Friday, October 25, 2013

Trust and Obey (Strength in Hymn)

Trust and Obey
by John H. Sammis

When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there's no other way

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

The Back Story of the Hymn: You can read how lyricist John Sammis received inspiration for this hymn by clicking this link: Trust and Obey, The Song and the Story.

Why I Picked this Hymn: When I was in Florida Hospital a few weeks ago, they asked if I would like a visit from the chaplain.  Sure!  So Pastor Sherwin Callwood stopped by not long before I went home and chatted with my husband and me for a little while about trusting God for my health and also, on a practical note, walking to relieve stress.  I asked him what his favorite hymn is, and he quickly replied "Trust and Obey."  He also mentioned that he sang professionally in his younger years -- including over 13 years with the famous Boys' Choir of Harlem.  Thank you, Rev. Callwood, for your visit and your hymn choice!

My Life: About a week after my hospital visit, my daughter who is an RN at Florida Hospital asked if I would like to walk with her at a nearby lake, Crane's Roost, to get some exercise.  We managed three miles that night, and two the next.  I sure enjoyed the time with her and I'm glad she's encouraging me to embrace healthy habits!  In fact, that Sunday night, I asked my husband if he'd would like to walk at Lake Baldwin with me and our two youngest children while three of the others went to youth group nearby.  We strolled for about a mile and half before driving over to Subway for a snack and playtime at a colored light fountain.  All of the photos in this post are from that walk.  

While we walked, I thought about how part of teaching our children to trust and obey God the Father is teaching them how to trust us and follow our instructions peacefully as we ourselves do the right thing.  We don't want to misrepresent the character of God by being harsh, selfish, impatient, arbitrary, or demanding.  We don't want to set unreasonable expectations that will unnecessarily frustrate them.  We want them to know they are safe with us, both physically and emotionally.  We want them to see us authentically following God's leading.  In that sense, trust is earned and basic obedience is modeled by example.  We certainly don't always live up to that, but I am personally committed to trying my hardest.  I think we should:

  • Consider their personalities, needs and desires.  "Yes, of course you can ride a scooter instead of walking.  It will be faster and more fun for you!" and "You are thirsty? Let me get out your water bottle for you."  

  • Take the time often to just stop and be with them, to pay attention to their interests, and just enjoy their presence.  "Sure, we can stop and see the ducks! Great idea!" and "Wow, I'm glad you showed me that anhinga stretching his wings up on the roof" and "Let's get some cookies at Subway and then go over to see the colored fountains!" 

  •  Explain, as appropriate, why we have made a decision, why it is important for them to cooperate.  "Don't chase the ducks, please.  We need to be kind to God's creatures, and other people here want to see them waddle around, too!" and "Stay on the right and watch where you're going, because bicycles are coming."  

  • Point out vital and beautiful things as we go along. "Walking around the lake is a great way to get exercise and fresh air!" and "What a beautiful sunset God has created!" 

Thoughts for the Disillusioned Christian: Many Christians have a difficult time trusting God if they have been burned by leaders who have demanded unwavering trust and blind obedience in the name of "godliness."  It helps to remember that God has called us to discernment and common sense!  There are a lot of untrustworthy "Christian" leaders out there -- both celebrities and small-time guys, and both outright greedy charlatans and the sincere-but-misguided.  We should not trust everyone who claims to be a Christian authority, and there is certainly no call for unconditional obedience to anyone.  We obey God, and as an overflow of that we cooperate with others who serve him alongside us. We seek to build trusting relationships with our fellow Christians, but we keep in mind that they are just human beings, prone to failure and even betrayal.  Can I get an AMEN?  

You might also like this free e-book by "A Little Yes" blogger Heather Caliri: Dancing Back to Jesus: post-perfectionist faith in five easy verbs.  You will find unintimidating encouragement for the burned out Christian. After I posted that link on Facebook last night, a Romanian friend told me it reminded her of this song on YouTube: Do it Afraid.  Let me know what you think!  

We all need a little joy and courage in our lives to help us trust and obey!

Friday, October 18, 2013

It Is Well with My Soul (Strength in Hymn)

"It Is Well with My Soul"
by Horatio Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, 

though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day 
when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, 
and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul. 


My mother and grandmother in July
1. My sister called on Monday night. My Grandma Hess is dying of congestive heart failure, and I am expecting a phone call with the news of her passing any time now. I thought that's why Barb was calling then, but she was actually telling me that Grandma was restless, having a hard time getting settled comfortably for the night. Barb invited me to join her in singing hymns to help her rest, especially since Grandma had been a church organist for decades. I suggested Great Is Thy Faithfulness.Then she started in with It Is Well With My Soul, while I flipped through my hymnal to find the words, most of which I know already. We ended with one of Grandma's favorites, Love Lifted Me, which she played on the piano for me at her nursing home last year. I can't think of a better comfort and I am glad that I could participate in some small way, even though I am several hundred miles away. Please pray for us all as we are working through the loss of another much loved family member. I will write more about her later.

2. Many people know the story behind the hymn of faith: Horatio Spafford wrote it on a ship in the ocean at the very spot where his four daughters had perished when their ship had sunk. Earlier, his life savings had been wiped out in the Chicago fire. Yet he expressed his abiding faith in a loving and powerful God. It has been beloved by Christians ever since.  You can read more about this story and hear the song here: "It Is Well with My Soul" at Songs and Hymns.

3. And now, a little bit of philosophizing on the lyrics: "It is well with my soul..."  I think of two extremes of people in the ranks of Christianity. The first are those who strongly believe in what is called "positive confession." They won't acknowledge anything wrong in their lives, unless it is to come against it by claiming complete victory right now - despite the actual reality of their circumstances. "Name it and claim it" is the way of life here. So it's, "I'm not sick!  I claim my perfect health in the name of Jesus, because by his stripes I am healed!" These folks are vulnerable to those in the prosperity gospel movement who will appeal to their sense of spiritual entitlement. They can often be motivated to do foolish things because they want an instant fix to their health, finances, or family problems. The other kind of extreme Christians are the navel gazers whose mantra is, "I'm so full of sin! There is nothing good in my soul! I don't deserve anything. I can't do anything worthwhile, because my best deeds are filthy rags to him." These folks are vulnerable to abuse by those who use their poor self-identity in order to control them. They confuse obedience to God with obedience to humans who claim spiritual authority. "I'm so foolish, I don't know what to do, so someone needs to tell me. I can only do what they ask me to do, or I would be pridefully striving in my own strength and wisdom." Their sense of initiative and Christ-confidence and seeking wisdom in God's word for themselves is lost because they see themselves as helpless grimy little spiritual worms. The actual truth? Yes, we are sinners who need God for salvation and strength. We live real lives that are often confusing and messy. But he has saved us for his glory, and we are now beloved saints, children of God! Not everything will turn out the way we want this side of eternity, but we can trust God still. It will all come out right then, and in the meantime, we keep doing our best to make things right in our own lives now. Our trials here on earth will serve to strengthen us, help us to depend more on God instead of ourselves, and make us more compassionate to the sufferings of others. We can step out in faith and confidence that he has great things in store for us, that he has gifted us to serve in our own unique ways that others might not always understand or appreciate. We do not have to live under condemnation for our weaknesses! We just need to continually offer up whatever we do have and whoever we really are. He receives our gifts of faith with joy. We are covered in the righteousness of Christ and he fills with the Holy Spirit as we continually yield our hearts to him. That's what he sees. That's what enables us to sing, "It is well with my soul!"  More on this here:

4. The photos in this post were taken yesterday at a local suburban park. You can see more here:  Kewanee Park on a Foggy Day.   Most of my entries in this Strength in Hymn series are accompanied by sets of nature photos.

I know this has been a really long post.  Thanks for reading this far.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Monday, October 7, 2013

When We All Get to Heaven (Strength in Hymn)

"When We All Get to Heaven"
by Eliza E. Hewitt 
Pentecostal Praises, 1898

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!


While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

Virginia and Judy
I asked my friend Judy to choose the hymn for this week for two reasons: 1) I really appreciate her care for me, and 2) most of the photos in this post (with the exception of the two with people in them) are from their backyard and house.  She replied with "When We All Get to Heaven" and noted that it was sung at both her father's and mother's funerals. 

Mama Jewel with my Melody

I loved Judy's dear mother, Mama Jewel, and attended her funeral two years ago.  Judy's father was a Pentecostal preacher, so I'm not surprised this song is from the Pentecostal Praises hymnal.  love this hymn too, and have sung it often with my older children both as a morning song and a bedtime lullaby, and often in between.  I'm sure that as adults and older teens, they can still sing the first verse and chorus from memory!

One reason I like this song is that it talks about God's gracious hospitality toward us in preparing a place for us in Heaven.  On a more temporal level, hospitality is something I have seen modeled in Judy and her husband Bart.  Yes, they invite us over for "official" church gatherings; Friday night's dinner was for the folks that Bart cares for as an elder.  We were also at their house for a Dinner with Friends a while back and we used to go to a Bible study there. However, there have also been the times that our family, or my husband and I, or even just I have been there for more personal fellowship or counsel.  

I have to admit that when the pastor of our little Presbyterian congregation recently announced a "shepherding plan" coming up, just the phrase triggered a negative reaction in me.  Like many of the readers here at Watch the Shepherd, I know of too many religious organizations that do "shepherding" in an more invasive way which ends up manipulating and controlling members.  This abuse of spiritual authority can be deeply damaging, as I have learned from my research on  the "shepherding / discipleship movement" that started in the 1970's. My own personal experiences with "shepherding" have been rather mild, comparatively speaking, but enough to give me the chills when I even hear the word.  The focus is not on "the wondrous love of Jesus" or our "victory" in him or that "his beauty we'll behold."   It's all about how well the church member complies with legalistic expectations of human leaders.  It's more hellish than heavenly.

Anyway, I was quite relieved when our pastor explained in a sermon exactly what healthy shepherding is and, more relevantly, what it is not.  Mainly, in our church shepherding just means that an elder has been assigned to each family or single person so he can get to know them and be there for them.  He is not there to boss us around or hover over us, though he will intervene appropriately if he sees us heading down a destructive path, especially if it is hurting others.  That is as it should be.  It's good to know that someone has got my back. I've seen it in action, even before we got officially assigned.  Bart and Judy have showed up on our doorstep in less than a half hour when we've had a crisis - and stayed with us for hours.  They have often checked in on us by calling, e-mailing, and finding me at church on a Sunday morning.  Borrowing words from the hymn, their "true and faithful... serving" has been a little taste of Heaven to me as I "walk this pilgrim pathway" along with them.  These green bottles from their serving table on Friday night tell a true word: LOVE.

Thoughts on shepherding, liberty of conscience, and the use and abuse of spiritual authority...
Related posts mentioning my friend Judy on my other blogs:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles