“ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER … DOOT, DOOT, DOOT, DOOT”

By Lisa Huddleston

It’s that time of year again.  Students are heading back to classes.  Parents are facing empty (or emptying) nests.  The season is changing.  And even though I don’t have any major changes of my own going on this year—my oldest son is a college senior now, my daughter a college sophomore, and my youngest son a high school senior—I still woke up this morning in the middle of a stress dream.  At least it wasn’t the having-to-take-a-final-exam-I-forgot-to-study-for dream or the performing-in-a-show-I-haven’t-rehearsed-for dream.  This was just the moving-to-a-new-city dream … but I was still in a sweat when I woke up.  Yep.  I just don’t deal well with change.

And I know from talking to several of my friends that I’m not alone.  In an unscientific poll conducted this morning via text messaging, I learned that change causes “resistance,” “pain,” “deliberate effort,” and “hard work and adjustment.”  Of course, these responses were from moms who are in the same stage of life that I am.  They are dealing with the same loss and the same anxieties over sending their chicks out into the big, bad world. 

Not everyone in my poll felt the same way.  My 19-year-old daughter—who has already changed colleges and majors in her first year of school—happily said, “I like change—at least most of the time!”  As did my mother who replied, “Change is just a part of life.  I’d get bored without it.”   Of course, she is the woman who used to change our furniture around so much that my little sister crashed into a dresser one night thinking she was leaping into her bed!  Maybe the hankering for change skips a generation or maybe it’s that I don’t like it’s being forced upon me, but change just for the sake of change isn’t my cup of tea.

But like it or not, change happens.  Time, and the change it brings, is like a river that keeps rolling—sometimes over us, sometimes all around us, and sometimes carrying us and our peace of mind away.  And during these especially aggravating times of change, I’m thankful to be able to run to the one constant in the ebb and flow.  The Eternal One.  The One who holds me in the palm of His hand and sets my feet on a Solid Rock that never shifts.  It is then, when the waters are raging, that He tethers me to reality and keeps me from losing my grip and going under. 

  •  “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
  • “His love is eternal” (Psalm 136).
  • “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Do you feel the river rolling?  Is it a calm ride today?  Take advantage of the serenity to prepare by searching out some lifelines of your own in God’s word.  Caught up in a raging flood?  Hold on to the words of God.  Call to Him and let Him guide you through the rapids.  Who knows?  If you trust Him, you may even enjoy the ride!

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LIFT UP YOUR VOICE AND SING

 

By Lisa Huddleston

 

“Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  (Colossians 3:16)

 

Ever had a song stuck in your head?  Try as you may you can’t make that melody go away.  You go to sleep with it ringing in your ears and wake up to the same tune.  It can drive you crazy.  Well, this is sort of like that, but what I have stuck in my head is not a song but thoughts about singing or more specifically about worship—why we sing. 

Understand where I’m coming from.  I live in a house full of music.  My kids all play instruments and sing.  Our family has a small music ministry.  My husband, daughter, and I sing in the church choir and rotate on the Praise Team, and my son plays in the Worship Band. I serve on the Music Search Committee and the Worship Planning Team, and I recently attended a wonderful, two-day conference for Tennessee Music Ministry Leaders.  (Thanks TBC Worship and Music Ministry.)  I’ve got singin’ on the brain!  So, if you’ll allow, I’d like to clarify my thoughts on paper (or cyberspace) and to start a discussion with my fellow believers about what it means to come together to worship our God in song.  I write not to bicker about what we sing, but rather to focus our thoughts on the why.  Much of what I share here comes from notes I took from Pastor Eric Schumacher’s (Northbrook Baptist Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) sermons at the TBC conference, and for his insights, I am grateful.

For many years, I have assumed that our times of gathered worship were all about God.  That those who came to church to receive something were being selfish and not appropriately focused.  I felt that worship was a vertical-only experience and that I shouldn’t worry about what I would gain from it.  It was my duty to worship, and I was going to do it whether I liked it or not.  I was wrong.  Just as those who come to church only to get a warm, fuzzy feeling by singing the songs they love are also wrong.  Worship is a 3-dimensional experience.  As horizontal as it is vertical.  And as the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians and Colossians, worship is a conversation.  In Ephesians 5:18-21 he says, “… be filled with the Spirit:  speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart.”  And in Colossians, Paul guides, “Let the message about the Messiah [The Gospel] dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing….” 

Worship is a satisfying experience!  In both of his letters, Paul tells of how we are to be filled in our times of gathering together.  Filled with the Spirit and with the Word.  Just the idea of such satisfaction makes me smile.  God calls us together to fill us.  And after being filled we are to share—in song.  Isn’t that an incredible thought?  We are to teach and admonish each other, and others who may be in our midst, about Christ and His sacrifice for us in the words of the songs we sing (horizontal).  It’s the words that tell the story.  And we are to sing them with gratitude in our hearts to the God who made us whole (vertical).  He alone is worthy of our praise! 

We sing for one another:  to speak and hear the Gospel, to encourage and to be encouraged in the way of Truth, to be filled with His Spirit and His Word.  And we sing for God:  to give Him thanks, to acknowledge His holiness and that He alone is worthy of glory, honor, and praise.  Come on church—join in the conversation.  Lift up your voice and sing!

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing

Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King!

The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find,

None other is so loving, so good and kind …

You ask me how I know He lives:  He lives within my heart.

–“He Lives,” Alfred H. Ackley

INTO YOUR PRESENCE

Into Your Presence

(A Hymn for the Church)

by Lisa Huddleston

Hear us, Lord, as we come today

to the foot of Your cross to pray

May our thoughts all be right and true

May our hearts always cling to You

May all our tongues with your truth imbue

Words that guide us all to do

Everything that You made us to

As we come into Your presence

 

Cleanse us, Lord, as we come today

to the foot of Your cross to pray

Let us see with our eyes so clear

All the sins that we hold so dear

Show us all of our thoughts and fears

Give us hearts to confess in tears

Wash us clean as You draw us near

As we come into Your presence

 

Teach us, Lord, as we come today

to the foot of Your cross to pray

May our ears hear Your still, small voice

Free our wills from a world of choice

To left or right, as we long to turn

“This is the way”—may our spirits learn

How to walk and our wills to burn

As we come into Your presence

 

Send us, Lord, as we leave today

from the foot of Your cross we pray

May our arms carry bags of seed

To every person who has a need

Grant us wisdom to gently weed

With hearts that love both in truth and deed

Each soul that seeks You, You will lead

As You draw them to Your presence

MOSQUITOS AFTER THE RAIN

 

By Lisa Huddleston

 “But I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.”  (Ezekiel 16:60)

I recently wrote a glowing report about the unusual amount of rain that has generously watered the area in which I live.  I likened the rain to the blessings of God honestly declaring that we should “remember with each drop that falls that it is God who waters our land and also our hearts.”  Well, it’s a good thing I have that in writing, because this morning all I could see were mosquitos.  Yeah.  The little blood-suckers were everywhere doing their utmost to drain me of my joy in the summer rains.  I was irritated, itchy, and bumpy, and to top off my perfect attitude, my daily Bible reading for the past four days had come from the book of Ezekiel.  Not exactly a pick-me-up, if you know what I mean.  Man, talk about depressing.  At least I was feeling that way as I dutifully sat down with my Bible—at the kitchen table instead of on my lovely back porch where I wanted to be but couldn’t be because of all the buzzing vampires waiting to attack … but I digress.  Anyway, I sat down and opened my Bible to Ezekiel 16.  I took a deep breath and started reading, not expecting much, but at least making some progress through this mournful prophet.

Wonder of wonders—truth started to drown out my buzzing annoyance.  As Ezekiel tells it, God found Jerusalem in a terrible condition. She was an abandoned newborn, unwashed and lying in the mess of her own birth.  She was utterly helpless, filthy, despised, and, I can imagine, screaming her head off.  But God cared for her.  He passed by and saw her.  He said, “Live!” He made her thrive. He spread the edge of His garment over her and covered her nakedness.  He pledged Himself to her.  He entered a covenant with her and made her His very own.  He washed her, clothed her in embroidered cloth and leather sandals, and wrapped her in silk and fine linen.  He gave her gold and silver jewelry—bracelets, necklaces, nose rings, earrings, and even a tiara!  He made her beauty and splendor perfect, and she grew famous because of His gifts.  (Ezekiel 16:1-14)  And how did she thank Him?  She became self-confident, trusting in the gifts rather than the Giver, until she forgot who she was, where she had been, and how she had been redeemed.  But God did not forget.  In spite of her shame, her shocking prostitution, her using His gifts to romance other gods, and her complete exposure in humiliation, God remembered His covenant with His bride and promised atonement. 

I needed to read these words today.  I have made some great discoveries in recent months and have been given some good opportunities to use the gifts God gave me.  My confidence was growing and just maybe the pendulum had swung a little too far to the cocky side.  But I received some humbling yesterday and was wallowing in doubt and insecurity as I open the Book this morning.  Familiar demons were buzzing in my ears and stinging me like the mosquitos impatiently waiting on my porch.  They had almost made me forget who my Benefactor is, and for a while I had been lost in self-pity and despair.  But Ezekiel reminded me.  I am His bride.  He has cared for me tenderly and gifted me in ways I could never deserve.  Red-faced and lying in my own filth, God picked me up this morning, wiped away my tears and the bloody excrement of self-loathing … and set a crown on my head.  Oh, I remember, Lord.  And that memory floods my heart with thanksgiving washing away the stagnant breeding ground of pesky demons and stirring me to try again. 

“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, 

All other ground is sinking sand.”  –Edward Mote, 1797-1874

SOAKING UP THE RAIN

 

    

 By Lisa Huddleston

“Let us strive to know the Lord.  His appearance is as sure as the dawn.  He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land.”  (Hosea 6:3)

Although it is August, usually a hot, dry, and very brown time of year in Middle Tennessee, our grass is thick and greener than I can remember it’s ever being this late in the summer.  Lovely—although my son who does all the mowing doesn’t quite appreciate it as I do.  Looking around at the yard, the garden, and the vastly varied greens of the woods that encircle our yard in a cozy cove, you would almost think it was still spring.  And all this gorgeous greenness is due to the abundance of rain that has fallen with unusual and refreshing regularity all summer long.

Not coincidentally, our congregation has spent the past month studying the book of Hosea.  Praying over, listening for, and looking to God for the rain of His Holy Spirit in our often dry and hard-hearted lives.  And coming to Him expectantly, knowing that He will “heal us, bind up our wounds, and revive us” (Hosea 6:1).  As the rain has fallen throughout the summer and our study, it has been impossible not to think about the renewal that only God can bring and our utter dependence on His grace to provide what we need when we turn to Him.  We have sung songs to reach out to “All Who are Thirsty.”  We have created works of art to respond to God’s word.  We have studied scripture, and we have prayed.  All this in preparation for last weekend in which we met for three days to focus our thoughts on His presence and His renewal in our lives and our church.  And now the weekend is behind us.  But for right now, for at least another moment or two, let’s sit, soak, and even splash around in the blessings of the summer rain.

And it has been a wet one.  God has showered blessings on our church.  Despite some stormy days in past years and experiencing maybe even more than our share of droughts, God has never forsaken us, and we are starting to see the fresh growth of springtime.  New families have intertwined their young lives with ours wrapping tender tendrils around the woody brown of our aging vine.  And it is good.  God has put a new song in our mouths along with a hymn of praise and is leading us to arrive at a sweet place of trust and reassurance so that “many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).  And that is very good.  And hearts are being changed.  How can I speak with such assurance?  Because my heart is one that He is changing.  Often dry, sadly even throughout this past weekend.  Frequently hard, even as we lift our voices in praise (forgive me, Lord).  And all too often angry, my heart has begun to feel the softening of its soil as tears have fallen to soak its crust.  I’m not saying that I’ve arrived.  Far, far from it.  And I’m certainly not as lush and green as the area in which I live.  But I am beginning to see the tiniest shoots of new life poking their verdant heads out of the hard clay of my heart.  And that is great!

So … sit, soak, and splash a while with me.  And remember with each drop that falls that it is God who waters our land and also our hearts. In season and out, may the summer rains keep falling.

 “Mercy drops round us are falling, But for the showers we plead.”

–Daniel W. Whittle, 1883

PRONE TO WANDER

By Lisa Huddleston

 “They truly love to wander; they never rest their feet” (Jer. 14:10, HCSB).

I had a terrible time trying to fall asleep last night.  The room was cool.  The lights were out.  All of my family was safe and sound.  Everything was just as it should be—but a strange stirring in my legs kept me wide awake and nearly drove me crazy.  No matter how hard I tried to be still and rest, they wanted to keep moving.  Strange to speak of parts of my own body as though they are separate entities with wills and desires of their own; but, it was the truth.  I would be right on the brink of sleep, and they would simply have to move.  My best guess is that I was experiencing something I’ve heard about called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).  But whatever it was, it made me nuts and kept me (and probably my poor husband) awake for way too long.

Not coincidentally I’m sure, my morning’s meditations took me to Jeremiah 11-15.  While reading and making notes in my journal about interesting thoughts or phrases, I laughed out loud when I came to verse 10 of chapter 14.  Oh yeah … I could relate to what God was saying to the people about their restless, rebellious natures.  Those wandering people were just like my restless legs!  Although Jeremiah begged them to “Listen and pay attention … Give glory to the Lord your God before He brings darkness and your feet stumble on the mountains at dusk” (Jer. 13:15-16), the people continued to move farther and farther from God’s way.  They sought after other gods and refused to “restrain their feet” (14:10, NIV).

Today, we are His people.  Not only that, we are His Body—His arms and His all-too-often-restless legs.  “Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ?” (1 Cor. 6:15, HCSB).  Like the people Jeremiah addressed and like my restless legs last night, we are members of Christ’s body that have minds of our own that sometimes take us to thoughts and actions that are far from the will of our Head.  When I remember how frustrated my wayward legs made me as I struggled to rest, I can imagine how my frequent wanderings and restlessness must appear to my God.  As a member of His body, my rebellious actions are strange and unnatural like limbs that move on their own accord—separate and even sometimes in opposition to the leadership of my Head.  And, like my legs, my actions may be unconscious and unintentional—busy-ness just for the sake of doing something, activities that distract from my time with God and take my focus away from Him.  Not exactly rebellion but damaging to my effectiveness as a part of His body.

As Jeremiah stated, it is vital to our relationship with the Lord to “Listen and pay attention” to God’s will.  And contrary to what my stubborn, self-sufficient little heart may believe, it is more effective to let go of our supposed control of our lives—to be still and know that He is God (Ps. 46:10).  Eyes closed.  Palms lifted to receive whatever He gives.  And hearts resting and trusting in Him.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

 Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.

–“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson