Category Archives: Songs

Recapping The Unreformed Martin Luther

Written by an analytical German with the head of a theologian and the wit of a radio journalist, Andreas Malessa’s The Unreformed Martin Luther delves into the myths and materialities of one of the world’s most monumental men: Martin Luther. Malessa cleverly wrote this book in part to celebrate the 500th anniversary of this “Man of the Second Millennium” who ended the Middle Ages by posting ninety-five theses on the palace church door in Wittenberg. Wait—that was a myth!  In not one of Martin’s 121 volumes of collected publications, letters, table talks, sermons, and songs does he ever mention nailing his theses on the door. The fact of the matter was, when a professor (such as Dr. Luther) wanted to engage in public debate, he submitted his paper to the dean of the university. From there, history reveals that Luther’s handiwork ended up on the desk of the pope, who was not pleased.Do you know much about the life of Martin Luther? If you want a fascinating look into sixteenth century culture and church, I highly recommend reading The Unreformed Luther. I found myself shocked (many times) and touched (at many—but other—times) with the life and times of this mountain of a man. For instance, when Martin’s sister died suddenly (likely from SIDS), Martin’s mother believed it was the fault of a neighbor lady whom she had summarily beaten to death. What? How could that happen?? (Martin did write later: “There is nothing more powerful in the world as superstition, but before God it’s an abomination.”)I knew Luther opposed selling indulgences (and that is not a myth), but I had no clue how evil this practice actually was. We’re not talking about hoping for pardon from venial sins (like failing to feed the cat on time), but Markus Menner was absolved from perpetrated homicide! Tetzel himself was an adulterer who even trafficked indulgences for sins yet to be committed. No need to fear God’s judgment or look to him for mercy, for a (high) price, no sin was so egregious but that you could be assured the freedom to commit it without fear of retribution from God or man. This undermined the entire foundation of our faith and the gospel of salvation through Christ. I’m glad Luther had the guts to stand up against this ghastly blasphemy!However, Pope Leo X (who was in the midst of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, did not appreciate Luther’s objecting to their financial and moral management styles, and so the hunt began. Luther was “kidnapped” by friends, who hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he spent his time feverishly translating the New Testament into German. Was it the first German translation? No, Malessa points out that there were already seventy-two partial translations, but Luther’s was the first complete translation. Oh, and did he really throw an inkwell at the devil’s head? No. Another myth. (If you don’t believe me, read the book!)Why did Luther go to all the trouble to write a Bible in German? Because he disbelieved the myth that salvation can be earned through indulgences or even good deeds, and he believed that if the people could have a copy of the Bible in their own language, they could read the truth for themselves. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace to be received by faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer from sin. This is clearly taught in the Bible (which even the Roman Catholic Church has recognized since the turn of this century through the writings of Pope John Paul II).Did Luther really say, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise!”? What is recorded as his response to being asked to recant is this: “…I am overcome in my conscience by the passages of Scripture and trapped in the Word of God. Therefore, I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor healthy to act against the conscience. God help me. Amen.”  Fact or fiction? “Katharina von Bora, the nun who became his wife, was spirited away from her convent inside a herring barrel.” Fiction, but the facts surrounding their marriage totally charmed me, and one of the delights for me in reading The Unreformed Martin Luther was in learning that he was a devoted husband and father…the kind who changed diapers and washed them out! If you like touching romances, you’ll find one in this book!  🙂 In the course of demythifying Martin’s life, Malessa addresses over two dozen commonly held (and cherished) traditions surrounding the life of Luther, everything from “Did he eat while he preached?” to “Was he a boozer and a warmonger?” If you want to know, get the book! In fact, if you enjoy history and want a deeper look into the man behind the Reformation, this is an excellent resource! Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, and 427 years later to the day, Alan and I were married after I waltzed down the aisle with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as my bridal processional. As Martin Luther’s great hymn has always been a favorite of ours, I would like to end this review with the words of his most glorious anthem.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
(~Martin Luther, inspired by Psalm 46, sometime between 1527-1529)

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He.
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers
Not thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever…

(All photos from Wikipedia, except the first, which is—of course—a photo of the book!)

Fireflies

Our woods and meadow are filled with fireflies right now, much to the delight of our grandchildren (…and children, and myself!). They look a little like “bright, shiny diamonds” as one of our children’s records used to say. Just as twilight makes taking photos difficult, tiny glowing lamps twinkle and beckon us to follow them. Because we have poison ivy around the edges of the wooded areas, we can’t really chase them with abandon, but I’ve been able to detain a few to light up the lives of our little ones, if only for a few seconds. Thankfully, Amélie is extremely gentle, so she doesn’t hurt them, and little Sophie is too timid to hold them, because they tend to crawl up our hands and fly off in the most scary way!  I’ve tried so hard to capture the magic, but my camera can’t translate such low light and tiny twinkles into the fairy dust feeling we experience. So much of life is like that! Tiny moments of joy and light in the twilight…but don’t blink, or you’ll miss the light, and don’t try too hard, or you’ll ruin the gift. Just allow that breathless wonder to create a magical memory in your soul.  It’s like the love of God. We can talk about it, and we can try to explain it to people, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

The Love of God
—Frederick M. Lehman, one hundred years ago, back in 1917!

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

 

Big Sable Lighthouse…and Michigan’s 128 other Lighthouses!

Did you know that there are 129 lighthouses in Michigan?  There are 42 on Lake Superior, 43 on Lake Huron, and 44 on Lake Michigan. We’ve seen dozens of them.  (I would have said “most” until I realized just how many there really are).  No two are alike; each is unique, and all of them are picturesque.  Our local favorite is the Grand Haven Lighthouse, which is being totally refurbished and will include a museum when it’s completed.  Did you know that the Big Bay Point Lighthouse on Lake Superior
just north of Marquette also runs a bed and breakfast?* Wouldn’t it be fun to stay at a lighthouse?  Actually, quite a few of the lighthouses have conservancies to help care for them where you can volunteer for a two-week stint in the summer
serving as a host and giving tours.  While we were at Ludington State Park recently,   we visited the Big Sable Lighthouse.  We climbed the stairs to the top   for spectacular views of the Lake Michigan Coastline,  visited their museum and gift shop, watched a video,
and heard tales about rescues and shipwrecks.   Seeing a list of all the ships that have sunk in Lake Michigan
made me appreciate lighthouses even more!  Thousands have shipwrecked and lost their lives because they had no light
to guide them safely through the storms.  Spiritually, God calls us to be like lighthouses to draw others toward Him. 

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7).   Are you walking in the light? Can others see the light of God’s presence in you?

“Rescue the Perishing”
Refrain: “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.” (~from Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “Rescue the Perishing,” 1869…in the era when hundreds of lighthouses were being built!)

  1. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
    Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
    Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
    Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
  2. Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
    Waiting the penitent child to receive;
    Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
    He will forgive if they only believe.
  3. Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
    Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
    Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
    Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
  4. Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
    Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
    Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
    Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

(* Photo of Big Bay Point Lighthouse from their website; I took the rest.)

Joy to the World…or is that even Possible?

poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-12-16Yesterday I shared about how I’m feeling this Christmas, but how are you feeling this Christmas? Are you happy and full of good cheer, or are you finding it hard to sing “Joy to the World”? I thought you might be encouraged to know that even the author of “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts, had a very difficult life! He grew up England during the 1600’s, and his father was twice incarcerated for holding non-conformist (Huguenot) religious views. As a small child Watts had to be lifted up outside the prison by his mother so his father could see him through the barred windows. As a young man, Watts was denied entry to Oxford or Cambridge because he was not Anglican. isaac_watts_from_npg-london-public-domainThroughout life, Isaac Watts was small and weakly. Although he was a great preacher and considered the Father of Hymnody (composing some 750 hymns), the only woman he ever wanted to marry declined his proposal with the cutting remark that while she loved the “jewel” of his mind, she couldn’t admire “the casket that contained it.” Talk about pain and sorrow. Still, Watts discovered inner joy despite the rejections and difficulties in his life.  He learned that true joy doesn’t come from an easy life or pleasant surroundings but rather from embracing the wonder of our Lord coming to earth to save us! When we allow Christ to reign in our hearts, He overcomes the sin and sorrow that would otherwise consume us, filling our hearts instead with joy and hope!poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-mi

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee” (Psalm 5:11).

Our Next Great Adventure

IMG_2801Fifty years ago, Brenda, Alice, Alan, Larry and I were all in high school together. As a wonderful gift from God, four of the five of us, with our spouses, now all live in the GR area and take turns sponsoring dinner parties on a regular basis.DSC00313Not long ago, Alice and her husband Bob came from Minneapolis (where Alice is still teaching at U. Minnesota) to join us for one of our dinner parties. What a treat! Alice’s father was the superintendent of our schools, and Alice spent her senior year in Europe as an American Field Service exchange student, so she never actually graduated with us and teases about being a high school dropout (although she went straight into university training on her return). Spending this time with Bob and Alice was really precious, and I hope they come again!DSC00317Our dinner parties are always a royal treat, so if any of you are from Soo High and see this…let me know next time you’re planning to come to GR, and we’ll try to add you to one of our parties!  🙂IMG_2799Alice shared one touching story that I asked permission to share with you. She was deeply attached to her grandfather, and although she didn’t think he was even ill before she left, her grandfather died while she was abroad for her senior year. Her parents thought she’d be heartbroken and really worried about the effect her grandpa’s death would have on her, but she said she didn’t grieve too deeply because her grandfather had prepared her. Before they parted, her grandfather had taken her to visit their cemetery and told her that someday his body would be buried there, but that everything would be okay, because he’d be off on his next great adventure!IMG_2800I just love that! How about you and me? Are we ready for our next great adventure? It could happen any time. The night before our dinner party, one of our other classmates lost her husband very unexpectedly. We’re getting to be “that age.” Are you fearful of “crossing the bar,” or are you looking forward to your next great adventure?

 “While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:35-37).

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”
by Edward Hopper, 1818-1888

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

“As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boisterous waves obey Thy will
When Thou say’st to them, ‘Be still!’
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

“When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me,
‘Fear not, I will pilot thee’.”

The Finest Hours

Cover jacket for The Finest HoursTo me, Disney’s new release, The Finest Hours, deserves an A+ rating,
Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and Metacritic notwithstanding.

The Finest HoursIt’s a riveting dramatization of what’s thought to be the most daring and dangerous small boat rescue in the history of the United States Coast Guard. The Finest Hours 3It all happened back on February 18, 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod during a horrific Nor’easter when 60-70-foot waves sank two ships. The Finest Hours 6After boats had been sent to help the first distressed ship, it was discovered that the Pendleton (a 500-foot, 10,000-ton oil tanker) had literally split in half in the raging waters. The Finest Hours 1Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber, who was only 24-years old, and three other men (who were all younger, less experienced, and hadn’t previously trained together) were sent out on the boat known as the 36-500 to “cross the bar”

Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) struggles to keep his ship, the SS Pendleton, from sinking in Disney's THE FINEST HOURS, the heroic action-thirller presented in Digital 3D (TM) and IMAX(c) 3D based on the extraordinary true story of the most daring rescue in the history of the Coast Guard.

and attempt to rescue 33 men who were stranded on the back half of the Pendleton. The Finest Hours 2I remember reading about this daring rescue at the Maritime Museum on Cape Cod, which has been nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of some 3,000 shipwrecks off her coast. According to the TIME magazine article recounting this event, “Tougias and Sherman describe the bar as ‘a collection of ever-shifting shoals with flood currents carrying ocean waves that can splinter small boats in a matter of seconds…just in normal weather’.”  The Finest Hours 5Did they survive? Well, I won’t give the ending away, but I will tell you I’ve read The Finest Hours 3that Bernie’s courtship went just about like it did in the movie, although the timing was different, and Miriam wasn’t really a busybody. The Finest Hours 4+Furthermore, it is true that the horrific storm really did tear out the compass, shatter the windshield, knock out the engine twice, and disable the radio so that they basically had no help or backup. Although it doesn’t come out in the movie, Bernie Webber was the son of a minister who was said to have “faith from above” that night. According to a CBS news report, one of the other sailors recalled of Bernie: “He said that God was on our side.” I also read that they didn’t sing a sailor’s song to comfort themselves; they were singing, “Rock of Ages” as they approached the bar:

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

“Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

“While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
—Augustus Montague Toplady, 1763  The Finest Hours 2Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2).

The Finest Hour Cover Jacket(If you’re interested in reading more, the complete story is written in Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2010 book, The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.)

What about you? Are you ready to “cross the bar?”

 

O Tannenbomb

158 Christmas Tree copyWe were all sitting around after dinner, as cozy as could be, contentedly taking turns sharing the multitude of good things for which we’ve been especially thankful to God this year when it happened. Our beautiful Christmas tree, so artfully adorned by Joel with twinkling lights and delicate glass bulbs, suddenly  began a graceful swan dive to the floor. The lights blinked out and 2 gallons of water swept across the floor, engulfing the handful of cheery brown paper packages tied up with strings  that were already under the tree. Yikes! There was a mad scramble to rescue the gifts (including some books), and it took about a dozen towels to mop up the flood. The floor was a jumble of ornaments, shards of glass, and pine needles. Sigh. 😦  All of Joel’s tender, loving care…right down the drain!

Dan and Brianna’s “kids” (exchange students from Sweden and Korea) looked on with amazement. “Do you have Christmas trees in Korea?” I asked “O” to break the awkward silence.

“Not ones that fall over!” he replied stoutly.

Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve seen a Christmas tree fall over here in America before either, but I’m sure stranger things have happened! It did make me stop and think about the nature of Christmas trees, though, and I kept thinking of the words of the Christmas song: “O Tannenbaum.” It’s a German song, but the English translation goes something like this:

“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!
Thou bidds’t us all place faithfully
Our trust in God, unchangingly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
Each bough doth hold its tiny light,
That makes each toy to sparkle bright.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!”

I hope that I never become a tannenbomb instead of a tannenbaum! May God grant each of us the ability to be as sturdy, constant and unchanging as the beautiful firs that we use to adorn our homes during the Christmas season…full of sparkling lights and with our faith placed firmly and forever in our unchanging God!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1)