Category Archive: Comfort

Set Free … by Music

Georg Friedrich Händel was born in 1685 in Brandenburg-Prussia.

At the tender age of nine years, Handel began composing church services for voice and instruments every week for three years. As he grew and his talent developed, he worked as a composer in Italy and then England, becoming a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. 

Handel became a very successful composer of big, bold musical arias and operas for London society. At that time, going to an opera was not the semi-formal, reverent event it is today. Instead, listeners walked about, eating and drinking, spitting, booing, and sometimes rioting if they didn’t like the song. Handel even started three commercial opera companies to supply Italian opera to the English nobility.

in 1737, exhausted by stress, Handel suffered what appears to have been a mild stroke which impaired the movement of his right hand. Fans thought he might never compose again. However, after a six-week course of treatment in Germany he returned to London to continue composing. Six years later he suffered another stroke. Again, Handel’s audience thought he would no longer write but, once again, he stunned them with a quick recovery.

Handel did quite well with his big, bold music until that style went out of favor. He lost everything and went bankrupt. He is said to have suffered from anxiety and depression. One of his friends, Charles Jennens, sent him a letter filled with Bible references about the Messiah, the Chosen One God would send to redeem His people. Not being a religious man, he set these aside for a time. But when he picked them up and read of the promised Messiah in Isaiah, the coming of the King in Revelation, he locked himself in his study for twenty-four days straight, hardly eating or drinking, to complete this oratorio.

After twenty-four days Handel’s servant heard weeping behind the door. Forcing it open, he found Handel inside, tears streaming down his face. “I think I did see all heaven open before me, and the great God Himself,” he said. He determined to conduct the premier performance of THE MESSIAH in Dublin around Easter of 1742, with the goal of freeing many locked in prison for debts they could not pay. The oratorio received rave reviews and exceeded expectations, raising 400 pounds and paying the debts of between 142 and 157 prisoners.

Imagine those 150-ish men and women bending over, leaving their cells, bodies likely stiff from lack of exercise, as they walked through a low-arched stone passageway into the outside air. Glimpse their joy as their debts were pardoned and they returned to their families to start anew.

This is what Jesus Christ came to give us–new life, hope, peace, love, and purpose.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10, ESV

What a picture of the redemption Christ offers us. For a sin debt we cannot pay, the penalty of which is death, He came to earth, born and placed in a lowly manger, and grew up to show us God’s character. He, the one person born without sin, then gave His life as a ransom for all who would receive this free gift.

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life.

I John 5:12, TLB

Handel continued to share this oratorio, donating significantly to the London Foundling Hospital for abandoned children and infants.

Throughout his life he was known as a generous man. Never married, his will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the Foundling Hospital. And to prevent his loved ones from bearing the cost of burying him, Handel donated the money to pay for his own funeral. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after his death. 

It is said that when England’s King George first heard THE MESSIAH, and its closing Chorus, he stood in awe of the King of Kings. That began the tradition of standing during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

In 2010 the Philadelphia Opera Company gathered 650 vocalists (in guise as shoppers) at the heart of a three-story Macy’s which had a large pipe organ installed in the center of the store. As the organ began the introduction to THE MESSIAH, the singers joined in for a fabulous flash mob. I hope you’ll take the six minutes to watch this, look at the faces of those who stop to listen, the hands raised in praise, the cameras taking in the sight and sound of this “Random Act of Culture”. I found it extremely uplifting, and hope you will too.

May you rejoice in the coming of Messiah, once as we celebrate Christmas and the babe born in a manger; and with the promise of His return in the future.

And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!

The Arrival

I loving the word “Advent.” The Arrival.

Rome ruled Israel. Taxes were high and people anxious, wanting the promise of Messiah to be fulfilled as it had been prophesied multiple times in the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other books of the Old Testament.

And Herod, who officially ruled Galilee and Perea as a client state of the Roman Empire…well, he knew he could be thrown out of power at any time if he didn’t align himself with Rome.

Chaos was rampant as Israelites and Romans clashed in the streets. Crime was up. Waves of revolt were often led by two sects: the Zealots who sought Jewish independence, and the Sicarii, a Zealot extremist group whose name means “assassin.” Hostility was high. Roman occupation included oppressive taxes, physical abuse by Roman soldiers, and the repugnant idea that the Roman leader was a god. Repeated efforts at gaining political independence went nowhere. Whether in the city or country, Israelites were oppressed by Rome. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it! (I’m not making a political comment, just saying their culture and ours parallel in a number of ways.)

But the Israelites expected a Messiah Ruler; a leader who would vanquish Rome, set captives free, and give them peace and freedom and victory celebrations!

Instead, Messiah came as a baby, born in a humble stable. Not even a room in the inn. He had to be laid in a manger, probably filled with straw. This isn’t the way one would expect a King to enter the world. Pastor Tim used a statement last week that “The infinitely high became incomprehensibly low so we could be seated with him in the heavens!” God’s Son gave up everything, even the Oneness he shared with the Father, when God turned his back on the sin laid on his Son’s shoulders on the cross. Jesus gave up everything so we could have everything!

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

With Mary, I proclaim

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

Luke 1:46-48 (NIV)

This has been a difficult year around the globe. Uncertainty, hostilities, pandemic, floods, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, and isolation have taken their toll.

woman showing stop gesture with hand
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

And, while Jesus wasn’t born into a palace, surrounded by servants, rich damasks and silks, and the finest of infant foods, he did come as our Lord and King, the only one who could take on himself the penalty for our sins. Eight days after his birth, the elderly Simeon, a righteous man who had been awaiting the arrival of Messiah, held Jesus in his arms and prayed:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

So as we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s remember the God who holds the world in his hands and sent his one and only Son, the exact likeness of God, to become nothing, so we could have everything!

I wish you and yours a joyous Advent, celebrating not only the babe in the manger, but our Lord and King!

Twinkling Lights and a Shepherd

Twinkling lights spreading warmth through colorful shopping markets. Cuckoo clocks, shawls, candles, handmade porcelain and other gifts. Lighted carousels and Christmas trees and snow! Weinerschnitzel, where the tender veal covers the edges of the plate. One dish definitely enough for two!

Photo by Thomas Schmidt / Eyeem

Don and I were looking forward to visiting the Christmas Markets on the Danube, leaving the day after Thanksgiving. Seeing sparkling lights in beautiful old villages along the Danube.

Then Austria locked down, and our cruise was cancelled.

Surprisingly, we were almost relieved. There had been so much “will we, won’t we, can we, can’t we” as we gathered warm clothing, tried to ensure we had all our needs covered, that we were stressing about it. We didn’t realize how much until, the night after we got the cancellation notice, we slept ’til 9:30 am!

As much as I would love to take this trip, I have a Shepherd who watches over me. He knows what is best for us, even when it doesn’t feel so great. And in light of the trials so many are experiencing, this is a small thing.

Last week I wrote about how the Shepherd guides me, my GPS, directing my steps and leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. This week, Pastor Tim talked about God’s name in Psalm 23, Jehovah Rohi, the Shepherd and Companion. He covers not only my physical needs (rest, refreshment, guidance), but also my emotional needs.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

He is not surprised by our valleys–death, illness, loss, hostility, depression, fear, plan changes. While these things can mess with our minds for a time, we can walk through them with Him at our side. My Shepherd is with me. His rod guards, like a club, to protect. His staff guides and directs. With a shepherd’s crook he can hook a wayward sheep and pull it back into the fold. I want that kind of Shepherd!

We’ve all experienced losses these past two years–family or friends who have died from Covid or for other reasons. Friends who have gotten Covid, walked through the valley and come out on the other side. Loneliness and fear have become prevalent companions for many, as fear was for me last year.

I don’t know what valley you’ve experienced recently, but I do know you’re not alone. You have a Shepherd, and hopefully other companions who have walked with you through your particular valley.

We can’t walk from mountain to mountain without going through a valley. But we walk through by realizing the valleys are not our final destination. We must keep walking through them to reach the mountains on the other side.

So instead of traipsing through the snow and looking at Christmas wonderland in Austria and Germany, Don and I will put our tree up earlier than expected, will have Christmas carols playing through the house, will reach out to our neighbors, family and friends to extend love and hope and joy.

I wish you a joy-filled Thanksgiving filled with praise for our Good Shepherd!

The Grand Puzzle Master

Swirls of red and white. No specific pattern. Does this piece fit here? There? Turn it around. Nope, still didn’t fit.

During these 16+ months of isolation, I purchased several puzzles. The first was of a lady in a Venetian mask and gown. While Don and I did pretty well with her face and mask, which had more definition than the red and white fabric and gold beads of her crown and gown, we would struggle to get one piece to fit, then give up for the day.

Then our grandniece and grandnephew, Cadence and Cole, came over with their parents. These children are 6 and 10, Their eyes are younger than ours (so is the rest of them)! Cole and his father filled in the bottom of the puzzle, a mix of those red and white pieces with gold braid or beads here and there. Cadence would pick up a piece, look at it and say, “I think this goes here.” We’d try and it didn’t fit. “No, turn it around.” YES!

Amazing. We didn’t finish the puzzle that day and, without their quick eyes we finally gave up on it and put it away, perhaps for a later day. Perhaps not!

I pulled out another puzzle. Same number of pieces but much more specific detail to help identify the pieces, which are larger than in the first puzzle. Cole and Cadence helped us on this one again, but Don and I were quite successful in putting sections together. We finished it!

You may not like puzzles but, if you do, you know working on them can be quite addictive.

Would you have guessed where this piece fit? It was one of the later ones we identified. Was it a football? Did it fit with the chess pieces and orange floor? No–it was part of the tennis shoes by the door. But it took us a long time to realize those were shoelaces.

When we only see the immediate circumstance, whether it’s a loss, a humbling experience, hurtful words, or even joy, we don’t always recognize how it fits into a pattern for good in our lives.

I thought of my friend Tom, who says he loves watching God move the chess pieces. God is not arbitrary, playing a game. But he is sovereign and so often brings situations or people into our lives in unexpected ways. While we may see the back of the puzzle–all the same color and different shapes, he sees the complete picture, right side up, colors and pattern intact.

So for those I love who face special challenges this week–surgery, loss of a loved one, grief, marital discord–I urge you as I urge myself, to continue to look at our sovereign God. He knows what is happening and what good he will bring from each difficulty. And if we look at him rather than the one puzzle piece, we can walk in faith–yes, sometimes with great pain–knowing that he cares about our heart struggles. In his economy, nothing is wasted, not even our tears.

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Psalm 56:8 ESV

I just read that God never looks over his balcony and says “Oh my!” Illness, loss, wars, fires, floods may grieve his heart, but they are no surprise to him. And he has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

And he cares about our tears, even as he looks at his grand puzzle which will one day be complete.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Words and lyrics by Jim Hill

Why do Good People Suffer?

How would you respond if everything you had was stripped from you…

  • Your Finances
  • Possessions
  • Car
  • Home and
  • Children

…within the space of a day?

Some of this is happening now, to those losing businesses or jobs due to the Coronavirus.

And after all this…you got a terrible, wasting sickness of painful sores from head to toe that hurt and itch so much you take broken pottery to scrape your skin, top to bottom?

On top of that, your spouse or family members tell you to curse God and die to leave this agony behind?

Many of you will recognize I’m talking about the Old Testament character of Job, the oldest written book in the Bible.

Is God capricious? Is He playing with Job?

Does Job have a right to question God about how He’s handling Job’s crisis?

Is sickness or loss (finances, property, family) always a judgment of God against sin in a person’s life?

God told Satan Job was a righteous man. Blameless.

Satan argued that Job was righteous because God had blessed him. If God removed His blessing, Job would curse God.

So God gave Satan permission to torment Job, first with loss of oxen, camels, sheep, servants, and his ten children. And Job remained righteous (“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:21).

So Satan came back and said, “Yes, God, but if you take his health he’ll surely curse you.”

Again, God gave permission for Satan to touch Job’s body, but not to kill him.

Job had four friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, who came to comfort him. For seven days they sat quietly with him, seeing his agony. This was good, supportive.

At the end of his rope!

Then they began to tell Job, one at a time, that he must have sinned or he would not be suffering like this. “It must be your fault!” These are not the friends I want with me when I’m in trouble.

While the friends judged his heart and talked to him about God, they never talk to God about Job. They never asked for him to be healed, to have his fortunes reversed, to stop scratching the sores on his body.

This question is often asked. Why do good people suffer and evil prevail?

Is all misfortune the judgment of God against an individual, all blessing a result of the good someone has done?

God was pretty clear on this. He continued to declare Job righteous.

The four “friends” tried to identify sin and guilt in Job. He responded to each challenge: he treated his servants well, sacrificed to God after every celebration his party animal children gave in case they cursed God during their revelries, gave to the poor, helped the widows, did not lust after other women or rely on his wealth as his security. If he had done any of these things, Job declared, he would have denied God and should be cursed. But he maintained his innocence.

Finally God interrupted the conversation, speaking in a whirlwind, thundering His own perspective on the situation. But He never directly answered the question of “Why”.

He is God. He created the beauty around us, the animals and huge beasts and people and all we see. He challenged Job’s thinking.

  • Did you make the stars?
  • Do you make the sun rise and set each day?
  • Did you make the earth, mountains, sea, lightning, thunder, rain, animals and plants?
  • Were you there when I did this?
  • Does the thing created question why the Creator made him that way?
  • Do you have the right to demand He explain His decisions?

Instead of answering the “Why me?”, God overwhelms Job with his majesty and sovereignty.

In Job 42:5-6 Job responded.

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”

He no longer defended himself. Rather, Job recognized He could not approach God as an equal. He heard these truths about God’s majesty but now he heard it from God Himself and so, Job changed his mind about the truth of who God is.

Job’s need for truth went deeper than getting an explanation for “Why”. He needed to know that, in all, God was and is God. He is the only One wise and powerful enough to be in charge, to handle everything.

Job’s fortunes were restored in the end, and he and his wife had ten more children. And while those ten didn’t replace the ten who were lost, they did give new life to Job.

After my mother died, I grieved deeply. But her death appeared less peaceful than I would have wanted for her. My sweet, gracious mother who loved Jesus with all her heart, seemed to struggle to let go. I didn’t understand. I wanted an explanation that made sense to my rational mind and hurting soul.

But I began to realize I also felt abandoned by God. I imagine Job felt the same. My deepest pain came from feeling separation from my Father, Savior, Lord.

“I can’t live like this,” I confessed, a statement of agony, not of intent.

And slowly, He reminded me of who He is, that He indeed held my beautiful mother in His hands and she was/is His. Through prayer, scripture reading, sermons, I was reminded of His deep love and care for me, and I began to heal.

So what’s the application for you, for me?

When we suffer, we don’t need to know why so much as we need to put our trust in the One who sent His Son to die for us, to rise from that stone cold grave, conquering death and promising us eternal life in His presence. He has promised to walk with us, never to leave nor forsake us, through any challenge He allows into our path.

Faith doesn’t need to know all the whys. It does need to know God is in charge and is wise enough to handle life properly.

There is a throne in heaven. And it is occupied!

And He is worthy of our praise.