and organic milk.

This evening, she was moving mysteriously about the kitchen, whipping up some sort of concoction that required the microwave, but which she otherwise refused to identify. “What are you making?” I kept asking. Every time, the answer was a variation of “I’m not telling!” Horrible images filled my mind: She was making a stinky omlette using a microwave omlette maker she once purchased. Or, she was making a metallic-tasting bowl of canned soup. Or heating up half a can of leftover corn. Or trying to microwave–and explode–a French fry. Yes, she has actually been guilty of such behavior. What can I say? My whimsical side comes out in writing; hers is portrayed in what she microwaves.

“You won’t like what I’m doing!” Hannah protested. But I’ve learned obnoxious-big-sister traits from my obnoxious-little-sister, so I kept insisting that I wanted to know.

Finally, she told me. She had decided that she herself wanted a chai tea latte and had, accordingly, made herself a tiny cup of MY Bhakti chai. She had then decided that she didn’t want it, simply because its fragrance was not to her liking. Sisters!

So it was that I found myself holding the tiniest possible cup of chai, sweetened with honey. Even the cup is beautiful–part of a set that has sentimental value to Hannah and me. The cups have designs on them that remind us of God’s promises to us, personally. The cup is large enough to make me feel that I’ ve enjoyed a hot beverage, but small enough to keep my blood levels in check. Yes, He cares about the small things…

The Scripture Cup: A Words Sketch

Note: Since this piece doesn’t really describe an experience or serve as a review–since what I’m describing can no longer be easily purchased–I am creating a new line of articles. Sketches will focus on a few details of life that are important and perhaps even spiritually significant to me, but that most other people don’t notice. I’m well aware that my mind somehow works differently than others’. Case in point: When I was eight and didn’t have access to many Braille or audio books, my mother read aloud from a children’s mystery. The story was set at a grandmother’s house. I got so caught up in the tiny details–the protagonists’ sleeping and eating arrangements, the number of knickknacks that were listed as being in a cabinet, the ways in which this grandmother’s house contrasted with my own grandma’s log cabin–that I paid almost no attention to the plot. When asked what the story had been about, I had to admit that I had no idea–only that it involved a clock, a vase, and a box of toys. Nowadays, I trust I’ve been able to channel some of that focus into more productive patterns–and, really, I consider it a tremendous blessing. Without that kind of cognitive process, I almost feel that I’d fail to see as much of God’s glory in day-to-day life as I do now. And so, in these sketches, I hope to introduce you to some of the things I do in worship every day. Join me?

On a makeshift end table to the left of this brand-new sofa sits the Scripture Cup. At the moment, it’s filled with hot, strong coffee. The chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, cream, and other ingredients I add have worked together to form a beverage that, if consumed by the rest of the population, would immediately put all antidepressant manufacturers out of business.

But what makes this cup of coffee so exquisite is the Scripture Cup itself. The reasons for this are partly spiritual, but somewhat literal as well. The cup is a hand-made piece, lovingly thrown on the wheel by the head of Potter’s Field Ministries. It’s one of very few clay cups we own, and I have come to discover that clay cups taste much, much better than glass ones. You know how, universally, glass or metal containers enhance the beverage they contain, making them much better than plastic containers? Well, the same is true of clay cups over glass ones.

The Scripture Cup is flawed, but not so much so that the average person would notice it. It’s just that you can feel the subtle chinks and finger placements beneath the glaze, inside and out. Somewhat like us, wouldn’t you say? We’re imperfect people–Christians, but not free from all error. We, too, have flaws that the Lord is still working out. Except, with Him, we will be found pure and holy, a spotless bride on the day of His return, and thoroughly refined when He calls us home.

And yet, those flaws in my cup also serve another purpose. We, too, are quite ordinary, really. We hold the treasure we’ve been given from God–the Gospel, the news of salvation through Jesus Christ–in earthen vessels (See II Corinthians). Earthen vessels–in Biblical times, ordinary clay jars. Not vessels of silver or gold. The TREASURE, not the clay jar, gets all the glory. Let our flaws consistently humble us into remembering that.

The cup has a curved face and a unique handle that seems to have been pulled directly from the clay rather than being glazed on. (Ha! High-school ceramics courses do have value, even many years later, and even in the context of spiritual lessons!) Anyway, the cup curves in at a graceful angle, then curves outward and upward again. Details! And do you not think that the Lord does something similar with His creation, endowing us with gifts and abilities, skills and personality traits that He can use for His purpose? Do you not think that He, in His faithfulness, gives us characteristics that, if used for His glory and His purposes, can make us beautiful–well-pleasing in His sight, and able to serve others?

Now, why am I referring to this as the Scripture Cup? Because one of my “curved clay” gifts seems to be describing commonplace objects in spiritual terms? Well, that, too…

Deeply engraved on the side of the cup is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”. Isn’t that perfect–and so very appropriate, considering the object on which the verse is carved? Even the glaze for this Scripture is different, making it stand out from a tactile perspective.

Beside this Biblical exhortation, the sculptor carved a dove. Actually, this particular dove is also the symbol for many Calvary Chapels, signifying that they are Spirit-filled churches and deeply invested in Bible study. Many of these cups were made for the Calvary Chapel I still call my own, and I actually purchased this cup there after a particularly anointed Sunday service. In much broader terms, the dove simply refers to the great power of the Holy Spirit, and to the peace the Lord bestows on us all.

A quick story, as applied to the dove on my Scripture Cup: A little less than a week after the Lord freed me from debilitating depression back in February, I was thinking back over the events of the past few years. I happened to have a cup of coffee in my hand, and as I considered the things the Lord had brought my family through, it occurred to me that one concern had not yet been resolved to my satisfaction. “What if…” those words, spoken mentally, were followed by one of the most horrifying and personal possibilities you could possibly conjecture. As I contemplated this upsetting thought, I began casually to trace the outline of the dove on my cup. Then, slowly, I realized what I was doing, what I was holding. And then, there was a great and wondrous peace–tracing that dove had reminded me of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple. And remembering the presence of God–the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus Christ, the power of God the Father–was more than sufficient. At once, my horrifying thought receded into the background, and all was well in my soul once again.

Not that this cup is anything–anything at all. But do you ever notice the tambourine player in church–the one who, though unpolished, praises God with such passion that you can’t help seeing her joy in the Lord, joy that inspires you, too, to sing unto Him with all your heart? Detail-oriented writer that I am, I do the same thing–not just with people, but even with the everyday objects around me. And so, if there’s one more item in my life that reminds me of the blessings I’ve received from God, of His grace and His love, then I should take the time to write about it!–not to discuss some excessive fondness for an inanimate object, but to allow even mundane things to serve s tangible metaphors for the love I constantly hold in my heart toward my Savior, my Good Shepherd.

Adendum: This is a “words sketch”, rather than a “word sketch”, in order to avoid confusion in Christian semantic circles–many small words of worship, only one Word, Who IS God. Note: “He Is” and “I AM” are structurally configured in similar ways… But Christ-centered grammar must await a separate post.

“For the Beauty of the Earth”

It is five o’clock in the evening.

It’s watching my dog scarf down her food, tail a-wagging, and wishing I could–just this once–give her a bone. Nothing doing.

It’s going for a long, leisurely walk and commenting on how each pine tree, every crunching leaf, the various candle scents pouring from our neighbors’ windows, and every delightful cooking smell tell a compelling story.

It’s the pounding of hammer and nails as Jedediah fixes the skylight.

It’s the buzzing of the television from the master bedroom, and the knowledge that the brand-new television is playing everyone’s favorite sportsball. Perhaps you know that I don’t classify myself as “everyone” in the preceding sentence, but that’s neither here nor there…

It’s listening to Naomi sing in the kitchen as she and Hannah prepare the rice. A little more than two cups of water, a little less than two cups of rice. One steamer, received several Christmases ago and attendant with so many precious memories.

It’s the fragrance of Givalia coffee, that indoor rainbow, wafting through the house and making our entire home fragrant. “An indoor rainbow”, I say, because rainbows represent God’s promises, because coffee only seems to be a factor in our lives when all is going well, and because our Lord has restored so very much to us, taking all of our heaviness and replacing it with the garment of praise.

It’s all those decisions we have to make. You see, it’s never just “salmon”. It’s tender salmon for Naomi and Hannah, crisp salmon for me; extra lemon-pepper and sometimes teriyaki for me, and light seasoning for the other two ladies; hickory for me, and none for anyone else. T-bone steak for Jedediah. And, on top of it all, the love that goes into Jedediah’s grilling, which makes the salmon taste better than I have ever encountered anywhere else. The same thing with the rice–regular or sea salt? Butter, butter substitute, or none? Cheese bread or regular and, if cheese bread, how much garlic? And, should I live dangerously and have Jedediah add the bread to the hickory-chip-laden grill?

It’s prayers before this lavish meal, thanking the Lord for all His goodness to us.

It’s eating together on our brand-new, very soft sofa, propped against pillows with little patterns weaving in and out of them. Better than a lavish table, beautiful tablecloth, company plates, and Grandma’s antique silver any day!

It’s a good, hearty dose of Red-Letter Reading. This, one of the most glorious projects we’ve ever worked on together, consists of either Naomi or Jedediah recording all the words of Jesus, chapter by chapter. It goes even deeper than this, but a fuller description is for a different post.

It’s all the interactive things we seem to be doing lately–sharing our blog posts, watching Jedediah enthrall us with his WII exploits, listening idly as Naomi exclaims in delight over the most recent moves made by her sportsball teams, laughing with Hannah as she regales us with her latest adventures. I tell you, that girl can transform a trip to King Sooper’s into a tour of Rome!

It’s that prayer I prayed earlier. “Lord, take this discouragement and loneliness from my heart, and fill me with the joy of Your Holy Spirit. Help me to spend quality time with these people I love so much, and remind me of Your great faithfulness.. And it is knowing that, ever and always, my prayer has been answered.

This is dinner with my family, and the normal, quotidian excitement that follows it. Need I say that 5:00 marks the beginning of my favorite time of the day?

Precious Worship Music: The WHO, What, When, Where, and How of Obtaining It

I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a young teenager. Of course, following such an experience, the natural inclination is to read the Bible and worship for the next three years–or, at least, that was the way it was with me. The Bible reading, I had covered. I amassed so many different versions, from literal to dynamic equivalence, that I scarcely had anywhere to put the Braille, print, and audio editions that stacked up on three sets of shelves. Worship–now that was a little more difficult. I grew up listening to Keith Green, but sometimes tired of it, particularly as we only had two Keith Green cassettes in the house. Most of the rest of the Christian music my family enjoyed was too contemporary for my taste. So, what did I listen to? “Jesus Loves Me”, “Isn’t He Wonderful?”, “Come Bless the Lord”, “O How I Love Jesus”, “Jesus Bids Us Shine”, “Everybody Ought to Know”, “Whisper Prayer”, “God Is So Good”, and “Boys and Girls for Jesus”–all sung by various children’s choruses. Now, please don’t misunderstand–there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! In fact, because they are all so reminiscent of those first glorious days in the Lord, I may still have all of those songs on my iPod… And during those days, I discovered something fascinating: All of the tunes listed above can, in fact, be worshipful when sung with a heart filled with as much praise as mine was. A worship song is what you make of it. “How Great Is Our God” may be just a song if those notes are just more chords to play on the guitar; conversely, if “Zacchaeus” is making you contemplate more deeply the ministry of Jesus, it may ultimately be more worshipful at any given moment.

So, children’s music can be good. I’ll elaborate more on that later, but for the moment, let’s work together to solve the quandary of locating good worship music. If you’ve just come in to a relationship with the Lord, or if you’ve lived your life as a Christian but aren’t familiar with most of the worship music on–AND OFF!–the market, I thought I’d give you a few ideas. Most of these songs will not be terribly contemporary; if you’re looking for more modern music, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll ask my sister to supply some ideas. However, my lack of percussion and general avoidance of anything produced after 2006 has little to do with style preferences and much more to do with the fact that I find older music more theologically profound–not the hymns only, though those will be touched upon, too, but most music produced between 1970 and, well, 2006. If you have any suggestions for more things that I might either enjoy personally, or that might edify the Body of Christ, feel free to leave a comment! So, without further ado and in no particular order, these are several of the songs, albums, and/or artists from my collection of over eight hundred that no Christian music library should be without.

* “I Still Choose to Worship You” by Cobhams Asuquo: This is, by far, one of the most unique and anointed songs I have ever encountered. I’m not even really sure that I can classify it as “a praise and worship song”, although both practices are fully expressed during its course. The song was penned by an Algerian worship leader who was responding to a trend he was seeing–churches and songwriters where writing very upbeat music that celebrated life in the Lord, so long as that life was filled with happiness and peace. What about those times when there isn’t peace, at least in the temporal realm–times when our lives and hearts are broken? For that, Asuquo responds; “Bless ye the Lord, / Through my trials and all my troubles / I have come with a heart of worship.” So far, this chorus sounds like that of most other worship songs, But then, there’s this note of unmatched surrender: “Hear my humble cry, / See my broken spirit, / But in every situation, / I’ll still choose to worship you.” Wow! How many of us can honestly sing that? And those verses! If you do manage to obtain this song, you’ll notice that the congregation isn’t singing during this live rendition of one of the most beautiful pieces of Christian music I’ve ever encountered. That’s because some of the verses encompass stories–what was going on in the world at the time, the types of worship songs being written, even an apology to the congregation for the worship leader’s lack of conventionality! Without any alteration, the opening lyrics of the second verse are as follows: “Please forgive me–this is not your normal worship song. / I try to write a simple song that me and everyone could sing along, / But I realize that there is something about praise– / It shouldn’t only come when all is seemingly okay…” What a wonderful moment of candor! Add to that the fact that Asuquo actually mentions several worship songs by name, effectively causing the mind to travel those familiar paths and filling the heart with true praise, and the notion that he, too, seems to be deeply moved by the Biblical account of fragrant oil being poured from that alabaster box, and this is a magnificent worship song that I listen to with increasing delight during my times of prayer. Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for technical details, the song is available from the iTunes Store on the album “You Are the Only One”.

* The Stoneleigh Worship Band: This is a British group that did most of its ministering from about 1990 to 1999. I love British worship music. There’s a heart, a love, a longing for more of the holy Spirit, in most of their music that I don’t often find elsewhere. Perhaps the cultural persecution is greater there–people are expected to be nominal church attendees, but anything beyond that is considered so out-of-the-ordinary that those who are, for example, serious Evangelicals or Charismatics really need to stay the course. That’s the sense I get from most British worship music–and that’s if the album is simply mediocre! Now, trust me, most of what Stoneleigh produced was NOT mediocre. My favorite album of theirs, entitled “King of Love”. is so anointed that I literally would not listen to it in the car. “Who Paints the Skies?”, “The King of Love”, “My First Love”, “Who Is There Like You”, and “Lord, We Long to See Your Glory” are so saturated in the pure glory of the Holy Spirit that you may find it difficult to get off your knees, or off your face. The presence of God was so palpable when those songs were recorded that I can never find enough strength to sing the lyrics, just to bask in that Shekinah and remain in His presence, often listening to the same few tracks for hours. This is particularly true of “My First Love”, which contains so many motifs of restoration and joy that there are no words to express it. Other praise-filled Stoneleigh songs that are not on the “King of Love” album include “I See the Lord” (a different version that the one commonly sung in the US), “O My Soul, Arise and Bless Your Maker”, “I Won’t Let Go”, “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth”, “In Christ Alone”, “Whisper to My Soul”, “Once Again”, “We Have Sung Our Songs”, “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall”, “All My Days”, “How I Love to Sing Your Praises”, and “By Your Blood”. All of these songs are miniature sermons–and, yes, I am aware that “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth” and “In Christ Alone” are not the property of Stoneleigh or even of Stuart Townend, who served on the Stoneleigh Worship Band for several years. However, his versions of those anthems are two of the most Spirit-led, so I’m including them here. Truly, if you can find no other Christian music, you need these songs, and especially the “King of Love” album. I know for a fact that “King of Love” is available on the iTunes Store. To the best of my knowledge, most of the other free-floating songs are out of print or unavailable in the US, so you’ll have to get them from a British shop or, if all else fails, on Ebay, though you may not have much success there. Crossrythms.com can probably help you in your search…

* DADDY’S SONG by Dennis Jernigan: This is the most beautiful allegory you’ll ever encounter in Christian music, prose, or poetry. The first part of the album consists of a nineteen-minute segment of intensive, heart-rending storytelling, interspersed with gentle, soothing song. The basic premise: A young boy had a wonderful, loving Father–the best Father Who ever lived. The boy walked with his Father every day in the cool of the evening, wearing beautiful garments that his Father provided and resting always in the knowledge that he would always love his precious Father. And, of course, “the Father was consumed in His love for His child”. But one day, the boy met a stranger (here symbolic of the enemy) and decided to walk with him, to learn the stranger’s angry and cruel songs, and to walk away from his Father. Every day, he walked further and further away, until he became bound and trapped, lost and alone. How and when the Father rescues His little boy, I will leave for you to find out. It’s beautiful–absolutely beautiful. And, throughout the entire allegory, Jernigan sings two parts of a deeply-moving song. From the Father to us: “I’ll have no other, / For I love you only. / I’ll never forsake you / Or leave you alone.” From the child: “Here in Your arms, I’ll always be, / At rest in the precious love You have for me.” You need plenty of Kleenex for this song, whether or not you’re usually given to tears, and whether you’re a man or a woman. Perhaps, especially, if you’re a man. Men need to understand the Father’s heart to them, and this song-story is among the most effective tools outside the Word of God I’ve ever encountered. Oh, by the way, the album also contains several other tracks, but most of these are sidelines compared to “Daddy’s Song”. The entire album is available on the iTunes Store. Go buy it. Now.

* Keith Green: Just because I didn’t want to listen to his music exclusively doesn’t mean that it isn’t deeply, truly, joyously used of God. Although the Lord took him home many years ago, his music still continues to be a blessing to me. I wish I could write the way he used to play the piano–with an exuberant, joyous passion that reflected in the purest possible way the majesty and love of our faithful God. From upbeat songs that compared His love shining through us to sunlight through stained-glass windows, to his gentle ballads asking the Lord to draw him close and help him to life a holy life without compromise, nearly everything Keith Green ever penned was so beautiful in Jesus. Family favorites: “Trials Turned to Gold”, which surrenders all earthly plans to Him and thanks Him for what He is doing; “Draw Me”, which has become my personal prayer and which pleads for the Lord to keep us in Him so we do not go astray; “When I Hear the Praises Start”, which is sung from the perspective of God and the only semi-prophetic song I’ve ever enjoyed, for its pure comfort and Scriptural references to resting in the Lord; “There Is a Redeemer”, for how could anyone dislike a song that includes so many names of Jesus!; “Go to the Hungry Ones”, which is a call for better evangelism and very convicting; “Pledge My Head to Heaven”, which is a song consecrating the entire family, and all of our possessions, for that matter, to the Lord for His use and ministry; “Dust to Dust”, which is so intricate I’m not sure I can pin a single simplistic theme to it; “I Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven”, which is a literary masterpiece and effectively makes my heart long for our wonderful home each time I hear it–oh, so many! Then, there’s the song that I will entitle “Hear the Bells Ringing”, or “Resurrection Song”. If you type the words, “Hear the Bells Ringing” and “Keith Green” into any search engine, you will find the song’s actual title, but I’m not comfortable writing it. Being a linguist can be hazardous to your ability to write, if you happen to be a Spirit-filled Christian… Anyway, the newly-retitled “Resurrection Song” discusses in vivid detail the wondrous resurrection of our Lord Jesus, His perfect power, and what that gift of God means in our lives today. Too precious to pass up–especially when that piano of Keith’s is involved!

* Bob Fitts: One of the most cherished, surely-beloved worship leaders I’ve ever encountered. I can’t explain this, but that man has the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and an intensity that goes beyond anything I have ever heard in anyone leading worship, whether on an album or in church. He doesn’t discuss his relationship with the Lord in personal, testimonial terms very often, but he doesn’t have to. You can just tell that his heart daily focuses on the holiness of Jesus Christ with a profundity that’s difficult to voice. Like this: You know that, if he reads Revelation regularly–and I really don’t know if he does–then he probably understands most of it! That said, I recommend a few very special albums by this gentle, gifted worshiper. First, you must own A TASTE OF HEAVEN, which was independently-produced and recorded live in Hawaii. It features an “on-your-knees” rendering of “My Eyes Are Fixed on You”, and a song of pure, adoring thanks. It’s only available at Bob Fitts’ online store, but it’s well worth it. Then, there’s HE WILL SAVE YOU, produced in conjunction with Hosanna! Music. Anyone who is at all weary needs this album. It has a soothing congregational style and sixteen of the most uplifting songs you will ever hear, including the best possible version of “You Are My All in All” and something that Bob Fitts must have penned himself, an alabaster-box-reference song called “We Will Seek You First, Lord”. The album is right at your fingertips, at the iTunes Store and on Amazon. It belonged on your MP3 player two weeks before you even became a Christian, so I should think that its inclusion now is long overdue.

* Don Moen: Anything and everything! Don Moen is the quintessential worship leader, what most other people should model in their song-writing, their ability to simultaneously steady the feeble knees of the crushed in spirit and play the piano, and, above all, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. The albums ETERNAL GOD and TRUST IN THE LORD have a similar Shekinah-saturating effect to Stoneleigh’s KING OF LOVE. BLESS THE LORD, I WILL SING, GOD IS GOOD, WORSHIP WITH DON MOEN, and THANK YOU LORD should comprise the rest of your Christian music library, just because each moment is so filled with love and peace. Case(s) in point: Don Moen is the singer most well-known for “I Want to Be Where You Are”, “God Will Make a Way”, and “I Offer My Life”. So classic, so restful, so very important. Hearing that many voices in unison on his live albums is encouraging to people like me who can’t find a church to attend, and hearing his own oaken voice on solo projects like I BELIEVE THERE IS MORE is perfect for private worship.

* Calvary Chapels: Where do I start? Perhaps a bit of background concerning Calvary Chapel would help. I attended various Calvary Chapels for years and found most everything they taught doctrinally sound and reflective of the grace the Lord desires for all of us. Essentially, they take the best of the Baptist church and the best of a good Victory World Outreach and combine these elements. They are a Continuationist group of churches, which means that they do believe in the active demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as recorded in I Corinthians XII, only used in order and checked according to Biblical principles. However, unlike many Charismatic churches and denominations, they also place a heavier emphasis on Scripture, Christ’s atonement for sin, and grace through faith–a greater emphasis in day-to-day teaching, mind you, not a “more profound belief”. Now, what does all of this have to do with Calvary Chapel’s worship music? First of all, most Calvary Chapels feel that public worship is just as important, if not more so, than a pastor’s message. Then, too, their theology regarding Jesus and the Holy Spirit is reflected in much of the music they select, as well as in the way they sing. It’s beautiful, it’s not commercialized or corporate, and it’s extremely Christ-centered, with lyrics generally reflecting Scripture. Also, Calvary Chapel has one wonderful worship song that seems to be unique to that group of churches; why we aren’t all singing it, I don’t know. The song is called “In Your Presence”, and it is a mid-tempo masterpiece that encompasses anything you could possibly ask for in a worship song: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; / Lord, You are my portion. / In Your presence are mercy and love; / Lord, You are my God…” All of that said, you may want to travel to Ebay in search of the album WORSHIP ALIVE, Vol. I, by Calvary Chapel Music. Apparently, Calvary Chapel Music is its own record label. Then, there’s a recording entitled LIVE WORSHIP FROM CALVARY CHAPEL WESTMINSTER. I shan’t tell you who produces that one–if you can’t figure it out, you need someone less whimsical than I! And then, there’s Calvary Chapel Merritt Island. All four of their full-length albums are perfect for prayer-closet moments, from their version of “Give Thanks” to a few songs I have only heard from them, including one about earthly possessions meaning nothing compared to the all-surpassing beauty of the King. Westminster: an out-of-print Ebay prize. Merritt Island: iTunes Store. Both: In your possession as soon as possible, please.

* Vineyard Music: Two albums from the Touching the Father’s Heart (TFH)collection, and one from the Winds of Worship (WOW) series. What’s the difference? TFH features soft, gentle, mostly ballad-like worship, recorded live but then edited somewhat. WOW is all of the above, only the songs are a tiny bit more contemporary and entirely unedited, complete with all kinds of spoken prayers, spontaneous encouragement for the congregations to which Vineyard is ministering, etc .So, from TFH, you need BEFORE YOU NOW and I LOVE YOUR WAYS. Now, professional reviewers will tell you that these are some of Vineyard’s lesser efforts–that they don’t offer anything new, etc. Don’t listen to ’em! The fact is, BEFORE YOU NOW includes an entire song centered around the New Jerusalem and the marriage supper of the Lamb, and another song that discusses the radiant glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How can that be “nothing new” when the things of the Lord are always filled with renewal, and when His lovingkindness is new every morning? As for I LOVE YOUR WAYS, I don’t even know where to begin. One song about needing the nearness of God, one reiterating my favorite alabaster-box theme, one based on Psalm XIX, one based on I John I, and the Psalm-CXXXIV-based song that always leaves me on my knees. Then, there’s the worship leader. I believe his name is Casey Corrum, but I’m not sure. I do know that his voice is so full of the Holy Spirit, so overflowing with the worship into which he is leading the congregation, that it is difficult for me to even think about singing along.

As for the Winds of Worship recordings, you first need LIVE FROM ARNHEM. Ten minutes of worship with the song “Break Dividing Walls”–in four languages, no less! A poetic song simply entitled “More”, which appeals to both my need for Jesus and my love of psalm-style metaphors. A velvet version of “My Jesus, I Love Thee”. Need I elaborate?

* “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. Not because “everyone else is listening to it”–popularity doesn’t figure into this study of things that glorify God. No, I love this song that talks about our heavenly home and our first encounter with the Lord, face-to-face in His presence, because it is simply that intense. I know that others set it to every possible tempo, listen to it while driving, crank up the volume on it while cleaning the house, rock their children to sleep with it, and generally treat it like the CCM entity that it has been since 2003. Personally, I simply can’t do that. I once had an experience in the Lord so beautiful and intense that I will have to devote a separate post to describing it, if indeed I feel I can write about it at all. That moment in Him took place while listening to “I Can Only Imagine”. Consequently, I now only listen to the song twice or thrice per year, and then only in my prayer closet. You may feel differently about the song, and probably will. Nevertheless, it must be in your possession.

* “God of the Impossible” and “Wonderful Counselor” by Denise Davis. Naturally, these are on different albums. Murphy’s Law. But–oh!–they are so well worth it! “Wonderful Counselor” is my testimony set to music, recounting all the ways in which my? her? our? lives are disappointing and empty, then coming in with a soft yet resonating chorus: “Jesus, You are my Wonderful Counselor. / I look in Your Word and You show me my heart. / Help me to see things as they really are…” Actually, prayer, Scriptures about His supremacy over all anxiety, and this song were the three components instrumental in helping me to get off of antidepressants many years ago. My choice and what was right for me, not something I want everyone to go out and do. As for “God of the Impossible”, I’m still trying to figure out what the song is about. I think it has something to do with God’s power, but beyond that, I am speechless. “God of the Impossible” had a similar effect on me to “I Can Only Imagine” and KING OF LOVE, and I can’t seem to be able to stop worshiping long enough to hear Denise Davis’ words!

* German worship: WEN HAB ICH AUSER DIR. Spanish worship: EN TU PRESENCIA by Don Moen; Yo CLAMO A TE and AVIVA EL FUEGO EN ME by Vineyard Music. French worship: COEUR A COEUR AVEC LE PERE, PASSION POUR TON NOM, and anything by an artist vaguely designated “LTC” or Johann Sode. Afrikaans worship: BRING HOM HULDE. Dutch worship: Villigt Ditt Folk. Korean worship: anything by Scott Brenner; HATIKU by Don Moen. I never promised that all of my choices would be in English, did I? With the exception of French, I don’t speak any of the languages whose worship I so admire, but that really doesn’t matter. “We, being many, are one body….” Get yourself some foreign-language worship music, whether or not you speak any of the languages you collect. It will help you feel more a part of the global Body of Christ, introduce you to more cultures in worship, and, above all, help you to say the things your heart cannot speak, to praise and pray with your spirit when you cannot pray with your mind.

* HEAVEN and GOING HOME by Bill and Gloria Gaither. Admittedly, these albums are a bit over-sentimentalized and not as deep as, say, Bob Fitts’ music. However, they do share good Scriptural truths, and they appeal to the longing in all of us for comfort and peace, addressing the subject of our eventual home in delightfully vivid details and remaining relatively true to Scripture. Both albums feature a combination of Gospel songs and touching narrations from a wide variety of people including Joni Eareckson-Tada, Billy Graham, etc.

* STRINGS OF HIS ANOINTING by Nancy Gallegos. There is no more precious, meaningful, symbolic instrument in the world than the hap. And, seldom has it been played more beautifully than by Nancy Gallegos. The song selection is magnificent–“Jesus Loves Me”, which is played in such a way that it sounds like it belongs in an advanced Bible course, “Amazed”, “Surely the Presence”, “Breathe”, “Agnus Dei”, and “You Are My Hiding Place” are all featured, each one played with more joy than the one before. That musician allows her harp to be her voice, and she sounds as though she is constantly crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, as they did during the Triumphal Entry. No superfluous “background” instruments either–this harp stands alone.

* BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD by Andrew Peterson. According to most producers and many listeners, this is a Christmas recording designed to uplift the name of Jesus and focus us on His reason for coming. Despite the references to a dark stable, however, and the numerous songs describing the manger and Luke ch. II, I always find myself listening to this near Resurrection Day, for some reason. It just seems to fit. There’s a reference to Jesus being our atoning sacrifice, the Lamb of God… and that’s all there is to it–a Resurrection Day recording! Traditionally, I suppose you might consider this Christian folk music; in my view, this is simple praise. Worship is worship, regardless of style.

* COME TO THE TABLE by Marty Nystrom. Do you ever long to be led in worship? In prayer? In deeper Bible study? In private Communion? This recording can do all of the above. The full-length album begins on a joyful note of praise with “All Creatures of Our God and King”, continues with a few choruses about new songs to the Lord, and segues into the most beautiful series of faster and slower songs about the blood of Christ and His gift upon the cross that I’ve ever heard. Songs of His freedom, of the salvation He offers, and of His unfailing love. Then, there’s a beautiful little interlude during which Communion elements were actually passed out during the live recording, followed by a song that celebrates the Lord’s Supper, complete with a pause so that congregants–and people listening at home–could partake. It’s a wonderful experience, through and through, and so very helpful in my private moments in the Lord.

* * Theoretically, you need an old 1995 recording by the Times Square Church Children’s Choir. It has so much to offer–these are no ordinary children. The kids, ages six to fourteen, actually led worship at David Wilkerson’s church and sometimes led prayer meetings in which true intercession was taking place. On the album were songs in French, Swahili, and Spanish, as well as some truly moving recordings of “O Lord, You’re Beautiful” and “O How He Loves You and Me”. It was beautiful; I know that it has brought other adults to tears and, if I’m being as open as the Lord would have me to be, I will say that I was listening to this when I received the Holy Spirit. Yes, you need this recording, but can you obtain it? It was available as late as 2009, but now my searches turn up nothing even remotely related to this cassette/CD/limited download. It’s as though the album never existed, but I know it did, for I used Audacity to put it on my iPod. What should you do for the same experience, since this album seems to have plunged its unceremonious way off the planet? See if you can unearth a copy of “Breath of Heaven” by Christ for the Nations Institute. It features a very, very serious, non-kiddy children’s choir singing an intensive song about the Father’s love entitled “I Am Amazed”, as well as some deep fodder sung y a standard congragation. If you’re actually looking for music that will allow your children to worship, you need GREAT BIG GOD LIVE!, recorded by Vineyard UK. Older children–those between seven and ten–might enjoy GOD LIKES FUN and GOD IS GREAT by the Bridgestone Music Group, but the metaphors and symbols are likely to baffle younger listeners.

If you’re like me, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. If, however, you’re a typical listener and/or have just begun to embark upon this journey of worship-music discovery, that should be more than enough for our first venture into the world of harp glissandos and indescribable flute playing. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

“Thy Word”

This is a brief thought, which I will try to keep short. Just a bit of advice for fellow Christians especially, but all people–really!–who feel spiritually dry or discouraged. I didn’t plan to write this post today, but it seemed right.

Yesterday evening, someone happened to mention lentils. Lentils, as in a type of legume–not to be confused with lintels, which refer to the top of a doorframe… Anyway, this casual reference put me in mind of the bread Ezekiel was commanded to make; apparently, lentils were among the main ingredients. This, in turn, led me to conclude that we–the entire family–needed Ezekiel. All of us. But especially me.

Accordingly, I ran and brought the Bible. Without really warning anyone that we were about to plunge into intense and perhaps even incomprehensible territory, I opened Ezekiel to the first chapter and began to read–first, of the date on which the hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel, all the while recalling that the prophet’s methods of record-keeping were what inspired me to remember the dates of precious moments in the Lord. From there, it was just natural to read of the four living creatures Ezekiel saw–majestic beings, like angels, with four wings and four faces, and high and awesome wheels. I still don’t understand all the profound symbolism that lies in those descriptions of the wheels… Suggestions, anyone? I could have continued all night–reading next about the glorious One Who sat upon the throne above the firmament that was above the four living creatures’ heads. I could have read of those living creatures, turned to Revelation, and examined how John’s vision and Ezekiel’s confirm one another, in that they saw different facets of the same four living creatures. I could have ventured further into Ezekiel and read of a scroll that God caused the prophet to consume, that he might prophesy to many kings and nations of the judgment of God. And then, I could have turned to Revelation XIII to read a similar account–similar, but differing enough to assure all readers that John was not simply copying Ezekiel. I could have read for hours of God’s glory and holiness, of Ezekiel’s reaction when he saw the glory of the Lord, and of John’s similar reaction; of God’s condemnation of sin; and of His promises to Israel and to those who trust in Him; of God’s great redemption in Ezekiel XVI and of His marvelous mercy in all of Revelation; and of the perfect, God-ordained dimensions of the temple in Ezekiel, and of the river of life symbolized in Ezekiel and clearly discussed in Revelation; “The Lord is there”–“Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Ezekiel, Revelation”).

Sadly, there wasn’t time for such an in-depth study–not nearly enough hours in the evening to read both books for myself, much less share them with my loved ones. Someday, perhaps, if the Lord leads me to do so, I will explore those beautiful portions of Scripture here on this blog. But not at the moment–there isn’t time, and I have a slightly different point to convey today.

We all have our “First Love” books–those things we read when we first came to believe in the Savior. Yours are probably Matthew or Psalms or Luke or Ephesians or Isaiah. My father’s is Hebrews. My sister was always deeply moved by Jeremiah. And, impossible as it may seem to some of you, mine have always been Revelation, Ezekiel, John, and Daniel. Well–John probably isn’t that difficult to believe, but Revelation? Daniel? Ezekiel? Yes, Revelation. What I need more of in my life–ever, always, constantly–is a sense of the holiness of God. A sense of His sanctity, His magnificence and splendor and Shekinah glory, His power, and yet His comfort and love, all bundled into three or four chapters–or, in some cases, four or five verses–and tucked into my heart, there to produce such unbounded joy that I have to pause periodically just to sing His praises. Revelation and Ezekiel accomplish this. Such unspeakable joy always floods me in every aspect of those books that I simply must share them with someone, even if I really don’t understand all that is being said. Sometimes, we understand more in the Holy Spirit’s wisdom than what we can comprehend or explain with our mind and mouth.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because my First Love books have always been used of the Lord to set me free–whether the anguish was small or great. Case in point: I was contemplating yesterday the various reasons why I had evidently done nothing truly spiritually fulfilling with the whole household. True, we had read various devotionals and sung many a worship song, but that was usually as a dyad. When I took the Word into the living room and proceeded to read it, it was as though I was dispensing water to very dry soil–in my own heart, at least. I don’t know about the hearts of others, but I needed this with the urgency that plants require sunlight. It was as though my whole being were getting cleansed, washed, purified from all the lingering frustrations of the day.

How often I have found this to be the case! When surrendering to Jesus in 2003, or asking for His direction in 2010, or learning how to follow Him anew in that same year, or fighting false doctrine with the sword of the Spirit in 2009, or attempting to reclaim my joy and vanquish despair in early 2013, I have always found these books helpful and freeing. Of course, I have to actually pick them up and read… Part of the problem usually occurs when I deem myself unworthy of reading certain passages of Scripture, or waiting “until I feel more intense in the Lord”. Not effective… But every time I’ve read certain passages ofScripture, God has used them to shore up my heart an d bring breakthroughs when I felt unfruitful.

What is my point? Whether it’s Mark or I Corinthians, Proverbs or Job, I Peter or I John, you, too, have First Love books–books that the Lord used to touch your heart when you first came to know Him. Certain verses in those books stand out to you and have been instrumental in keeping you in the paths of righteousness, or leading you back to the Good Shepherd should you ever stray. Read them again. Whatever passage of Scripture speaks most clearly to you, take time to read it again. Remember how you first felt about it, or how you felt about it when you most recently read it. Have your thoughts changed? Is the Lord using that passage, or that book, to speak to your heart anew, or about something specific in your life? How can you expound on the context, like I did with both Ezekiel and Revelation? What do the reference notes in your Bible say? If you’re using the NIV, what might the NKJV or te Living Bible or the RSV or even the Authorized Version have to say? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should wait “until you’re more righteous” to read certain Scriptures–all our righteousness are as filthy rags to Him, and it is His grace that is sufficient. Just open your Bible and read, as you did when you first dedicated your life to Jesus Christ, and see if it doesn’t fill you anew, cleanse your heart, and obliterate any pain or worry that had lingered in the dark, unswept corners of your mind.

I’m writing this because there’s quite a bit of despondency in the lives of certain my my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ–sadness that I cannot lift, or pray about to see it be carried away, or read about until the comfort of those holy words breaks through the cloak of unhappiness that these people are feeling. In other words, I can do little about the suffering I see. Perhaps you, or someone you know, are experiencing silent tears. I was, too–and have many times before. And, even though it doesn’t always set me completely free evry time, I have now found and remembered something that helps.

If you are feeling joyful–but especially if you are feeling sorrow, or to the loved-one(s) in your life who are, I say: Read your First Love books. Pour over those passages that you know have reflected Christ’s love back to you the most over the months or years, and let Him minister to you. Know, just know, that Jesus loves you so much, and that He cares for you. Cast your cares upon Him, and let His all-redeeming love surround you.

“Arise, My Soul, Arise”

Have you ever been to a hymn-sing? Neither had I, until 2010. At that time, local churches, with the help of a wonderfully-gifted song leader, began to host evening hymn-sings about once every three months. If you’ve never been to one, these times of worship feature congregations being invited to sing through entire hymns, in traditional fashion, in order to grasp fully the significance of each word and theological concept. Occasionally, the church and song leaders will have invited special performers–an organist, a harpist, a noted singer who has been filled with peace following a difficult time. And then, there is the request period. Sometimes, we congregants have a tendency to keep the organist and pianist on their toes–requesting everything from “In the Garden” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to “Sunshine in My Soul” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”–in April, mind you!

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of these precious events. Traditionally, I’ve attended hymn-sings with my sister in Christ, Pianist. However, Pianist was unavailable, so I thought I’d review it for her. Pianist, I don’t think you’ll ever want to miss another hymn-sing for the rest of your life!

Setting: My heart. It is a gloomy place, filled with decidedly unpoetic rainclouds–not the rain of happy tears, but the angry, overcast clouds of unrest and pain. Yes, unrest. I have had little peace and less rest in the Lord, and it shows. On this particular evening, I am scheduled to attend a beautiful hymn-sing where, it is hoped, I can seek the Father’s face once again, and maybe find His presence flooding my life once more. However, both my rides have canceled–Pianist, because she had another event she needed to attend, and another sister in Christ, because she was not feeling well. What am I going to do? Does the Lord not want me to seek His presence? Why, for the past three weeks, have I been so unable to find any time to worship Him? And why now do I have no transportation to the only event I’ve really wanted to attend since July, 2012?

Aloud: “Why, Lord? I do not understand your ways!”

Obviously, I have spoken the prayer more loudly than I had intended to, because Jedediah approaches me and offers to serve as my transportation. Jedediah: literally, “Beloved of the Lord”. Jedediah is my brother in Christ and a strong, solid man of God. He is also far fonder of contemporary worship than of congregational and even choral hymns. I will go with him, but how will he feel about the experience? Will he be blessed by it, or slightly bored? Can I communicate to him how much this means, or even get him to enjoy it with me? Tucking those questions into the back of my mind, and my guide-dog’s identification into my purse, I get hastily into the car and set off with Jedediah, hoping we won’t be too late.

Oh, how lovely! We’re only five minutes late. We’ve probably only missed the prelude–which my parents used to pronounce “pray-lued”, and which I believed was intended as a time for silent prayer until long after I had learned to read! Despite the fact that we are nearly on time, we have to rush into the building, not even properly working with my guide-dog. Once inside, we discover that there is space only in the balcony. Last time Pianist and I were in the balcony, we were cramped in the very last row with people who wanted to talk through the service, and we could scarcely hear either the congregation or the choir. Again, my heart begins to doubt: “Lord, how can I be so close to this time of worship, but not really with Your people? How can we really worship when we’re in the balcony and can’t hear?” I know the answer–not everything in life can be attached to our spiritual lives and, even if this could, what right do I have to question Almighty God? Still a work in progress…

But when we reach the balcony, I make an interesting discovery. First, we are not in the farthest seats; I can hear everything. In fact, I have programmed my recorder for a high-sensitivity setting, so it picks up more than I have ever been able to preserve in the past. With or without the recorder, I can hear the congregation and choir almost as well as if I were sitting in a regular pew. Then, too, we are two of the few people in the balcony and sitting alone, for all intents and purposes. Unlike our last balcony experience, my guide-dog is not cramped, and I can stand to worship if I wish. No one is nearby enough to chat through the service… It’s perfect!

We have, in fact, missed the pray-lude. We are halfway through the first hymn when we finally find our seats. No matter–this is not one I’m terribly familiar with, and I feel we can afford to have missed it. Not so with “No, Not One”. Honestly! To think that I’ve been a Christian since the age of four, yet I’ve never before heard this hymn! The Calvary Chapel worship teams aren’t doing their job… Well, they are, but they don’t have five hours in which to lead the congregation in worship each Sunday–sadly. In any event, the rest of the congregation is obviously acquainted with this hymn, because when the song leader assigns parts, they immediately fall into rhythm with the song. I, on the other hand, am in awe and only catch on to the words “no, not one! no, not one!” halfway through the second verse. And then, there’s that awesome chorus–and I reserve the word “awesome” only to describe the things of God. “Jesus knows all about our struggles; / He will guide till the day is done. / There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus, / No, not one! No, not one!” And here I had been feeling all alone… Here, I had forgotten that He would never forsake me. Had abandoned in my heart the notion that I should come to Him for all my rest, my joy and hope and peace… By the time us congregants are asked to sing the chorus one more time, a cappella, I realize that we have a little problem on our hands. When I was packing my guide-dog’s ID, I really should have remembered to stash some Kleenex in that purse of mine.

Next, the song leader introduces a fifteen-year-old organist. He has only been learning the instrument for a short time, but already he is eager to share the gift God has given him with the congregation. As he begins “Come, Thou Almighty King”, something in his playing reminds me of Jedediah. Jedediah, by the way, has been as immersed in the worship service as I am. He is following along in the hymnal, singing his heart out with the rest of us, and not quite seeming to care that this bears no resemblance to Jars of Clay or Hillsong or Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin-type worship. Now, the young organist is playing exactly as Jedediah would if he were fifteen and just beginning to learn a musical instrument–I just know it. He would play in this unpolished but joyful fashion, with spiraling little notes in the music, but with the sort of solid strength that Keith Green communicated in his piano playing, and a not-quite-fully-formed yet fervent love to match. It’s just so… Jedediah. Later, I try to tell him so, but can’t communicate it right. So, Jedediah, if you’re ever reading this, know that I saw your heart for Jesus when we attended that hymn-sing.

And now, for the crux of the entire service–the turning-point, the crucial element, the moment without which the hymn-sing would have been like any other church event. Beloved readers, turn off that television, the iPod playing in the background, your cell phone, and that glaring light that keeps shining in your eyes but which you’ve been too lazy to turn off. You should probably even turn off any humidifiers you have on, and your coffee maker, lest you be distracted by the scent of brewing Maxwell House. Now, close the door of your computer room, get your “reading hat” on, and LISTEN.

Quickly, the song leader makes an announcement about the next performers. They will be singing a hymn called “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. Judging from the title, this will likely be ah hymn reflecting the majestic sovereignty of God the Father–rather like “O Worship the King” or “How Great Thou Art”. As the musicians rise to sing, however, and the pianist prepares to accompany them, I find myself introduced to an entirely different hymn from anything I have heard before. The last six syllables of each of the five verses are especially moving–so much so that, for days afterword, I can scarcely wrap my mind around them. The singers weave in and out of lines of music, placing emphasis on the words and on my heart in all the right places. Perhaps it would help if I attempted–be it ever so feebly–to replicate my experience, complete with capitalization where the song’s emphasis struck closest. My screen-reader has never been friendly toward WordPress’ bolding or italic functions, so capitalization will have to do.

Arise, my soul, arise; SHAKE OFF THY GUILTY FEARS;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
Before the throne my Surety stands,
MY NAME IS WRITTEN ON HIS HANDS.

Quite obviously, I need to read Hebrews more deeply, more thoroughly. Of course, our name is written on His hands–but how quickly I forget! And that part about shaking off my fearful condemnation! Each word, indeed, each syllable, is spoken with such conviction that I find the need for Kleenex anew. Beautiful!

He ever lives above, FOR ME TO INTERCEDE;
His all-redeeming love, His precious blood to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
AND SPRINKLES NOW THE THRONE OF GRACE.

At once, the knowledge of Jesus as our Great High Priest, and of the mercy seat, and the throne of God, are all in my heart–there as though they had never left. By this time, words cannot express what the hymn is doing for me, how it is making me feel as cleansed as I did when I first dedicated my life to Jesus, when I first took Communion on my fourth Christmas Eve…

Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; THEY STRONGLY PLEAD FOR ME.
“Forgive him! O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

At this point, two of the singers have ceased their song, and only one member of the trio is left to uphold this verse. It is extremely unpolished, with the worshiper’s voice fading in and out. He begins to sing a second after his piano cue and trails off at times, but–oh!–he understands those words! You can hear it in his voice, the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the joy of knowing His redemption. This singer is saved, and he is confident of that fact. By this time, we have gone far beyond the need for Kleenex. It’s time for big, thick handkerchiefs–which, by the way, I have also forgotten to pack.

The Father hears Him pray, HIS DEAR ANOINTED ONE;
HE CANNOT TURN AWAY THE PRESENCE OF HIS SON.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
AND TELLS ME I AM BORN OF GOD.

Yes… I knew that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah–even that these three terms are synonymous in English, Greek, and Hebrew, respectively. Yet, hearing it set to music–to these particular notes and with that much trust and faith in the singers’ voices–wraps the concept around my soul in a way that I know I can never forget. And let us not ignore the fact that, all during this presentation of glorious worship, the Lord is laying layer upon layer of peace upon my heart, like plastering walls of security and protection and peace that had once been crumbling fixtures incapable of withstanding the rain that continually fell on them.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
HE OWNS ME FOR HIS CHILD; I CAN NO LONGER FEAR.
WITH CONFIDENCE, I NOW DRAW NIGH,
WITH CONFIDENCE, I NOW DRAW NIGH,
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.

“I can no longer fear”… And in that instant, all my fears of the previous few weeks are swept away, to be remembered no more, carried along to the sea of forgetfulness on those singers’ voices. It is in the stillness that follows that I realize that He has found me, His terrified sheep, and has carried me closer to Himself, to those green pastures that I had longed for. I can again rest in Him, beside those still waters that He has Himself prepared. Absolutely glorious!

Before I tell you who the performers are, let it be firmly and decisively stated that they are three of the most beautiful, salvation-conscious people I have ever heard. Despite my love of British worship music, Stuart Townend has almost never held a candle to these musicians. Each word is sung in such a way that I could immediately tell how close the concepts are to their hearts–that they mean every syllable.

The singers are eight, six, and four years old.

This is no “cute little song”, and certainly not a “nice little performance”. When the hymn ends, the audience applauds–politely, it seems–but I can scarcely catch my breath long enough to whisper to Jedediah, “That is the most beautiful hymn I have ever hard, and in the most beautiful way possible”. Later, when I convert the recording of this performance to MP3, I find an interesting phenomenon. I never do hear three voices raised in worship, but somewhere between thirty and fifty. Tell me all you want that the microphones interacted with my recorder in a unique way, but my sister and I have formed other conclusions…

Since that day, my life has been constructed in iambic tetrameter. You see, I have always imagined the first three lines of each verse broken in half, so that there are not three lines but six, with six syllables per line. In that case, each line is written in iambic tetrameter. And now, so is everything I think about the Lord, or about His wondrous works. What’s more, neither the hymn’s theology nor the hymn itself have been far from my thoughts. Whether on the bus or at work or drifting from room to room at home, I’m either humming or singing: “Arise, my soul, arise … My name is written on His hands. … I can no longer fear. … Dear Anointed One…”

You, too, can have something like this experience. Sovereign Grace Music sells a beautifully live rendering of this hymn, and YouTube features another live version from Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle. Since Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle does not offer its music for sale, but seems to put it out as a free ministry to the public, anyone is free to listen to it without engaging in any inner ethical conflict.

The rest of the hymn-sing is blurry, at best. A few highlights that I do and must remember, for it was to my heart that the Lord was speaking; Somewhere during the middle of the requests, I was still feeling frustrated toward someone whom I ought to have forgiven earlier. At one point, the Lord flooded me with peace and let me know that I could come to Him, and that He would allow me to forgive; I would not have to force forgiveness through my own waning strength. And then–oh, how magnificent!–the Lord gave me a new mission. For days, I had been attempt[ting to DO everything perfectly. Without sleep and without rest, I had been trying to remember every minute detail of my guide-dog’s needs, perform work responsibilities flawlessly, and still have enough energy to maintain a cheerful demeanor when around friends and family. Now, any oak tree can take being climbed, carved upon, and leaned against–but a flower can’t. Certainly, Bethesda Lily couldn’t. So I was feeling utterly depleted. Somewhere between “In the Garden” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, He impressed upon me that my mission is not to prove how much I can and will do in this world, but to show others how to love Him more. So simple, yet such a blessing. Will running about the house tidying up show others how to love Jesus? No… But will kneeling to pray with a hurting sister in Christ, then offering to take some of the responsibilities off her shoulders and make some difficult phone calls for her, help? Perhaps. Will “much serving” be of service to the Lord? But will “sitting at His feet”?

At one time, I believed quite fervently that the hymn-sing featuring “Sunshine in My Soul” was among the most marvelous church events I have ever attended. Now, I see otherwise. Life in iambic tetrameter is awesome–simply awesome.