Songs About Christ’s Death for Us

IMG_2157?ver2One of the best ways to mediate on what this time of year means is by listening (and maybe singing along to!) Scripturally-based songs about the cross.

The song, “See the Destined Day Arise came up on my phone a few weeks ago, and I made a note to share it around Easter. The day Christ died on the cross was the day destined from before the foundation of the world.

This hymn was originally written by Venantius Fortunatus in 569 and was paraphrased or translated by Richard Mant in 1837. The original lyrics are here. In the past few years it has been reworded a bit and a chorus added by Matt Merker.

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

Another favorite about His sacrifice is “It Was For Me” by Dave Bolling (words here).

“What Wondrous Love Is This,” author unknown, words here.

“Face the Cross” by Herb Fromach, words here.

“The Power of the Cross” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, words here.

There are old and new versions of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” The first one was written in 1868 by Eliz­a­beth C. Cle­phane (words and background here. A few more stanzas than are normally sung today.)

The second was written more recently by Keith and Kristyn Getty, titled just “Beneath the Cross” (words here).

“Mercy Tree” by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale, words here.

Of course, once you start thinking of songs about the cross, too many come to mind to name: “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “At Calvary,” “Calvary Covers It All,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and so many more.

On Sunday I’ll share favorite songs about the resurrection.

What are some of your favorite songs about the death of Christ for us?

Book Review: Lark Rise

Lark Rise is the first book in a semi-autobiographical trilogy by Flora Thompson about her childhood in an English hamlet in the later 1800s. She writes some forty years later, looking back on a quiet, pastoral life that was later marked by great changes. Nowadays, the three books (Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green) are usually published together under the title Lark Rise to Candleford.

This first book has no real overarching plot. It’s more a series of vignettes about life in those times: how the women kept house, traveling visitors from puppeteers to peddlers, how the squire and rector and their families were viewed, harvest traditions and celebrations, how school was conducted, etc. Often one individual or family’s story would be told as an example of the topic being described. Throughout the book we see some scenes or stories though the eyes of Laura, a young girl based on Thompson.

Thompson does not paint the village, the people, or the times as idyllic. The folks were poor but proud, hard-working, and mostly unsentimental. But they had their foibles, individually and collectively.

One aspect that was particularly interesting to me was that most families had several (as many as ten or twelve) children in a two-bedroom house. To ease the food supply and create more space, young girls were sent to “service” in another town as young as eleven. Mrs. Thompson detailed how girls began and then rose through the ranks from the lowest maid, sending home much-needed money and cast-off clothing from their employers (which meant hamlet fashion was just a season or two behind the cities, but the ladies didn’t mind).

One sad story had to do with a older man who was so ill, he could no longer live alone. His neighbors helped as much as possible, sending him food and such. But their houses were full and the coffers empty. The only option was the workhouse infirmary. “But they made one terrible mistake. They were dealing with a man of intelligence and spirit, and they treated him as they might have done one in the extreme of senile decay.” The doctor made arrangements without consulting the man, and came to his house to take him for “a drive.” “As soon as he realized where he was being taken, the old soldier, the independent old bachelor, the kind family friend, collapsed and cried like a child” and died six weeks later.

I enjoyed hearing how some of the women worked to brighten up their poor homes: “A well-whitened hearth, a home-made rag rug in bright colours, and a few geraniums on the window sill would cost nothing, but make a great difference to the general effect.”

The villagers, sadly, didn’t value “book learning” much. What little I’ve found about Thompson says she was largely self-taught. “She [his mother] hoped Edmund would not turn out to be clever. Brains were no good to a working man; they only made him discontented and saucy and lose his jobs.”

This aptly described an acidic postman: “So he went on, always leaving a sting behind, a gloomy, grumpy old man who seemed to resent having to serve such humble people.” Haven’t you known people like that, who always “leave a sting behind”?

This book wasn’t riveting, except for a few of the stories. But overall was a pleasant read. I hope the next two books have more of a plot to them, but I look forward to finding out more about Laura either way. I think the next book takes her to her first employment in a post office. After I read all three, I look forward to viewing the series made for TV based on the books.

I’ve had the trilogy bound together into one hefty volume for some years. But I listened to the audiobook nicely read by Karen Cass and dipped back into the book to look more closely at some of the quotes.

Book Review: Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality

 Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe is a commentary or study guide to read alongside the New Testament book of Galatians.

Paul wrote a rather strongly-worded letter to the Galatians with none of his usual thanksgiving and commendation for his readers. That’s because the Galatians were confusing law and grace.

The first Christians were Jewish and were quite stunned when Gentiles became believers. There was a lot of confusion at first about whether Gentile believers had to follow the same practices as the Jews (see Acts 10, 11, and 15).

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Acts 15:6-11, emphasis added).

The initial confusion was understandable. But some, called Judaizers, persisted in teaching that Gentile believers must keep the OT law, especially the Jewish rite of circumcision. Paul insisted this was trusting in works, not grace, and we’re not saved by works.

It wasn’t that circumcision was good or bad in itself. Paul mentions bringing Titus, a Gentile believer to Jerusalem with no thought of having him circumcised (Galatians 2:1-5). But later in Acts 16:1-3, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Was Paul being inconsistent? No, Timothy was half Jewish, half Greek, and Paul wanted to bring him along on his missionary journeys. As a part Jewish man, Timothy would never have been accepted or listened to by the Jews without being circumcised. So in his case, circumcision was a matter of not being a stumblingblock to those he wanted to minister to. (John Piper goes into this more here.) The difference was that neither Paul nor Timothy were trusting in circumcision as a means to salvation or to earn favor with God. The Judaizers were.

So Paul argues against law and for grace, appealing to the Galatians personally, doctrinally, and practically. They were in danger of teaching false doctrine, of forsaking and perverting the gospel. It was serious enough for Paul to write as he did.

I won’t go into all the details or Wiersbe’s outline here. But Wiersbe makes application to our day. Probably few of us are tempted to observe Jewish law for salvation as the Judaizers were. But we can easily lapse into trusting in the rules or standards of whatever faith group we’re a part of instead of trusting Christ alone for salvation.

Millions of believers think they are “spiritual” because of what they don’t do—or because of the leader they follow—or because of the group they belong to. The Lord shows us in Galatians how wrong we are—and how right we can be if only we would let the Holy Spirit take over.

When the Holy Spirit does take over, there will be liberty, not bondage—cooperation, not competition—glory to God, not praise to man. The world will see true Christianity, and sinners will come to know the Savior. There is an old-fashioned word for this: revival.

Here are a few other quotes.

We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines; he becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him (Rom. 11: 6).

We not only are saved by grace, but we are to also live by grace (1 Cor. 15: 10). We stand in grace; it is the foundation for the Christian life (Rom. 5: 1–2). Grace gives us the strength we need to be victorious soldiers (2 Tim. 2: 1–4). Grace enables us to suffer without complaining, and even to use that suffering for God’s glory (2 Cor. 12: 1–10). When a Christian turns away from living by God’s grace, he must depend on his own power. This leads to failure and disappointment. This is what Paul meant by “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5: 4)—moving out of the sphere of grace and into the sphere of law, ceasing to depend on God’s resources and depending on our own resources.

God revealed Christ to Paul, in Paul, and through Paul. The “Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1: 14) had been an experience of outward rituals and practices, but faith in Christ brought about an inward experience of reality with the Lord. This “inwardness” of Christ was a major truth with Paul (2: 20; 4: 19).

Ever since Paul’s time, the enemies of grace have been trying to add something to the simple gospel of the grace of God. They tell us that a man is saved by faith in Christ plus something—good works, the Ten Commandments, baptism, church membership, religious ritual—and Paul made it clear that these teachers are wrong. In fact, Paul pronounced a curse on any person (man or angel) who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of the grace of God, centered in Jesus Christ (Gal. 1: 6–9; see 1 Cor. 15: 1–7 for a definition of the gospel). It is a serious thing to tamper with the gospel.

Justification is an act of God; it is not the result of man’s character or works. “It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8: 33). It is not by doing the “works of the law” that the sinner gets a right standing before God, but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ.

Reading this book was a little different from reading the author’s Be Reverent on Ezekiel. Ezekiel has 48 chapters, so Wiersbe’s commentary covered broader sections in his chapters. But Galatians only has six chapters, so Wiersbe took two chapters to discuss each chapter of Galatians. If I had been reading this on my own, I would have just read one chapter of Wiersbe’s commentary on half a chapter of Galatians a day. But because I was reading one chapter a day of Galatians for our church Bible study, I had to read two chapters of Wiersbe to keep on track. It had my head spinning a couple of days, especially in the more doctrinal parts of the book. But Wiersbe in generally pretty easy to follow and comprehend. .

Coping and Ministering in Isolation

Blessed is the man who trusts the Lord, floruishing even in droughtAs soon as Arthur and Wilda Mathews arrived, they knew something was wrong. The Chinese church in Hwangyuan, China, had asked them to come and minister in 1950. But now the church leaders seemed strained. The Mathews soon learned that the area had fallen to Communism, and association with white missionaries was a detriment to the Chinese Christians.

The Mathews thought it best, then, to leave. But a capricious Chinese official would not grant their exit visas. The money from the Mathews’ mission came through this official, who then made Arthur wait, grovel, and ask repeatedly for the needed funds. The official only gave them a fraction of what they were due. He also slowly tightened the restraints on the Mathews. First, they could not have the building belonging to the mission. Then they could not evangelize or participate in ministry. Then, a short while later, they could not leave their premises except to draw water, buy food, and gather materials for a fire. And finally, they were not allowed to speak to other Chinese.

The Matthews’ story is told in the book Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn, which I reviewed a few years ago here. Their story came back to mind in our current situation. They were isolated for different reasons than we are. We’re not suffering persecution, being spied on by people who would benefit from betraying us, or starved out by petty power-mongers. But they did wonder: how in the world could they be a testimony when they couldn’t even speak to people?

What was there inside these walls to do? It just seemed as if every time they tried to engage in any Christian service, they were knocked flat! Life’s accustomed joys were slowly drying up; but the trees of the Lord have a secret supply.

The title and theme of the book come from Jeremiah 17:8:

But most amazing of all was their spiritual vigor. Whence came it? Not from themselves: no human being could go through such sufferings and come out so sweet and cheerful.

As I was in a small prayer meeting one morning one prayed thus: “O Lord, keep their leaf green in times of drought!”

I knew in a moment that this was the answer. Jeremiah 17: 8: He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

That was it! There was an unseen Source of secret nourishment, which the communists could not find and from which they could not cut them off.

This is the story of that secret Source. To add another book to the many telling of trials under communist pressure is not necessary and is not our purpose.
But to tell of the secret Source by which a tree can put forth green leaves when all others around are dried up and dying from the drought—that is timeless. That is needed by all of us. Your drought may not be caused by communism, but the cause of the drying up of life’s joys is incidental. When they dry up—is there, can we find, a secret Source of nourishment that the deadly drought cannot reach?

Here are a few ways that Source helped them cope:

Resting in God’s sovereignty. They wrestled with “Ifs”—if the Chinese church had not asked them to come, if they could have gotten word to them before they came, if this or that had or hadn’t happened. They kept coming back to the fact that God orchestrates our steps.

They fed their souls truth. They regularly read God’s Word and Christian authors. They found help in something Andrew Murray had written (though Isobel doesn’t quote the source):

1. Say, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest.
2. He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
3. Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.
4. In His good time He can bring me out again—how and when He knows.
So let me say, I am (1) here by God’s appointment; (2) in His keeping; (3) under His training; (4) for His time.

Before Easter, 1952, Wilda

set herself to study the resurrection story and the resurrection life. As she came to the part that Peter played in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace she suddenly felt heart-condemned. She had not said, I know Him not, but she had no joy. She was not bitter, but she was frustrated and restless. Her opportunity to witness to the Chinese eyes around them that she did know the Lord and that He was satisfying her drought—had she shown that? If not, wasn’t that denying the Lord before man? On her knees before Him she confessed it as such, and the result was a glorious Easter.

They learned to delight in God’s will. While studying Ephesians 5:10, Arthur was arrested by the phrase “learn in your own experience what is fully pleasing to the Lord.”

A few nights later it came to Arthur like a flash: the Son had left heaven, not [just] submitting to the will of God, but delighting in it. Up to now they had been submitting; rather feverishly submitting because they felt they should press His promises. “Lord, why dost thou delay? We could be out spear-heading advance into new mission fields! Open the door now, Lord!” They had been acting like servants who don’t want to do it but have to, because they can’t get out of it. What a different attitude was the Son’s! There came a day in June when together Arthur and Wilda knelt before the Lord and abandoned themselves to live on in that stinted little kitchen as long as He wished them to. And the peace of God poured in like a flood bringing such joy as they had not known before.

Arthur later wrote of this experience to supporters and concluded:

So we came to see that God wanted us to will with Him to stay put; not to desire to run away as quickly as we could persuade Him to let us … It was natural that we should go from there to cry with David, I Delight to do thy will, O my God (Psalm 40: 8)…So we are no longer stupid bullocks being driven or dragged unwillingly along a distasteful road; but sons, cooperating wholeheartedly with our Father…

They endured, trusting God was working through their trials. Arthur wrote, “These trials of faith are to give us patience, for patience can only be worked as faith goes into the Pressure Chamber. To pull out because the pressure is laid on, and to start fretting would be to lose all the good He has in this for us.”

And these are ways God worked through their ministry and testimony even when they were silenced:

The words, actions, and touch expressed earlier were remembered. Their first few weeks in Hwangyuan, Arthur had been able to preach and Wilda had been able to go with the pastor’s wife to minister to the women.

Little did she guess that her loving words and smiles those days were to be the only direct ministry she was to have among them. But it was enough to show the women and girls of Hwangyuan that the white woman in their midst was there to love them.

Those were the days of the touch of the hand, the loving concern in the eyes, the simple testimony of the voice. They would not be forgotten later on when the government forbade it.

People saw God’s provision in their need. Isobel refers often to what she called the Feather Curtain of God, based on Psalm 91:4a: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” Story after story relates God’s perfect timing and loving care in supplying their needs.

All the courtyard had heard when the father ordered the milk for the little one to be discontinued for lack of funds; yet that very evening, they not only sang, but the song of praise had an exultant ring in it! (No one knew of Ben’s secret gift.) And the next day the old Tibetan lady was recalled and the milk money was there! Had it fallen from heaven? It most certainly had not come in by the door—that they knew. Did the God of Elijah really live? What more potent message could God have given these people?

People saw them endure the same trials they were experiencing. “The message above all others which the Chinese church needed was to see that truth lived out under circumstances equally harrowing as their own.”

[Arthur wrote} “Then Christmas night, another kind of gift, from the One whose birthday it was. This is what happened. Timothy [the spy] away, the local shepherd voluntarily came to the door to wish us Merry Christmas, and to tell us that the church was packed with outsiders and the few believers, who were met together for singing and the Christmas message.”

What had packed that church with heathen, living under communism? What we lack and lose and suffer are our most prized facilities for bringing home to the hearts of this people the glorious gospel of the grace of God. They had seen green leaves in a time of drought; they themselves were dried up to the point of cracking. What made these Christians able to stay uncomplaining, smiling above their patched clothes, and despite their growing thinness? How did they stay alive when Felix had done his best to starve them? They knew the power of Felix. This was the service which God had planned for His children when He deliberately brought their feet into the net.

In another section:

Was the Chinese Christian falsely accused? So were Arthur and Wilda Mathews. Was he persecuted? So were they. Was he attacked by sickness and bereavement without much medical aid? So were they. Was he laughed at? jeered at? constantly humiliated? So were they. Was he tantalized by specious promises of release? So were they. Was he forced to do menial work, thought very degrading? Much more Arthur Mathews…

And yet as trial piled upon trial; as the ground (their human comforts) grew so parched with drought that it threatened to crack open, their leaf was still green. Every evening the sound of singing and praise to their Lord ascended…Their clothes grew ragged, and their food became so poor that the Chinese themselves were moved with pity. Yet still these missionaries sang on and taught their patched-clothes baby: “In heavenly love abiding, No change my heart shall fear,” until she could sing it too.

Eventually Arthur and a coworker were the very last China Inland Mission members to be evacuated out of China after the Bamboo Curtain fell. Wilda and their little daughter, Lilah, had been sent out a short time earlier. But they all left behind with the Chinese church, the CIM family, and everyone who has read their story a testimony of God’s grace and provision.

Isobel concludes: “But who knows when the drought is going to strike us also? Is it possible for any Christian to put forth green leaves when all he enjoys in this life is drying up around him?” Yes. God’s promises are still true. May He keep our leaves green and flourishing for His glory.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesdays, Heart Encouragement, Let’s Have Coffee)

Laudable Linkage

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I used to share good reads found online only a couple of times a month. But I’ve found enough lately to post them every week. Here are the latest:

Easter Week in Real Time, HT to True Woman. A synthesis of the gospel accounts of what happened the week of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Locked Down Alone. Words of advice from those in other countries who went into lockdown due to the virus, especially for those who live alone.

Confined to Quarters. Written two years ago, but timely now. “Most of us in our lives will experience a season of confinement. But God has His way. Confinement may liberate us for service that we otherwise would not do. Or God may place us strategically where a Christian testimony is most needed. Confinement may also simply be God’s way of sanctifying us and weaning us from this world to look with greater longing for our heavenly home.”

Weapons for Fearful Times. “God didn’t leave us without options, weapons if you will. Instead of a fearful spirit, what did he give us?”

Loose Lips Sink Families. “For both men and women, our words have tremendous power. They can motivate others to live more like Christ or be exactly the push they need to make choices that are less than God-honoring.”

Sorting Through Our COVID Anxieties, HT to Challies. “Replace ‘what if’ with ‘even if’ and identify the relevant attributes of God that would be relevant. For example, instead of thinking, ‘What if I lose my job’ replace that with, ‘Even if I lose my job God will still be faithful and has given me a church family to walk through those times.'”

Helping Children with Scary News, HT to Story Warren.

Remember the Grandladies. I loved this!

I Love You from Over Here, HT to Challies. “Maybe instead of just saying ‘we miss you’ we can say to our friends ‘I love you from over here.'” Good suggestions of ways to show love from afar.

I know some of you are fond of castles. Since it would be too expensive to reconstruct the damaged ones, someone has Digitally Reconstructed Medieval Castles to show what they’d look like. HT to Challies.

Perhaps, like me, you are old enough to remember Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s beauitful ice dancing routine to Ravel’s Bolero, for which they won a gold medal and broke records in the 1984 Olympics. Or perhaps you’ve seen the video since then. Someone organized a mass reenactment with people from many occupations, ethnicities, shapes, and ages. It’s pretty cool to watch.  HT to The Story Warren.

Sing the Psalms. Like This. This paraphrase of Psalm 46 from Joe Tyrpak and Church Works Media is beautiful, timely, and encouraging. They’re offering it as a free download here.

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

I hope you’re doing well and have what you need. I’m disappointed that this whole virus scenario will last longer than originally expected. But I know they are working hard on it. I wish people would self-isolate more. Some don’t seem to be taking this seriously. But instead of going down that rabbit trail, let’s turn to some of the high points of the week:

1. Zoom church. We had a trial run earlier in the week, then met Sunday morning via Zoom. Everything went well. It was good to see everyone’s faces and hear from many during the discussion time. We still look forward to meeting in person, but this is a good substitute under the circumstances.

2. Phone call from a longtime friend. We’ve known each other nearly 40 years, but haven’t lived near each other in the last 26. We’ve visited back and forth and more recently touched base or messaged via Facebook. I messaged her to ask about a mutual friend. She responded by calling me, and thankfully it was a perfect time. I think we talked over an hour, and it was so good to catch up and hear her voice.

3. A birthday parade. One of my sisters is much more of a social butterfly than I am. She was disappointed that she wasn’t going to be able to get together with friends for a milestone birthday due to the virus precautions. But several of her friends arranged a birthday “parade.” While she waited at the end of her driveway, they drove by slowly, waved, called out happy birthday greetings. Some had their cars decorated with her name and/or age. That was one of the neatest and most thoughtful things I’ve even seen. We’re in another state, but we got to see pictures and videos on FaceBook.

4. A surprise visit. During the first couple of weeks of isolation, we had continued getting together with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson occasionally. We figured we were all at home, my husband and son were the only ones going to the store, and we were careful about washing and sanitizing, so the risk was small. But as the confirmed cases in our area continued to rise, my son and d-i-l felt it would be best if we stopped getting together for the next few weeks. Of special concern was that if Timothy were to get the virus, they would not be able to be with him. So we agreed, of course. In fact, I had felt slightly uneasy when we were together, hoping we weren’t spreading anything. But I was grieving because the next few weeks include Easter and Timothy’s birthday, besides regular get-togethers. And we’d already had to cancel my oldest son’s trip here this month. I kept reminding myself that it’s only for a few weeks, that we have ways to keep in touch, that I am so fortunate to have them nearby instead of thousands of miles away as my own parents were from us. Still, it’s hard, even though it’s the best thing to do. Then yesterday afternoon I received a voice text from Timothy saying he was outside. I thought he meant he was playing at his house, so I voice-texted, “Have fun!” Then I heard the doorbell ring. They had brought over a note from Timothy and a chicken pot pie and cupcake from their favorite bakery. They were just going to leave them on the table on the porch, but we ended up talking at a distance in the front yard for a few minutes. It did my heart good.

I should have taken a picture before the flower died. 🙂

5. A pleasant get-together. Before we decided to stay apart, we visited Jason and Mittu at their house last Saturday. Jim took the riding lawn mower over, and Granddad coming to mow and do yard work is a highlight for Timothy. He gets out his own mower and yard tools to help. 🙂 Jesse and I came later for lunch. Not only was it a fun time, but the weather was so beautiful, we sat outside for a bit. I am not an outdoorsy person, but even I loved being out a couple of lovely spring days. It’s turned cold again, but should warm back up in soon.

What signs have you seen of God’s goodness in the midst of hard times and strain?

Quarterly Reading Update

My long-time blog friend, Susanne, is hosting a quarterly get-together to set and discuss reading goals. Her second-quarter post is here.

As I mentioned in my first quarter reading list, most of my reading choices come from the Back to the Classics Challenge and two reading challenges encouraging us to read what we already own. I supplement those with other books depending on the season or my interests. Sometimes I want to get in on a new book as soon as it is released.

The classics I finished this quarter are:

The first two were on my first-quarter list. Doctor Thorne was not, but it did count for the classics challenge. Larkrise to Candleford by Flora Thompson was also on my list: I am listening to the first book in that series now. So I’m pretty much on point with classics.

Books from my TBR stash or list that I finished:

Fiction:

Nonfiction:

The starred items were on my first-quarter goal list. I had not planned on Wiersbe’s two books, though I’ve had them for a long time. I didn’t complete two on the original list, but with these two instead, I feel good about meeting my goals. I’ve finished one other that I have mixed emotions about and haven’t decided whether to review.

Another I read that I had not originally planned on was Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant, about the “lost years” of the Little House books, borrowed from the library.

Although I enjoyed all of these, probably Doctor Thorne and The Last Castle were my favorites.

For next quarter:

Classics: I’ll finish Lark Rise by Flora Thompson, but I’ll hold off on the rest of the trilogy until after I do a little more work on the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’d also like to read more of Trollope’s Barsetshire series, but will wait for the same reason. I’m undecided about which category to tackle next. Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June, so I plan to read Eight Cousins and possibly Rose in Bloom for that.

From my TBR piles:

I think I’ll hold off on the Anne Lindbergh book from last quarter’s list. I want to read it. But it’s a hefty one, and I’m just not quite in the mood for it now. But I’ll look forward to:

Fiction:

  • The One True Love of Alice Ann by Eva Marie Everson (moved from last quarter’s list)
  • Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron (currently reading)
  • A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd (currently reading)
  • The Space Between Words by Michelle Phoenix
  • The Dwelling Place by Elizabeth Musser

Nonfiction:

  • The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs (currently reading)
  • Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises by Dr. Michelle Bengston (currently reading)
  • Be Rich (Ephesians) Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy by Warren Wiersbe

That’s not enough for three months, but I have stacks of TBR books on my shelves and in my Kindle app to choose from.

What are you reading next?

 

 

End-of-March Reflections

March daffodilsThis has certainly been a month like no other in my lifetime.

We began by celebrating my husband’s birthday, my son’s first cat, and Pi Day. I enjoyed a long lunch with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a few months.

Then news began to spread about the coronavirus. I’ve run the gamut of emotions since I first heard of it. I think I am pretty settled now … most of the time. When bad news or new concerns arise, I try to remind myself of God’s truth. So far we are doing well. My husband and three sons still have a job and work from home. I breathe a little sigh of relief every time my husband comes home from the store, knowing we’re supplied for the next few days. I pray often that God will accomplish His will through all of this and it won’t last any longer than necessary. I’m an introverted homebody, so being isolated hasn’t bothered me. I hope it’s not harder than usual to get back in the swing of things when the time comes, but we’ll deal with that then.

Family encounters

Humor always helps. We have not felt comfortable getting food out, even with drive-through or delivery services. Some of you who have read here for a while know I love getting dinner out fairly regularly as that’s the only time I feel officially “off.” Instead, now I try to balance easy meals with the more labor-intensive ones. One night after we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, I told my husband and youngest son, “I’m glad you guys are happy with whatever I make, whether it’s simple or fancy.”

Jesse said, “It’s made with love. That’s all that matters.”

My husband said, “That’s not all that matters….”

Timothyisms

My grandson wanted to do something that required an adult presence, but my daughter-in-law was making dinner. She said something like, “Not right now, honey. You need supervision to do that.”

Timothy said, “But Mommy, I already have that behind my eyes.”

She was confused until she realized he thought she meant super vision.

Another time, I’d had a negative encounter with someone in the store, right at the beginning of the corona virus scare when stores were first emptied of paper products. I inadvertently got in someone’s way, and he told his companion, while looking at me, “I hope she gets the corona virus. I hope she dies from it.” He didn’t seem angry: he said it with a smirk. I was pretty stunned. When my son and daughter-in-law were talking about the situation at home, Timothy asked what they were discussing. They said someone had some something unkind to me and hurt my feelings. So he texted me that he loved me, and then said,” Mommy, you know why I hug Grandma so much? Because I like her. She’s so sweet.”

Another quip: “I want a pet bee so it can be an automatic honey machine.”

And the last one: we had a severe thunderstorm one night. Timothy told us later that it woke him up and he was scared and “lost his dream.” Then he climbed under the covers and felt better.

Creating

The only card I made this month was for my husband’s birthday. He’s received a lot of camping gear as gifts, so I decided to use a camping theme. The Cricut can do so much more than I use it for: I need to just play with it some time and figure some of these things out. I usually just have it cut isolated images. But I was pleased that I finally understood this time how to layer three different ones. This is one of my favorite cards yet.

I also sewed for the first time in a long time. My husband wanted me to make a face mask for him out of camouflage fabric, and thankfully I had a good-sized scrap in my stash.

Writing

Since the calendar has been cleared, and my husband has been doing the grocery shopping, you’d think I’d have all kinds of time on my hands. I’d hoped to have extra time to work on my book, but I seem to have less. I hope to carve some time out this week. I did write a rough draft of a devotional and guest blog post: I hope to polish those off and submit them soon.

Watching

While riding my exercise bike, I started watching the 2017-2019 A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s really quirky, but interesting. As a family we enjoyed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s not a biopic of Mr. Rogers so much as an account of his relationship with one troubled man. But it’s very good.

We enjoyed watching Spies in Disguise except for a segment showing a man’s bare backside. It was just a cartoon character, but still: the scene should not have been there and should not have dragged on as much as it did, We fast-forwarded through it.

My kids played with Legos even after other toys were laid aside. I’ve enjoyed watching Lego Masters, but no one else in the family has been interested.

I mentioned last month watching Dickensian, but I had to stop when they showed a man’s bare backside as well. I hadn’t thought to check out objectionable elements in this series because it was based on Dickens’ work. I’m mad that this seems to be becoming more commonplace.

Reading

I’ve completed this month:

I’m currently reading:

  • The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs
  • Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe
  • Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises by Dr. Michelle Bengston
  • Lark Rise by Flora Thompson (audiobook)
  • Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron
  • A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd

Blogging

Here are some of the posts from this month:

That pretty much wraps up our March. I’ve been delighted to see signs of spring: more daylight, warmer days, budding plants and trees. What a sign of hope for better days to come.

I saw a thought-provoking tweet recently, but I haven’t been able to retrace it because it was from someone I don’t know. But it said something like, “Maybe being huddled in our homes wondering what’s going to happen next is the most Eastery thing we could do this year.” There’s nothing wrong with our modern ways of celebrating Easter, but who knows how the pandemic will affect those plans. This might be an Easter to remember just because it will be different. Maybe a quieter celebration will give us pause to remember the disciples’ agony those three days after their hope was crucified, and their confusion, and then joy, to realize Jesus had been raised from the dead. I hope we’ll realize the impact anew.

How was your March? What are your hopes for Easter?

(Sharing with Shannan, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Inspire Me Monday,
Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Tell His Story,
Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Let’s Have Coffee)

When the Answer to Prayer Is Bad News

IMG_0646?ver2I love the little book of Habakkuk. It’s just three chapters long in what’s called the minor prophets of the Old Testament—minor not because they are less important, but just because these books are shorter than the five books called major prophets.

Habakkuk was a prophet who prayed—or complained or lamented—about what was going on in his country: violence, iniquity, destruction, strife, contention, perverted justice (sound familiar?) (verses 1:1-4). He sounds exasperated when he begins:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (verse 1:2).

God responds:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told (verse 5).

That sounds good! But God continues:

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans … (verse 6).

Wait. What?

The ESV Study Bible notes that the Chaldeans were technically a particular tribe in Babylon which grew to prominence, but eventually Chaldeans and Babylonians became almost interchangeable names. God goes on to describe them. Bitter, hasty, seizing dwellings not their own, dreaded and fearsome … more fierce than evening wolves … they fly like an eagle swift to devour … violent … their own might is their god (verses 6-11).

Habakkuk surely didn’t expect his prayer to be answered by the violence of an invading army. He understands God has “ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (verse 12). But, he asks, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (verse 13). The age old question: how can a holy God (verse 12) look on and allow evil to flourish? After expanding on this a while (verse 14-17), Habakkuk awaits God’s response (2:1).

God answers in 2:2-20. He doesn’t give a direct answer to Habakkuk’s complaints, just as He didn’t to Job. But He assures Habakkuk He knows what He is doing, He will take care of the Chaldeans in good time, and “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). The ESV Study Bible says:

It will take faith to wait patiently for God’s plan to unfold, but the righteous believe that God will accomplish it. The phrase but the righteous shall live by his faith is quoted in the NT to emphasize that people are saved by grace through faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; cf Eph. 2:8) and that Christians should live by faith (Heb. 10:38-39). The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes, and that the NT authors promote, is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the darkest days (p. 1724).

The book ends with a final prayer of Habakkuk, changed in attitude from his first. He reverences God. He goes on for several verses about God’s holiness, power, and majesty. He asks:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (3:2).

After stating he will quietly wait for God’s timing, Habakkuk ends his prayer in faith and worship:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places (3:17-19).

These statements are remarkable in themselves, but even more so in context. Not only did Habakkuk not get the answer to prayer he was hoping for: he got news of impending disaster. He didn’t get an explanation, but he got an encounter with God. Afterward, he was humbled and hopeful. Though even hard times were coming, he rejoiced in the God of his salvation and acknowledged God as his strength.

I don’t think this means he pasted on a smile to face an invading army and loss of resources. What he describes in his prayer in chapter three is horrible. Other prophetic books concur. The Babylonian invasion and captivity were devastating and costly. It’s okay to be sad, to grieve losses, as my friend, Lisa, wrote. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s hope-filled sadness over the same invasion. But Habakkuk had faith, prayed for mercy, and rested in God as his strength for what was coming.

I can’t help but see parallels to our current situation. No one can say exactly why God allowed a pandemic to occur. No one would have asked for it. We hope it will all last as short a time as possible. It might get worse before it gets better.

The same could be said of other bad news situations: a lost job, a scary diagnosis, a failed relationship, and upending of normal way of life. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened with being thrown in a fiery furnace if they did not bow down and worship the king’s golden image. They refused and replied, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (verses 17-18). Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). In both of those situations, the immediate deliverance was not granted. But God worked mightily for His glory and the benefit of others and delivered in His own time and way.

Our hopes and prayers aren’t always answered as we would like. But in the face of an invading virus, shortages, or any other bad news, what we most need is an encounter with God. We can trust His wisdom, purposes, and love. We can rejoice because He is with us and is our strength. He will give us grace to go through hard things.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Anchored Abode,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network.
Links do not imply complete endorsement.)

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest collection of good reads online:

Seeing God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering. “But in seasons of suffering, we have hope. Our hope is not some kind of wishful thinking that things will magically get better. Our hope is rooted in the bedrock, Bible-based truth that our God is sovereign and is orchestrating all of the events in our lives to accomplish His wise, good, and gracious purposes. ”

Calming the Soul in a Culture of Fear. How to combat fear arising from headlines and media.

Are You Storm-Tossed And Weary?, HT to Challies. “I just want them home safe—God wants to conform them to the image of his Son. I want them to be shielded from harm—he wants them to be holy. So, in prayer, I lay them at his feet, entrusting them to his care, and asking for wisdom for them and myself.”

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, HT to Linda.

4 Things You Can Do For Your Mental Health During the Covid-19 Virus, HT to Linda

How Do I Overcome Comparison? The True Woman blog of the Revive Our Hearts ministry is doing a series called “Ask an Older Woman.” This is the second in the series, with some good advice.

How Do We Do Church Now? We Can Start With Prayer. Several things to pray for in connection with the coronavirus and it’s affect on us.

How the World Worshipped on One of the Most Unusual Sundays in Church History. This was neat: pictures from across the globe of people doing church remotely.

Ferdi, HT to Challies. While most of us appreciate the technology that allows up to “do church” to some degree virtually, we realize its limitations. But for some, this is the first time they get to meet with other believers.

What Will We Teach Our Kids About Trusting God? “Will we trust Him with the path ahead? Will we teach our children to trust even when things get dark? Or are we offering them a faith that is contingent on whether God does what seems right to them?”

The Gospel Is Worth the Embarrassment. There’s one odd sentence here I am not sure I agree with, but overall this is a good reminder that Jesus bore embarrassment for us. For whatever reason we feel a bit embarrassed to share His truth sometimes, it’s worth it.

I’ve mentioned Ron Hamilton several times on the blog. My kids grew up listening to Patch the Pirate, and I know and love several of the songs the Hamiltons have written and performed for years. Ron and his wife, and Shelly, were grad assistants when I was a college freshman. They were active in music ministry, so they were well known. A few years after they married, Ron lost an eye to cancer. That experience resulted in one of his most well-known songs, “Rejoice in the Lord,” his Patch the Pirate ministry to children (portions can be heard on BBN Radio on Saturday mornings), and his Majesty Music ministry for forty years. Ron and Shelly also experienced the mental illness and suicide of their son, Ron’s early-onset dementia, and Shelly’s auto-immune disease. I just watched these two videos with Shelly and was blessed to hear more of the story of God’s grace in their lives and news about how they are doing now. The videos are a bit longer than what I usually share here, but I thought some of you might be interested whether you were familiar with them before or not.

Hope you have a good Saturday.