www.caitlinjanetunes.com

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gatsby. Solomon. You & I.

Recently I had the chance to sit down with two friends and watch a film made after one of my all-time favorite novels, The Great Gatsby.  Complete with popcorn, pumpkin squares, and tea, we had a wonderful girls' night, soaking in the story.  Afterward, I asked myself, "What makes this story so captivating, so compelling? Why does its eccentricity and extravagance resonate with the average human heart and those living ordinary lives?"  It struck me then that Gatsby was a modern day Solomon.  He had it all- the riches, the fame, the women, and the ornate, pompous lifestyle.  He had the 1920's New York version of a chariot as he sped along past the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in his creamy yellow car.  He had status and wit and connections and flair.  He was an insider, he was unstoppable, he was almost untouchable.


And then it all came crashing around him.  His great kingdom was spiraling out of control, and his dreams, one by one, were shattered as his glass house was broken.  As one of the characters, Wilson, frantically told his wife right before her death, "God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!...God sees everything."  This message was for Gatsby as well. Their lives were on the course of destruction amid their rising decadence.


Travel back to the tenth century before Christ, and meet a man who was no stranger to this type of tragic tale.  Solomon was a king of splendor. He had it all. He had wives and concubines by the hundreds.  He had gold and silver and rubies and jewels from far-off places. He had a palace that would make the kings and presidents today drool. He even had wisdom and understanding beyond fathom...but it was just that- the wisdom- which haunted him, knowing so well in the end that his chasing after all the fame and fortune this world had to offer was only a chasing after the wind.  It could not be held, nor could it be grasped. And still today it is a vapor, which comes and goes.  It flies away and the soul is dissatisfied to the greatest degree.


"Vanity of vanities...all is vanity. 
What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  
One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. 
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. 
The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; 
The wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit. 
All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; 
To the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. 
All things are full of labor; man cannot express it.  
The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 
That which has been is what will be, 
that which is done is what will be done, 
And there is nothing new under the sun..."  
King Solomon
Ecclesiastes Chapter 1


While you and I may not have the riches and glory of King Solomon, and we may not be the Great Gatsby in West Egg, NY or his desperate lover, Daisy, in East Egg, NY...we are human beings, toiling in the flesh day after day.  Working and wrestling for meaning.  Searching for soul satisfaction.  Clamoring for recognition, rising worth, and some reality that will give purpose to the day.  I find myself so often caught in the cycle of it all- giving more time and energy into the temporary things instead of the eternal.



Recently I've had moments of pause.  Moments where I've stepped back and seen more of the landscape view of life instead of the microscopic, up-close, day to day rush and pressure of it all. Over the last four months...finding out about my medical situation, having to make decisions, and facing the uncertainty of tomorrow (which we all face, but frequently ignore since ignorance is a state of temporary bliss), I've come to a place of examining what matters in this life...and what does not.  I've come to realize more than ever that the the well-knowns and the great success stories and the household names are not always the satisfied and soul-nourished.  Often, they are the ones suffering.  It's often the unsung, no-named heroes who have hearts filled with rich peace - the obscure and anonymous lives who chase not after the honor of this world, but rather have their eyes fixed on the unseen things above (Colossians 3:2),


Here's an echoing challenge from King Solomon- for you and for me both.

"Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, 
Before the difficult days come, 
And the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them': 
While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, 
And the clouds do not return after the rain; 
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down...
And those that look through the windows grow dim...
And all the daughters of music are brought low...
And desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home. 
And the mourners go about the streets. 
Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, 
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. 
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, 
And the spirit will return to God who gave it...
All is vanity...
Fear God and keep His commandments, 
For this is man's all."
Ecclesiastes 12

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cowgirl, Jeans & Fishes

It was a magical night with lights and costumes and music downtown in the capital of my small home-state Delaware.  I sang some songs and children danced under the October moonlight.  It was a spirit of whimsy, made of the same stuff as fairy-tales. After singing, I was over at my CD table meeting all the little girls aglow.  I'll call her "Cowgirl"- she caught my eye and I recognized her from the time I sang at her church.  She was dressed in her boots, vest, and big western hat, looking so innocent...but underneath that little smile was something so much greater and more profound than any passerby could imagine. There she stood patiently, not yet seven years old, but with a soul exhibiting perhaps more faith than mine at 27. She waited for the other sweet girls to get pictures and talk. When it was her turn, she told me quite matter-of-factly with her endearing little grin, "Caitlin Jane, I pray for you every night, twice a night. Once before dinner and once before bed." That's all I needed to melt my heart.  Yes, that's all I needed to call to mind reminders of God's promises and therefore have hope (Lamentations 3:21-22).  Cowgirl gave me more than one hug, and I carry those hugs with me even now...

It was the day right before I met Cowgirl that I was gifted with an unexpected blessing from the elementary/high school where I graduated, Wilmington Christian. They had a jeans and t-shirt day fundraiser for #CaitlinJaneBrain where the students could pay $2 to wear jeans and t-shirts instead of their uniforms. What child or teen doesn't want to dress down for a day?   I remember planning these very same fundraisers for other causes when I was in school...but how incredibly humbling and beautiful to be the recipient of such love and grace now during my time of need!  This beyond-kindness was extraordinary to me, for it has been almost a decade since I graduated from there.  My niece, "Little C," is in kindergarten there now and came home the day before the fundraiser announcing to her family, "Everyone is bringing in $1 for jeans and $1 for a t-shirt tomorrow to help Cait's head!" In response, her 3-year-old brother, never without a twinkle in his eye, responded, "No they aren't! Cait's head is just fine!" (All right, I'll give him that...my head does look perfectly normal these days...it's funny how even adults try to "see" the brain tumor when they look at me, and they say in shock, "Um, well, you look great! I can't even tell!")  Little C's compassionate heart is always beating boldly, challenging my heart to take greater leaps of faith and to see the world through Jesus' eyes. When she got dressed for school on jeans/t-shirt day, she was eager to put her personal $2 into her backpack to help her Auntie...Yes, my 5-year-old niece was so willing to sacrifice her worldly riches to help my brain surgery.  This is the same girl who cried at 3-years-old, desperate to sponsor another little girl in Indonesia who lives in poverty (and Little C is now "planning" her someday trip to visit her sponsor girl "by boat or train"!)

The faith of Little C is the same faith exhibited in Cowgirl. They've found it- they've found the treasure of the Kingdom and they grasp it in a way that so many of us adults sadly have let go...I often lose my grasp and have to amble along to find it again- find the Lord's hand reaching out to grab my hand and carry me to the Kingdom treasure that is right here and right now, the treasure of holding onto Jesus (Matthew 13:44).  How is it that I often have to learn the greatest lessons by looking to the littlest ones?  It's the beautiful paradox of the Kingdom of God that astound us...and His call to become like children is no less astounding than the rest of Jesus' teachings.  When I look at Cowgirl, I am reminded of the power of prayer. She lives out James 5:15-16.  She offers prayer in faith to make the sick well. If "the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective," how much more powerful is the prayer of a child?  When I look at Little C, I am reminded of the power of giving, even when it is only a widow's two very small copper coins...or a young child's simple two dollars (Mark 12:38-44).  It may be insignificant in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, it is vastly extravagant and carries eternal weight.  For our Mighty God, Creator & Provider, can take even our smallest offering from the heart and multiply it in ways we cannot imagine.  This is the God who took just five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand and left his disciples with twelve baskets of delicious leftovers! (Matthew 14:13-21)

How do we step into the Kingdom- Jesus' Kingdom-come and will be done?  I believe one of the greatest secrets we can unlock of the Kingdom is found in Matthew 18:1-4: "About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?'  Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them.  Then he said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.'"

I want to learn from Cowgirl and Little C, and step into the Kingdom treasures for which my heart was made to find this week.  

Dear Lord, help me learn to pray.
Dear Lord, help me learn to give.
Dear Lord, help me learn to believe.
In Jesus' name, Amen.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thankful Beyond Words...

I sit here to type and my mind and heart cannot find the adequate words.  I’m truly stunned and in awe of God’s blessing that has poured out through each one of you.  The great storehouses of my Heavenly Father have rained upon me, and I am so deeply moved by the generous hearts that have given.  Dear friends, dear family, and other dear people whom I may not ever even know…I see so clearly that the Lord is providing my every need going into this surgery, but it is only through your extravagant generosity and sacrificial hearts.  I hope to be able to thank each one of you personally…but I realize some of you I won’t have that opportunity, so I hope you read this and know from the bottom of my heart to yours, I receive the grace you’ve bestowed upon me and I simply say these two simple words…

Thank You.

You have given me courage and joy through your words.
You have provided for so many of my medical/travel expenses through your giving.

I will continue to post updates here on my blog as well as my YouCaring page.  Having you all join with me on this journey is the greatest blessing and honor!!!

I leave you with this verse that has been so dear to my heart this past year, and following that, a few lines from a hymn written by Ernest Shurtleff in the late 1800s.  Let your heart be awakened to God’s love today and be steadfast and fixed in the light of His glory.

Psalm 57:7-11
“My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.”

Lead on, O King eternal, we follow not with fears,For gladness breaks like morning wherever Your face appears.Your cross is lifted over us, we journey in its light;The crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.




Saturday, October 18, 2014

Unexpected, Extravagant GRACE

How do I put into words the feelings that swell my soul this week?  The unexpected blessings that have poured in from strangers and friends alike...The words of extravagant kindness, the encouraging reminders of God's promises, the deep generosity and sacrificial support from so many of you...I am simply stunned. Overwhelmed. Deluged by a flood of grace.  I don't deserve any of it, and I am once again reminded that grace is never deserved, but a gift that we can only accept.  All of you have been such a perfect picture of God's grace to me, and I receive it with tears, joy, and the deepest desire to carry that grace forward and share it with those whom God puts along my path during the days to come.

Last night was such a tangible expression of that grace. A picture in person of how too many of you to count have shown acts of incredible giving and goodness behind the scenes.  A beautiful snapshot of joy and glory.  My friend E held a prayer gathering in her lovely home- a little reception with her family and friends just to bless me, pray over me, and encourage me by their presence before heading out to California for surgery on December 10.  E's vivacious, charismatic personality and genuine care brought a group of people together- many of whom I had never met- yet felt last night like I've known forever because of the love which they showered upon me.  A group of mostly strangers spent their hours on a Friday night to come out and just bless a girl with words of cheer, delicious food, conversation and laughter.  Dozens of people this past week have written, donated, and given deeply of themselves so that I can walk this journey not alone, but alongside the gracious souls of brothers and sisters literally from all over.  Each of you have lived out Galatians 6:2 in a way that I will never forget as long as I live.  All of this is pure grace.  "Bear (endure, carry) one another's burdens..." the verse proclaims.  I just pray that I can live out the grace that has been given to me by God through you.

I want to leave with you 2 Corinthians 9:14-15 that speaks better what my soul feels than my own words can say...

"And they yearn for you while they pray for you, because of the surpassing measure of God's grace (His favor and mercy and spiritual blessing which is shown forth) in you. Now thanks be to God for His Gift, [precious] beyond telling [His indescribable, inexpressible, free Gift]."


E's house...yes I am holding a frog she gave me ;)


"Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; 
first a dawning; then a light; 
and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness."
 - Thomas Adams


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shadow

Last night I went for a run in the rain.  It was a warm autumn evening and the golden leaves paved the road as I imagine the streets of Heaven are paved.  The rain fell gently, and then it picked up.  Drop after drop, down from the gray, shadowy, dim-lit sky, hitting my face and refreshing my soul.  It felt like one million raindrops, and I thought to myself, "These raindrops are teardrops from heaven, tears of gratefulness...the tears my soul wants to cry but has not the strength to yield."  I wish I could number the raindrops. I wish I could cry one thousand times one thousand and show the gratitude of the depths of my soul for all of the gifts, for all of the prayers, for all of the goodness that I do not deserve, but have received over the past few days...It was a beautiful night. A night with a shadow hovering over and rain pouring, but all the while a beautiful night.

This morning I woke at the ridiculous hour of 4 am, but all for a good reason.  I had the incredible opportunity to sing in my home state at Delaware's Annual Leadership Prayer Breakfast.  It was truly a special event. 
It was one of those mornings where the Lord just seemed to be so present, so near.  My pastor was there. Friends I hadn't seen in a long time.  Business folks and professionals from all over our small-wonder state.  A bright and bustling atmosphere...but with it's own shadows hovering.  I talked with a friend whose precious adopted baby girl is going in for major heart surgery in November.  I sat by another friend who just recently lost their 5 month old baby boy.  Shadows linger...they hover as we try to move on and out into the light.  We feel alone and caught and afraid, in the cold, in the dark.  Where is God?  When will the light break through?

My heart asks, "Could the shadow actually be the very thing revealing His grace, His protection, His love?  What appears to be haunting us as darkness...could it just be the shade from God's expansive, hovering wing?"


    His Voice Answers...


Psalm 91:1  "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand]."


    And our hearts cry out...


Psalm 57:1 "Be merciful and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed."


Psalm 63:7 "For you have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy."




We are given a glimpse into the mysterious promise of the shadow.  The shadow of God's great, compassionate, protective wing.  It is under His mighty hand that we rest and we are safe.  Two autumns ago, I wrote the above song, "Shadow," and singing it this morning, the lyrics feel more true and relevant than ever.  When I wrote it, I was sitting at our family piano, in the middle of storm Sandy, which devastated so many parts of the east coast.  On that gray, dark day I gazed up at this frame...




It reads a promise from Deuteronomy 33:12  "...The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long..."

The story behind this antique framed verse is jaw-dropping.  Let me tell you the background... My Great-Great Aunt Ruth was a missionary in China for 50 years.  She devoted her whole being to Christ and she passionately carried the Gospel to the Chinese people over the greater span of her life.  She founded China Bible Seminary in Shanghai, and I can only imagine the countless Chinese who know Jesus today because she was such a brave, bold woman who gave and served without hesitation.  I never met her, but my Grannie told me story after story about China and amazing Aunt Ruth.  Just to give you a glimpse, Ruth Brittain was imprisoned twice- once by the Japanese when they invaded Shanghai, and then later by the Communists.

One time she had to flee her house as the Japanese were shooting up the missionaries' homes.  She left all of her belongings and escaped for her life.  This framed verse was hanging in her home at the time.  It was left with everything else to be ransacked by the soldiers.  They shot through the rooms of the home, and wouldn't you know, a bullet was lodged in this wall-hanging.  Do you see it in the upper left corner?  I'm not sure of all the detailed events that followed this dramatic siege, but I do know the story about this framed picture...Ruth's friend recognized it at a shop some time later, bought it, and returned it to her!

This story about Aunt Ruth still amazes me today.  The verse from Deuteronomy. The meaning of the Word in that picture. The bullet. The Lord protecting His beloved.  It pierces me with its promise, so much so, that the words found their way into the lyrics of my song, "Shadow" when I wrote it two years ago.  Every time I sing that song, I think of brave Aunt Ruth who lived her whole life under the shadow of God's mighty wing.  I want to live like that.  I want to never leave the shadow-place in search for the easier, sunnier road, because I want, I long for, my Lord's protection.  Here is a picture of Aunt Ruth.  Can you see it in her eyes?  Her confidence and shelter were found in none but Christ.



May your heart today find comfort and strength under the shadow of God's mighty wing. Even during the grayest day and the darkest night, may you find yourself taking refuge in Him, for you are beloved in the Lord's eyes and you are safe under His loving Hand.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shadow
by Caitlin Jane

Hide me in the shadow of Your wing
And I will sing of Your Mercy
Let the rain fall, clouds fill the atmosphere,
And I will hide under Your hand, Your hand.

Rock, Refuge, I look to only You
And I take flight
Clinging to Your heart, the good, the love,
I know that I’ll be fine

You don’t even need to speak to me
Your silent grace is my fortress
Webs and thorns surround this tower now
Yet I will gaze into the distance, the distance

Rock, Refuge, I look to only You
And I take flight
Clinging to Your heart, the good, the love,
I know that I’ll be fine

The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him
And the Lord will cover me all the day long
When the mighty waters rise, they will not threaten my life
Awake the dawn, and sing a newborn song

Even when the shadows fall, my heart will not fear
And when the peril comes, I trust you are near
When my bones they break, my eyes go blind, 
the tempests rage, it’s for me You fight
Your hope, Your hand will not let down, 
let go, let up, I catch sight again, 
I catch sight again

Take courage now, be strong and wait, oh my soul
For my Rock is eternal
I will not be shaken, I will be still
For the Almighty is my shelter, my shelter

Rock, Refuge, I look to only You
And I take flight
Clinging to Your heart, the good, the love,
I know that I’ll be fine,  Yes I know that I’ll be fine

Hide me in the shadow of Your wing
And I will sing of Your Mercy

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#CaitlinJaneBrain Tune-Up



Dear Friends,

I'd like to share some news with you.  This past June I was experiencing some double vision...which led to an MRI scan and the finding of a tumor in my brain at the base of the skull, right next to the brain stem.  Some of you know my recent story, but many of you do not, so I want to take this time to personally share about my journey...

It has been a whirlwind few months, to say the least.  Through it all, God has been incredibly faithful and I have felt His peace and presence like never before.  Due to the tumor's very tricky location in the brain, I had to visit several leading neurosurgeons in the country.  Unfortunately, traditional brain surgery is far too risky, because of all the critical nerves that are surrounding the tumor.  (Miraculously, my hearing nerves and vocal chord nerves have been protected thus far- they are just millimeters away from touching the tumor!)

By God's providence and miraculous hand, I was led to the one surgeon in the country who is highly experienced and skilled in fully endoscopic brain surgery for this type of tumor and its location.  I actually found Dr. Shahinian through Bruce Marchiano- the director/producer of Alison's Choice! (Bruce has played the role of Jesus in several films- just a fun fact!) God has provided each step of the way, and I am truly amazed by His grace and goodness.

Not only am I blessed with this remarkable surgeon, whom I believe has the ability to safely remove the brain tumor with God's guiding hand, but I have also been blessed to be a member of a wonderful insurance alternative program- Christian Care Medishare.  This sharing ministry is covering the bulk of my medical bills, and they even pray with me during every single phone call!

Even though it looks like the major costs are covered, I still have mounting out-of-pocket medical expenses, plus travel expenses for surgery.  I will not be able to sing for 6 weeks after surgery, which makes it extra difficult during this time to cover the financial burden. If you would like to help and give toward my brain surgery fund, please visit:
www.youcaring.com/caitlinjanebrain

       My surgery date is DECEMBER 10, 2014. I covet your prayers! I have felt the deep SHALOM of Jesus during this time, and I anticipate the marvelous miracles He will do.

I will be sharing updates along the journey on my blog site. Thank you so much for all your support, prayers, and love!  To God be the glory in and through all of this!

Joyful, Joyful!  Always, Always!
Caitlin Jane



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Great Expectations

Great Expectations.  No, I'm not referring to the 1861 classic novel by Charles Dickens about the young lad, Pip.  Neither am I referring to wishful thinking.  I'm talking about today- your life, my life. What are we expecting?  I'm talking about expectations that are rooted in a greater reality than we can even think, feel, or imagine.

A few days ago I felt a small cloud try to hover over my mind.  You know that type of day...things are going alright. Not too bad. Not necessarily good. Just ok...but then your thoughts start to slip and doubts sink in.

Thoughts of Fear.  
The Future. 
Finances. 
Friendships. 
All your Follies. 
All your Foes. 

And your expectations are less than great. They are shrinking fast into something small, hidden, afraid, and locked away.

It was then that I found this ripped-up scrap piece of paper that has been floating through my things for weeks. I had written a spontaneous prayer on that paper literally weeks ago and it somehow never made its way into my journal or anything. Just a scrap that kept landing wedged between my books or on my keyboard as I was practicing or on the floor next to my bed or in a stack of paperwork on my desk. But maybe it kept getting shuffled around like that so I would see it over and over and over.  Here are the words to that prayer:

"Dear God,
Increase my expectations;
Increase my faith;
Increase my hope.
Amen"

Simple, yet arresting.  On that same piece of paper I had only one other quote (minus the scribbles and fragments of chords from a song I was working on).  Here's the quote from a new friend of mine who works at a pregnancy help center in Georgia:

"Our destiny is so much bigger than our ability." - Christa Childs

Is this true?  Could it be?  Is our destiny larger than what we can accomplish on our own?  Is God's plan greater than what we can do or think or ask or imagine?  The Apostle Paul seemed to believe this with every fiber of his being when he passionately penned a letter to the early church in Ephesus. So let's digest his words in Ephesians chapter 3 verses 16-20 for a moment and pray them together- pray these words over your life, over my life, and over the life of the global, beautiful church, the bride of Christ, through whom God has chosen to reveal His love and glory!

"I ask that He will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of His glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you'll have the power to grasp love's width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you'll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by His power at work within us."

Now those are no small expectations!  Let's put these words in context...This was a man who had been arrested, tortured, shipwrecked, and was walking around with a mysterious thorn in his side...yet he was full of grand expectation, rooted in greater reality than his present circumstances- the reality of God's power and purpose!

He shared his expectant heart with another church in Philippi when he wrote, "It is my expectation and hope that I won't be put to shame in anything. Rather, I hope with daring courage that Christ's greatness will be seen in my body, now as always, whether I live or die." (1:20) He went on to confess, "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1:21)  Think about that for just a moment.  To live is to have Christ inside you. To die is to gain the glory of eternity.  How then can we expect anything less than greatness?

Dr. Scott C. Todd is one of my heroes. He is the Senior Vice President at Compassion International and has written an extraordinary book called Hope Rising, which challenges the 21st Century Church to end extreme global poverty (talk about the weight of huge expectations!)  He is no pie-in-the sky idealist, however.  This is a man who has published work in more than a dozen biomedical journals and ho holds a patent for the treatment of hepatitis C.  Medical scientists and doctors are rarely day-dreamers. They are realists who see the harsh facts of life; but this man's realism is rooted, once again, in the same soil as that of the Apostle Paul's- in a greater reality.  He exhorts, "Before we can act...we must first break free from the tyranny of low expectations. I want to lift your expectations of what is possible, of the future, yourself, the Church, even your expectations of God.   That won't come easily. Old expectations can feel like zombies refusing to die, but they must die before new expectations can replace them.  Once new expectations fuel our efforts, we can put our plan into action...On the journey ahead we will no longer slouch along with mediocre expectations of God or of ourselves..."

So our hearts and minds give way to great expectation.  Every step we take, we stomp out fear.  We hope and have vision for life, and even in death our expectation is only the glory of life forever in Christ!  A few weeks ago, my Bible Study leader, Robert Ricci, exclaimed:  "Instead of having a victim's heart, I now have a thankful heart. No thank you, Satan! I shall not be a victim today! I shall be strong in Christ!"  Again, it all comes back to expectation!  Does it mean that every day is easy and life is free of trials? No!  But our expectation increases faith and becomes the seed that is planted for God to sprout victory and life in every single situation, even those that have weeds of pain and struggle.

I leave you with Psalm 27:14.  I dare you to write this out and declare it each morning if it's all you can do to muster up GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

"Wait and hope for and expect the Lord;
be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring.
Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord."



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Streams of Mercy & Ebenezer

He was born in 1735 in Swaffham, England. As a young boy, only 8-years-old, he lost his father.  At age fourteen, his desperate mother sent him to London to become a barber's apprentice.  There he began to experiment with drinking and gambling.  At age seventeen, he went to hear the renowned evangelist, George Whitefield, preach in London, only with the intention to sneer and mock the man alongside his rebel-rousing friends.  What occurred that day changed his life forever...The words of Whitefield haunted the young lad for the next couple of years... Feeling drawn to repent as he heard the message from the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 3, he was torn between his flesh and spirit.  Finally at age 20, he yielded his life to Christ.

Robert Robinson was his name.  He is best known today and through the centuries for the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"- the words he penned at age 22 (1757).  Over half a century later, Asahel Nettelton composed the tune we recognize today (1813).

"After tasting the pain of renewal for two years and seven months, I found full absolution and grace through the precious blood of Jesus Christ," Robinson described after his time hearing Whitefield preach and his later conversion to faith.

We still sing the song he wrote today, with fervor and reverence in worship.  Verse two reads, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I come..."  An "Ebenezer" was the monument or rock which Samuel set up in the Old Testament to remember the victory God's people gained through repentance.  Are we looking for victory in our lives, yet struggling over and over without strength to overcome?  Repentance is a true path toward victory.  To repent is to literally turn away.  To turn from the sin, the struggle, the storm...and walk toward Christ, who holds the absolute victory. We are "more than conquerers in Christ" (Romans 8:37)!  Verse three of this age-old, yet so relevant hymn, declares, "O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!"  Indeed we are indebted to nothing but grace, for it is by grace we are saved and our sins are washed away (Ephesians 2:8).  Our hearts are truly "prone to wander," yet we are daily drawn back by the gift of grace.

I often look at stringed musical instruments on stage when I sing this song, and think of how daily they must be tuned.  If not, they end up sounding like one colossal cacophony so displeasing to the ears! Back in verse one, Robinson began his hymn with "tune my heart to sing Thy grace."  Are our hearts daily tuned to sing the grace of God, to live and walk in the grace of God?

An interesting story unfolded in Robinson's own life.  He walked with the Lord, preaching for some time, but began drifting away from his Maker. On a journey he came across a woman who asked him, "What do you think of this hymn I have been reading?"  It was his very own hymn!  He confessed that he had wandered from the Lord.  She spoke to him and encouraged him with the promise that he himself had penned, "But these 'streams of mercy' are still flowing."  His hope was restored as he gave himself back to the Savior and allowed Him to "re-tune" His heart, yet once again.  No matter how many times we must be "re-tuned," Christ welcomes us back to His heart full of love.  What matters is that we come back to the Ebenezer stone time and time again, seeking for the Lord to tune our hearts to His.

I challenge you today to set up an Ebenezer of your own. Find a rock and write the date on it and a word or verse that is meaningful to you.  Make some sort of memorial to God and put the stakes in the ground (figuratively or actually) and go back again and again, asking God to renew His life, His truth, His way in you.  The Christian journey is not a one-day decision. Your salvation has been bought through the blood as a one-time act of atonement by Christ, but sanctification is daily dying to self and living for Christ (Christ living in you).  Raise your Ebenezer. Offer your heart to be tuned. Seek His grace as many times, in as many moments, as you need.  He is sufficient. See the blessings flow from His fountain.  Be washed in the streams of mercy, the streams of living water that shall pour over your soul and quench the longings within, cleaning the stains of sin away for eternity.  Even when we are "prone to wander," His precious blood has bought us and has sealed our hearts for eternity.  Let us praise the Name of the One whose redeeming love is ever near.