Saturday, December 28, 2013

Last Post

I regret to inform you that yesterday's post will be the last one at New Songs from the Heart. Starting January 2014, I am discontinuing that series to concentrate on my primary blog, Strength for the Weary, which focuses on Biblical encouragement for those with special "joy challenges." You can sign up by way of the above link, for semimonthly words of hope--and the occasional poem.

 Thank you all!

-Katherine Swarts

Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry, Merry Christmas

Before you say your final goodbye to this year's Christmas season, read this month's poem--and sing your favorite carols one last time--to help that spirit of peace and joy sink in a little deeper for 2014.

Merry, merry Christmas:
The season of good cheer,
The time of joy and laughter,
The high point of the year.
Merry, merry Christmas:
May music fill your heart,
And beauty fill your vision,
To set your life apart.

Merry, merry Christmas:
Do not forget that night
When Heaven's love broke through darkness
And shone God's holy light.
Merry, merry Christmas:
May all Christ's peace and grace
Reach out beyond the season
And all your life embrace!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Human Beings Are Not "Doings"

Perhaps the clearest proof of universal human irrationality is that every thinking person has an answer to the question, "What is one thing you know better than to do, and routinely do anyway?" My own answer is one given by many a busy American: Trying to finish all the "tasks" I can, as fast as I can, at the expense of both immediate self-pacing and a focus on tasks of long-term value. More than one Christian author has made his or her name with a book about this syndrome: look up Joanna Weaver, Richard A. Swenson, or Bill Hybels and "Too Busy Not to Pray," for starters.

How near-impossible is it for the average well-meaning Christian to overcome the idea that, for all God loves us in our imperfection, His actual pleasure with us depends on how much we do? We tend to assume that God's opinion of us is identical with our opinions of ourselves; and, ironically enough, those who do the most are often the least satisfied with what they accomplish. Like the anorexic dieter living by the motto "I'll know when I've lost enough weight because all my problems will disappear," the workaholic may be adamantly convinced she's not doing "enough" when she's already gone far beyond healthy limits. 

And the workaholic "doing all this for God" is all too often deafened to Jesus saying, as He said to Martha centuries ago: "You're wearing yourself out with worry, trying to respond to every perceived need, angry at everyone else for not making your self-inflicted burdens easier. I don't want your achievements; I want your attention." Our inclination to assume we instantly recognize what "must" be done--without consulting God first--is a quick path to overload and all the attendant frustration.

As the famous quote says, "We are human beings, not human doings." In the coming Advent season, take some time to just BE--to be quiet, to be relaxed and at peace, to be alone with God.

God created human beings
That in Him we might rejoice,
Yet we live as human “doings,”
Far too rushed to hear His voice.
Brother, sister, cease your striving,
Put aside your frantic rush;
Pause and hear your Master speaking
In the still small voice of hush.

God created human beings
First to share His perfect love,
Yet we live as human “doings,”
Minds below and not above.
Brother, sister, stop and realize
Mere “achievement” counts for naught;
Not your works, but adoration
Is the offering God will want.

Human beings are not “doings”;
God is not a lord of tasks;
No, He wants to walk beside us,
And our love is all He asks.
For our Master’s yoke is gentle,
And His heart is kind and true;
When you give your heart to Jesus,
He will show you what to do!

Friday, October 25, 2013

He Sees All

George Orwell's infamous line "Big Brother Is Watching You" is feeling uncomfortably real these days to millions of citizens in supposed democracies. Edward Snowden became the name on everyone's lips after he told the public that the U. S. National Security Agency makes a habit of watching its people's phone-call and Internet-use records; since he fled the country to escape espionage charges, rumors about smartphone tappings and routine surveillance continue to multiply. No doubt many such rumors are urban legends and conspiracy theories, but the government freely admits to keeping a wide eye on who calls whom and accesses what--measures it defends as essential to protecting the country against terrorist attacks.

Whatever your personal opinion there, most people are more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of anyone listening to what they say, keeping records on what they read, knowing where they go when, or--if it were humanly possible--overhearing their thoughts. We all do, say, and think things we're afraid others would use against us, even things we're ashamed of even as we enjoy them. What others don't know won't hurt them or us, and we'd prefer to keep it that way.

Of course, the secret behaviors of human lives were never really as secret as we like to think. Someone is watching all of us--more constantly and thoroughly than any earthly government ever could, down to our deepest thoughts. "The LORD looks at the heart," says 1 Samuel 16:7. "From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth," adds Psalm 33:14. Most people, even many Christians, are uncomfortable enough with these facts that we routinely ignore or deny them. We appreciate the idea of God watching out for our interests and always being ready to listen to us, but the thought that He knows everything we do and may also have an interest in changing our plans for ourselves is another matter entirely.

The irony is that we think we are avoiding unpleasant things God would inflict on us, when in fact we are rejecting His desire to give us far better things than we could obtain on our own. David had a much better attitude--he didn't fight the fact of God's all-seeing eye, he embraced it. "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down ... You hem me in--behind and before ... Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:1-3, 5, 7). But this is a blessing and not a curse: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ... I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ... How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!" (Psalm 139:6, 14, 17).

How precious it should be to all of us, knowing that the all-powerful God has us constantly on His mind. He is not watching us because He's afraid we'll get out of His control. He has His eye on us so He can constantly give us the help and support we need.

God watches from Heaven, the place of His throne,
He looks on Earth's people to make them His own.
He sees all that happens, He knows all we do:
Friend, are you embracing His knowledge of you?

God looks at the heart of each mortal that lives;
He chastens and comforts, He prompts and forgives.
He sees all we're thinking, He knows all we know:
Friend, will you allow Him within you to grow?

God searches and knows us, He hems us around;
Wherever we turn, there His presence is found.
Some seek to escape Him, some yield to His way;
Friend, will you surrender and claim Him today?

God's heart is as kind as His knowledge is vast;
He gives us a future, redeeming the past.
He holds awesome blessings He yearns to impart.
Friend, taste, and rejoice in His all-knowing heart!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Today Is the Day That Our Lord Has Made

"This is the day which the LORD has made," says the Bible (Ps. 118:24, NASB). "Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Reading the whole of Psalm 118 reveals that the context of this famous quote is the celebration of victory after a hard-fought battle. Probably the reason so many of us are reluctant to celebrate each day as God's gift is that all we look at are the battles. If we take the psalm as a guide to daily living, its recommended approach is: start the morning with praise and thanksgiving; then ask God confidently for help and support in the day's coming struggles; and you will be able to fight those struggles "in the name of the LORD" and end the day thanking Him for the great things He has done for and through you.  

True joy does not mean merely savoring the easy blessings. It means trusting that God is in control and that the best possible blessings are on their way. 

Today is the day that our Lord has made:
Let us fill up our hearts with His joy;
He has made us all new by the power of His love,
Bringing peace that no foe can destroy.

Today is the day that our Lord has made:
Let us all of His blessings review;
He has filled up our lives with the gifts of His love,
And each morning His mercies are new.

Today is the day that our Lord has made:
Let us ever rejoice in His love;
Not the woes of this world, nor the demons of hell,
Can keep back His great gifts from above.

Today is the day that our Lord has made:
Let us stand in His strength and rejoice:
He's preparing a place, in a Day yet to come,
For all souls that give ear to His voice.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Road Home

The concept of our true home gets much space in the New Testament. The prodigal welcomed home with open arms; the promise of Jesus to "prepare a place for" us in God's House; the many reassurances of Heaven and being with the Lord forever--all of this brings a warm stirring in the heart. If it feels so good to be welcomed to our earthly homes with a warm embrace and a hot meal, how much greater must be what we have to look forward to in our eternal Home!

I don't generally have much fondness for the practice of singing only part of a song or printing only part of a poem, but the original of this one (as journaled some years back) was 40 eighteen-syllable lines, and even I have enough rationality to occasionally see limits to the practice of including "everything." This edited version is taken from the end couplets of the first four stanzas and the whole of the last stanza.

There are city roads on the way to work, with small patience to face delay;
But when all is done, the best road's the one that leads home at the end of day.
There are interstates stretching on and on, with no end to the "came" and "went";
But all said and done, the best road's the one that leads home when your trip is spent.
There are country roads made for Sunday drives and for time with your loved ones dear;
But when all is said, the best road ahead leads you home when the night draws near.
You may drive a pickup or limousine, or your car may be caked with rust;
But whatever kind, the best roads they find are the ones that lead home at dusk.

You hear many speak of the "road of life," paved with fate or with what may be,
Its "wrong turns" we make, and its "one-way streets," and the "U-turns" that some will see.
You may be born rich, you may be born poor--things may turn to the "good" or "bad";
But the Road of Life is a path for all, whether happy or grim or sad.
But our Driver's path was the steepest one, and He carried the greatest load,
And He came for more than to pave our way--He Himself is the One True Road.
Oh, the roads of life ever turn and twist, full of detours that seem to roam:
But when life is past, the best road at last is the one to our one real Home.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Praise the Lord in the Highest Heavens

Having been negligent lately in "praising the Lord at all times," I think this is a good month to let praise speak for itself.

Praise the Lord in the highest heavens;
Praise Him, stars of the midnight sky;
Praise Him, moon and each circling planet;
Praise Him, angels who serve on high.

Praise the Lord from the deepest ocean;
Praise Him, beasts of the field and wood;
Every creature, now bow before Him;
Praise the Lord, Who made all things good.

Praise the Lord from your inmost being,
Every soul of the human race;
Give your thanks and your adoration
To the God of all power and grace.

Praise the Lord and rejoice before Him;
Praise the One Whom our souls adore;
Praise Him, praise Him; yes, praise Him always,
For all time and forevermore.