Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts On Hills, Or Lack Thereof

"I lift up my eyes to the hills-
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth."

For years, when I read Psalm 121's beautiful, reassuring words, I didn't have the right idea about what they meant at all. Having visited the Rockies, I immediately would would picture a spectacular jagged peak, with snow on top. I imagined permanence, grandeur, immensity; all appropriate attributes to ascribe to God. I thought of the mountain as an analogy for God. I equated mountains with calm and peace.

What I didn't know, until I took a seminary course from the wonderful Kenneth Cuffey, was the context of this psalm. Of course, I knew that the Psalms were a collection of song lyrics, to which we have lost the music. What I didn't know was that for author of this particular song, the hills mentioned are not a source of calm, not an analogy for God, but actually a place of spiritual menace. You see, in ancient Israel, the tops of hills were the "high places", the location of non-Hebrew worship, with altars to various local gods that were worshipped by those outside of Judaism. So, in lifting his eyes to the hills, the song writer was saying, essentially, "What is worshipped up on those hills is not the God I worship. My help will never come from the high places, because I worship the Lord, who actually made those hills."

Sacrifices, sometimes human, would be made up on those hilltop altars, as well as other fertility rituals deemed despicable by the Hebrew people. The common thought among those who worshipped in the high places was that their gods needed to be roused from their slumber with loud supplications to meet the needs of their worshippers.

"He will not let your foot slip-
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep."

The song writer was saying, "I worship a God who is always alert and aware of my needs, and eagerly protects me from harm. I don't need to wake him up and beg him to do that; he takes care of me constantly out of his great love for me."

Many of the pagan gods worshipped on the hilltops were related to the astronomical entities that the local people could see-the sun and the moon in particular. But to a Hebrew believer in the Lord, that was worshipping the created, not the Creator, and considered blasphemous. So the song writer goes on to write:

"The Lord watches over you-
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night."

He sums up with this reassurance:

"The Lord will keep you from all harm-
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forever more."

So, I was wrong to think that the "hills" were the source of comfort in this psalm. Instead, the source of comfort is the God who created everything, who never sleeps, knows exactly where I am and what I need at all times, and is omnipotent to save me from all harm. While I can marvel at the beauty of the the majestic mountains God has created for his pleasure, I don't need hills for comfort at all.

Which, all things considered, is a very good thing.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another Pumpkin Update

Time for the pumpkin update! They have lost their little tents this week, and they have also had visits from dozens of children who's teachers have walked them down the street to ooh and aah over them.

Today the gardener, Dale, was out working, and I was able to glean a little more information about the care and feeding of the pumpkins. He said that he will soon set up scaffolding around them and use winches to lift them onto pallets. When it's time to remove them from the garden, he will push the pallets along over sheets of plywood. I was wrong about the forklift idea- I guess I leapt to that conclusion because they were on pallets. Dale said the forklift would be too heavy and sink into the soil.

He also told me that this is not going to be his best year as far as competition. For whatever reason, they are not quite as big as last year's. Also, if he takes the two that are not orange, they will probably be counted as squash, not pumpkins. The distinction is made based on color. They are still really impressive, though. See for yourself:

The cultivar Dale grows is called "Atlantic Giant". He said that that is the one you would use if you wanted to grow for competition, so all of you that have gardens, if you want to try your hand at this, or just get some king-sized jack-o-lanterns, try to find that kind to grow. I may never grow any for myself, but I sure do feel like I've learned a lot about them!

Sunday Stroll-9-28-08

My garden is back in my good graces. In early spring it raises my spirits with it's exultant victory-over-winter crocus and forsythia. I always love it in iris-and-peony season, when it has obligingly served as the lush background for many a prom or graduation picture. Mid-summer, despite the hollyhocks, it goes into the doldrums, struggling with the heat and humidity, or the heat and drought, or lack of consistent care from it's mistress. Then we get to the fall. Oh, how I love it in the fall! There's the sedum, humming with bees:

Rock-spray catoneaster:

Oak leaf hydrangea, putting on it's party clothes:

So is the tulip poplar:
I left humming "The Last Rose of Summer". I'll have to find my recording of James Galway playing that one to complete the beauty of the day.
If you'd like to stroll along with some others, visit The Quiet Country House.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Heavenly Dance

I love music. I love all kinds of music, whether it was written 500 years ago, or last week. Although it certainly isn't always used to glorify God, I believe that, like many things we misuse, it is a gift to us from God, designed to help us understand him more, and express ourselves to him.

Most of all, I love choral music! I know that's strange to say, because that isn't the kind of music you hear on the radio much, even if you choose to listen to a classical station, but I think the reason I love it is because so many people can do it. It doesn't require much equipment; we all have voices, though some are more blessed than others. It doesn't always require printed music; many can harmonize by ear. It doesn't always require a conductor or an instrumental accompaniment; beautiful songs can be sung without those. But it does require cooperation, agreement, listening, and collaboration to sing harmoniously. It is a communal effort with a common goal- to make a beautiful sound, and express a feeling or thought.

I found a great quote from a man who created a commotion in the world of church music with his emphasis on choral harmonies:

"When man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs."

(Martin Luther, 1538, in his foreword to a collection of chorale motets)

Good old Luther! I think he and I would have been friends, had we shared the same moment in history.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mid-day Wednesday at Mattis Park

Prayer for the Day

"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made . . . for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good,and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior."

1 Timothy 2:1-3

That's my prayer for today, and I'm not going to leave out the "thanksgivings".


From Ray Ortlund:

In 1836 Judge William Gould led a movement at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, to buy their first organ. It was a break with tradition. In a congregational meeting, one member rose and demanded chapter and verse where the Bible authorizes "the worship of God with machinery." But the members voted for the organ, and Judge Gould was appointed to raise the money.

Soon after the Judge ran into Robert Campbell, a member who had opposed the organ. Mr. Campbell asked the Judge why he had not asked him for a donation. Gould replied, "I knew you did not wish to have the organ." "That makes no difference," said Campbell. "When the majority of the members of the church have decided the matter, it is my duty to put aside personal feeling and assist as well as I may."

Narrated in David B. Calhoun, Cloud of Witnesses, pages 40-41.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Putting Away Our Swords

Exerpted from Living Is Easy With Your Eyes Closed:

"Why do Christians not agree on such important matters? Is it because some are more spiritually mature than others? Are some more hermeneutically astute and able to gain more accurate insight into the word of God? Surely God doesn’t contradict himself. What shall we do when well-meaning Christians come up with different answers from the ones God has clearly revealed to us as his truth?.....

But what about the issues? Shouldn’t we take stands on important issues like human rights, war, and even life itself? Of course. We must. This isn’t to say that all Christians will take the same stand. As long as we are fallen and our perceptions are colored by our experiences, as long as we have blind spots and different personalities (aggressive and passive, patient and impulsive, philosophical and practical, creative and rigid), we will continue coming up with different answers. We will disagree over disarmament and genetic planning, over movie-going and laetrile.
Yet somehow in the tension between the poles, God continues to work. Love leads us to an appreciative understanding of the unique contribution each member makes to the body of Christ, and thus the tension is creative. But without the willingness to lay aside, at least for at ime, our own position in order to affirm a dissenting brother or sister, the tension will undoubtedly be destructive. I suspect that Christ is working overtime these days healing the ears (and egos) of those we have slashed in his defense. Perhaps it is time we put away our swords and began displaying the mark of “Christ-ones:” Love."
… an excerpt from Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton

I highly recommend his entire post!

The Uncomfortable Game of Follow the Leader

A few days ago I put up a post that, if you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said I would never put up. I had been waking up in the middle of the night for a few days, which isn't all that odd for a woman in her fifties, but instead of laying there making grocery lists and imagining how I would rearrange my garden, I was having a running argument with God.

Now. If you don't believe in God, I get how you could think that is just crazy. But for just for a minute bear with me and imagine that if there really is an omniscient, omnipotent Being, it could indeed have an argument with some ordinary middle aged woman in an ordinary small city in Illinois as she lay next to her softly snoring husband.

The argument went something like this:

Me: "I don't want to say anything controversial on my blog! If I do what you're asking me to do, all my green blogging buddies, who I've become so attached to, will angrily delete me from their RSS feeds! Up to this point they think I'm just like them, except for the weird Christian thing, and we're having a great old time encouraging each other to change our lifestyles to live more responsibly for the good of the planet. I've kept my self out of the big controversies. If I just keep my mouth, er, keyboard shut, I can keep these relationships!"

Him: "Remember, it not about you."

Me: "Don't quote Rick Warren at me!"

Him: "Seek peace, and pursue it."

Me: "And don't quote the Bible......oh, wait, that's your own Word. Never mind. But this isn't going to lead to peace, it's just going to make a bunch of people really honked off! And besides, this blog is linked to the church's website, and I don't want to create some big whoo-haa that the pastors have to smooth over, and gets me in all kinds of hot water."

Him: "But what do I require of you, but that you act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with Me?"

Me: (after a long silence) Well, fine then. But the results are on your head. I'm not taking any credit for this scheme!"

Him: "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

So, I did the post.

And you know, the green blogging buddies were pretty nice about it. Confused, yes, but nice. We had a long conversation here, which was not always real comfortable but was always civil. Then the conversation moved over to another blog, and rambled off into some little rabbit trails about other issues, but it was still civil, and pretty enlightening, I think, for everyone involved.

And then, today, I finally got to see where God was going with this. One of those green blogging buddies put up a post that let me see, once again, a great truth: seeking and pursuing peace can start off very uncomfortably, and feel not at all peaceful, but if we really, sincerely want peace, really sincerely listen to each other and look for the important place of agreement, and let go of a lot of the lesser areas of disagreement, we can find peace with each other.

And as I read her post, I heard God say, "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An Ordinary Day at the Crossing

Today was so beautiful! I have a new camera, which, I'm sorry to say, won't cook my breakfast for me, but does do just about everything else you can think of, so I decided to practice with it while I was doing my crossing guard job. I thought it would give you another window into my thrilling life.

Here's the school. My sisters and I went there, and all my children, and my second son works there now as the art teacher. I've been the a.m. crossing guard there for 16 years, since my "baby" started first grade.
After grabbing my orange cone from inside the door, I head out toward the cross walk. I stand by the fence and wait for the kids.

Some come from this direction.......

.....but most come from this direction. It's still pretty early for most of them, but we do have a few who come for the breakfast program, so I need to be there just in case.

The buses start arriving. There will be quite a few of them. Our town, offers "schools of choice", which is a more natural way to integrate racially, because each family can choose whether to attend the closest neighborhood school, or send their children to another school in another neighborhood. This school is "over chosen", because it has such a good reputation.

The student patrol guards have arrived to help the children I cross safely cross the bus lane.

Here comes a group of my usual walkers! I cross about 30 children, and a few parents, every day.

The drop off lane is getting crowded!

Yep, that's roadkill. That's part of the job. This one had been there for a couple of days; it was getting a little ripe!

After the last bell rings, I stroll home past the now-quiet playground. You couldn't ask for nicer weather than we had today.
There, now wasn't that riveting reading!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Follow Up

There's a great post over on Bugs and Brooms, in response to a previous post of mine. Check it out!

C.S. Lewis On Evil

From Randy Gauger's Blog:

"I picked up my old copy of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. I had read it nearly 20 years ago. I discovered that it grabbed my attention again. It reminded me once more how subtle evil can be.

Lewis suggests that evil is not done in concentration camps. Such atrocities are the results of evil (page x). After evil has become full grown, the horror of concentration camps emerge. But where does evil begin. Lewis writes: "We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about their own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment" (page ix)."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Stroll: Sept. 21, 2008

As I took my weekly pumpkin pictures, I was able to ask the gardener a few more questions. The pumpkins you see above seem to be ripening to a different color. He said that they are all in the squash family, and cross-breeding can cause some color variation. They sure are getting big, though!
This one is turning orange, and you can see one behind it that I quit photographing several weeks ago because it ripened up so early and quit growing.
The one below appears to be the largest, and it's vine is still green and healthy, so it should continue to grow for a while. We've been getting plenty of rain, too, to help it along.
To see who else is strolling, visit The Quiet Country House.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review: "Once Upon a Town", by Bob Greene

Are you having a bad day? Is the news beginning to make you wonder if Americans could ever possibly treat each other with respect again? Are you losing faith in the human race? Are you unfamiliar with that big flat area in the middle of the country, and do the people who live there seem as different from you as space aliens? Here's a book to pick up and enjoy, that will lift your spirits and restore your faith in your fellow man.

I just love "Once Upon a Town", by Bob Greene! I've been rereading it for the second time, and realized I wanted everyone I knew to have a chance to enjoy this uplifting book as well, so I decided to put up a review.

While a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Bob Greene stumbled onto story about the razing of the railroad depot in North Platte, Nebraska. It led him on a fact-finding trip to this small town, and then on to many interviews with people who had lived there during World War II, and also men who had travelled through on the troop trains. He wound up writing an entire book about the phenomenon of the the North Platte Canteen.

Ten days after Pearl Harbor, families and friends of the Nebraska National Guard's Company D heard a rumor that their boys would be coming through North Platte on a troop train as they shipped out to the West Coast. 500 townspeople showed up at the station with food, cigarettes, letters, and love to give to the boys. But there was a mistake. The soldiers on the train were from Kansas' Company D, not Nebraska's. The townspeople decided to go ahead and give the Kansas boys the things they had brought. The train was only in the station for a few minutes, but when they saw how much the young men appreciated what was done for them, the local people, organized by a young woman named Rae Wilson, decided to do this for all the troops coming through North Platte.

What happened after that was something amazing. For four years, day in and day out, all the troop trains were met with cheerful local people serving the men homemade food, coffee, snacks they could take on the train, letters from people they didn't even know, and even a pianist playing their requests, while they quickly ate and visited during the stop. All this was done using
coffee cups that need to be washed, fresh foods raised on the area farms, coffee donated from people's ration books, and food cooked in the homes of people in the area, some of whom did not yet have electricity! The interviews with surviving townspeople are fascinating, describing the commitment and real hardship these folks had to have to continue to serve the young men coming through on train after train, hundreds of men a day. Interviews with veterans who remember the stop are equally moving. They all were so impressed by the generosity and friendliness of the people of North Platte. Some of those letters caused pen-pal relationships to form. A few even led to marriages!

"Once Upon a Town" is not a long book, but it is one of the most uplifting books I've ever read. Greene talks about the modern town of North Platte, as well, and it's a good snapshot, as I can testify, having been there. I don't want to tell you any more about it here; just grab a copy and enjoy! It's a window into a certain place and time that is well worth looking through!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Doing What We Were Designed to Do

Recently our church leadership has gone through an exercise where we looked at our church, both in it's current form and as it has been over it's history to find what the unique DNA of this Body is. Every church is unique, different, designed to serve a special purpose, and it was very interesting to delve into what our purpose is. When we came up with the five things that most accurately describe the character of our church, those of us in the meeting immediately resonated with the findings. "Yes," we all said, "that perfectly describes this church!"

One of those characteristics is a concern for mission outreach. It was something that drew my husband and I to the church, way back when we joined as 23 year old new parents. As a young couple, we had committed ourselves to tithing 10% of our income to Christian ministry, and finding a church that would help us direct that money was important to us. Since then, the church has never flagged in it's intentional approach to missions. By "missions" I mean serving beyond the walls of the church in both benevolent and evangelistic ways. This past Sunday, Pastor Randy, in his sermon, gave a list of things First Baptist has done in the past 36 months in the area of missions. Here's the list:

We have a $178,000 mission budget currently. When a special mission need arises like Katrina, this church digs deeply to respond. We passed the plate and came up with thousands of dollars that were not in the mission budget to aide the Katrina refugees. Some church members even had folks from the Gulf coast living with them for several months.

In addition:
1.Bill Manning visited Ed & Mariam Noyes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help with their agricultural mission.

2.Jim & Marge Keasling (who served as medical missionaries in the Middle East years ago)attended a conference on Christianity & Islam at Arab Baptist Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, where they sought to build bridges between Arab Muslims and Christians.

3.We provided ongoing help for the Honduras Children's Home: medical & dental teams; High School Bible School; built a cottage; financial support for multi-purpose building. In all, a total of 47 people have gone to Honduras to minister to children at Azapalqua.

4.Veterinarian Devon Spencer made a veterinary mission trip to India. She has just left on another such trip, to help nomadic herders learn to better care for their animals.

5.Hillary Shroeder, a third year medical student, is currently leading a team of 20 people on a medical trip to Uganda.

6.Felicia Milewski, a young woman who has grown up in our church, is in her second year of ministry in East Asia.

7.Chris Swiney & family, lead a Campus Crusade trip to Malawi, Africa.

8.Two work teams made trips to the Gulf to assist Habitat for Humanity in helping people affected by Katrina.

9.We support Sat TV, Christian programming to the Arab world.

10.Helped with an apartment for the drug rehab progam at Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign.

11.Helped Drs. Parajon with a de-worming project in Central America, to improve the health of children.

12.Helped Drs. Guiterrez with medical equipment in South Africa.

13.Helped purchase a truck for Ed & Miriam Noyes' agricultural ministry to the poor in the DRC.

14.Helped provide children's lunches through the ministry of Scott Coates in Thailand.

15.Participated with Heifer Project to provide animals for the poor. This money was raised by the children in one of our elementary school Sunday School classes.

16.Our Food Pantry made deliveries weekly to the hungry in our community.

17. The Angel Corp, a group of volunteers from the church, made small home repairs for elderly and disabled people in the congregation.

18. People made homemade soup for Times Center homeless shelter.

19.Women's Circle made cancer bandages.

20.Good Samaritan shoe boxes that provide essentials for underprivileged children at Christmas were donated.

21.Grant Thomas, a young adult in this church, leads a group on the third Saturday of every month to help rehabilitate housing for the poor in our community.

22.A number of people from our church volunteer at Empty Tomb, a ministry to the poor.

23.Numerous people have gone to Israel to work among the Jewish people and the Palestinians.

24.Several years ago this church took the lead, financially & in sweat equity, to build a Habitat for Humanity home here in town.

As Pastor Randy read this list, which seemed to go on and on, tears came to my eyes. From day to day, it isn't always apparent that we are doing much. Only when someone looks back and makes a list can it be seen that service and mission are so interwoven into the life of this church as to almost seem ordinary. And that's as it should be, don't you think? It should be second nature to us, as Christians, to serve, give sacrificially, practice reconciliation, heal the sick, lift the poor, and let our hearts be broken by the things that break God's heart.

I'm so glad I'm part of this church!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Don't Read This If You Don't Want to Know

This is a blog about life as worship; in other words, how my faith is to flavor all my thoughts and actions, and, hopefully, allow me to glorify God. I've written about how my faith affects my views on race relations, the environment, sharing materially with those less fortunate, and how I spend my work day. I've written, in posts about my children, about how proud I am that they have grown up to make their faith the central thing in their own lives.

I try never to talk about politics outside my home. I consider myself to be pretty moderate, (which is not the same as wishy-washy) and I usually split my ticket when I'm in the voting booth. Strident activism is distasteful to me. There are some very popular radio hosts I would never listen to, because I think they are so ugly in the way they talk about those they disagree with. Can't stand that kind of stuff. We live on a busy street, and every election year someone will ask us to place a sign in our yard, because we're so visible. We refuse. We want to be known as Christ followers first and foremost, not members of a political party.

The last few nights, I have been finding myself laying awake thinking. I feel like I need to say something, and I've been resisting that feeling. But I'm supposed to be obedient when I think God is asking me to do something in His name, even if it is risky. So today I'm just going to do it.

One of the presidential candidates has opposed legislation making this practice illegal. The other, along with his running mate, has said he would like to cultivate a culture of life. This, in my opinion, is the fundamental difference between the two. I will be voting accordingly.

This is the only post I will do on this subject.

There. Now I can sleep.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finding What You Are Looking For

"The bottom line is, people are hungry for spiritual things. Ultimately, even the world wants the church to be the church and to own up to who we really are....
Everything else- they can get that anywhere. They can pay thirty bucks to go see Letterman or whatever. But what people want today is God. They want to feel God, to know God....There is no substitute for the presence of God, for the anointing. There's none! Absolutely none. When God is making manifest His presence, I've seen the hardest people break down and weep before Him. They say, "I knew there was something to this."

Raphael Green

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Stroll-Sept. 14, 2008

I'm having a great time patting myself on the back for getting the pumpkin pictures yesterday, instead of waiting until today. Hurricane Ike is hammering us with mucho inches of rain, and it's a swamp out there, though, of course, nothing like people on the Gulf have experienced. So, here's the latest update:

To see who else is strolling (or hiding from the rain!) go to The Quiet Country House.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yes, We Can

This Sunday I'm supposed to say something very brief about the beginnings of our church because we are making note, as we do every year, that on Set. 11, 1864, our congregation was originally founded. We won't make as big a deal about it this year as we did for the 140th birthday, but we feel like it's important to remember, each year, that long ago there were folks who didn't have a building, or a pastor, or any of those things we think of when we think of church. All they had was their love for Jesus, each other, and a desire to start a faith community that has grown and flourished for 144 years now.

In looking over some church memorabilia and records, I've come to realize what a tough thing it was to start a church at that time in our history. The slavery issue colored everything. This county was settled, for the most part, from the south. Most early settlers were from southern Ohio, southern Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. They were, in some cases, from a slave-holding background. Others ( like my ancestors, who came here in 1852), were active abolitionists. I'm descended from a family who first freed their slaves, and then made their home a station on the Underground Railroad! So opinions were strong on both sides, and politics was top of the mind for even a backwater like this little railroad junction in the swamps of Illinois.

That made it tricky to start a church. On the frontier, church members were expected to "subscribe" to support the living expenses of a minister. At that time, abolition being a spiritual issue, and the movement coming mostly from church people, every one expected their minister to publicly announce whether he was pro- or anti-slavery. Then, if someone disagreed with the minister's stance, they would often refuse to subscribe to his living! Baptists tried, four different times between 1856 and 1864 to get a congregation off the ground, and each time had to dissolve over their differences about slavery, and their inability to get enough subscribers for a pastor.

Finally, on Sept. 11, 1864, 10 men and 14 women, along with a few others who are not recorded, remained after a preaching and agreed to organize themselves formally into Champaign Baptist Church. They adopted "Articles of Faith and Church Covenant", and called the pastor they had just heard preach to serve them. The emancipation of slaves was now a moot point, and they were able to move forward. They probably had hopes that their little church would last, but they surely had no idea of what it would look like today!

I found it very hopeful to me, personally, as I thought about how strident things can get during an election season, to know that God is still working to bring us together, provided we recognize that it will be in His timing and under His sovereignty, not ours. When believers can put the Gospel first, God can give them a mustard seed revolution. Just look right here! Just think about all the people who have come to know the Lord right here in this congregation over the past 144 years. Just think of all the marriages celebrated. Just think of the ones who have gone on to full time ministry and missionary work from here. Just think of the money poured out for the needy. Just think of the orphanage in Honduras, the clinic in India, the agricultural missions in Congo and Thailand. Just think of the youth groups and Sunday School classes and Small Groups who have bonded in the Bond of Love. Just think of the thousands of worship services, and, gosh, maybe millions of songs sung in praise. Just think of the potlucks!!

All started by a bunch of people who were having a tough time getting along, but set aside their differences to be the Body here on earth. If that doesn't show you the power of the Holy Spirit, I don't know what would.

"All this from is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..." 2 Corinthians 5:18

Country First

"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America, America, may God thy gold refine,
till all success is nobleness, and every gain divine!"

In honor of the passengers on United Flight 93.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What I Did With My Summer

As you can see, my office has not yet recovered from slow-moving Tropical Storm Joyce. By the end of August I had been swamped with sample music, demo CDs, reams of paper related somehow to worship planning, and a lot of cracker crumbs and coffee spills. If I thought FEMA would get here anytime soon, I would send out a plea for help, but I think I'm on my own for clean-up.

Since the choir doesn't meet in the summer, some folks wonder what I do with my time. Here's a little run down:

First off, I worked with 2 different organists, 3 pianists, 2 trumpeters, and 3 violinists in rotation for our musical team for the hymns. I also scheduled various soloists and ensembles for 14 weeks worth of music, using a total of 33 volunteers, ranging in age from 12 to 92. I made sure sound checks and rehearsals occurred for these people, found accompanists for some, music for others, and made something like 2 million phone calls. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it seemed liked 2 million! I also:

1.Created a list of accompanists which can be handed out to all the volunteers when they agree to sing. It includes instructions about sound checks, etc.
2. Listened to many promotional CDs of choral anthems and chose a few to order for the expansion of our music library.
3. Used the full year’s worth of sermon topics Pastor Randy gave me to work with, and selected all the music for the coming year. This involves looking up all the Scripture texts that he has chosen to base the sermons on, thinking about how best to support the theme he is using, and searching through the music library for appropriate pieces.
3. Attended weekly staff meetings, monthly music board meetings, monthly worship planning meetings.
4. Prepared at length for, and met with an individual who was upset about some music related issues
5. Kept board members apprised of various things via e-mail.
6. Spent much time on the phone, with the goal of recruiting some new instrumentalists for the worship team
7. Worked on all the details of the Huntley Brown event.
8. Rehearsed the instrumentalists on the hymns every Wednesday morning .
9. Did conducting preparation for the fall anthems.
10. Made sure that the worship order was forwarded to Jenny Noble each week so that the songs could be typed into the software correctly.
11. Proofed the bulletin weekly, and pushed to have it remain unchanged after Wednesday.
13. Wrote and sent out the recruiting letter and article for the newsletter and bulletin insert.
14. Developed the calendar for the upcoming year.

I also used the two vacation Sundays I had left from last fiscal year, and took two from this fiscal year.

Some years ago we didn't have a music director in the summer. The growth of the church has just made that old way of operating impossible. I find that August, in particular, is very heavy with preparation for the coming choir season. I think the church has been wise in recognizing the need to staff the position in the summer, not just because I have a job then, but because we get such a strong start to the fall this way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preparing For a Purposeful Choral Season

When I am preparing for the fall choir season, and the first rehearsal, I spend several weeks thinking and praying to discern the single most important goal or theme the Lord wants us to focus on for the year. Sure, we always work on precise diction, blend, accurate part-singing, etc.- the usual choral ensemble goals. I mention the importance of faithful attendance at rehearsal and building community in the group. We even make sure everyone has a robe that fits. But, more than anything, I want to cast a vision of what our role is in the service. Are we just a bunch of people who like to sing and like each other? For many sitting in the congregation, that may be the perception.

But the worship choir, along with the instrumentalists that work with us, are so much more than that! This year, at our first rehearsal, I gave the musicians a sheet of paper with the following charge written on it:

“God desires for His singers, musicians, and worship leaders to be powerful and convincing proclamation tools on the earth. As you combine your God-given talent and carefully-developed skill with a full understanding of your purpose in God’s kingdom you will become a more powerful and convincing voice. You will release your full potential and fulfill God’s purpose for singers and musicians.” (Great and Precious Promises for Singers and Musicians, p.9-10)

God’s clear purposes for musicians are:

To precede and proclaim His presence, His power, and His Word: preparing God’s people to receive Him. (1 Chron. 15:25-26)

To lead God’s people as they celebrate, thank, and praise Him. (1 Chron. 16:4 NAS)

When the singers, musicians, and worship leaders under King Solomon became “as one” (harmonically and with unified purpose), God responded mightily:

“…the temple, the Lord’s temple, was filled with a cloud. And because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled God’s temple.” (2 Chron. 5:13-14)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Book Review-The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan

I was contacted by Green Bean and told to quit whining about my garden and get busy and write a book report!

Actually, that's not in the least true, and you all know it. From all I can tell Green Bean is about as nice as pie. But if she had said that, she would have been right on, because I've been procrastinating, and it's high time I told you about a this book, because I really enjoyed reading it.

"The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan falls into my favorite genre of non-fiction, which is social history. I love to read about the ordinary people who lived through a certain time period, and how they responded to the events. For many years I was friends with a lady (who actually was my high school English teacher and a member of my church) who grew up living in a dugout in Southeastern Colorado, as the daughter of a dry-land wheat farmer. She was such an impressive person; so forthright, sensible, and good-humored. She talked about taking a stick to the garden to beat off rattlesnakes, going out with her siblings to hunt for dried cow-chips to burn in their cook-stove, eating cooked cracked wheat for every meal one year when they had to live on their seed wheat, and, sadly, that they all suffered from chronic lung ailments from a childhood spent choking on dust. Any book that told me more about the life she led was interesting to me.

Timothy Egan went to the area that was once know as the Dust Bowl, and interviewed elderly residents who lived through the six continuous years of devastating drought that exacerbated the damage that farmers had unwittingly done to what had been excellent grazing land. These folks were not the Okies that we think of from "The Grapes of Wrath". The Okies were mostly from Eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and East Texas, and were poor share-croppers that were displaced by disruptions in the economy. Rather, these were people who had claimed land of their own through the Homestead Act, and were convinced that it could be farmed at a profit. They, for the most part, did not leave, because they were land owners, and they naturally always thought the next year would bring rain and they would make a crop. Some had farmed there very successfully in the 1920's, not realizing that they were experiencing an unusually wet decade. Then, with the 1930's the drought came.

Egan writes about the hardships faced by these people, the mistakes they made in their farming practices, and how a single man, Hugh Bennett, convinced the the government to help these folks learn a new way of farming that could restore the land. One thing he brings out is that the homesteaders were pressured by the government in the 20's to raise wheat, against the better judgement of some who knew the area was drought-prone, and that they were also somewhat doomed to poverty by the rule that stated they could only claim 160 acres, an inadequate amount of land to support a family on the high plains. It was difficult for President Roosevelt to admit that those mistakes had been made, but Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, finally convinced him, and that allowed for a new approach, offering incentives to farmers to take land out of production and replant it in grass, teaching contour plowing, planting windbreaks, and all sorts of other practices that are routine today.

Reading the first person accounts, I was struck by what a long period of time these massive dust storms went on. For six years, people lived essentially in a blizzard of dust, unable to farm, unable to keep their cars running, unable even to keep schools open, never mind earn a living or even raise a vegetable garden. Their livestock died, their children and older people died of dust pneumonia, their roads and farm equipment were buried by drifts of dirt.

At one point, reading the book in bed, I put it down thinking I couldn't read about yet another dust storm. I turned out the light, and, as I lay in bed, I realized that that was the point of the book. The storms just went on and on and on. It was the only way to help the reader understand what the farmers on the Great Plains went through.

I wish that more time had been spent actually talking about the new soil conservation practices that were implemented. I kept reading, thinking that we would get to the turning point, so to speak, and enjoy the benefits of the new methods. Instead, the book essentially ends with the decision by Roosevelt to agree to Hugh Bennett's initiatives. A short chapter at the end showing us what the area is like today would have been nice.

I also think an exploration of the way Roosevelt's farm subsidy system needed a sunset clause, without which we have been stuck with ongoing economic intervention by the government, would have been helpful. We've yet to extricate ourselves from the New Deal, which, though very much needed in the Depression, is now an albatross around our necks. It was good history for me, though, and allowed me to understand better how we got where we are today.

I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars if you like social history, and 3 out of 5 if you are looking for a green read. Personally, I like the combination. I thought this was a worthwhile read.

To read more reviews, go to The Blogging Bookworm.