An Apology

Singing and playing music that is doctrinally sound has become more important to me over recent years, in part due to the health scare our family experienced in 2018. When our daughter was found to have a large brain tumor, it really brought to the forefront many doctrinal issues that I had struggled with over the years. I sought to understand God’s nature and how He interacts with mankind. I was trying to grasp God’s sovereignty–I was confident in His goodness, but I struggled to understand His involvement in the world. The experience of possibly losing the life of your child prematurely causes one recognize that humans are not in control of their circumstances.

About January last year, months after this experience, I was at a crisis in my faith. I even questioned whether Jesus truly claimed to be divine in the Bible. I wondered if it was I that needed to be converted. And then God, in His grace, ordained the interview with John MacArthur and Ben Shapiro. Pastor John explained how miraculously the Old Testament made specific predictions about Jesus’ coming, and who He was to be. That He is God with us. This was a turning point for me. It took me from doubter to confident that the Bible is true and inerrant, in a way that only God could orchestrate. Looking back, I have realized that though I had read through the Bible more than once, I did not understand it in context in some key areas. This is what left me with gaping weaknesses in my faith, and it is only by the grace of God that I spiritually survived having them.

Because of this experience, I have all the more noted how often music labeled “Christian” does not communicate clearly what the Bible says, or even how God engages with mankind. There is a lot of your- best-life-now and God-will-fix-my-problems, and even God-needs-me material. If one is a person like I was, struggling in my faith, these messages serve to muddy the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is that Jesus died and rose again for an undeserving sinner like me, paying my fine for breaking all of God’s law (Isaiah 64:6, Luke 18:18-22, 1 Corinthian 15:3-4, James 2:10)—not because He was lonely for me in heaven, but to bring glory to the Father (Philippians 2:8-11). He has done this for those who would repent and believe on Him (Acts 17:30–31). And this was predicted 700 years before His birth in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6–7, 42:1–7, 53:5, etc.)

I also realized that in my own music, I myself had obscured the Gospel. Particularly, I regretted recording Ave Maria with its title. It was not originally written as this by Bach, who was a Lutheran, nor was the melody later inserted by Gounod. Its original title was Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de J.S. Bach (Mediation on the First Prelude of J.S Bach). That being said, I recorded it on a collection of hymns with the title “Ave Maria.” This is well-known as a Catholic song. At the time, I did not understand how the Catholic Church deviates from orthodoxy on first-tier issues, especially since in my discussions with Catholics, it seemed like they used the same “church lingo” as Protestants. But truthfully, the Catholic Church has a different system altogether of how we are made right with God, and had proclaimed an anathema on anyone who believed in justification by faith alone at the Council of Trent (Canon 9). This is a first-tier issue in regards to orthodoxy, and one of a number of reasons Protestants and Catholics do not have communion with one another.

Having shared all that, I want to apologize to anyone who I confused regarding the orthodoxy of Catholicism by my inclusion of Ave Maria, and I ask for your forgiveness. I have changed the title on my website and sheet music to reflect the original name of the piece.

The Enough-ness of God

Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete

Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

-Dustin Kensrue, “It’s Not Enough”

I grew up in a godly family, where we regularly had family nights and did devotions together. I also made a profession of faith in God when I was six years of age. Nevertheless, I regularly was overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness from around age twelve. I recall the constant battle of striving to measure up in the eyes of others. My chosen outlet for striving for worth and escaping my overwhelming emotions was music. It literally became what I chose to identify as—a musician.

When I was in high school, I constantly felt like I lived under a dark cloud. I went through seasons where I was able to express confidence, but that nagging weight of depression clung to me like second hand smoke. I could not escape it.  One of the hardest elements of my experience was that I felt like I was the only one dealing with these struggles. I am especially grateful for the Christian adults who invested in me during this time in my life. The letters I received from them, in particular, often gave me hope to go on.

In between high school and college, I reached one of my lowest points. I made some progress with a counselor, and reluctantly, tried medication to help me work through the pain as I dealt with my inner trials.  I had some relief, but it was incomplete.

I found college to be a season of ups and downs as I met with other counselors, attempted to build new friendships, and continued taking medication. The hardest part was maintaining friendships. I still felt like I had to possess some set of traits in order for me to me worthy of attention and relationship. I hit another deep valley during this time period, and had to get class extensions during one semester in order to complete my coursework. I continued to feel like I could not measure up, and all my efforts to do so came up short.

Fast forward to when my redemption began.

My husband and I met and were married a few years after I finished college. I managed to wean off of medication before we wed. While some find some relief through their use, they did not provide me with consistent help.  As I continued to battle seasons of depression and anxiety, resentment also began to creep in because I felt unappreciated musically. My husband wisely saw that I was setting music up on a pedestal that it was not meant to be on, and the result was the feelings I was experiencing. It took time to digest, but I knew he was right. I told God I would give up music, permanently if He desired, just to make sure my affections were rightly set. After a significant amount of time, God made it clear that it was not to be permanent.

I also came across a book by Tim Keller called Counterfeit Gods, and it reinforced the seeds of redemption God had planted through my husband. It reveled that my idols and what they branched out into were extensive. When I couldn’t satisfy those idols, they bestowed on me brokenness and emptiness. More chains fell off through these lessons.

Another set of chains needed to be addressed. My sense of personal worth was so unreliable. God showed me that it would be built on shaky foundation as long as it was based on the opinions of others. It is what He thinks that is of ultimate importance, and His affection for me is unchanging. He offers complete rest in His love when we follow Him. Furthermore, who I am is not what I do or where I am employed, but my status as a child of God—fully loved and fully approved. This is an area of my life that continues to require great diligence, as it seems to be the most vulnerable to distortion.

Unfortunately, I lost some ground at one point. I wallowed in depression once again, feeling like I had wasted my ability to work thus far and had nothing to show for. I was in the midst of caring for young children, and not doing much musical work. I had no advanced degrees, as I saw others go on to pursue.

I had lost sight of why I was made. The reformed catechism so succinctly states that the ultimate purpose of man is “to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” As long as I was invested in this goal, God showed me that it didn’t matter whether I was changing diapers or doing brain surgery.

I never thought I would have a sense of deliverance in this area on this side of heaven. I had come to terms with medications being a lifetime practice, even though they did not provide a complete solution. God has brought me to a place where spells of “lowness” are not all-encompassing as they once were, and eventually do pass. I have been able to find joy in my daily life and work, not as my identity, but as a gift from God.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s Goodness

I want to put down on virtual paper my gratefulness to God for all He has done for me and for my family this year. It’s not an exhaustive list, as I would be writing until I had to start a list for next year if it were.

First and foremost, I am thankful for His pursuit of my heart. He is continually willing to to work with the mess that a sinful nature bestows, and is graciously patient in His forgiveness, too.

Secondly, I am grateful for His walking with my family through the highs and lows of this year. We welcomed a new baby–a much prayed for son. We also faced emergency, life-saving surgery for our daughter. It brought me back to the reality of each day being a gift, and not a guarantee. It made me more grateful for each day, for each moment I get with her (and all our children), and more conscious of how every moment matters. It reminded me how our purpose is not personal comfort, but to make the most of the time and resources we are given for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Thank you, God, for Your goodness.

Aaron: God’s Grace Made Evident

“And the LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him.” (Deut. 9:20a)

I have had thoughts about Aaron’s life floating around in my head for some time. God used him to help Moses speak to Pharoah when Moses resisted God’s call to speak. He was also a leader among his people.

And then we have the story of the golden calf.

The people bellyache about Moses taking so long coming down the mountain, like a preschooler whining about an extended shopping trip. They approach Aaron and tell him to “make us gods who will go before us.” Rather than refusing to do such a wicked thing, Aaron in essence replies, “Sure! Give me your gold and I will have a go at it.”

We later find out that God’s anger burned against both the people and Aaron so much that He intended to destroy them. He had just brought them out of Egypt, made it possible for them to walk through the Red Sea in the process, and they go searching for someone else to guide their way. Moses intercedes for them, and God relents.

Not only does He relent in Aaron’s case, He also continues to make his family line the one which would take care of the priestly duties within the tabernacle/temple, including entering the Holy of Holies.

It boggles the mind.

How does a God overlook such a flagrant leadership fail, and furthermore, extend such blessing instead?  I certainly don’t understand it fully, but I do know that this is a picture of God’s graciousness. He chose to show favor where it was utterly undeserved.

It is no different than what is offered each of us.

In the less turbulent times, we can have the tendency to think, “Hey, I’m not doing so bad. Maybe God is blessing me because I’ve earned His favor.” But the truth of the matter is our cases are as utterly hopeless as Aaron’s was.

God is good to us, but our hearts are in a relentless fight against being pulled away from the One we claim to treasure. And yet He has set His heart on us, and constantly draws us back.

Homeschooling Curriculum

This deviates from my usual blog theme, but I wanted to present what we are using this year for school curriculum in the hope that in might be helpful to others considering/currently homeschooling.

We are continuing with our use of Abeka Digital Video Lessons, in addition to all their books. Abeka Digital Video Lessons give the student a chance to learn from a skilled teacher in a very organized fashion, and the parent functions almost like a teacher’s helper. I find that now that my daughter is working through third grade (having gone through second grade with the same curriculum), she needs very little assistance from me when she goes through her lessons except for checking her work and tests, doing oral reading/questions and the occasional miscellaneous question. One thing I have added on to this is First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 2 by Jessie Wise. It is a very easy book to go through in the study of grammar, and reads through like a scripted lesson. Makes my job easy! Since I felt this was my greatest weakness in my own education, I am pushing this particular area in order to make sure my kids don’t find themselves with the same holes in their learning. Lastly, she uses Rosetta Stone: Homeschooling Edition for Italian language study, which she enjoys doing.

My next daughter has started kindergarten with the same Abeka curriculum, and I have added on Pyramid Reading Exercises by Dolores G. Hiskes (which may be out of print, but you can still buy it used). It is a great book for early readers and helps give them confidence to read from words to phrases and sentences in a very structured fashion. I had success using it with her older sister, so it has been passed down.  I have been trying to be more present for her videos because she often needs some encouragement to participate and focus. Or just mommy’s hand to hold. Lastly, she is using Handwriting Without Tears: Letters and Numbers for Me to learn print as Abeka is cursive-based. I like have her doing both partly because it helps her in reading both as well, and I anticipate it will make the eventual adjustment to cursive smoother.

As for the 21 month old, she joins in some of the Kindergarten classes, yelling out wrong letters to distract her sister and scribbling crayon all over her tray table.

For those who are interested in homeschooling in PA or already do, we use this attendance sheet and this book log.

The Armor of God

My first remembrances of learning about the armor of God goes back to my single-digit youth, spending summer at camp. I think as a child, it’s hard to fully grasp what in the world you are learning about, even with the illustration of Pilgrim’s Progress. The struggle of the soul is hard to verbalize and understand, even as it is roars on in childhood.

Thinking right thoughts about myself and God is one area where I have to be on my guard. When I am caught unaware, I suddenly find myself dealing wounds to my own heart. This morning I asked God to speak to my heart, as my heart was very much NOT still. This verse, though unfortunately not as polished as it once was, was what I remembered.

I contemplated how many pieces of that armor are still intact in my life, after all, the enemy doesn’t go easy on us where we are vulnerable. I think there are times where I depend on keeping one piece of “the armor” ready, and letting other pieces go unattended. Just maybe have the shield of faith and no sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. Who goes into battle with NO WEAPON??? And yet, I find this so easy to fall into–even if I am reading my Bible, am I absorbing it and really learning it so I can use it?

As I am processing this, maybe you can do so along with me. Is there a piece of armor/weaponry you are neglecting?

(found this pic at https://www.tgm.org/aogWholeArmor.jpg 🙂

Who Is My Neighbor?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Loving one’s neighbor is so important to God, it pours forth from loving God first. Jesus was asked in the Bible who our “neighbor” is, and He gave the example of them being a despised person in his culture.

Who is despised in our culture today?

It would be safe to say that while there are many examples, unborn babies are among the most despised as they have been exterminated to the tune of over 54 million since 1973. If they are disabled, all the more. We are pretty comfortable as a culture to not prioritize the safety of our progeny in exchange of supposed safety, monetary security, etc.

What would you give up in order to make sure your neighbor, specifically the unborn, was loved as yourself and given, at a minimum, a chance at life?

Thoughts On the State of Affairs

As a society and as individuals part of it, we have no problem recognizing that the human race has serious problems, ones that raise ear-piercing alarms for what lies ahead. When it comes to deciphering their source,  different story. We have fingers pointing to politicians, to those evil liberals, to the bigoted conservatives…pointers facing every which way. And we have all our solutions, which should work if those other jerks would stop screwing things up.

For instance, it is probably safe to say that most people, like me, have been utterly frustrated with this election. It’s fairly easy to blame others for the nation’s problems. I know I do it with proficiency. And on top of that, we have such a lack of peace in this world. Take Syria for instance–I just watched a video of a shell-shocked little five year old being pulled from rubble and wondering what to do with the blood which was on his head. It causes my heart to plead with God to please, please rescue us. Why does the world have to be such a broken place?

Truth of the matter is, even though I am moved to ask for Jesus’ help, my natural inclination is to try to solve these problems on my own, without God’s help. To trust in my elected officials for my salvation, safety and prosperity. To think that if people would just get some sense, maybe we would be in a better place. That, “God, if you just hadn’t let that person to be put forward as a leader…”

Time for a moment of truth: I am part of the problem. Each of us is. When I don’t uphold God’s holiness in my own life, when I minimize things that grieve His heart, that is destructive to His creation. I am doing just what Adam and Eve did in allowing the crafty snake into God’s garden instead of throwing him out of it. I don’t say all this so that members of God’s family can proceed to beat themselves up. God has certainly  fully purchased salvation for those who believe in Jesus’ name. But I need to be constantly seeking the Holy Spirit’s power to change me and to teach me. That devil doesn’t stop his prowling about because I need a break. We must be on constant and vigilant guard and be growing in God. I stink at this. I’m much better at running to a computer than to God. How about you?

It is only by God’s grace that my life is productive for the sake of Christ. It is not because of my own wisdom and good decision making (which are both dubious in nature). The Bible tells us that ‘the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness…”‘ (1 Corinthians 3:19). Worldly wisdom destroys. God’s wisdom creates, heals and grows. We can try all we want to imitate God’s wisdom, but only God’s is authentic. And we can have that wisdom through the Holy Spirit!

One of the greatest things we can do in response to the state of our nation and world would be to personally repent, and to pray for the repentance of others. And rejoice in the Lord, because our confidence is in Him making all things right one day for those who love Him.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 43:5)

 

The Gift of God

“…a man is not justified by the observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Galatians 2:16-21

Something that is very difficult for me is dealing with the daily exposure to the dastardly way my sinful nature creeps up and affects my actions. It often leaves me feeling so undone that I am yet so foul before God. These verses reminded me that I must always be at the ready in the armor of God’s word, putting to death my flesh and the thoughts of not being good enough to be redeemed. It’s true–I’m not good enough, but salvation is through faith, “not by works, so that no one should boast.” My shortcomings don’t let me become proud in my own self, but push me to live in the identity of Christ’s righteousness.

What Mary Might Not Have Known

Having recently had a child and meditating on advent, I’ve been wondering what was going on in Mary’s mind when she was about to give birth and there was no room for them inside a dwelling. For people, that is. Was she wondering why, why did they not leave earlier for the census? As she gave birth in a disgusting stable, did she wonder how God’s plan could possibly come to pass while overwhelmed by the smell of animal manure?If it were me, I’d be wondering, “Could life get any lower–I’m bringing life into the world in the mist of the worst circumstances!” But this was God’s design. Jesus’ awful and low circumstances of birth gave a small glimpse into what kind of King He truly is.

He didn’t come with a royal physician on call. He didn’t have a kingly swaddle put on. He was born into an illustration of the effects of sin in our hearts, a picture of what even our best good works are before God. Rags and straw full of crap. But that was the life He embraced to win back His beloved.