God Calling

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up…

— Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

The alarm sounded. Not the harsh hounding of horns, nor the frightening bleat of an emergency. ‘Twas but a gentle, repeated angelic rhythm: harps.

Morning has broken.

My eyes opened.

Ding-dong. God Calling.

A new day. A new month. New adventures await…even though old issues remain.

Today there will be family matters: rides to arrange, lunches to make, receipts to reconcile, budget to plan. Church to attend. People to see. Demands. Requests. Pets to pamper.

The sun has scarcely begun to light the sky, and pondering the list has already brought fatigue. I’d rather stay in bed, yet, those things still need to be done. As I am alone, before the others stir, I have time to contemplate the tasks. Or go back to sleep.

There is, of course, the television background diversion. Or the social media. Maybe the news to read in some form.  But the silence beckons.

In the silence is solitude. In the silence are the sacred sounds of creation awakening. In the silence is the voice of creation. The voice of God.

In the silence is solitude…sounds of creation awakening.

People often ask how you can hear the voice of God. I’ve had the query come frequently in recent weeks. They read the headlines, or anti-social posts, and wonder if God speaks. Or even exists. They see the human failures of souls who have claimed to speak for God — priests, pastors, politicians — and wonder why God chose such flawed people to represent Him; and if God did, He must not be worth following. Not long ago, a noted writer of Christian worship songs renounced his faith citing, among other reasons, he doesn’t see God doing miracles any more.

I admit having difficulty hearing God’s voice, but not for reasons of global proportions. When I read the news of hurricanes and fires and shootings and evil people in the streets, I do neither doubt God nor His existence. In fact, those things cause me to believe in Him more. Which is why my difficulty hearing Him is personal, and my desire urgent. My problem is too many voices. Too many needs. So, early in the morning…

The questions asked of God and the distracted busyness of the day are not new. Nor are they relegated to this century.

Jesus faced such questions, temptations and doubts when He walked the earth. Studying how He responded to such moments is not only a study for Sunday school. It’s a model for those who claim to follow Him.

“Early in the morning, while it was still dark…” Jesus went off to think…and pray.

In his full humanity, Jesus was subject to every emotion, temptation, uncertainty as we. The New Testament writers recorded these moments in their journals we call “the gospels.” They also wrote their observations of Jesus’ habits, one of which is for mornings as this. For when the alarm sounds.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35 (New International Version)

Jesus knew that, though his over-arching mission — His calling — was to provide a path for people to have an eternal relationship with God, that to do so, He needed strength each day. Super natural strength. Jesus knew that, left to His own human confinements, once he began interacting with people, he could become crabby, too tired, tempted to abuse his power, or ineffective when asked. The gospel journals include snippets of snippy Jesus.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at the crowd.

READ MORE: Jesus “snaps” at his disciples.

And so, when God awakened him each day with the natural alarm clock, Jesus went to a solitary place to be with Him. It’s a familiar passage to many, and a personal favorite that long ago altered my life. And in recent months, a concept I’ve gotten away from. Thus, my auditory difficulties.

Despite the familiarity with the verse, do you ever wonder what Jesus did in such moments? Dare we imagine what He prayed for in His fortresses of solitude? And how long? Perhaps Jesus’ prayers were not much different from ours.

Strength to address the to-do list: Make it a prayer list.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

He prayed for strength to address His to-do list. He prayed for those in His inner circle of friends and followers. He prayed for the people He would meet and serve today, asking, likely, for the Holy Spirit to provide words to say when such moments came and words failed Him.

Maybe He prayed for the religious and government leaders, that they — having been given their appointed responsibility — seek and follow the will of God. Perhaps he asked that they — the priests, pastors and posing politicians — repent, and change behaviors that are contrary to God’s law.

Yes, difficult as it is to imagine, Jesus likely prayed for himself, that He not yield to temptation when human passions were stirred. Jesus likely confessed and asked forgiveness for moments of His humanity (dare we say, sins?). Moments when He was angry, didn’t feel like_____: caught himself doing a double-take at an attractive person. Maybe He acknowledge the moment, gave thanks He didn’t yield, asked forgiveness and strength to move on.

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely … mostly … gave praise to God, quoting back the Hebrew Bible scriptures He had studied and memorized; for in those scriptures God spoke to Jesus, as He speaks to us. “His compassions fail not; they are new every morning.”

In the early morning hours, Jesus likely reflected on the beauty God created in that quiet or desolate place; gave thanks to God for His chosen assignment; expressed how grateful He was to be chosen to lead, and asked God’s strength, wisdom, honesty and live to walk with Him and show through Him as he prepared to interact with the people during the day…the earnest, the hypocrites, the hopeful, the ailing, the people like him, the aliens among them.

In his prayer Jesus may have sung his praise, and then, sated and filled with God’s strength for the day, come to his Amen with strength for the day to fill the hopes of His followers for tomorrow.

I like to think Jesus prayed like that because…because I did.

And having completed his prayer of thanks, confession, requests and praise, Jesus may have sat in that quiet place feeling the presence of God…His voice…until choosing to rejoin the people, or until they, missing Him and needing him, called out, “Jesus! Jesus! Oh! Found You.” And He, in reply, stood and said, “Follow me.”

Later That Morning…

Not 30 minutes after completing my reflections and writing the above, I turned to my regular, two-minute audio devotional on Abide. The first image that came on the screen floored me. I broke the early morning silence with a loud guffaw. The last line of the cover photo (below) left me speechless. It was my first #HolySpiritMoment of the Day.

But wait…there was more.

We pulled into the lot of “the wrong church.” That is, when my wife and I decided where were worshipping, she thought we were heading to another place. Similar names will do that.

Rather than turn around, we continued in. We’ve been to the church frequently, presenting sometimes, but wanted to blend in and worship inconspicuously.

The preaching pastor, in my wife’s words, is “the bomb,” so we nestled in. Early into the in the sermon, #TheBomb began ticking. We began audible responses, then #TheBomb exploded #HolySpiritMoments.

LISTEN: Let Prayer Change You

READ MORE: 13 Verses Telling How God Called You

The message, based in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, began tapping into an element of “Jesus’ prayer” above: individuals who have left the faith, or who misuse their responsibilities and need redirection. #HolySpiritMoments, for the record, cause me chills. I sense and see God in action.

Near the end of the message, my guffaw went to “spent.” Having already written and titled this missive, I became slackjawed when the pastor said, “Now, what has God said about ‘calling?’ “

He then began reeling 13 New Testament passages that explained the responsibilities to which a Christ-follower is called by God.

Between my early awakening, the audio devotional, the sermon theme and the 13 verses, by noon, I had no doubt about the question of whether or not God was speaking to me. He does. Loudly, clearly. He starts by saying:

Ding-dong.

“Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture …?”

So, I re-read my notes instead of taking a Sunday nap. That’ll help me sleep more soundly overnight. And get up early in the morning.

Story Song: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

We don’t hear hymns much anymore, but once introduced, their power lingers. Much of the reason, I believe, is that the influence of Scripture is more easily discernible than many modern tunes. Here is how Lamentations 3:22-24 affected author Thomas Chisholm.

Story Song: “My Prayer”

It’s not exactly a Christian worship song. In fact, it’s a popular R&B tune from the 1950s. However, as with many old songs I grew up listening to, listening through the filter of God’s ear gives a worshipful interpretation in the proper context.

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When Jesus Created Father’s Day

“This, then, is how you should pray…” – Matthew 6:9

Modern history – as in internet browser searches – will tell you how Father’s Day began as a 20th century holiday phenomenon with 19th century roots:  how the daughter of a Civil War veteran, inspired by her father who raised six children as a single parent, thought dads should be honored with a special day just as mothers recently had been saluted.

You’ll discover the Christian influence in its creation and the roles four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon) played over seven decades to secure the annual calendar date as a national holiday.

LEARN MORE: Presidential Resolutions

You’ll learn about sales and kick around the best ways to honor your sire: a tie, food, a day off.  You’ll enjoy bits of whimsy through memes and other internet postings, like this:

What search engines won’t tell you is the quandary this holiday, despite its Christian infused roots, has brought to modern day leaders of musical worship. The quandary is selecting appropriate songs to honor fathers during Services of Worship.

It’s not a dissimilar issue than exists for Mother’s Day.  There aren’t a lot of role-specific church worship songs, and that’s all right. Celebrating Father’s Day in church isn’t one of the ordained feasts mandated by scripture. The pressure is, perhaps, self-imposed. After all, “father” is mentioned in the Bible over 400 times.

Is That All There Is?

It’s not that there AREN’T songs about fathers.  In fact, one selection “Good, Good Father,” written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown in 2014, became a Billboard No. 1 hit when recorded by Chris Tomlin in 2016. Ironically, in musician circles there’s a sense that this and similar daddy-related recent tunes have been sung so often, they’ve crept into the realm of Christian cliché – like annually trotted out Christmas carols.  Okay, more obligatory than cliché.

Nothing against the song, mind you, but the searchers keep asking, “Isn’t there something else?”

Albert Hay Malotte

The answer is, “Yes.” An overlooked modern tune is at the end of this story. However, there is a more powerful contemporary song to be sung to honor fathers, and its lyrics are found in modern ancient text. Albert Hay Malotte, an Academy Award winning composer, found the lyrics and in 1935 created the quintessential  fatherhood song, uttered not by a Christian, but Christ Himself.

Malotte called the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and introduced to the world the oft-recited words of scripture that best express two principles fundamental to Christian faith: prayer and accountability.

LEARN MORE: “The Christian Origins of Father’s Day”

Interestingly, while “The Lord’s Prayer” is a popular selection among recording artists, as film underscore, and at public ceremonies (often a solo), it’s surprising to discover how often people are unaware that the words come from the mouth of Jesus and not just song lyrics or a denominational prayer book. This is true event among many Christ-followers.

By the same token, taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the prayer, it’s fair to say that long before June was established as a calendar month, Jesus created Father’s Day.

On a Hill Far Away

Jesus introduced “Father’s Day” in the midst of his sermon on a mount.  But this public premiere was the outgrowth of private preaching He’d conducted elsewhere with a small group of followers, as reported by the gospel historian Luke:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 (New International Version)

In that teaching to a small group of men, Jesus continued emphasizing their responsibility to address the needs of neighbors and family even at the sacrifice of personal comfort. These earthly actions, He said, are an example of how “your Father in heaven” tends to our needs, especially those who are persistent and consistent in communication.

These two traits, persistence and consistency, were the essence of the prayer that He repeated to crowds elsewhere, much like a keynote speaker with a stump speech. The text, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is less a sermon by our contemporary comprehension than a compilation.  Maybe it ought be “The Mashup on the Mount.”

A church sanctuary design for a Sermon on the Mount series. (Photo: Jake Moreland)

A Personal Relationship With…

In the sermon, Jesus frequently reiterates the phrase “your Father” to His audience. Jesus’ use of the third person noun could be interpreted as a philosophical reference, keeping God at a distance. This is especially true in our times, depending on the listener’s paternal relationship.

Student ministry pastors often lament that among their greatest barriers uplifting The LORD to teens is because their concept of “heavenly Father” is tainted by negative relationships with their earthly father.

To a child whose father is absent from the house, or a family residing in a tyrannical household, passages extolling God’s goodness and protection, such as Psalm 68:13 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” – and 38 similar promises, are empty rhetoric.  Equally damaging spiritually are improper behaviors by father-figures, including clergy.

All the more reason Jesus not only taught the prayer as a mechanism to overcome weaknesses of the flesh, He preceded it with cautionary “sermonizing” about the perils of blind trust. Not only did Jesus tell the people what “Your Father” knows, He also gave them permission to speak directly to Him, then showed them how. In doing so, Third person philosophy became first-person access.

What’s In A Name?

For numerous reasons, introducing direct access to God was earth-shattering. One, going back to the burning bush, when Moses asked His name, addressing God had been formal and fearful.

God said to Moses, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ ‘I Am’ has sent me to you.’ ”   

“I AM” was subsequently spoken as The LORD, Yaweh, El-, and other titles that spoke about His character and attributes. Yet none of these was personal.  Abraham was revered as the “father” of the Jewish nations, but Abraham was human and centuries deceased. And though Isaiah spoke of God in the First Person, Isaiah was a prophet and such references were not unusual. Prophets were supposed to talk to God. Besides, that was over 500 years earlier.

Imagine, then, what it may have been like to hear Jesus give this instruction:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven…hallowed be your name…’ “

For the disenfranchised listener, the statement is reassuring. It’s personal, yet maintains reverence.

The statement is also dangerous, for the another reason the prayer is earth-shattering is that it establishes a firm foundation on His road to the cross.

Jesus The Protestant

In both the prayer and it’s prelude, Jesus advocates appealing to Higher Authority than earthly leaders. His prelude to the prayer unflinchingly threatens the religious status quo, for in that introduction

  • Jesus busts the religious leaders for making public spectacles of prayer.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

  • Jesus undercuts them as role models, diminishes their organized influence by eliminating the need for a priest as go-between.

“Do not be like them…for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

  • Jesus distinguishes between lengthy, generic, rituals and symbols of other beliefs, and brief, earnest, specific, bold requests.

“Do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

  • Jesus empowers personal prayer for even public matters.

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

LEARN MORE: A “Sermon on the Mount” Study Guide for self or group.

The battle between the role of Jesus and the influence of religious authority has continued since. It’s the battle Martin Luther fought that led to Protestant faiths (those that “protest” convention), and that exists today between those who define “evangelical” to share the gospel or be political. What’s more important is that then, as now, is not eliminate the role church leaders, just some perceptions. Simply, Jesus he invites – hypocrites and curious alike – to change actions and have the same personal relationship that He has with His Father.

Musical Hallmarks

Having laid the foundation, in eight simple yet challenging sentences, Jesus then gives the principles to cultivate that relationship: reverence, submission, confession, forgiveness, provision, mercy, grace, eternal life. Malotte, who also wrote scores to The Beatitudes and The 23rd Psalm, turned those poetic principles into lyrics that may also be considered Jesus’ Father’s Day Card.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, it is in heaven.”

Malotte adapted the King James Version, the primary Bible translation available in in 1935.  Other translations have been published since then, all copiously maintaining the accuracy and integrity of original Hebrew and Greek texts as best possible. There has been minimal push-back. Recently, however, a revision of the prayer recited in Catholic masses caused a stir seemingly as radical as when Jesus first intonation of “Our Father.” 

“Pope Francis Approves Change To Lord’s Prayer”

At Last, The Temptations & Christ

Reactionaries groused that the Pope was approving wholesale revisions in line with revisionist political correctness. That’s been a complaint of some translations adopting a gender-neutral tone. 

Reading beneath the headlines reveals that only one line is being revised…for clarity.  

Pope Francis

“Lead us not into temptation,” the Pope says, may be spoken in public recitation, as, “let us not fall into temptation.”  Reason? Bad English translation; bad theology, he said.

Though not Catholic, and as one who puts Christ’s teaching above the papacy, I appreciate this clarity.  For a long time “lead us not into temptation” has been had to reconcile, event for years for those who regular study scripture. Imagine its confusion upon new Christians, especially in light of the later assertion by Jesus’ brother James:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”

— James 1:13 (New International Version)

Besides, the edit is more sensible, less stressful than the ever-confusing, on-the-spot choice between saying “debts” or “trespasses” when asking forgiveness in some denominations.

Can We Only Imagine?

For all its power and simplicity, however, this prayer has also fallen into the cliché, rote chasm.  It’s often referred to as “The Our Father,” as if a mantra or magic incantation.  It could even be said “The Lord’s Prayer” is a misnomer.  A more apt title may be “The People’s Prayer.”  Or, “The Siblings’ Prayer,” since the “Our Father” kinship with the Son of God. The actual Lord’s Prayer, some instructors says, were Jesus’s words after his last supper records in John 17. He prayed for unity among His followers.

Now that I think of it, looking at both, “The People’s Prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” gives an interesting ideas to address the ills facing our world, especially our nation, this Father’s Day season.

Imagine if, in the context of Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christ’s followers employed His prayer template for self and leaders…not just church leaders but, say, legislators. Like:

  • What if, rather than “national days of prayer,” street corner incantations, or convention center revivals, individual Christ-followers simply went into our prayer closets and applied the principles of revering God, seeking His will and provision, asked forgiveness and forgave others?

“Give us this day our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

  • What if, rather than reciting the “If my people…would pray” passage in 2 Chronicles, we followed Jesus’ guideline of confessing sins of greed, rudeness, and turned from our wicked ways of violence and blame?

“And let us not fall not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

Might “The Lord’s Prayer” enacted “heal our land?” If so, imagine the sound of voices, bursting from prayer closets, a grand chorus singing in unison:

“For thine is the kingdom,

and the power,

and the glory, for ever.

Amen.”

Would that be worthy of a Father’s Day playlist?   

Andrea Bocelli with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Songs for Father’s Day

As we did for Mother’s Day, here are a few songs about fathers that are standard and less well-known. The Marvin Gaye selection is bittersweet. A talented artist and troubled man, he was shot to death by his father. The sentiments here are, nevertheless, accurate and noteworthy as they are rooted in scripture. Thanks to Stephen A. Banks for this rare, bacon-fryin’ recording.

Original 45 rpm version that Marvin Gaye re-recorded on his album “What’s Going On?”

“God Is Love” (Album Version) — Marvin Gaye

“Daddy” (Inspired by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) — DJ LV

“Good, Good Father” — Chris Tomlin

More Than Childbirth

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also, his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.” — Romans 16:13

In the days when I regularly planned Services of Worship, Mother’s Day was particularly challenging, more challenging than preparing for Christmas, Easter or any other “holiday” related program. The planning challenge of those events centers on pouring through resources, coordinating production schedules, and assembling a team to share the load.

Mother’s Day is most personal. Mother’s Day is about the heart,
as Luke tells us in his account of the night Jesus was born.

I’ve often envisioned that Luke’s account, written years later after Jesus had returned to The Father, was because he interviewed Mary and asked, “What do you remember about the night Jesus was born?”

“Mary remembered these things and treasured them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19

While Mary’s recollections lead us on the path of gospel glory, countless other women have no such memories. They have not given birth. That is one of the dilemmas of Mother’s Day, a realization that smacked me on a Sunday years ago when I encountered a friend softly sobbing in the lobby during the service. She was a generally cheerful woman, extremely active in ministry, who had helped plan many programs which is why she stepped out during the Mother’s Day tribute.

En route to another assignment, I did not expect to see her alone, and did an about face to inquire.

“Mother’s Day is hard,” she said.

I thought she was reflecting on her deceased mother, as many do. Instead, she spoke of her unfulfilled yearning for motherhood. She did not question God. She had no rage. She just spoke her feelings which seemed an annual response. I had no pithy words of comfort. In fact, I was tongue-tied, and maybe admitted, “I don’t know what to say.”

She thanked me for listening and smiled her infectious smile.

Lesson 1: Listening speaks louder than words.

Remembering her words, the next Mother’s Day we expanded the scope of our salute. Nothing elaborate. No big pronouncement. Just broadening the idea of what motherhood is and how it exists whether or not childbirth is involved.

The next Mother’s Day my friend stayed in the service. She did not cry. She thanked me, and I her, and I think of this moment with my single friend each May.

“And he called his wife ‘Eve,’ because she was the mother of all living.” — Genesis 3:20

When it comes to acknowledging Mother’s Day in Services of Worship, it’s important to expand our concept of what, and who, a mother is. That includes remembering there are women who have never gone through childbirth, but who are maternal. That includes uplifting women who may have been mothers but who, for assorted reasons, did not deliver. That includes saying thank you to those women who have, for whatever reason, become surrogates for our own mothers whether those females are work colleagues or classmates.

Paul felt this way about Rufus’ mother, and remembered her so in what may have been the first Mother’s Day card at the conclusion of his letter to the Roman church.

The greeting is significant for reasons beyond Mother’s Day. The greeting has a voice to us today in light of scriptural comprehension, and
contemporary issues about inappropriate clergy relations, #MeToo abuse, and #ToxicMasculinity.

Paul’s writings are sometimes criticized as accusations that the Christian church is antagonistic toward women, relegating women to second-class citizenry. Examples include his letter to the Corinthian church, that women should be silent in the worship, and to Timothy, that women should dress modestly and not hold positions of teaching men. Admittedly, the statements are complex and merit further study; for as with many New Testament writings, culture and context of the period must be taken into account. And so…

Consider: Paul was writing to churches that were developing multi-cultural (Greek, Roman, local) and inter-denominational (Jewish and Gentile) congregations. Paul was writing to elders and pastors about establishing order in corporate worship. So statements such as “women should keep silent” and not teach men would have been rooted in his Orthodox Jewish upbringing which included separate synagogue seating for men and women. Un-Orthodox churches being planted based upon common belief in the Jewish Messiah may not have had this background, and thus these statements may based more upon introducing established corporate order than in personal opinion.

The ministry of Priscilla, painting by Harold Copping (1920)

However, even had perspectives overlapped, chronology and experience should also be considered. After all, keep in mind that before he personally met Jesus, admitted that Jesus was Messiah, and submitted to teach Christ’s purpose to reconnect Jews and Gentiles with God, Paul intentionally, proudly pursued persecuting and killing Christ-followers.

In either context, therefore, consideration must be given for the plausibility that Paul’s perspective on women in ministry may have expanded as his mission journeys took him beyond his Orthodox community. Writing to church leaders who did not have his multi-cultural experiences may have been a way to speak to colleagues who struggled with gender responsibilities just as they struggled with questions about whether to circumsize Gentile Christ-followers.

Regardless, in the context of Romans, Paul’s naming the women who supported his ministry — Priscilla; Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis — plus the sister of Neuris; and Rufus’ “mother, who has been a mother to me as well,” indicates an understanding that contradicted gender prejudice in his era, and eludes many in ours.

If naming the women wasn’t sufficient, the ultimate point is that he entrusted delivery of the Romans letter to Phoebe, very similar in how Jesus entrusted the first report of his resurrection to be delivered by Mary Magdalene.

Moreover, Phoebe delivering “Greetings” to the 28 people is not merely being cordial, as in sending a Hallmark card. A modern equivalent of the importance of “Greetings” might be that when the recipients opened Paul’s Hallmark card, the voice of Aretha Franklin would sound forth, belting: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Which was written by a man: Otis Redding.)

That’s the same principle behind “Greetings” and the laud behind ministry mothers today. Just as Paul thanked his women aides with no particular holiday (does “Just Because” count?), in an era with resurgent feminism, it’s important to remind male and female Christ-followers of the importance of women in ministry and culture. Paul’s letter is a model. So is reviewing Old Testament scripture and the relationships of Jesus.

Mother’s Day seems an apt time.

“Who is my mother…? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” — Jesus (Matthew 12:38-49

Throughout our congregations, in our classrooms, in the houses down the street are women who do the will of our Father on earth as it is in Heaven. An array of women across generations who may not have offspring, but who have Eve’s instinct of motherhood and responded to those who cry, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”

They are teachers, attorneys, widows, First Ladies, would-be preachers, nurses, and sorority sisters. They are the cousins and aunts who care-take, fix meals, run errands, lend an ear, dole out advice, or simply pray when a parent or spouse is absent or otherwise engaged.

These are the REAL housewives whom even modern women must see within themselves: a woman of virtue, a woman of natural beauty; a woman who neither curses nor is cursed; a woman who acknowledges mutual respect — just as men recognize their interaction to women is modeled, not by culture, but by Christ.

On the cross, among Jesus’ last actions was to tend to his mother’s needs by passing her care to the disciple John.

He said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” — Jesus (John 19:26-27)

Jesus did not pass judgment on the woman accused of adultery. He praised the woman who washed his head with perfume and his feet with her tears while the men nearby chastised Him for doing so because of her “reputation.” As mentioned earlier, it was women to whom he revealed himself and gave the responsibility of telling others he was resurrected — this, in an era when a woman’s testimony was scorned.

In our times, fewer people recognize the difference between gender abilities and gender responsibilities. While there are gifts each has that are unique, there are others that are best designed to be used collectively. While Scripture introduces, and Jesus reinforces, this union by noting, “the two shall become one flesh,” a modern revelation of the connection has been expressed in the film, “Jerry McGuire.” After recognizing he has taken his girlfriend, Dorothy, for granted, the self-serving protagonist tracks down his forsaken beloved and confesses, “You complete me.”

It could be said that oneness — completion — is at the core of discussions regarding “feminism” and “women’s rights.” If so, Christ-followers have a great contribution to the conversation by demonstrating wholeness in Jesus, the first “feminist,” for ultimately, even Paul acknowledged and reminded the church in Galatia, in Christ “there is neither male nor female” for we are all one.

In some ways, this is what Mother’s Day celebrations, and greetings from Paul’s letters, are about: affirmation. That, as people, our contributions make a difference and are appreciated.

Whether or not a woman has given birth should not be the litmus test for motherhood, any more than a man’s ability to fertilize is indicative of being a father. What is essential is recognizing a woman’s gift to nurture and complete God’s image in our families and communities. That gift is worth worshipping and you don’t have to give cards and flowers to celebrate that.

You don’t HAVE to, but they sure help.

For Further Conversation

We cited some New Testament Scripture samples where women are edified. What are your thoughts on these passages? What other illustrations might you add?

5 Songs of Praise for Mothers & Others

“No Charge” — Sisters of Glory (Thelma HoustonCeCe PenistonPhoebe SnowLois Walden and Albertina Walker.)

“Rely Upon Jesus” and “(Glory) Mary’s Song” — Vikki J. Myers

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” — Richie Havens

“I’ll Always Love My Mama” — The Intruders (“Soul Train” extended play)

Music of “Freedom Song”

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” — Psalm 68:6a (New International Version)

All music that tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ is gospel music.  Yet in some circles “gospel music” is confined to a niche — a certain style of music, generally music associated with African-Americans. 

True, while there are variations of “gospel music” depending on region (usually a modifying region of the United States: Southern gospel, Appalachian gospel — is there such a thing as Asian gospel or Indian gospel?) , for the purposes of this conversation, track with the premise that in many views, the phrase “gospel music” is synonymous with “black gospel music.”

In that sense, components of “gospel music” are symbolized by two easily identifiable images: a choir, and robes.  These symbols come from a powerful aesthetic in African-American heritage; yet there are dangers in defining gospel music and African-Americans by these two symbols alone.

One danger is that of co-opting the sound of gospel music for other messages.  Think, for instance, how often you have heard “gospel music” in a film, television program or commercial, none of which is associated with the gospel of Christ? Enjoyable as the sound may be, the listener must discern the context.

The other danger is underestimating the impact of various styles of music upon liberating Africans in America.  That liberation developed as the robed-choirs connected the music of the times and the regions where they lived with the lyrics from which they were rooted:  the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures those that professed good news gospel music of Jesus Christ as He intended — to link man and God.



Hear “Free Indeed” based on John 8:36.

More than Black’s History

Exploring that link, and telling the story of how gospel music has developed in the United States is the purpose of “Freedom Song,” one of the ensemble plays from the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries history cycle.  The script was created in 2011 as reader’s theater presentation in response to a  request for a church’s African-American History Month program.  Since then, “Freedom Song” has been presented annually as part of church and corporate commemorations in February.  Because of those performances, “Freedom Song” has received subsequent off-season productions – not just during African-American history month. 

Its  themes extend beyond February, beyond the topic of physical slavery in the U.S., beyond the confines of the American shores.  The weaving of Scripture, song history and musical genres create a tale of liberation through Christ from an assortment of enslaving circumstances and behaviors.

Indeed, taking into account the headlines of any given day — perhaps, even, the last hour — it’s natural to conclude that if cries and flights to freedom are universal, then perhaps the key to liberation is beyond the state of any particular union. Or nation. This ageless human cry to escape through a designated liberator became more recognizable as the music listened to over time and in different places became more poignant when heard collectively, especially as the tales of how they were created or utilized were discovered.


Films & Noir

Over 30 songs from America’s colonial slavery to millennial technology bondage are sampled, dramatized and  in the program that is staged as an abbreviated one-act or movie-length  outreach complete with a post-performance talk-back.  In the course of the evening, the audience receives new insight into traditional, beloved gospel music, and is introduced to newer selections that don’t have the gospel music sound, but deliver the gospel of Christ message.   Researching the songs that inspired the script provided more insight than performance times allow.  Nevertheless, the insights and sounds are too important to NOT share.  And so, we compiled most of the songs that inspired the script’s creation into a playlist, assembled on our KIT Ministries YouTube Channel, and have written short essays about each song or song sequence.  We will post those essays and the songs on these pages and our social media pages in coming days as our commemoration of  how Scriptures have shaped African-America.

For starters, we present the entire playlist here along with a brief introduction to the show.   By listening to the playlist, you’ll find unlikely musical connections between  Czechoslovakian classical composer Anton Dvorak and American folk icon Paul Robeson; poet James Weldon Johnson and rappers Doughboy the Midwest Maestro and DJ Kool Rod;  Peter, Paul  & Mary, and Mavis Staples.  You’ll also see rare performances by Sister Rosetta TharpeMahalia Jackson and Richie Havens, and provocative movie clips the voice of African-Americans and  gospel music in film.

​Visit these FacebookTwitter and Pinterest pages for daily posts on individual songs.  Most of the songs will be posted during African-American History Month.  However, don’t be surprised if posting continues into the days after Feb. 28.  Just as African-American history occurs beyond the end of February, the gospel of Christ cannot be contained to just 28 days.

Please consider adding the entire “Freedom Song” playlist to your YouTube channel.

Michael Edgar Myers Freedom Song
Videos of Paul Robeson, Burt Lancaster, Eddie James influence the “Freedom Song” script.

A History of Gospel Music

For those who wish to learn about the genre of “gospel music,” we recommend, “Make a Joyful Noise!  A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America,” available in print or audiobook.  The book was written by Kathryn B. Kemp and is narrated by KIT Ministries Founding Director Michael Edgar Myers and award-winning audiobook actor Barbara Ann Martin.

Make a Joyful Noise Cover

Dr. Kemp gives great detail and colorful anecdotes about how many gospel songs in the U.S. developed through painstaking adaptation and recording from their roots among African Tribes and maintained throughout despite the efforts to disassociate the slaves from those roots on these shores.

Kemp also relates the development of those songs on record, mostly through the efforts of Rev. James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

LEARN MORE

MEMos and Musings

Because we were asked to create a new script based in faith and African-American history, we are not touring “Freedom Song” this February. It’s the first time in five years. “Freedom Song” is available after Easter, and our new show, “Strolling Down MLK Street,” has limited availability through the spring and thereafter.

Since both shows evoke questions and conversation, we want to make available not just the music and song stories that we’ve employed, but also other research and commentaries about faith and ethnicity in America. Not just because this is African-American History Month. Just because they’re fascinating and sometimes fun. Like, we hope, the three below: previous faith-race-and-history blogs from Worship Wonderings and a MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers that seem to still have relevance as well as an occasional off-kilter perspective about race. Feel free to read, ask questions, share a thought, and enjoy.

Related African-American History Stories

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

“Look, Grandfather (Nubians)!”

MaMa & Obama: 10 Years After

Carol Story: As Others Wonder, The Faithful Pay It Forward

A great difficulty with contemporary celebrations of Christmas is the misconception of the events and timing of the birth of Jesus. This occurs even among Christians Believers, particularly in Western cultures. The problem? The prevailing concept that Christmas climaxes on a singular date: December 25.

Yes, there are further celebrations of Christ’s birth in assorted denominations – the 13 days of Christmas continuing through the Epiphany in Catholic and related congregations; and the remembrance in the Orthodox Church observed January 7, or 12 days after the “traditional” Christmas. 

However, if you look around, come December 26, “the Christmas spirit” begins dissipating. Observe three tendencies:  the urgency to remove decorations; the rush to return gifts; the reduction of Christmas songs in public.  Even the most earnest pastors and worship music leaders may wonder how many weekends after December 25 should the congregation continue singing “Christmas” songs in Services of Worship.

FURTHER READING:  “When the 26th Is Over,” a poem for reflection

The transitional songs of the Kingdom Impact Theater production “Carol Story” belie the idea that Christmas music should go away immediately after December 25.  Indeed, a number of Christmas selections build on the concept of evangelizing – that is, telling others the Good News of salvation through Messiah’s birth. Lyrics of three carols,  “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “I Wonder as I Wander,” can be viewed as tools in the on-going witnessing concept first noted here in “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”  Taken as a whole, these lyrics should remind Christ-followers that the birth of the baby was the beginning of the Christmas story, not its conclusion, and their a responsibility to share this information. 


LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.


To grasp this idea, it’s necessary to review the scriptural timeline of the Christmas narrative rather than Hallmark cards.  The Biblical story recorded in Luke Chapter 2 indicates that Jesus was born at night. So, unlike us who often open presents at the crack of dawn, Mary and Joseph’s gift of parenthood didn’t arrive until nightfall … at the END of the day.

(Jesus wasn’t swaddled in cloths on Christmas Eve, either, for it didn’t exist yet.  Though we’ll give some allowances for a right-after-midnight arrival, meaning the shepherds COULD have been stirred by middle-of-the-night celestial viewings).

Lifesize Nativity Chicago
Lifesize nativity in downtown Chicago represents the worship vistiations that may have actually taken place over a couple of years. (Photo: Michael Edgar Myers)

By the time the shepherds saw the stars and singing angels, and walked (or ran) to see this thing, arriving at the manger took time. And it wasn’t the same evening as the three visitors from the East recorded in Matthew Chapter, whose account of the Wise Men’s arrival likely was two years later.

Indeed, for point of conversation, it’s possible that the Wise Men’s encounter with King Herod was less about the birth itself, but as a result of what occurred afterwards:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. —

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 15:18 (New International Version)

Three things did happen that night that continue in today’s Christmas season:  1) people came to worship the child, believing the Old Testament (Hebrew) prophecies were fulfilled after 500 years; 2) witnesses went and told others the significance of the child’s birth; 3) others came to discover for themselves, and began to ask questions.

This worship and investigation led to the wonderfully imagined nativity scenes which decorate our landscapes and homes.  However, these are a composite of what happened over time, not on the night of, Hallmark notwithstanding.

Three songs in the middle passage of “Carol Story” capture this sense of “shepherds’ telephone line” that inspired the crowds to visit Bethlehem and ponder what occurred. Their lyrics inspired a poetic encounter between the shepherds heading to the manger and the people they meet on the way to Bethlehem. Those people, like us, have questions.

“Shepherds, why this jubilee…?”

“Angels we have heard on high…”

“Come, all ye faithful! Join the triumph of the skies!”

(Sotto voice): “I wonder, as I wander…”

— Songs Lyrics, adapted in “Carol Story”

The questioning lyrics come from a latter-day carol from Appalachia, representing a person curious about the possibility the newborn babe could be the prophesied savior, while at the same time questioning one’s own belief in Christ during a time of crisis, period.  Questioning occurs even among those who have heard the scriptures for years.  Ask a teenager, as we discovered at a high school dinner party years ago.

LEARN MORE:  The Virgin Shall Be With Child, Really?

The story of how this folk carol from rural 1930s America came to be a beloved Christmas witness is its own miracle.  The accompanying video, a live performance by Vanessa Williams, maintains the reflective intimacy of the lyrics despite an orchestra accompaniment.

VIDEO MOMENT:  “I Wonder as I Wander,” captured in revival after jail

That solitude is contrasted by the acappella power of Italy’s SoundDiva Classical Choir whose harmonies in the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a scaled-down version of how the Heavenly Host may have sounded singing, “Gloria! In excelsis Deo,” (“Glory to God in the Highest!” Which is echoed as “Carol Story” some to its climax (in days to come).

DISCIPLE SOMEONE“Angels We Have Heard On High,” A French carol anglicized

The idea of inviting people to Christ, and musically sharing the gospel door-to-door and outside church buildings, is captured in the remarkable violin-driven flash-mob “O Come All Ye Faithful,” by The Five Strings. This relatively new video reached the Kingdom Impact Theater offices via a friend’s private social messenger as a Christmas greet to be shared.  And so, we do. Here. Interspersed with James Chadwick’s translated lyrics of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a wonderful interview dialogue: A question asked, a story told, an invitation made to join. Heading to Bethlehem, we imagine they encounter a new curious fellow: a little drummer boy.


SoundDiva Classical Choir

SoundDiva is actually a production studio in Italy that’s dedicated to improving the quality and production. The assembled choir in this video is directed by Antonello Martina for part of a series demonstrating the work quality by the studio.

LEARN MORE: SoundDiva Recordings.


The Five Strings

The Five Strings are a performing family band from Utah. The band is made up of 5 siblings, ranging in ages from 8-18. The Five Strings’ high energy concerts showcase eight different instruments including violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, percussion, five-part harmonies, clogging, and choreography.

LEARN MORE: The Five Strings YouTube Channel.


Vanessa Williams

Vanessa L. Williams is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first woman of African-American descent to receive the Miss America title in 1983. Since then her critically acclaimed work in film, television, music and Broadway has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including 4 Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, 3 SAG award nominations, 7 NAACP Image Awards and 3 Satellite Awards. She often performs in the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert, from which this clip was recorded.

LEARN MORE: Vanessa Williams’ autobiography.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over


Carol Story: A Handel on Flash Mobs, Hallelujah!

Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song:  a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly  the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.

What would you do?  Sit slack-jawed!  Complain?  Hide?   Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?

The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation.  In their case, “What the…?” may not have been  an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid. 

George Fridrick Handel
Handel created “Messiah” for an Easter concert, not Christmas.

​The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores.  Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and ​Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.

Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt.  “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called  “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.


LEARN MOREHow Handel’s Messiah Came About


However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing.  This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began.  Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch).  With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.

Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences.  But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.

Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.”  It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God.  (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)

Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host,  the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news.  In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn.  Sort of.  As we shall see.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live

Viral flash mob post that started as a customer thank you.

Alphabet Flash Mob

 On November 13,  2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch.   Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash,  the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date. 

LEARN MORE:  http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com

Carol Story: Elvis & The Prophecy

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


O Little Town of Bethlehem” is the fulfillment of prophecy that was proclaimed in Micah 5:1-2.  This eloquently recording by Elvis Presley, backed up by his compatriots The Jordanaires, is from  his simple beginnings and reflect his deep, yet embattled faith in Christ. 

Elvis was poster-child for conflicted Believers, especially those in performing arts.  He was among the first of countless recording artists — such as  Sam Cooke and Whitney Houston — who began singing in church and, in many cases, started their musical careers recording gospel, worship and praise songs, but who later passed away because of dubious life choices.

LEARN MORE:  Micah’s Bethlehem Prophecy

Before the glitz and worldly temptations led to “Blue Christmas” and its ilk, Presley’s pure baritone resonated in gospel selections. Even backstage before concert, Elvis and his posse would warm up with songs of the gospel genre. He occasionally included some onstage.

His interpretation here presents the crispness of the night, the peace on earth, the calm before the storm of activity.  

We cannot tell #CarolStory without the lyrics which introduce new characters and setting in which to act the events of travelling to Bethelehem to see this thing that had been fulfilled.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:
“Carol Story” Live

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires

Elvis Aaron Presley was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King.”

LEARN MORE:  Elvis’ Biography

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over