Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Messiah 2014!

So…I'm conducting our community's production of Handel's Messiah 2014!  I still can't believe it!

This Messiah thing has been (insert tune) "a long… and.. winding... road" and I'm gonna take a few minutes to jot it down.  I hope you are encouraged by this "long and winding road" story;  our stories encourage and should be heard, so here goes mine.  I promise I'll make a point.

"Let's start at the very beginning…"  (peppy little tune from "The Sound of Music.")

A good friend of my mom's (Peggy) keeps me posted on my hometown's news and recently informed me that one of my classmate's father (Wayne) died.  He was a trustee in the small country church I grew up in (a trustee was a bigwig.)  The news of his death got me thinking about Wayne and the time he came to my house and how it impacted my life:

1974:  I was 16 years old when Wayne and Art called and asked if I was home and could they come over and talk to me.  This was before email and cell phones, in fact, it was almost before computers and cool-whip.  They came and actually sat down on the couch (!) and I'll never forget what they asked:  they wanted me to pull together a choir of adults at the church to sing for the big anniversary shindig coming up in the summer.  Our church had had a choir (until that director died) and they could think of no one else but me, at age 16, who might  do this.  I was floored….  stunned, even….  but of course I said yes.  Oh, I was scared to death! I remember my high school vocal teacher helped me pick out music from the high school files and loaned me the risers and robes.  All 22 of us (22% of the church membership) rehearsed down in fellowship hall and sang with all our might in 4-part harmony.  It was a grand occasion and successful - at least in my mind it was.   I situated Art and Wayne up on the top row of the risers (you ask why I put creaky old Art on the top riser???)  We were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir right there in Lotts Creek, Iowa.  All 22 of us farmers!

We went on to present a couple of successful cantatas with the 22 at Christmas time until I left for college.  I can remember pulling out my coronet and playing while the choir (donned in the borrowed robes from the HS) processed in and out at the beginning and end of the cantata.  I was the only person who played an instrument in the whole church.  Frankly, I was a terrible coronet player but it had to be done...

1978:  When I was 20, the pastor of a church I was attending in Aberdeen, South Dakota asked me if I would start a contemporary singing group out in Custer State Park.  He was sending 10 high school student singers to a ranch in the Park and would I head them up, rehearse them and take them out to play gigs and spread the love of Jesus.  I was scared to death but, of course, I said yes.  I would even get paid about 20 cents an hour!  It was quite a summer!  We lived in a barn that lacked electricity, used an outhouse and took a cold shower under a hose.  We sang and gave testimonies all over the Park to folks in RVs and churches; we even sang on stage at Mount Rushmore!

I will never sing those songs again… I am still sick and tired of them…

After college, I taught elementary and high school music in several schools and started choirs large and small:  swing choirs, standing choirs, good choirs and not so good choirs, some choirs that the audience raved about and some that should not have had an audience.

1980:  I can remember at Green Mountain High School, there were only a handful of students who were not in the choir.  We packed that choir into that tiny room - the site of my notorious faux pax as I shouted (yes, shouted) out over the rehearsal room loaded with HS singers, "Get it up, boys!"  The entire choir howled as I turned red…  I was young - 22, to be exact , and was saved by the dismissal bell.

1992:  I stopped teaching when our second child was born; with 2 kids to wrestle to the sitter in the morning it seemed a good idea to be a stay-at-home-mom, which of course is a good idea if you actually stay at home.  As the kids got into Sunday School, of course, I had to teach the music and then, in 1994, one of the pastors at my church asked me to start a contemporary adult choir.  I didn't want to do it and I was scared to death… but I knew I should and did and am still directing this same choir today at First United Methodist Church here in good old Marshalltown.  On a good day, we fill the 32-seat loft and we still do cantatas, but I don't have to play coronet as there is a fine trumpeter who loves to play and plays well.  Thank You, Lord!

2014:  This past September, I received a phone call that made my stomach do the flip:  I was called by Gail who is the chairman of the Central Iowa Choral Society here in Marshalltown and she asked me if I would conduct the community's Messiah presentation this year.  After saying no, I said yes and I was scared to death.

To say that I've had very little experience with Messiah is not completely true:

1965:   I was about 7 when I was exposed to this great work and incessantly begged for a recording of it for Christmas.  I don't know where or how I first heard it - it must have been my kindergarten teacher (hurray for teachers!) as our black and white TV only got 2 channels and the probability of it showing Handel's Messiah was slim.  I played that recording over and over, conducting my stuffed animals and dressed-up cats (alive) who were set up in soprano, alto, tenor and bass sections in my bedroom.  (They were a rowdy bunch.)  I remember being fascinated with the thought of Handel's obsession when writing it locked up in his tower (is this true??) as I was passionately conducting up in my secluded bedroom.

1978:  In college, I was the accompanist for the choir's presentation of the Messiah.  I was a terrible accompanist but at least I listened and paid attention to the conductor.  I picked up many tips for how to conduct it... but probably not enough...

1980:  While teaching high school music at Green Mountain, I had the choir sing a couple of songs from Messiah as I thought every student should be exposed to this great work.  We made it through the songs in a lively manner.

1998:  We lost a doorbell because of the Hallelujah Chorus.  My mother was babysitting the kids for a long weekend during which a violent thunder storm swept over our house.  A close bolt of lightening must have hit something on the house causing our electronic doorbell to play it's selected tune of the Hallelujah Chorus over and over and over - each time at lightening speed - nonstop.  This of course happened in the middle of the night and my mother grabbed a chair, jumped up on it, reached up and grabbed the doorbell speaker off the wall, leaving a hole but successfully stopping the deafening chorus…  We have since replaced it and a joyful 'hallelujah' still rings out as someone hits our doorbell.

2002:   I entertained friends by sitting on the floor with my back to the piano keys, arms crossed behind my head with my hands on the ivories and played Hallelujah several times… I think alcohol had something to do with it... Those were the good old days - this chickadee will never be that flexible again.

While these said Messiah experiences are vast and unusual, they are hardly preparation to conduct the community's presentation and… I am scared to death.  Ok, maybe I'm not scared 'to death' but I'm definitely nervous, not confident, unsure, unprepared, unequipped, and I'm definitely out of my comfort zone.  The effort needed to learn the music and put this forth to the public is vast and will need countless hours of prep and energy and sleepless nights.  You should see my stack of books and CDs, my notes and study aides… and I've been listening, listening, listening…  I'm not actually sure I can do this….

And that's right where my attitude should be as I start this thing - I CAN'T do it, but with God all things are possible.

If I thought I could do this on my own, that I didn't need help and thought I was the world's best conductor, I would not need God.  I would get the glory, so to speak.  But knowing that I can't do this on my own, that I need God's help, will give testimony to how gracious and real God is and He will get the glory.

This is a good idea!

I do believe I'm called to conduct Messiah 2014.  It's been one big circle:  I started conducting Messiah in front of attentive stuffed animals and alive cats… and now, I'll conduct in front of singers, some attentive and all of them definitely alive.  Philippians 1:6 says:

"I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

I have to believe that God prompted me to conduct my stuffed animals and unruly cats nearly 50 years ago.  He started and instilled that passion in me.  And I have to believe this invitation to conduct is also prompted by God… The next step.

You have been called to do things, too.  You've been called to do things that make you feel nervous, not confident, unsure, unprepared, unequipped and out of your comfort zone.  You may even be scared to death…

Will you trust that God can lead you?  That He can make the impossible possible?   That doing this impossible something is His plan for you?

Countless folks in the Bible have felt this way.  They accomplished all kinds of stuff in God's strength.

So have you and so have I and so will you and I continue to do so.  There's no way around it.  God calls us to do things that make us rely on Him.  Our response is to go and do stuff for Him - go and sow some seed - even if you are scared to death.

It is not lost on me that I'm asked to conduct this community Messiah choir 40 years after my first invitation to start a choir when I was 16 at Lotts Creek.  This is my 40th year of conducting and this astounding opportunity has been laid into my waving arms.

All I can do is trust.  I can prepare.  I can study.  But the real conducting and the best ideas will be a result of my trusting in God to get this done.  I'm trusting that I'll have the wisdom, strength, discernment and ability - all to God's glory.

Messiah is all about giving God glory.

Handel wrote on his original score, at the very end, after the last "Amen:"

                        S. D. G.

               which stands for 

                       Soli Deo Gloria

               And it means:

                    To God be the Glory

 I have written it at the end of my Messiah score.

In fact, I suggested the entire chorus write S.D.G. at the end of their scores…  Let us all be of one mind...


                    To God be the Glory

Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Knock-Your-Socks-Off Books

So… it's back to school time and lots of kiddos and backpacks and moms holding hands of little tykes  have been traversing (some actually skipping!) the sidewalk in front of our house.  Kids from all over the world walk by our house and it's an education to watch them as I peek out the window.  However, I don't want to be seen peeking because that's creepy and I don't want to be the little old lady who creeps about in that creepy house.  No need for cops to come.. etc…etc…

Anyway, as kids go back to school, it's time to get back into a routine and get something done for a change. If you are like me, it's this time of year that I pull out something educational to read and try to learn something.  I also become more diligent in reading the Bible which is always a good idea.  I guess I kinda try to be a student before the big blast comes:  Christmas!!!

If you have any inkling toward this said kind of behavior, boy, oh boy, do I have some book suggestions for you!

Though I didn't always agree with absolutely everything, I slowly devoured 3 spiritual books over the last 5 months or so that were excellent, excellent, excellent, and I'm here to share this short list with you:

1.  The 10-Second Rule by Clare de Graaf

A good friend of mine was reading it and told me not to read it because it was really challenging and convicting.  And I agree!  Don't read it!  I'll save you from following the lead of the Holy Spirit and having more fun than humanly possible!

2.  Draw the Circle (The 40 Day Prayer Challenge) by Mark Batterson

My pastor threw out the challenge to read this one on prayer.  It's good…  really good… and practical. This is the companion book to The Circle Maker,  also by Batterson.  I have not read The Circle Maker because I gave it away..  by mistake… as I was following The 10 Second Rule.

3.  The Purpose of Man by A. W. Tozer

My copy of this book is marked from beginning to end - just one big underline and star system, with some notes and blurps written in the margins.  The choir will be getting some nuggets from this book during our retreat this Fall.  Only read it if you want to better understand what God is all about and how you fit into His plan.

Has my life been changed?  Time will tell.  

Will your life be changed?  Time will tell.

Has anyone read anything they really like that is spiritual in nature?  I'm always looking for a good read.

And… I'd love to hear your comments about the above books; what did you like and not like?  Were you challenged?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rescued by The Almighty

So…  A week ago, I was at the National Worship Leaders' Conference in Kansas City.  It was a very inspirational conference and is unlike other conferences, hence it is difficult to explain.  People's eyes glass over when I try to share about all the time spent in worship, how many seminars I heard on the topic of worship and how many conversations I had with other worship leaders about worship.  Just know, it was an extraordinary time, exhilarating, in fact.

However, the first step to attending the conference was to drive there.  I don't mind driving, in fact, I enjoy listening to podcasts and music cranked fairly loudly.  This I did and after grooving and driving for about 4 hours, I stopped for a bit and noticed a warning light on the dashboard… but it went away…. so on I drove.

One more hour completed my drive and I landed at the condo where I was staying.  Now the warning light was on a lot and it was red (two strikes.)  So I dug out the owner's manual and its advise for this warning light was, "Stop the car immediately.  Do not drive.  Call the dealership."

The oil pressure was low.  What did that mean?  Had I destroyed the engine?  It was making an ugly churning sound that made me think the engine was not happy.

I called a very perky fellow at the dealership and asked if 1, I could possibly find some oil, and then 2, possibly find where to put it, could I then 3, possibly drive the car to the his dealership ?  His answer was, "Absolutely not."

So I called AAA (who was surprisingly upbeat) and requested a tow truck.  No problem!

The tow truck came to my rescue in record time (bravo, AAA!) and soon my cutiepie midget Cooper was on this huge flatbed from the Almighty Tow Truck Company.  That is what it said on the side of the tow truck:  The Almighty!  What a name!  The Almighty came to my rescue!

Isn't it so true!  The Almighty delivers all of us who call for help.  Just as I was not able to fix my car, I'm not able to fix my life's problem of sin.  I need an Almighty Savior, an Almighty Deliverer, an Almighty Jesus to scoop me up, ransom me from my sin, deposit His Holy Spirit within me and then guide me forever, calling me His own.

My response?  Bravo, God!  I'll praise and worship You; I'll live for You, by You, thru You, and with You forever!  I do mean FOREVER!  That's what happens when you accept what the Almighty Jesus has done.  I am delivered forever!  You can be, too!

The driver of the Almighty Tow Truck was adequately friendly and was rewarded with three of my freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and a bit of $ for a beer when he got off work.  I climbed up the ladder on the side of the truck and got into the cab and bounced along as he drove to the church, the tow truck making those incredible snorting sounds only those great big trucks can do.  Quite a few heads turned as he dropped me off at the church where the conference was starting.  In pomp and with a snort, I was safely delivered to the church by the Almighty.

Have you called upon the Almighty to deliver you?

What is your situation?

Are you trying to de-sin your life on your own?  You need a Deliverer.

Are you in trouble and see no way out?  You need a Deliverer.

Are you tempted beyond your control?  You need a Deliverer.

Are you sick, tired, frustrated, unfocused, confused, despairing…?  You need a Deliverer.

No situation or circumstance is too large or too small for the Almighty Deliverer Jesus.  There is no sin He can't handle,  no problem too large, no despair He can't cover with hope.

Jesus is always listening for your call.  He will come to your rescue.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Challenge: The Game With Minutes

So… The pastors at my church purchased prayer books for the staff (me) to read and pray through during Lent.  I thought this was a bit bold but also thought the book must be pretty meaty if they were going to insist we all read it.  The title is "Draw the Circle:  The 40 Day Prayer Challenge" by Mark Batterson.

I'm here to tell you it's fantastic and I'd suggest this book for anyone interested in prayer.


I don't think I agree with everything Batterson says, but it's definitely worth wading through and reading.  It is EXTREMELY challenging.  I actually look forward to reading each morning and am tempted to read ahead.

On Day 26, Batterson introduces a Missionary named Frank Laubach.  In 1950, Laubach wrote a pamphlet that revealed his 'technique' for  experiencing God's Presence in daily life, minute by minute.  His technique is a way to train your thinking to think of Jesus all day long.

Attempting to experience God's Presence all day long had a profound effect on Laubach and on anyone that tried it.    Here are some journal entries that will stir your soul!

Frank Laubach
I'm really curious and I'd like to try this.  Some parts will be easy to incorporate, some not so.

I've put a link to the pamphlet Laubach wrote.  It's called "The Game With Minutes."

(Thanks, Mark Batterson, for putting this in your prayer book!)

Enjoy!  Be blessed and challenged!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunset Season

So… A new season is upon us!  Spring happened a couple of days ago whether we felt it or not; Siberian Season is finally over and in comes….  Sunset Season!  Sunset Season begins when the weather finally turns warm enough to stand outside and raise a glass or two to toast the beauty in the sky as the sun dips below the horizon.  Of course, we can watch a sunset from any window all winter long, but to stand in the great outdoors and see the entire sky lit up with the colors of flames astounds the soul bigger and better than any window view.

I say bring it on!  It's time for Sunset Season to officially begin!

I'm anticipating many many beautiful sunsets in 2014.

Aren't we all?

My brother built the longest dock on Clear Lake to catch the last rays of sunsets…

Some friends of ours built a tower that reaches into the sky to view the vast Iowa vista of greens and sunset golds...

Other friends built a huge porch deck (twice the size of their living room) to view the sun dipping into their cornfields…

Other friends decked out their dock on Lake Okoboji with outdoor living room furniture to watch sunsets while we sip the house speciality Manhattans ...

John and I have rented log cabins high in the mountains to view the sun setting behind the continental divide…

And popped to the back of a cruise boat to see the sunset dip into the sea…

Haven't we all tried to capture all that magnificent light on our teeny tiny phones and sent that photo to all our friends…

And haven't we all 'liked' each others' sunset pics because we all know how it feels to experience that beauty and otherness…

Magnificent, glory-filled skies deserve our standing ovation.

There is always that feeling of awe that that sky full of beauty generates, a throbbing of the soul..

An absolute know that there must be Someone Who

has way more power than anything,

can create more beauty than anyone,

and must be in control of all creation

to be able to load the skies with that kind of exploding color and light.

We all know we have experienced the artwork of Someone:  God Almighty.

He reveals Himself to us in all kinds of ways and through all kinds of people and situations, but a sure-proof way of getting our attention is to light the heavens with glory:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands."  Ps. 19:1

God as Creator has revealed Himself in that sky and in the throbbing of your soul as you look at it.  He is wooing you to Himself, speaking to you and showing His love for you.

                   You were meant to notice and be wooed.

God tells His intentions for the Israelites in Hosea 2:14 that are meant for you and me as well.  Choose one of these six translations that speaks to you:

(Complete Jewish Bible translation)  "But now I am going to woo her ... I will speak to her heart."

(Common English Bible translation)  "Therefore, I will charm her... and speak tenderly to her heart."

(God's Word translation)  "That is why I'm going to win her back... I will speak tenderly to her."

(New King James Version)  "Therefore, behold, I will allure her... and speak comfort to her."

(Holman Christian Standard translation)  "Therefore, I am going to persuade her... and speak tenderly to her."

And perhaps this is my favorite translation from the Message Bible:

"And now, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to start all over again. I'm taking her back…. to where we had our first date, and I'll court her."

Let yourself be wooed

           be charmed

           be won

           be allured

           be persuaded

           be courted

God Himself is after you.  

You were meant to notice Him.

Follow your heart throb 

              and experience God Almighty.    

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Chosen Instrument

So… What started out as a bit of a hobby has turned into a full-blown 'I-need-to-add-a-room-to-the-house' project around here.  Who would have thought that John's impulsive purchase of a harp on Ebay would turn into all this!

One harp has turned into 4 harps and where, oh where, is the space to put them?

The first harp to arrive at our house was purchased on Ebay… by John, my dear husband… without my consent.  He bought this electric Camac harp because he thought it looked cool (which it does.)  Please understand that no one played harp in this house at that time, nor did anyone want to.  He spied this harp on the cover of a catalog and, by showing it to me several times, hoped to encourage me to take an interest, of which I was lacking.  At the time, Ebay was a new hobby of his; in his free time, he looked up odd things to buy and sure enough, found the blue electric Camac listed with a really good price.  Certain that he would not actually purchase the harp, he put a really low-ball bid on the line.

You know where this is going - he bought it.

My first harp:  Blue Electric Camac Harp

The blue electric Camac has turned out to be an excellent harp and yes, I've taken a shine to it.  Since it is an electronic instrument, the sky is the limit in its capabilities of sound and volume.  This is my chosen instrument for big auditorium type venues.  I've also given programs in the elementary schools here in town and this harp was hands-down the students' favorite.  I used a 'milkshake' foot pedal on it to make that famous star wars sound and, of course, the children loved it!  It's a fun harp!

This harp has been signed by Deborah Henson-Conant.  She stayed in our home for three nights when she came to give a program through Marshalltown's Live On Stage series.  Because this harp is one of her favorites, I asked her to sign mine.  My Camac is now worth a whole lot more because her authentic signature lives right there on the frame.

Deborah Henson-Conant's authentic signature.

The second harp to arrive at our house was this lap harp.  It's called a lap harp because you play it on your lap.  John built this harp from a kit and had a wee bit of a problem making it, but as you can see, it turned out beautifully.  This is my chosen instrument for long distance road trips.  I have thrown it in the back of the station wagon for trips to Estes Park because playing folk tunes on the porch of our Y camp cabin was always the right thing to do.  This harp does the road trip thing well because it is compact. It has a great little plunky celtic sound.

John made my 2nd harp:  a lap harp with levers

The third harp to arrive at our house was this Lyon and Healy Petite 85 with the Extended Soundboard.  Because it is a pedal harp, my repertoire could be kicked up a notch.  This harp is 5' 4" and fits exactly into our station wagon when the seats are down.  It has a big luscious sound and is similar to harps used in symphonies, except smaller.  I love this harp and chose it right off the salesroom floor for its big clear sweet tone in the upper half.  It is the perfect harp for me and it is my chosen instrument for glissandos and technical music.  My CD was recorded on it, as well as the Youtube videos listed on my website.  If I want to impress anyone, I use this harp:  programs, weddings, funerals, important stuff.

Petite 85 Lyon and Healey Harp with Extended Soundboard

Right now this harp is homebound.  I would need to ford a river that has developed in my patio with all the melting snow and ice.  And while I'm at it, I'd like to mention that this old victorian house with its multitude of steps is not an ideal home for harps.  Fortunately, my dear husband John is perfect at moving harps and has developed a real knack for it.  However, a swim will not help the Petite 85 and it will need to stay home until the patio is much much dryer.

The fourth harp to arrive at our house was this Lyon and Healey Ogden.  It is a mid-sized mahogony  harp with a big sound.  Since it is a lever harp, it is relatively light weight and easily portable.  It fits in a bag that I can throw over my shoulder.  This is my chosen instrument for intimate settings:  small funerals, small programs, prayer services, yoga classes.  Many hours have been racked up on this work-horse harp while playing at the Hospice House or in the home of someone needing prayer.

Lyon and Healy Odgen - harp #4

Each of the four harps is perfect for specific occasions and suits a particular situation.  I'm extremely blessed to be able to choose which instrument I will use for each event.

The wheels of my thinking started turning one day when I read the phrase "My chosen instrument" right out of Acts 9:15:

         "Go!  For this man is My chosen instrument to take My Name to gentiles, kings and the Israelites."

Jesus appeared to a man named Ananias in a vision and told him to find Saul, heal Saul's blindness and then start discipling Saul to become a believer.  Ananias (probably a very mature and dedicated follower of Jesus) wanted nothing to do with this task because Saul had been scouring the country looking for Christians to annihilate.  Death by stoning was big in those days and by Saul's command, rocks were thrown.  Ananias reminded God that Saul was a bad guy but God's reply was:

         "Go!  For this man is My chosen instrument…"

Ananias DID find Saul and Saul DID become a believer in Jesus and turned from killing Christians to evangelizing with all his might.  His name was changed to Paul, and eventually, he wrote much of the Bible and took mission trips and spoke convincingly to thousands of people who became believers.  He started countless churches and performed miracles.  This was God's plan for this man named Saul, who was renamed Paul.

Frankly, this is a bit surprising.  Saul was a real bad guy and yet he was chosen to do great things for God… which leads me to ask the question:

What's God's plan for you?  If "let's-kill-all Christians" Saul was God's chosen instrument, isn't it possible that YOU are God's chosen instrument, also?


Be assured, you are "God's chosen instrument" to do something…  probably something big…  and probably something big and unexpected…  maybe even something out of your comfort zone.

You were "knit together in our mother's womb" (Ps. 139:13) in a particular way. Your personality  was determined by God Who "created (your) inmost being." (Ps. 139:13)

You answer the Myers-Briggs questions a bit differently from anyone else.  (I'm a middle-ground ENFP.)

You were packaged with a particular DNA that was mixed up just for you.

You are not a random accident of personality and size and strength and intellectual ability without a future or reason for being.  You are God's masterpiece of creation, perfectly suited to be God's chosen instrument as His follower and to do something He wants and has planned for you to do.

Not one of my harps just gets to sit there looking pretty, even though they do that extremely well.  Each harp gets chosen to do a certain job or gig because they were purchased or built to excel in that certain type of venue.

You don't get to just sit around looking pretty either, even though I'm sure you do this extremely well.

You were created to be God's chosen instrument to do something… probably something big and unexpected and a bit scary but perfectly suited to your unique personality and strengths.

Now, go do it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

High E Flat

So… An odd thing happened in church a couple of Sundays ago.  Jan, organist extradinaire, was lustily playing the closing song on the pipe organ.  It was a jaunty melody, as far as hymns go, and as she was finishing with a flourish, one of the pipes didn't.

One pipe kept going!

It was stuck in 'on.'  Air continued to rush through it, causing it to keep sounding.  A high E flat.

My own high pitched cackling giggle joined it…  As did several others.

What to do… What to do…

Jan quickly hit the switch to shut down the entire organ - pronto.  And with a downward wailing sound, the high E flat became silent.

Grinning, the pastor graciously commented and benedicted us out of the service.  

Several of us popped up to the organ bench to see what we could see.  This has happened before.  There's something about all this cold weather that makes pipes stick.  In fact, the entire organ, which is as old as dirt, sort of goes berserk at this time of year, going in and out of tune with each passing Iowa snow storm.

The organ technician from some other world (an elderly gentleman with an odd case of odd tools) will need to be called and perhaps a prehistoric pipe part will need to be ordered and installed.  This could take 6 months or so.

Until then, high E flat will be turned off… unhooked… shut down.

Yesterday, the wall surrounding the pipes was removed and Gary, a fellow from our church who knows everything organ, risked his life and crawled up into the dusty pipe gallery.  He gallantly shut down the offending pipe; it was the right thing to do in this case but honestly….

We could all take a lesson from high E flat.

Our praise should continue well after our worship service shuts down. It should stick long after we get home and eat lunch.  It should be in our thoughts as we settle into our comfy chairs and watch the Olympics.  It should be the first thing we think of as we wake the next morning (or several times during the night.) 

In fact, every single minute of our life should offer worship and glory to our mighty God.  We should not shut down nor should we shut anyone else down.

Psalm 34:1:
                I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.

Psalm 63:4:
                I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your Name I will lift up my hands.

There may be times when you don't feel like offering praise to God.  In this case, a sacrifice of praise is appropriate according to Hebrews 13:15:
               Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - 
                                    the fruit of lips that confess His Name.

In Dialogues with God by Frances J. Roberts, she pens this ode entitled "Praise of the Infinite:"
             O My child, the heavens are filled with songs of praise, and above the tumult of a decadent world, I hear the sweet music of the prayers and hymns of My people.
             Before the world began.. before the creation of human life, the morning stars sang together in a great paean of praise  As a mighty organ, the planets were as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty Creator God, expressing the very joy of His heart.  Selah!

So… continue praising.  Continue thanking.  Continue to bless the Name of our Almighty Creator God.

Be that high E flat pipe that gets stuck 'on' in your praise of our mighty God.

God hears.

God knows.

God blesses.


ok… so this is not really part of the blog but I couldn't resist.  I found some organ/organist jokes that I simply MUST post here.  Don't even think about reading these if you are easily offended or if you are an easily offended organist… or if you even know one…

Here goes:


Pardon?:  The standard answer when someone asks you why you play the organ so loudly.


The minister was preoccupied with thoughts of how he was going to ask the congregation to come up with more money than they were expecting for repairs to the church building.

He gave the organist a copy of the service and asked her if she could come up with some kind of inspirational music to play, after he made the announcement about the finances, to help put the congregation in a giving mood.

"Don't worry, I'll come up with something," she said.

During the service, the minister paused and said, "Brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in great difficulty.  The cost of the roof repairs is twice as much as we expected, and we need $4000 more.  Any of you who are able to pledge $100 or more, please stand up."

At that moment, the organist began playing "The Star Spangled Banner."


What do you call 101 organs at the bottom of a lake?  A good start!


What do you get if you drop an organ on an army base?  A flat major!


Why are an organist's fingers like lightning?  Because they rarely strike the same place twice!


Why doesn't heaven have a pipe organ?  Because they needed the keys in hell to make accordions.


The organ is the instrument of worship for in its sounding we sense the Majesty of God and in its ending we know the Grace of God.


When he was the organist-choirmaster at Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, he was to meet Noel Mander to get a tour of Mander's shop.  This is housed in what used to be the parochial school of Saint Peter's Church.  Consequently, the building is now called Saint Peter's Organ Works. While driving to this meeting,  Barry was having a little trouble finding the address, although he thought he was in the general neighborhood.  So he rolled down the window and called to man standing at the side of the street, "Do you know St. Peter's Organ Works?" The bystander, doubtless rather puzzled at such a question, said, "So does mine!"

Miss Beatrice, the church organist, was in her eighties.  She was admired for her sweetness and kindness to all.  One afternoon the pastor came to call on her and she showed him into her quaint sitting room.  She invited him to have a seat while she prepared tea.

As he sat facing her old Hammond organ, the young minister noticed a cut-glass bowl sitting on top of it.  The bowl was filled with water, and in the water floated, of all things, a condom!  When she returned with tea and scones, they began to chat.

The pastor tried to stifle his curiosity about the bowl of water and its strange floater, but soon it got the better of him and he could no longer resist.  "Miss Beatrice, " he said, "I wonder if you would tell me about this?" pointing to the bowl.

"Oh yes," she replied, "Isn't it wonderful?  I was walking through the park a few months ago and I found this little package on the ground.  The directions said to place it on the organ, keep it wet and that it would prevent the spread of disease."


…and of course, this is my husband's favorite:

Did you hear about the man who went streaking though the church?

They caught him by the organ...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Old Man on the Beach

So… a friend of mine found this story by Max Lucado and shared it with me.  Now, I share it with you.  As with all Lucado writings, this touched my heart and helped me understand.  It came from the book In The Eye of the Storm, pages 221-226:

"An old man walks down a Florida beach.  The sun sets like an orange ball at the horizon.  The waves slap the sand.  The smell of saltwater stings the air.  The beach is vacant.  No sun to entice the sunbathers.  Not enough light for the fishermen.  So, aside from a few joggers and strollers, the gentleman is alone.

He carries a bucket in his bony hand.  A bucket of shrimp.  It's not for him.  It's not for the fish.  It's for the sea gulls.  He walks to an isolated pier cast in gold by the setting sun.  He steps out to the end of the pier.  The time has come for the weekly ritual.  He stands and waits.

Soon the sky becomes a mass of dancing dots.  The evening silence gives way to the screeching of birds.  They fill the sky and then cover the moorings.  They are on a pilgrimage to meet the old man.

For a half hour or so, the bush-browed, shoulder-bent gentleman will stand on the pier, surrounded by the birds of the sea, until the bucket is empty.

But even after the food is gone, his feathered friends still linger.  They linger as if they're attracted to more than just food.  They perch on his hat.  They walk on the pier.  And they all share a moment together.

Got the scene?  Now put it on the back burner for a few minutes.

Matthew 15: 29-32:  Jesus left there and wen along the Sea of Galilee.  Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down.  Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.  The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing.  And they praised the God of Israel.

Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with Me three days and have nothing to eat.  I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."

For three days Jesus did a most remarkable thing - He healed them.  "The lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others" came to Him, Matthew wrote, "and He healed them."

Many times I wish that the New Testament writers had been a bit more descriptive.  This is one of those times.  "And He healed them" is too short a phrase to describe what must have been an astonishing sight.

Let your imagination go.  Can you see the scene?

Can you see the blind husband seeing his wife for the first time?  His eyes gazing into her tear-filled ones like she was the queen of the morning?

Envision the man wo had never walked, now walking!  Don't you know that he didn't want to sit down?  Don't you know that he ran and jumped and did a dance with the kids?

And what about the mute who could speak?  Can you picture him sitting by the fire late into the night and talking?  Saying and singing everything and anything that he had ever wanted to say and sing.

And the deaf woman who could now hear.  What was it like when she heard her child call her "Mamma" for the first time?

For three days it went on.  Person after person.  Mat after mat.  Crutch after crutch.  Smile after smile.  No record is given of Jesus preaching or teaching or instructing or challenging.  He just healed.

"The people,"  Matthew wrote, "were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing."  Four thousand amazed people, each telling a story grander than the other.  In the midst of them all is Jesus.  Not complaining.  Not postponing.  Not demanding.  Just enjoying every minute.

Then Matthew, still the great economizer of words, gave us another phrase on which I wish he would have elaborated:

"They praised the God of Israel."

I wonder how they did that?  I feel more certain of what they didn't do than of what they did do.  I feel confident that they didn't form a praise committee.  I feel confident that they didn't make robes.  I feel confident that they didn't sit in rows and stare at the back of each other's heads.  

I doubt seriously if they wrote a creed on how they were to praise this God they had never before worshiped.  I can't picture them getting into an argument over technicalities.  I doubt if they felt it had to be done indoors.

And I know they didn't wait until the Sabbath to do it. 

In all probability, they just did it.  Each one - in his or her own way, with his or her own heart - just praised Jesus.  Perhaps some people came and fell at Jesus' feet.  Perhaps some shouted His Name.  Maybe a few just went up on the hillside, looked into the sky, and smiled.

I can picture a mom and dad standing speechless before the Healer as they held their newly healed baby.

I can envision a leper staring in awe at the One who took away his terror.

I can imagine throngs of people pushing and shoving.  Wanting to get close.  Not to request anything or demand anything, but just to say "thank you."

Perhaps some tried to pay Jesus, but what payment would have been sufficient?

Perhaps some tried to return His gift with another, but what could a person give that would express the gratitude?

All the people could do was exactly what Matthew said they did.  "They praised the God of Israel."

However they did it, they did it.  And Jesus was touched, so touched that He insisted they stay for a meal before they left.

Without using the word worship, this passage defines it.  Worship is when you're aware that what you've been given is far greater than what you can give.  Worship is the awareness that were it not for His touch, you'd still be hobbling and hurting, bitter and broken.  Worship is the half-glazed expression on the parched face of a desert pilgrim as he discovers that the oasis is not a mirage.

Worship is the "thank you" that refuses to be silenced.

We have tried to make a science out of worship.  We can't do that.  We can't do that any more than we can "sell love" or "negotiate peace."

Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to the Savior, by the healed to the Healer, and by the delivered to the Deliverer.  And if you and I can go days without feeling on urge to say "thank you" to the One Who saved, healed and delivered us, then we'd do well to remember what He did.

The old man on the pier couldn't go a week without saying "thank you."

His name was Eddie Rickenbacker.  If you were alive in October 1942, you probably remember the day that he was reported missing at sea.

He had been sent on a mission to deliver a message to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.  With a handpicked crew in a B-17 known as the "Flying Fortress," he set off across the South Pacific.  Somewhere the crew became lost, the fuel ran out, and the plane went down.

All eight crew members escaped into life rafts.  They battled the weather, the water, the sharks, and the sun.  But most of all, they battled the hunger.  After eight days, their rations were gone.  They ran out of options.  It would take a miracle for them to survive.

And a miracle occurred.

After an afternoon devotional service, the men said a prayer and tried to rest  As Rickenbacker was dozing with his hat over his eyes, something landed on his head.  He would later say that he knew it was a sea gull.  He didn't know how he knew; he just knew.  That gull meant food… if he could catch it.  And he did.

The flesh was eaten.  The intestines were used as fish bait.  And the crew survived.

What was a sea gull doing hundreds of miles away from land?

Only God knows.

But whatever the reason, Rickenbacker was thankful.  As a result, every Friday evening this old captain walked to the pair, his bucket full of shrimp and his heart full of thanks.

We'd be wise to do the same.  We've much in common with Rickenbacker.  We, too, were saved by a Sacrificial Visitor.

We, too, were rescued by One Who journeyed far from only God knows where.

And we, like the captain, have every reason to look into the sky… and worship.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Neck Cream

So…. I celebrated a birthday not too long ago and received one of those 'wake-up call' gifts: neck cream (can and should a husband really give this?) This was not just 'you-smell-nice' neck cream, but the heavy duty stuff that is supposed to tighten the skin and fill crevices.  I thought it was an odd and insulting gift because that particular part of me is not jiggling all that much - at least not as much as other parts - and I was not yet aware of needing neck cream.  Besides… I wear a lot of turtlenecks.

This said neck cream has made me think a bit.

It's true: I am aging… and sagging… and bulging...

Maybe you are, too...

We are aging, but maybe that's not a bad thing…

And I'm willing to bet, because we are aging, we're not as stupid as we used to be.

John and I raise a lot of roses in our back yard; about a hundred rose bushes produce about a thousand blooms between May and October.  We have all colors from pinks (my favorite) to oranges (John's favorite), reds (everyone's favorite), one blue-ish tinted (nobody's favorite) and one white (why bother?) Ninety-five percent of our blooms are so beautiful and so perfect and so full of color that I pick and arrange them into bouquets to surprise unsuspecting receivers.  The perfect blooms are too beautiful to leave in the garden where the sun and wind destroy the petals. In such elements as our lovely Iowa summers so often provide, a perfect rose will remain brilliant about a day before it explodes and starts to fade and whither.

Once the rose fades, it droops and drops its petals and something else appears:  rose hips!

I've never really noticed the rose hips until this past December.  Look at these beauties!  These hips are created to last!  Bring on the rain, sleet, snow, 50-mph winds, blizzards, anything… and these hips keep being big, red and beautiful.

Those hips are meant to age and last.  The bloom was gorgeous but lasted a short time.  Both the blooms and the hips are beautiful, but only the hips are built to last.

And it's not lost on me that even roses have 'hips'… and they become big and beautiful… and dare I say, voluptuous?

So take a lesson from the beautiful rose:  take heart and keep on getting older, equipped with some strong determination!  We are meant to age and get smarter and get wiser and handle life better - even when the storms of life batter us around.  We can handle it, knowing God is on our side and is always faithful and sure.  His hand is upon us, preparing us to handle whatever comes our way.

Job 12:12 says, "Is not wisdom found among the aged?  Does not long life bring understanding?"

Yes!  I answer!  It's a good thing!

So... I will slather on my gifted neck cream (does it really defy gravity?) and cheer on its protein tighteners… It's time to celebrate life and aging. 

I will continue to abide in God and produce fruit.  I've gathered years of experience in learning how God operates and know He is always good.  I will worship and pray and commit to God's marching orders. There is much to do and many people who need help; I will continue until my last breath.

There is nothing else I'd rather do.

Aging is a gift well worth a celebration.  Don't you agree?