Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Montford Point Marines"

From its very beginning I have enjoyed watching NCIS, maybe because it is connected with the Navy or maybe because I enjoy the actors and the stories. Last night was special because it centered around an aging former Marine who had formerly been Leroy Jethro Gibbs' father's best friend. They had a falling out and had not spoken or seen each other in many years. Late in the episode we find out the story behind their bad blood. But the thing that made the episode special was the fact that once Gibbs tracked down his namesake he referred to him several times as a Montford Marine. When I first heard that it struck me as odd that although it seemed to carry some notable significance I had never heard of the Montford Marines. At the end as they rolled the credits for the show there appeared a note that the episode was in honor of the Montford Marines. Since I had NEVER heard of this unit I wrote it down to do some research.

The Montford Marines got their name from the camp where they trained in Montford Point, NC from 1942 until 1949. They were the first African American Marines and in that era had to train in a segregated camp from the white Marines. In fact until President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order to segregate the Marine Corps, all people of color were not allowed into the Corps. Nearly 20,000 African American Marines were trained at the facility and more than 13,000 of them fought overseas during WWII.

In June 2012, Congress awarded the entire unit the Congressional Medal of Honor and a parade was held in their honor in Washington, DC. Each of the 368 living members received a bronze replica of the gold medal, which is customary when a large group is awarded the CMOH. The medal itself will be permanently housed in a special place of distinct honor at some future date.

I applaud the Montford Marines for their service and the Congress for recognizing them in this way after 70 years of igNOrance!

I am also puzzled why I had never heard of them until that television show last night. I certainly believe ALL of our military heroes should be honored without any consideration for their race but these thousands of brave souls adopted the motto "FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO FIGHT". For me, that says something very special about these long deserving troops who were only able to do so after a special order from the Commander In Chief and even then reportedly in the face of severe opposition from the Marine Corps leaders.

At the beginning of my short military career, my first best buddy, whom I met in boot camp, was a long tall African American from North Carolina. I hate to think what my life would have been like during that very challenging time in my life without the friendship of William Gadsden. He was a good friend I will always remember. And, I am grateful to now know of the Montford Marines.  HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Master the Tempest is Raging" HYMN STORIES

The last few days have been pretty intense as we saw the destructive force of hurricane Sandy rage through the Caribbean and anticipated her arrival on our own doorstep. News reports this week have shown much of the destruction on our shores and now she has made her presence felt in a historic way all along the Eastern seabord and nearly half of the US. The loss of many lives, critical infrastructure and the total disruption of life in thousands of cities and communities can devastate more than buildings, trees, the stock market and even the political campaigns - it can cause us to question our faith.

"One day he and his disciples got in a boat. "Let's cross the lake," he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing  and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: "Master, Master we're going to drown!" Getting to his feet, he told the wind "SILENCE!", and the waves, "QUIET DOWN!" They did it. The lake became as smooth as glass. Then he said to his disciples, "Why cant you trust me?" They were in absolute awe, staggering and stammering, "Who is this anyway? He calls out the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!"  Luke 8:22-25 MSG

This incident inspired a young woman to write a very powerful statement of faith that has comforted many as we have sung it, especially the chorus.

Mary Ann Baker was reared in a devoted Christian family but when she lost her only brother to the same respiratory disease that claimed both her parents, her faith was severely tested. Living in the long winters of Chicago seemed to only worsen her brother's delicate condition so he sought a more friendly southern climate. Although he seemed to experience some slight improvement, his body eventually gave in to the disease. Mary Ann and her sister were unable to bring his body back to Chicago for burial because of their financial circumstances and their own health challenges.

Mary wrote, "God doesn't care for me or mine.This particular manifestation of "divine providence" is unworthy of a God of love. I have always tried to believe on Christ and give the Lord a consecrated life, but this is more than I can bear. What have I done to deserve this? What have I left undone that God should wreak his vengeance upon me in this way?"

Her sentiments are echoed over and over in the tragic experience of so many - EVERY DAY! - but especially today as the terrible images are shown on every TV over and over. That's just very human and we cant help how we feel. So, because we seem to have the expectation that God will prevent us from having to deal with tragedy, the easiest way to comfort our own spirit is to blame God.

As always happens in people of real faith, time passed and Mary's faith began to rise once again in what she called her "unsanctified heart", and just like as in Jesus' first century disciples, her faith flourished as she continued to learn from the Lord's gentle rebuke, "Where is your faith?" She soon wrote the words of the beautiful faith building hymn, "Master the Tempest is Raging".

We've all been in that boat with Jesus. What he taught those disciples and me is more important than his miraculous calming of the sea and the wind. He is Lord of all that occurs in our life and he will always bring us through to the calmer shore. I have had to put his question, "WHERE IS YOUR FAITH", to my heart many times in my 71 years and always with the same outcome. He hasn't always calmed the waves and wind that have suddenly arisen in my life, but he has always calmed my spirit and with the help of his Spirit given me a new vision of just who he is in my life. He has helped me see beyond any present circumstances to see a new day when the sun shines again.

I pray for those whose lives have been devastated this week by an irresistable force of nature. I know they will rebuild what has been destroyed, because that's just what we all do, even as they grieve for those personal losses that cannot be restored. My prayer is that through it all, they can see Jesus as Lord and allow his Spirit to convict, comfort and give a new vision for their future.   HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Hymn Stories" cont. "AGNUS DEI"

If you haven't done so today, please take a few minutes right now, go to YouTube, type Michael W. Smith, search for AGNUS DEI, click on it then just watch and listen. If you have a real heart for Jesus Christ, you might want to have some tissues handy.

For me, this worship moment could never be scripted, and I think Smitty knew it and just let it flow through the large assembly of worshipers. I have probably viewed it nearly 100 times and it always grips me the same way - puts me on my face before the Lord. I am a bit sad and maybe even a little resentful that I have missed out on worship at this level for a large part of my life. But, also grateful to have discovered it late in life.

AGNUS DEI is Latin for "lamb of God". This has been an important piece if liturgical music for many centuries in the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches and is integral to many of their daily and special occasion masses. However, their use of it is very different from the way Smitty performs it.

It's Biblical origin is in John's gospel -

     "These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day 
       he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the
      world." 
     "Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked upon Jesus as he 
      walked, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God". John 1:28-29, 35-36 NASB

Several years ago I taught a Bible class that was centered in the Psalms of David. At that time I was actually writing a journal for Michelle, our oldest daughter, that was a year long journey through David's 70 Psalms, so the material was fresh every week. One of the most important things David taught me was the spiritual power of the words "HALLELUJAH", hence the name of this blog. I was never taught to use that word except in an occasional song we sang in worship. I learned to "PRAISE THE LORD" often in that way.

Jesus the Lamb of God is deserving of our daily praise and Michael W. Smith leads me in that praise every morning. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, October 22, 2012

"A Praising and Glorious Life"

Learning how to live is a risky journey through some scary swamps and more than a few minefields. Some never figure it all out and end up self destructing in one way or another. And that isn't just true of substance abusers, career criminals, crooked politicians, immoral ministers etc, etc., the list could go on into infinity. All of us have to learn to see beyond what is to what can be and allow that knowledge to guide us to a better, truly secure place.

These words speak to my spirit and I pray to yours also:

          "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before
           we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs
           on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything
           and everyone.
           It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this message of
          of your slavation), found yourselves home free -- signed, sealed and delivered by the
          Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a
          a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious
          life." Ephesians 1:11-14 MSG

After I left home for military service, my Mom wrote to me every week and sent me the church bulletin. She always encouraged me to read the Bible she and Dad had given me before I left. She never wavered, but I certainly did. I wrote her occasionally and in one way or another explained to her that the Bible doesn't have all the answers to what we face in the "real world". She ignored my youthful ignorance and just kept on. Years later, after I returned home, I sat with her often and thanked her for all the ways she kept me close enough to who I had always been to find my way back.

In a recent conversation with a mother whose daughter was raised like I was, as a Christian, but has since gone away from actively practicing that faith, that sweet mother asked me if I thought the Holy Spirit was still in her daughter. I told her, "ABSOLUTELY!" and one day he will touch her heart in a special way and gently lead her back to where she knows life truly exists, in Christ. We've agreed to pray for this outcome.

"A praising and glorious life" is available to us in Jesus through his Spirit regardless, but keeping that kind of focus is a challenge. The teen years, dating, marriage, parenting, pursuing a successful career, elder care and finally old age each bring their own set of unique challenges. I am now entering that final stage and can look back on the ups and downs and see that because of Jesus and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I have the greatest sense of security I have ever known.

I praise You, my true Father, for giving me what this world never could, a praising and glorious life in your Son and a true guarantee of forever life through your Spirit.     HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"The True Image Of God"

Here's a really BIG QUESTION for you to consider:

"DID JESUS' DEATH ON THE CROSS CHANGE HOW GOD SEES US, HIS HUMAN FAMILY?"

All of my life I had believed that God was angry at me because I fail at total obedience to him. The preaching and teaching I grew up with constantly "dangled" me over the fires of hell unless I did everything right, which meant absolute obedience to God's word. I tried, I really did, but could never quite get it right. Living in fear of God was a benchmark for most of the teaching I was exposed to. And as a young preacher I repeated the same mantra that I had been taught in church and in Christian college about God.

Then one day a few years ago, for the first time, I looked at something very familiar and finally it hit me right between the eyes. All those years I had spent living in fear of God and urging others to do the same, came flooding back to me with deep regret. Check this out -

     "Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the
      Holy Spirit whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still
      powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." 
     "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ
      died for us." Romans 8:5,8 NIV

I had often studied and even memorized much of Romans, especially the above passage, but because of the teaching that had formulated an assumption in my brain, I had never really seen that image of God. In fact, I had been taught and I often repeated the old mantra that "God loves the sinner but hates the sin", as though the two things can be separated. There is just enough truth in that statement to keep guys like me in a daily state of frustrated spiritual limbo.

Now please don't interpret that to say that God approves our sin or that there is no punishment for our ignoring his words. The Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of sin and constantly warns us of the eternal outcome of turning our back to God. However, God has given us two key gifts of his grace that train us to see our Father in a totally new way ....... the gift of his own Son and the gift of his Spirit.

What I slowly came to realize is this - Jesus' death on the cross didn't occur because of God's anger AT me but because of his love FOR me. Then, because that wouldn't be enough to get me where I need to be, he put his own Spirit IN me to train me to know him as ABBA, FATHER. I cannot begin to count the number of times I read Romans 5:8, John 3:16 and many other verses that depict my Father in this way and just simply didn't get it. Sadly, for 20+ years I failed to depict God's grace and love in a true way.

So, I now see that Jesus' death absolutely forgives all my past, present and future sins, not unconditionally, and the Holy Spirit is like an internal "hard drive" who constantly comforts, instructs and trains me to hear the voice of God and incorporate his words into my life. Without these two indescribable gifts, I have no hope of
living forever in the house of God.

Here's the bottom line -

JESUS' DEATH DIDN'T OCCUR BECAUSE OF GOD'S ANGER BUT BECAUSE OF HIS LOVE!

                                                                                                                    HALLELUJAH!!!!