Archive for April, 2011

Walking through the Valley: Musical Memories

April 26, 2011

Though we would prefer to stay on the mountain top, we all encounter valleys that we must walk through, alone.

Music has been such an intricate part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I express my fondness for all kinds of music in this poem:

 Songs Since

Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!

For he has done marvelous things;

His right hand and his holy arm

   have gained Him the victory.

                 Psalm 98:1

 

My mobile mind recalls all the witty

Songs I’ve heard since I first began to talk,

Every childhood rhyme and infant ditty,

Such silly nonsense sounds of jabberwock.

I remember in my boppin doo-wop days

When I was no more than a high school lad,

I dug the D.J.’s sound that seldom stays–

Oldies but goodies, old and good, so bad.

Some of my songs I sang before I knew

Any of the reasons to cherish them,

Of simple black people, humble and who

Drank in renewed strength from their vintage hymn.

Then came chansons d’amour, delights to learn,

Filled with delicate words I wished I’d penned,

Lightly descend like dew upon a fern,

 Lovely lyrics to share with special friend.

 Each kind of music seems to mirror me,

 Express all of my innermost hopes and joys,

 Reflect my soulful melancholody

  Ennobled by the rich chords’ counterpoise.

 

  All is a song, a noted writer said,

  And I too sing my song and hold no strife.

   Instead of a just a dirge drummed for the dead,

   I sing a mighty melody of life.

The painting “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” by George Inness graphically depicts how overwhelming this valley appears to be.

The painting “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” by George Inness graphically depicts how overwhelming this valley appears to be.

Some of my earliest childhood musical memories are associated with my being a part of Carter Chapel C.M.E. (Christian Methodist Episcopal) Church, located in mid-town Gary, Indiana. I was fortunate in that my church as well as the school that I attended from the 4th grade through high school were within walking distance from our home.  I recall being a part of the Junior Choir which sang on numerous occasions throughout the area, particularly in local churches associated with our denomination.

This morning I happened to think of one of the songs that the Junior Choir sang in mid-1950s, a moving musical composition inspired by a verse from the 23rd Psalm, “We Shall Walk through the Valley in Peace.” Here is a rendition sung by the men of the Buncombe Street United Methodist Chancel Choir under the direction of Rosemary Hughes. The arrangement is by Appling with accompanying photographs of various valleys across the nation and beyond.

As I listened to the music and reflected upon the lyrics, I happened to think of another poem inspired, in part, by one the teachings from a series of messages on the gates mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, specifically the “Valley Gate”

This Lonesome Valley

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.

You have to walk this lonesome valley.
You have to walk it by yourself;
O, nobody else can walk it for you,
You have to walk it by yourself. 

Black spiritual

 

Valley places are always places of testing. . .                                                             

It’s in the valley places that your character is tested.

Apostle Eric L. Warren

 

 

Though there is no place where God’s presence does not dwell,

There is this lonesome valley we all must cross alone.

The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness,

And as a pilgrim, I too go through this barren land.

Propelled by goodness and mercy as my rearguards,

I am led by the hand of God into a wasteland,

Where I must stand on my own and confront my fears,

As I pass through the valley of the shadow of death,

The dark place where no companion can go with me.

Unsure of all that lies ahead, I hesitate,

But I must follow the Spirit’s call into the unknown:

The narrow way–to walk by faith and not by sight.

Though my path may be unclear, this I know for sure:

If God brought me to it, He will bring me through it.

This particular poem also opens with lyrics from another similar kind of song related to a valley, the spiritual “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” performed by the renowned operatic bass, Jerome Hines.

In a commentary from The ministry of Shattered Men, the author speaks of both mountain top experiences as well as those taking place in the valleys:

We often call those times when we feel great, “mountain top experiences.”  We love those times. Most of us never want to come down from the mountain.  We would stay up there forever if we could.  Well my friend, please realize it is the valleys we go through that make the mountain top so wonderful.  For if it were not for these valleys, we would not appreciate the mountain tops.   

Advertisements

Reflections on the Resurrection

April 24, 2011

The words of Jesus Christ remind us of his unique position as the Son of God, raised from the dead, who is alive forevermore.

This morning as my thoughts turned toward the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I remembered a poem inspired by the accomplished work of Jesus Christ expressed in Colossians 2:12-15 from the New Living Testament:

12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

 

Having…Having…Having…Having…Having…He made….

                     Colossians 2:12-15

                        

Having forgiven all trespasses against us:

     For every time we tried but failed and missed the mark,

     When our flesh faltered, we received new strength within.

     Christ, the Lord, washed and cleansed us from the stain of sin.

     God made us to be lights that overcome the dark.

     He set us free to sing on the wing, as a lark,

Having forgiven all trespasses against us.

Having wiped out handwriting of ordinances:

     The hand that records each failure to keep the Law

     Graciously blots out each shortfall and each mistake

     And releases us from penalty, for Christ’s sake.

     Through the eyes of love, He looked beyond what He saw

     To decree that flesh should not be a fatal flaw,

Having wiped out handwriting of ordinances.

Having taken it far from us, out of the way:

     Guilt and shame removed and replaced with righteousness;

     Transformed and fashioned with a new identity,

     We stand in His presence, revealing the mystery.

     Hurled and buried in the sea of forgetfulness,

     The curse of sin has been replaced with blessedness,

Having taken it far from us, out of the way.

Having nailed it to the cross as a bold display,

     Turning into triumph what seemed to be disgrace,

     Symbolic sign displaying both shame and glory,

     Dramatic unfolding of the greatest story.

     To show his love for all, Christ took our place

     To flaunt the victory right in the enemy’s face,

Having nailed it to the cross as a bold display.

Having disarmed principalities and powers,

     Our triumphant warrior defeated every foe,

     Crushing at once the head of the deadly serpent

     To achieve our victory to the fullest extent.

     To perform the greater works of Christ as we grow,

     God enlightens and empowers that we might know,

Having disarmed principalities and powers.

He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

     Coming attractions describe the Spectacular

           Super-conquering show:

     The captor has been made captive, prisoner without parole

           in his own prison,

     The accuser of brethren, once idolized,

           now the source of derision,

      Stripped, crippled, toppled and trampled

           To be brought ever so low;

     A foretaste of the day when every tongue shall confess

           And every knee shall bow.

He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Earlier in the month I had published my Top 10 List of Songs celebrating the Resurrection. Each individual article in the series includes historical information regarding the song along with a video rendition of some of my favorite “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many of the songs in the list could be associated with the passage from Colossians that makes known the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ over the enemy, displayed so magnificently in the resurrection and its victorious aftermath. Click here to read about and listen to some of the favorite songs of this special season.

Good Friday Reflections: More than Enough

April 23, 2011

On this “Good Friday” morning, as I prepared for a seminar related to financial education, a verse of scripture came to mind, as I applied the principles that I have been learning in the seminar to my individual situation:

1 Corinthians 8:9

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

If at no other time of the year, this week celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we recognize the blessings and benefits that accrued to our deficit accounts as a result of the ultimate sacrifice of the precious Lamb of God. A number of years ago, while reflecting upon the passion of Jesus Christ, I expressed my thoughts in poetry:

More Than Enough

How much is enough?

Can you measure the length of each scar on his back?

Can you trace the depth of each gash and follow each track?

Can you extract and analyze sweat, like drops of blood?

Can you remove water and blood and then weigh the good?

Can you collect the tears and hold them in a vial?

Can you assess the shame and disgrace of trumped up trial?

How much is enough?

     One more mocking bow, one more man to spit in his face,

     One more taunting gesture, one more mark of disgrace.

     One more lash, one more gash, one more blow to the head,

     As he endured the cross, despising the shame as he bled.

     To smash once more, one blow short of certain death.

     He cried, “It is finished” then yielded his last breath.

How much is enough?

Who can assess the worth of his blood and establish a price

For the precious Lamb of God, unblemished, sinless sacrifice?

God’s bounty of mercy is sufficient. His deep love will suffice.

Despite the deficit, God balances each account to set it right.

Where sin once had free reign, now grace has abounded instead.

The Lord himself provided the Lamb, whom He raised from the dead.

In His gracious goodness Jehovah-Jireh reminds us

That He is more than enough, yes, so much more than enough.

In personalizing the sacrifice of the Savior, I thought of the song with a similar title “More than Enough” performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

What time is it? Time ain’t long

April 17, 2011

As the events of the world rapidly unfold, we ask, "What time is it?"

As I awoke this morning, something that I read in the news yesterday came to mind, as I was preparing to pray and meditate to begin the new day. Normally I would be preparing to meet with our Intercessory Prayer team, known as “Issachar.” We take our name from the Old Testament passage which makes reference to the descendents of on the 12 Tribes of Israel:

I Chronicles 12:32

 32And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.

Certainly we have all been trying to understand more fully the critical times in which we live. One of the news headlines that came up as I turned on my laptop one of the news headlines caught my attention: World’s oldest man dies in Montana at 114. While Walter Breuning didn’t live to be as old as Methuselah, he was labeled as the “world’s oldest man,” nonetheless. Genesis 5:27 reveals that

And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.

Controversy continues to arise regarding the timing of Methuselah’s death which some scholars believe occurred before the flood of Noah. In fact, according to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, it is believed that the 7-day period before the actual flood was a time of mourning for Methuselah.

Genesis 7:4

“For yet seven days, and I shall cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights…”

In a similar manner, the death of the world’s oldest man, a type of Methuselah, could be seen as a sign that we are living in “the last and evil days.”

Believers are of course mindful of the passage related to the Return of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:37-39:

37But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

 38For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

 39And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

When you couple the death of the world’s oldest man with the impending Royal Wedding, it brings to mind a saying heard as a child when members of the older generation would remark: “Time ain’t as long as it use to be.” That expression is the found its way into one of my vernacular poems, this blues piece:                          

Time Ain’t Long   

 (One Mo Blues Sonnet)

Say, Brother, “What in the world is going on?”

Say, Sister, “What in the world is going on?”

Seem like the love of God has long since up and gone.

Folks betraying ones they love, committing all sorts of crimes.

Folks betraying ones they love, committing all sorts of crimes.

The Bible says there show shall come perilous times.

Rather than receive a blessing, some folk take a curse.

Rather than receive a blessing, some folk take a curse.

Men and women show is waxing worse and worse.

Seem like folk enjoy flaunting they downright ugly ways.

Seem like folk enjoy flaunting they downright ugly ways.

These just gotta be the last and evil days.

So, I been thinking hard and it seems to me,

No, time ain’t nearly long as it use to be.

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

While there is foreboding feeling of darkness and heaviness, a sense of “impending doom” that is trying to engulf the world, there is also a striking, contrasting feeling of anticipation, a sense of “impending good”, which I describe in another vernacular poem that sums up the essence of what is transpiring in the world:

Sump’n’ bout to Happen

 

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth

in pain together until now.

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits     

of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,

waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:22-23

 

 

My stomach is a growlin; there’s a rumblin in my soul.

Good things keep on happenin, and now I’m on a roll,

Like I been workin in the mines and nearly bout to strike some gold;

I been pressin toward the mark, and I’m bout to reach my goal.

Yes, Siree Bob, Look out now! I tell you Cap’n,

I don’t know what it is but sump’n bout to happen!

My heart is beatin fast, and my palms is startin to itch.

Watch out good people, I’m bout to strike it rich.

With bases loaded, all I need is one good pitch.

Yes, Siree Bob, Look out now! I tell you Cap’n.

I’m lookin like a winner—aint no way I can fail

Cause I pulled two lucky cards: “Collect $200” and “Don’t go to jail.”

And I just can’t wait to run right on home and check the mail.

I don’t know what it is but sump’n bout to happen!

I can’t figure it out, but somehow I just know

That God is good and I’m movin and groovin in the flow.

Some folks want me to hang aroun, but I just got to go.

Yes, Siree Bob, Look out now! I tell you Cap’n.

Everything is comin together just like someday I knowed it would.

I got this funny kinda feelin and it show nuff feels good.

I’m tryin to make you feel it too—Oh, how I wish I could.

I don’t know what it is but sump’n bout to happen! 

It’s more than a woozy kinda feelin I’m trying to convey.

Yall may think I’m crazy, but I don’t care what yall say.

I’m like a little boy who can’t wait to greet each new day:

I can’t rightly describe it, but somethin great is on the way.

Yes, Siree Bob, Look out now! I tell you Cap’n,

I don’t know what it is but sump’n bout to happen!

Years ago  I recall from watching Oral Roberts whose television show opened with the Oral Roberts University Singers who reminded viewers that something “Something Good is Going to Happen.”

The Bill Gaither Trio sings “Something Good,” expressing the same sentiment, as we reflect upon the times and seasons in which we live.

One Mo’ “Good News Day”

April 6, 2011

Another Day’s Journey, the song popularized by Lashaun Pace, came to mind this morning as I was preparing for the day. I am continuing to take to heart the words of exhortation from I Thessalonians 5:

Rejoice evermore,

Pray without ceasing,

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Many times as I am driving to work, I give myself a morning pep talk and recite “Good News Day” and encourage myself in the Lord. I recall a saying I heard while I was on a short-term mission trip in Los Cabos, a beautiful scenic area on the tip of the Baja peninsula of Mexico: “There are no bad days in Cabo.” I smiled as I responded, “There are no bad days in Cabo (or anywhere else for that matter) because the Lord is good, and every day is a “Good News Day.”

El Arco (The Arch), Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

In a blog I posted regarding “Disappointment,” I made the following statement:

. . . [T]here is no failure in God, for God is good. The very essence of God is goodness. Indeed, Jesus Christ said, “There is none good but the Father.” And there is no comparative or superlative with God. There are no “better” days with God. God does not have the “best” day He’s had in a long time in comparison to others. With God everyday is a “Good News Day” because “God is good.” Period!

Many times in the midst of adverse circumstances when my life is not unfolding as I thought it would, I recall the words from Psalm 118:24, the introduction to Good News Day and I rejoice and celebrate the goodness of God one more time:

 

Good News Day

 This is the day the LORD has made;

we will rejoice and be glad in it.

 Psalm 118:24

 

It’s a good news day

no blues day

                new shoes

                no way to lose

What a good news day

It’s a great day

                I can’t wait day

                lift your voice

                let’s rejoice

Good God, a good news day

It’s a payday

                goin my way day

                no nay–all yea

                what you say

Such a good news day

It’s a live it up day

                overflowin cup day

                It’s a bright and bubbly

                doubly lovely

Show-nuff good news day

From Stone upon Stone: Psalms of Remembrance

Join me as I sing one more time my signature theme song: Good News Day–Musical Version

Johnny Nash offers the second verse of the same song with his popular “Bright Sunshiny Day.”  Have great and glorious day!

40 Years ago, I said “Yes!”

April 4, 2011

Without question, the Word of God is energetic and life-giving, as revealed in Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Each word in the Word of Life is an expression of power. Luke 1:37 in the King James Version says, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” The American Standard Version offers this translation: “For no word from God shall be void of power.” Indeed, there is life-changing power in a single word from the Word, as the Poet notes:

. . . the power

of the printed word,

the power of a single light,

like a cloven tongue of fire,

to shatter the darkest night.

One of the most powerful words in the English language, in my estimation, is “yes.” With regard to Jesus Christ, Paul makes known this profound truth:

2 Corinthians 1:19-20 (New King James Version) 

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes.

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

The word “Yes” is used to express affirmation or assent, often used as an affirmative reply. Certainly we are aware of the word as a strong expression of joy, pleasure, or approval. When a player scores the winning shot in an overtime game, often excited fans respond with a vigorous “Yes! Way to go!”

Recently I was reflecting upon an experience where I said “yes” forty years ago when I enlarged my commitment to serve God and volunteered to join a ministry leadership training program. Prior to making that decision, I stood around a campfire that summer and acknowledged that I would seek to serve God and do His will in response to His love for me. That event was a prelude to a culminating event that would occur three years later when I would be ordained to the Christian ministry. I comment on the significance of my ordination in this excerpt from an Examiner.com article:

Ordination is the public recognition of a response of an individual to the call of God to serve. The recognition of this inner prompting to be of greater service may have transpired a considerable amount of time prior to my experience around the campfire in 1971. I recall as a child being aware of the presence of God, and as I grew older and was introduced to the Bible, I remember reading the passage in Isaiah 6 where the glory of God overwhelms the Prophet, who responds to the question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us.” Isaiah answers saying, “Here am I, send me.” This simple response resonated within me for years, and I simply acknowledged the call to ministry and said “Yes.”

In reflecting upon my experience around the campfire, I was inspired to write this poem:

Forty Years ago 

The number 40 is the product of 5 and 8,                                                                                                                                                           and points to the action of grace (5),                                                                                                                                                         leading to and ending in revival and renewal (8).                                                                                                                                     This is certainly the case where forty relates to a period of evident probation.

E.W. Bullinger                                                                                                                                                                                                              Number in Scripture

 

Forty years ago in a kairos moment in time,

I was forever changed, beyond all reason and rhyme.

Around a campfire I offered my life and said “Yes.”

The exact path my life would take I could only guess

The valleys I must descend, the mountains I must climb.

I would need great courage, symbolized in fragrant thyme

That graced my neck, as I was striving to reach my prime

Forty years ago.

To stumble and fall along the way is no crime,

For my earnest desire was to minister full-time;

Despite the challenges, to serve God nevertheless,

To go where I am sent, to please the Lord and to bless.

With a simple “Yes,” I began my quest toward heights sublime

Forty years ago.

I have compiled a number of musical selections whose theme is the word “yes.” One of my favorite selections is “Say Yes” by Shekinah Glory Ministries. The song brings to mind my experience of serving in the US Army for two years, during which time I really came to know Jesus Christ, as my personal Lord and Savior, when I was introduced to the study of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of an enlistment period, a soldier is asked if he or she would like to extend the commitment and “re-up” or leave the military and pursue other options. This song asks a similar kind of question:

“Now will your heart and soul say “Yes”?”

Now will your spirit still say “Yes”?

If I told you what I really need,

Will your heart and soul say “Yes”?

More than twenty years ago I was working on a special assignment in New Jersey, and I recall making a trek by commuter bus and subway to the celebrated Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York. I have enjoyed the music of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir for many years. My wife gave me a CD of their most recent collection entitled “I’ll Say Yes.” The title selection has become one of my favorites in light of my experience around the campfire where I said “Yes.”

Another choir whose music I also appreciate is the Mississippi Mass Choir who also recorded a selection called “Yes.”

From an early age I recall the power of the word “Yes” when I heard it chanted spontaneously, as the word reverberated throughout the church during periods of devotion leading to prayer or times of personal testimony. The song “Yes, Lord” became the anthem of the Church of God in Christ, founded by Bishop Charles. H. Mason. Here is a selection “My Soul Says Yes” by the C.H. Mason Choir.

Here is another contemporary composition with the lyrics “Yes, Lord!”  from Sandra Crouch, twin sister of Andre Crouch.

From the bottom of my heart, to the depths of my soul,

“Yes, Lord,” completely “Yes!”

My soul says “Yes!”