Monday, December 19, 2016

The angels have never stopped singing

‘Tis the season for singing! I like and listen to a lot of new music, but when it comes to Christmas, there’s something about traditional carols that resonate with my soul. The whole story of Christmas comes from the ancient text of scripture, so in this case, it seems to me that old is good.

I sing with the Voices of Colleton Community Choir. We started practicing in August for the two presentations that were offered the first week in December.  When you prepare for the weekly rehearsals and listen to recordings of the music throughout the week, you know how it’s supposed to sound. Sometimes in rehearsals, it just doesn’t make it up to the “how it’s supposed to sound” standard. The basses and tenors drag the tempo, the high sopranos are flat, and everything else is the alto’s fault. In a full program of nine or ten songs, there always seems to be one particular song that trips us up. This year’s program was no different.

The night of the first performance arrived. Before it began, I took my place in the center of the choir loft among the 65 other singers. I silently prayed that no matter what we sang, especially on that troublesome song, that the audience would hear only the voices of angels. Not that our voices would sound like angels, but that actual angel voices would be joining us, singing over and above us. Certainly their voices would get it right. They have been singing God’s praises longer than anyone.

Angel voices have been heard on earth by human ears before. The shepherds heard an angel voice say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Several traditional carols mention angels singing in the lyrics.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King.’”

“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King; Christ our Savior is born.”

The words of those carols are centered on the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. But what about today?  Can you and I still hear angel voices?

Edmund Sears must have wondered the same thing.  In 1849, he penned the words to a poem that became “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” It’s a Christmas carol about angels singing, but not solely about the first Christmas night when Jesus was born. Most of it focuses on the era in which it was written.

We rarely ever sing them today, but based on the second, third, and fourth verses, Mr. Sears must have longed to hear the angels singing:

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long, beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong: And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring: O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

“All ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow; Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

“For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

When these words were written 167 years ago, America had been at war with Mexico. Zachary Taylor’s heroic efforts in that conflict catapulted him reluctantly into the presidency. There was a lot of noise in 1849 that distracted the world from the voices of angels.

Simply update the usage of the words “ye” and “lo” in those verses and you might think they were written about 2016. We’ve suffered long this election year — we’re still at war with each other about rights, the load of healthcare and education can be crushing. There have been many large decibel words spewed in 2016.

I don’t think the angels have ever stopped singing. I think they’ve been singing since before Jesus was born. We’re so busy making noise ourselves that we miss it.

As the Voices of Colleton Community Choir sang about the good news of great joy, I tried to listen for the angel voices I’d prayed for. I realized that angels did not join us in singing. What really happened was that we joined the angels in their glorious song of old. We proclaimed with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The message that came clear that night: Peace on the earth and good will to men will come from heaven’s all gracious King.

This was originally posted December 18, 2016 on

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sometimes it takes getting on your knees to see all the dirt clearly

Several years ago one of the ladies at church gave me a Ziploc bag of Amish Friendship Bread “starter.” She beamed and clucked about all the different varieties she had made. Some with peaches, some with nuts, coconut, bananas, and a variety of other yummies. I could tell she had been having a fun with this bread (actually, to me it’s more like cake).

For the record, I am not a baker. The extent of my baking skills ends with canned biscuits and Martha White muffin mix packets. This woman’s joy, however, was contagious so I took the Ziploc bag with gratitude and high hopes for that same kind of joy.

The starter is supposed to stay in the bag for 10 days. During that time, there are certain days you’re supposed to add more ingredients. The other days you simply knead the bag. On day 10, you mix in some more ingredients, then measure out four more starter bags to give your friends. With the mixture that is left, you add more ingredients and then bake it. Voila, delicious bread (aka cake).

With the busyness of life, I lost track of where I was in the 10-day cycle for the bag she gave me. I couldn’t remember if I was on an add-ingredient day or a knead day. I finally gave up and threw it in the garbage. I was a little embarrassed and defeated.  I hoped the friend who shared it with me had forgotten about it too.

The next time I saw her, she asked about it and I had to come clean. She was still excited about the whole project and very gracious, offering to bring me another starter bag. Which she did, only this time she brought it to me on Day 9. All I had to do was bake it the next day.

That next day was busy and I didn’t get started on the baking process until late in the day, but I wasn’t going to bed until this bread was warm and toasty. I hurried through the pre-bake steps and saved the cleanup until it was in the oven.

As it baked, I washed the mixing bowls and measuring cups and wiped down the counter. Then I noticed a drip of batter on the lower cabinet, so I bent down to reach it. Once I bent down, I noticed some flour on the floor. I got down on my knees with a Clorox wipe to get the flour up off the floor.

As I knelt there on my knees, I saw a few coffee ground specks that had fallen to the floor who knows when. On my knees, I saw a dried up drip of who-knows-what staining the white cabinet door under my sink. On my knees, I noticed tiny crumbs collecting in the corners of the floor that I couldn’t see when I was standing upright. On my knees, I saw the dust and dirt on the baseboards under the cabinets. On my knees, I saw the nasty dirt stains on my floor.

On my knees.

That’s when it dawned on me. Sometimes it takes getting on my knees to really see my own dirt clearly. All the stuff that’s messed up about my life, all the bad choices I’ve made, the responsibilities and opportunities I’ve ignored, failures due to my own stupidity, all the stuff I want to hide — when I get on my knees before Jesus, He shows me these things more clearly than ever before. He brings them to my attention to remind me that what I need to do about them is simply admit they are mine. Then give them to Him.

When I get on my knees before Jesus, my perspective changes. Not only do I see how big my pile of dirt is, I also see that great big pile as a measurement of the amount of forgiveness He has for me.

I can’t see it that clearly when I’m standing on my own two feet.

Only on my knees.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

This was originally posted December 4, 2016 on

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hope for our country is an individual responsibility

It was a special time and he was a special child. His parents did not take their responsibility lightly when they welcomed their son into the world. As the boy grew, his parents trained and educated him in strict disciplines.

His body grew strong. He was careful about what he ate. He never drank wine. He developed mental sharpness; his quick wit and complex thought processes were evidence of that.

When he was older, he married a woman from another country.

He wasn’t always completely honest about his behavior. At times he spoke using words that made people wonder what on earth he was thinking.

He had quite a reputation in and out of town. When people talked about him, they probably never failed to mention his unwieldy long hair.

His strength and power led him into great wealth and successful leadership positions. It also continued to be a force his enemies had to reckon with. Sometimes he used very unconventional means to deal with those enemies, some of them harsh and hurtful.

He sometimes reacted in anger to negative situations. Such anger led to a scandal that was the demise of his marriage. After that, he enjoyed the intimate company of women that he never intended to marry.

There were crowds of people who wanted to be like him. There were also throngs of people who wanted to destroy him.

Those are just some highlights of his life.

No, it’s not a story of any current political figure. It’s a 3,000-year-old story from the Old Testament book of Judges. It’s Samson. He was a leader and judge in Israel for 20 years, around 1080 BC.

How did it turn out for Samson? What is the rest of the story? Is it relative to us today?

I’m not sure we should make direct comparisons between Biblical leaders of ancient Israel and leaders of America today. I do, however, think that the same God that was sovereign during those ancient times is still sovereign today. Trying to identify the Samsons and Delilahs in my life and in the news today makes me the center of the story. But, the Bible is not about me. I need to read the Bible and look for where God is in the story. What did God do with those people? That is what’s relative today. Now, what can God do with these people that have been elected to office in America in 2016?

Samson was a flawed man. The list of indiscretions was long. Samson didn’t always walk in step with the plan that God had for his life from the very beginning. At times, it seemed Samson was doing the complete opposite of what God wanted him to do. What does God do with that?

Samson was eventually captured, tortured and imprisoned by the Philistines, people who were enemies of God. They were enemies because they worshiped a man-made god and treated cruelly the people God had specifically chosen to carry out His plan of salvation for the entire world.

In the end, Samson, in his shackles, called out to God. God heard Samson’s plea and used Samson to destroy the Philistine leaders, all 3,000 of them all at once. In the fray, Samson also lost his life. The real story is that God showed up and defeated the enemies. It’s worth noting that He did it in a way that no one expected.

How can God use the leaders today?  I’m not sure, but it will probably be in a way that I won’t see coming. I am confident, however, that God will show up.  Based on stories I’ve read in the Bible, He seems to show up when it appears that there is no hope left. When He shows up, His enemies will be defeated.

That is our hope. That hope is our responsibility.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Colossians 1:27

Originally posted November 20, 2016 at

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Merry Thanksmas, Y'all

Merry Thanksmas, y’all. Halloween is only a memory now and we’re headlong into that conglomerated holiday season that rides in on the Mayflower and out with jingling sleigh bells. 

As holidays go, I like Thanksgiving. There just seems to be more time to actually take a holiday, maybe because it’s always a four day weekend. Even though I enjoy Thanksgiving, I’m already thinking about Christmas. I don’t think I’m the only one in that boat. A stroll through most any retail establishment is proof.

When I was a little girl, this is the time of year my mother began repeating, “If your room is not clean, Santa won’t stop here.” There were probably other behavior modification persuasion tactics Mom used, but that’s the one I remember. It was time to be on our best behavior. If I wasn’t already, it was time to be a good girl so that good things would come to me on Christmas Eve. 

My mother also often quoted the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that begins with, “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, and when she was bad she was horrid.” 

The rest of that poem goes on to talk about the little girl doing something annoying like jumping on the bed. Her mother was not happy about it. I guess my mother could relate.

I suppose I always wanted to hear, “You’re a good girl!”

We’ve all made a lot of assessments about good or not good based on performance. I do it to myself quite frequently. If I finish a project before a deadline or without any errors, then I’m pleased with myself. It makes me feel pretty good and boosts my confidence on the next project. 

If someone does something really well, like kicking a 50-yard field goal and making the extra point, we want to stand up and cheer. When we manage to stay on the bench the entire game and not get our uniform dirty, nobody wants to yell “Woo hoo, good job!” about that. I think most of us spend more days on the bench than we do kicking field goals. 

Sometimes it’s hard to feel good about myself if I haven’t done anything that warrants an accolade with the word “good” in it. There are days when I don’t get a single thing accomplished. 

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with stories about Jesus doing marvelous good things like giving sight to blind people, healing long term illnesses, making lame legs able to withstand bodyweight again, calming storms, and making dead people alive again. He performed miracle after miracle. All good.

There’s no way I can live up to all that good. Thankfully, my performance is not the basis for God’s love for me. Jesus performing miracles is not the reason God loved him.

Jesus heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The significant thing about that is when and where Jesus was when he heard it. 

Jesus was standing in the Jordan River, just emerging from the water after being baptized, when he heard his Father affirm that he had done well and was loved. At that point Jesus had not even turned water into wine. Not a single miracle. Yet, God was telling him, “Good job, Son. I love you.” The one thing Jesus had done that day was acknowledge he was there to fulfill the righteous plan of his Father. 

It’s the same for us. We cannot earn God’s satisfaction or love. We get those things when we rest in His plan, rest in His activity, and rest in His performance.

Frankly, I could use the rest this Thanksmas. 

Originally posted November 13, 2016 at

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I have hope there is something better

Misogyny.  It is not included among the most used words of my vocabulary. My usage of it has been so infrequent that when I got ready to type it, I had to look it up to verify the spelling. Prior to this year, I don’t think I’d ever seen it in a media headline. Now, almost every news outlet has covered it.

Looking it up in the online dictionary confirmed the definition of misogyny as a hatred for and prejudice against women. I get it.  I understand why it’s in the headlines. It’s an ugly and awful thing, especially when it’s used in a sexual context. I believe things that degrade females, like pornography and sex trafficking, are deplorable. Granted there are marginalized males in those situations too, but the majority of the victims are female.

Some of the people talking about misogyny are dismissing it as typical male behavior. Others are declaring war against it. Considering our given time in the history of the human race, we’ve come a long way in human and cultural development. However, it’s 2016 and we’re still using the word misogyny. That means there are people who still believe that women should be treated with honor and respect simply because they are women. It also means that there are people who don’t.

Before news stories included the word misogyny, they included words like transgender bathrooms. In just a few months, the headlines went from dismissing gender roles to crying foul when one of those roles was disrespected. I think these topics were ushered into our headlines because of the upcoming presidential election. I may not c use the word misogyny much, but the words confused and perplexed swirl around often when the topic of the election comes up.

I don’t know, really, what the outcome of this election, either way, will mean for me as a woman. I don’t know what state the United States will be in this time next year. I can speculate but I can’t know for sure until we’re there. But, I do know this: Whatever we, as Americans, have done that’s led us to where we are now as a nation, confused and perplexed, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. I want something better. I have hope that there is something better, something good.

My hope, however, is not in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. One of them will be president, but neither of them has the power to save us. Only God can do that.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:3-9

Not only do our presidential candidates lack the power to save us, neither of them can do what God has called me to do. Even if they wanted to. Even if I wanted them to. It is my responsibility and mine alone. The way I see it, it would be futile to expect an office of the earthly government to make God’s work a priority. God’s directive to care for the world is to Christians, not government.

As a Christian, He’s called me to be the good in the world, share the good news.  How?

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Originally posted November 6, 2016 on

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life is all about your perspective

In the span of three weeks I went from having my toes in the sand of Florida’s Gulf Coast to tapping them in the Country Music Capital, Nashville, Tennessee. It’s good to get out of town every now and then to see how other people live. Everywhere, people are the same. Also, everywhere, people are different.

I am a people watcher. My motivations are mostly to educate myself on new and different trends and tendencies. My discoveries are always the same. There is nothing new under the sun. Maybe it’s the first time my eyes have seen it, but it’s not really new. It’s all about perspective.

Take this scene, for instance:

He sat quietly in a corner by himself reading the morning news updates. Steam wafted from his coffee cup. Between occasional sips, He rubbed his hand back and forth across his unshaven chin. The muted colors of his plaid, untucked, shirt made the not-so-wrinkle-free rumples seem less noticeable. He was wearing khaki shorts and black socks with casual, comfort shoes. If I asked him for his opinion of the news he was reading, he most likely would offer it plainly and unapologetically. I probably wouldn’t have to ask to see pictures of his summer vacation. He most likely had those cued up and ready to show any one who might seem unoccupied at the moment.

Hold that picture in your mind for a minute. Does it sound like anyone you know?

If I asked that question to someone of the Millennial Generation (between the ages of 20-40) they would probably recognize themselves or one of their peers in that scene. He would be sitting in a coffee shop reading social media updates on his tablet and ready to pull up his vacation pictures on his smart phone. He would be wearing black socks with his Chaco sandals. He would definitely have an opinion about the upcoming presidential election and would gladly share it.

If the scene were described to someone from the Baby Boomer Generation (between the ages of 55-70), they might see that scene with their father in it: an elderly man sitting at the breakfast table reading the daily news from a printed newspaper. His photos are from long ago vacations and are slides that would require a projector, but he’d still be ready to show them. He’s wearing orthopedic shoes with his black socks.  He, too, definitely has an opinion on the upcoming presidential election and would gladly share it.

Thinking about all this has also led me to consider not only how we see things, but also how we communicate them. Here’s the example the made me see again that there is nothing new under the sun:

“Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham. Would you like them here or there?”

 Those words bring up a flood of memories and sentiments for those of us who learned to read, or helped someone else learn to read, with “Green Eggs and Ham” which was published in 1960. Counting the spaces and punctuation in those four short sentences, it is 132 keystrokes.

Twitter is one of today’s top social media platforms in terms of number of users. It’s format limits posts to 140 characters or less. You only have 140 keystrokes or less to get your message out there. For the reader, it reduces the amount of time it takes to catch up on all the news. For the writer, it forces brevity and succinctness. Say it in as few words as possible, but make them potent. Dr. Suess figured that out a long time ago.

Of course, also equally relatable and Tweetable: “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”  That’s 134 characters.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  That’s 137 characters, including the reference.

If there is nothing new, how do we explain scientific discoveries or fashion trends? Why do we hope for a cure for cancer? It’s not the trends, discoveries, or the cure that satisfies our need for something new. We will always need something else beyond those things. It’s the hope. It’s the longing we have for something better than this world where nothing is new. I believe our Creator put that longing in our hearts. Ecclesiastes also says that our Creator has made everything beautiful in its time and that He has put eternity in our hearts. There will come a time when it truly will all be new and beautiful. Longing for that eternity is the motivation to keep pressing on.

The Creator, not the created, is responsible so hold on and keep moving towards Him.

“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Originally posted September 11, 2016 on

Sunday, August 21, 2016

It's time to think about Christmas

Summer is over and school is back in session. At my house that means Christmas music. Yes, Christmas music. It’s time to start practicing and preparing for the special music that will be presented during the month of December.  The director of the Voices of Colleton Community Choir, who also happens to be my husband, started thinking about this year’s presentation almost as soon as the final note was sung last year.

I love being a part of the Community Choir.  I have met so many people whose lives don’t intersect with mine at any other time, but because of the choir, they have become my friends. People from all walks of life, different neighborhoods, and a variety of churches and denominations make up the roster. Everyone is welcome. When I talk about the Community Choir, I always tell people that joining together gives us the opportunity to do something bigger than any of us could do on our own. It’s a wonderful experience to be with all of these different people and the Christmas music adds even more excitement.  

There are a few individuals in the choir that can sing like angels. There are also a bunch of us that simply like being around people who sing like angels. When we get together to sing, it’s like a little bit of what I think heaven will be. The other thing I always say when I’m talking about singing in the choir is that I don’t sing in the choir because I’m good at it. I sing in the choir because music is the thing that speaks to the deepest caverns of my heart.

Sometimes in modern worship, we let others do the singing for us. Maybe we think our singing isn’t good enough. Maybe we think the worship leader’s singing is hard to follow.  Maybe we think it’s too intimidating to sing in public. Maybe we should consider what God thinks about those things.

God’s word through Zephaniah says to sing and shout out loud, be glad, and rejoice with all your heart. The reaction that follows is this: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3: 17)

When you sing loud and praise God, He answers back with His singing voice. Can you even imagine the King of kings and the Lord of lords singing? How about Him singing over you? It’s a humbling thing to think about, but He’s listening for that humble singing.  

The first meeting of the Community Choir for this season is scheduled Sunday, August 21, 2:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church. We would love to have you join us. Come and see for yourself. Maybe I should say, come and sing for yourself.

Originally posted August 21, 2016 on