Spiritual Warfare Lullaby (Greater is He)

I’m so excited to share this song with you all!

This Spiritual Warfare Lullaby was written here in Phnom Penh, after talking with some friends who were experiencing some intense and scary nights. Many thanks to Nashville musician, Hetty, for her voice and guitar talents!

My hope is that these lyrics, excerpted from Psalm 23, Psalm 91, 1 John 4, and Romans 8, would bring deep peace and rest to the people of God, scattered around the world.

You can download a free MP3 through this link.

— Jonathan T.

All the hosts of heaven are shouting
At the victory he’s won.
All of hell continues to tremble
At the love of God above.

 

The Key to Being a Human Christian

I love the Psalms.

In my work as a pastoral counselor and occasional preacher, I talk about them a lot. The hope is that by developing an awareness of the Psalms, folks would feel free to start feeling their feelings, talking about their feelings, and perhaps even talking to God about their feelings. That would be a good thing.

But I didn’t know I talked about them this much. As is evident by the lists below, I’ve talked and sung and written a bunch about the Psalms. And I’m not stopping.

Because although the Psalms do not help us to become super Christians, the Psalms do in fact help us to become human Christians. And the world (and global missions) needs as many of those types as we can get…

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Articles
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement (part 1)

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement (part 2)

A Missionary’s Call to the Psalms and Deeper Emotional Intelligence

Some thoughts on how to combine the Psalms with Discovery Bible Studies and inner healing ministries.

Here’s a three-minute video showing one way to interface with the Psalms. You can read more on this method here.

 

Podcasts/Sermons
Despair is Where Hope Lives (Psalm 130)

Pilgrim Songs (Psalms 120-124)

On Peace, Busyness, and Remembering that I’m Not God (Psalm 131)

Teleporting, Editing, and Borrowing (Psalm 31)

On Rest, Loss, and Revenge (Psalm 3)

The Posture of God (Psalm 116)

Psalms – Songs for our time

 

Songs
Follow Close (Psalm 63)

 

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby (Psalm 23, Psalm 91)

 

Psalm 13

 

One Thing I Ask (Psalm 27)

Let the River Run

by Elizabeth

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Only two songs have ever won all three major awards (Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy) while being composed, written, and performed by a single artist. Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” the theme from the 1988 film “Working Girl,” was the first to do so.

Now, a few others have received all three awards but were co-written. One of those songs was Howard Shore’s, Fran Walsh’s, and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West,” the final song of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and an absolute family favorite. “Into the West” speaks to something so deep and true, so simultaneously melancholic and hopeful, that it’s no wonder it won all three awards.

But anyway, back to “Let the River Run.” I first heard the song not from the movie, but from my junior high choir director Mrs. Chaney (whom you may remember from last week’s musical contemplations). Simon described her song as an “anthem with a jungle beat.” And indeed it was the sound that first drew me in, not the density of the lyrics — lyrics I could not possibly have comprehended fully at the time.

Even so, something in those words was stretching out and reaching for me. And I think it’s safe to say that, having won all those awards, the song spoke to deep, cracking places inside a lot of people. Of course there are layers of meaning here — some more material, some more spiritual.

And I’m still not sure I understand the song in its entirety, but I understand bits of it. I know it’s about dreams and desires. I know it’s about longing and risk. I know it’s about waking up and about waking up others. I don’t think you have to understand every part of the song anyway. It’s not necessarily for understanding but — like all art — for feeling.

Speaking of art, you all know I am no artist; I cannot even draw stick figures. But this semester I found myself teaching an art class in our home school coop. (In actuality, I’m substituting for the real art teacher until she gets back into town.) I love numbers, patterns, and designs, so I figured we could explore the intersection of math and art together.

In preparing for this class I used some old material but also sought out new material. One of the new art projects I stumbled upon was the Pi Sky Line. While the New York City skyline (complete with Twin Towers) is the setting for the song “Let the River Run,” the Pi Sky Line is a city skyline whose building heights are based on the first 30 digits of pi.

Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. And it’s an irrational number, which means its decimals go on and on forever, never terminating and never repeating. There are no patterns to its digits, and there is no end either: it is infinity captured in a single number.

After you create your sky line, you paint or draw a background for it. And bringing this conversation full circle here, I knew I could not draw any background but Van Gogh’s night sky: “The Starry Night.” It was a painting I first encountered in Mrs. Chaney’s class. And this photo is the finished product. For me it is the intersection of art, music, math, literature and, most importantly, my soul in motion.

Educational thinker Charlotte Mason said, “Education is the science of relations,” and each week Mrs. Chaney assigned us a “Connection” paper. We had to connect something in her class to something in the rest of our lives. Every week we did this. She may not have known of Charlotte Mason’s century-old philosophy, but she knew that brain science supported the idea of interdisciplinary studies. Maybe that’s why, all these years later, the soundtrack of her class is still playing in my life.

Let the river run,
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise,
The morning lights
The streets that meet them,
And sirens call them on
With a song.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,
Running on the water,
Coming through the fog,
Your sons and daughters.

We the great and small
Stand on a star
And blaze a trail of desire
Through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
The sky is the color of blue
You’ve never even seen
In the eyes of your lover.

Where does the love of God go?

by Elizabeth

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Sometimes I need to remind myself that I believe in the love of God. And sometimes when I need to do that, I listen to Gordon Lightfoot. I first heard Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in Mrs. Chaney’s junior high music class. Mrs. Chaney was an ex-hippie who brought her love of 1970’s music into the classroom and subsequently taught me to love it as well (thus preparing me for life with a man whose mother loved that music too, but died young).

It is quite literally impossible to overstate how much Mrs. Chaney’s 7th and 8th grade music classes formed me both musically and personally (and she probably never knew this; but neither did my 10th grade British Literature teacher – so music, art and literature teachers, take heart).

It was Mrs. Chaney who taught us that “religious music is always the best music” and who had us singing religious music at our public school concerts. It was Mrs. Chaney who, after we’d spent hours and hours practicing and performing choral music with her, played us her favorite 70’s songs, handed us the lyrics, and had us sing along.

It was from Mrs. Chaney that I first heard Don McLean’s “Vincent,” along with the radical idea that suicide only happens to people who suffer from mental illness. (That’s radical for a girl whose religious culture considered suicide to be an unforgiveable sin.) And it was in her classes that I began a lifelong love affair with the song and with Van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting, a painting scientists later determined was a true artistic rendering of the scientific principles of fluid mechanics.

It was with Mrs. Chaney that I sang the Holocaust remembrance song “I Believe in the Sun.” It was she who arranged for girl who knew sign language to sign during performance, moving the audience to tears (a phenomenon I didn’t understand at the time). And it was with her that I first heard “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I was immediately captured by its sound: the beautiful, haunting sound that’s woven into so many of our family’s favorite songs. The story stayed with me too, the tragic true story of a ship and crew lost to storm in the American Great Lakes.

Over the years I nearly forgot the song and the story, but one day I discovered how to google song lyrics and found it again. During one particularly sad season in my life, I purchased it. I still listen to it when I’m sad. I listen to it when I want to transport myself back to the simplicity of warm spring days in Mrs. Chaney’s music classes. And I listen to it when I want to remind myself why I believe in the love of God.

This is the way I do it. I listen to the entire tragedy, waiting for the 5th verse that asks, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” And I place myself in the shoes of the 29 men on board who knew they were going to die together, and then I place myself in the shoes of their families back on shore, who didn’t. And then I wonder “what if” along with the musician: what if this terrible thing hadn’t happened? And I swallow a lump in my throat and stay quiet for a bit.

The last time I did this, one of my children asked me where I first heard that song, and I told them the whole story the way I just told you. I told them: I listen to this song to remind myself why I believe in God’s love. I listen to it to remember that when bad things happen — and they do happen, all the time — when bad things happen, where is the love God? Is it still there? Or has it gone away?

It might be a personal loss or a tragedy back home or a tragedy here in my host country or somewhere else in the world. Truly, there’s so much tragedy to choose from. Regardless of the loss, I know I can listen to this song and somehow remember and believe that God’s love is still here and is still real. That God is still good and God is still love. I always cry at that point in the song, and I always remember that the love of God is really all I have to hold on to. I know that if I don’t keep my belief in the love of God, I would be lost. I would have nothing left.

So even when I don’t understand – and I mostly don’t understand – the love of God has not vanished. It is not buried at the bottom of the sea like so many ships. It is still present, in the midst of us. It still survives, though millennium of loss piles on millennium of loss. For me “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” gives voice to sadness but mysteriously brings me to a place of remembering God’s goodness. It helps me stand in the cruel face of tragedy, whether mine or someone else’s, and reminds me that no, God’s love has not gone away. Even though I can’t always see it or feel it, the love of God is still here among us.

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A Spiritual Warfare Lullaby

Greater is He
Greater is he who is in me,
Than the one who’s in the world

There is no power in Heav’n or hell or earth
That can ever separate me
From the love of God our Father
From the love of God above

Like a Good Shepherd he leads me
Besides waters still and calm
In the presence of all of my enemies
Still the presence of God above

I will not fear the terror
Of the day or the night
For I know my Father is with me
In the dark he is my Light.

All the hosts of Heaven are shouting
At the victory he’s won
All of Hell continues to tremble
At the love of God above

A Trotter Christmas: articles from years past plus favorite books and songs for Advent and beyond

We celebrated Thanksgiving as a family, our tree is up, and the new church year (Advent) starts tomorrow. I am in a merry mood and want to share our very best Christmas articles from the archives plus my very favorite Advent and Christmas songs, both relatively unknown ones and timeless, cherished ones. I hope you enjoy my “grown-up Christmas list.” ~Elizabeth

 

BLOG POSTS

When Singing “Joy to the World” Feels Too Hard by Elizabeth. If you’re mourning or grieving this Christmas, that’s OK. Skip the other posts and read this one instead.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any by Jonathan. More for the hurting among us, and a reminder of what Christmas is really all about.

The Tree That Tells Our Story by Elizabeth. Does your Christmas tree tell the story of your family. A post especially for Third Culture Kids and global nomads.

I Need a Silent Night by Elizabeth. Do you need some soul rest or some unrushing this Christmas season? If so, this one’s for you.

When God Paid for Christmas by Elizabeth. Still one of my very favorite Christmas stories. It was the year money was tight and God gave us Christmas anyway.

In Search of Christmas Spirit (or, an ode to Christmases past and present) by Elizabeth. About our first Christmas overseas. Also for Third Culture Kids and Global Nomads.

A Christmas Prayer by Jonathan. A beautiful prayer for the universal church of Jesus Christ.

He Unbreaks It by Elizabeth. This one looks back on Christmas from the perspective of Epiphany (Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas).

 

ADVENT SONGS

When I talk about “Advent,” I’m referring to the period of four weeks in which we prepare for Christmas. It memorializes the long wait for the Christ Child thousands of years ago and is reminiscent of our current wait for the return of our King. A lot of Advent songs have a minor sound, as there is longing and ache in the wait (and you know I love that minor sound).

Ready My Heart by Lois Shuford, performed by Steve Bell. I learned this song two years ago from a missionary friend who led it during a Christmas service. Short, but I think you will find the message and melody sticks around in your head and on your voice. Here are the lyrics.

Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, translated from the Latin by John Mason Neale. This is an absolute favorite of mine. Don’t cheat yourself of the theology in this song — you really must sing all the verses (you can find them here). Musically speaking, our family favorite is Aaron Shust’s version.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, by Charles Wesley and Rowland Prichard and performed by Chris Tomlin. Another favorite pre-Christmas song of mine.

 

CHRISTMAS SONGS

Little Drummer Boy by Katherine Kennicott Davis and performed by Pentatonix. Every time I hear this song I am a puddle of tears. Every time, people. At least, every time since we were in the States three years ago and the preacher at our sending church mentioned it in a sermon and shed a new light on it for — specifically the “I have no gift to bring.” I’d always liked the song, but now I love the song. Now my children look at me a little cross-eyed whenever this song plays, and I can’t for the life of me explain in understandable terms why I cry so hard. I think it is just that at this stage of my life, I feel and know deeply that I have nothing to give the Savior — nothing in myself — but I will give what little I can. And the promise of the song is that God is pleased with us when we give what little we can. OK, no more philosophizing, just go experience the song. Again and again.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Gloucester Cathedral Choir.  A friend sent this to me last year. It may not be completely historically accurate (it wasn’t that cold in Bethlehem), but it’s metaphorically accurate and oh, isn’t it beautiful?

Who Would have Thought by Julie Meyer. A beautiful worship song, and I love it. There’s no listing of the lyrics anywhere, but here’s the back story to this song.

Do You Hear What I Hear by  Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker. I’ve loved this song vaguely since childhood, as my mom played a version of it. But it’s only been in the last couple years have I truly understood the message of the last verse.

Vicit Agnus Noster by Michael Card. Beautiful and — as is par for the course with a Card song — deeply theological.

Mary Did You Know by Mark Lowry, performed here by Kenny Rogers and Wynona Judd. A favorite from childhood.

Welcome to our World Chris Rice. A little off the beaten path, but good.

Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  A family favorite.

Carol of the Bells by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Another family favorite.

Emmanuel God With Us by Amy Grant. The album this song comes from is a family favorite. Ethereal and prophetic.

For Unto Us a Child is Born, from Handel’s Messiah and sung by Amy Grant.

Which brings me to my last linked song, Hallelujah Chorus. You really need to listen to Handel’s Messiah in its fullness, but for many this chorus is synonymous with Christmas and with the entire work. Something to remember about this chorus, though, is that you have to sit two-thirds of the way through the program to get to this triumphant song. Victory always involves waiting. For me this song represents the “now and not yet” reality of the kingdom, and though I cry over the beautiful partial fulfillment of these words, I still cry in longing of the full and final redemption of this world.

Other favorite carols of mine (though I’ve hardly ever met a carol I didn’t like):

  • What Child is This? (oh look, another minor song, for which you really must sing all the verses)
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (yes, more minor, and more gospel reminders)
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (for a full effect, all the verses are necessary)
  • Oh Holy Night (in which I break my minor streak, and in which you must also sing all the verses)
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing (again, all the verses)
  • Of course I also love Silent Night and The First Noel — but you have to sing all the verses to those too.
  • And finally, people, I love Joy to the World, but for goodness sakes, WAIT to sing it till Christmas morning. You must absolutely must wait for the joy. Otherwise it’s silliness. And when you sing it on Christmas morning, you gotta sing all 4 verses, people, all four verses.

Share your favorite songs in the comments.

 

BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS AND THE CHURCH YEAR

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I grew up on this story, and this year I decided to read it aloud to our kids. Plus, we are going to see an international high school production of the play next week!

The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I am relatively new to the church year, and this book walked me through it this past year. Kimberlee’s prose is friendly, fresh, and rooted. I continue to rave about several sections, including Easter and the Transfiguration. You really do need the paperback version, though, as it’s an all year by-my-side type of book. Kindle won’t cut it here.

Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. Walking through the church year with Kimberlee was so good that I knew I wanted to walk through it with someone else (but I’ve got Kimberlee’s book near so I can grab it when I want to). I’d been exposed to Guite’s poems (sonnets, really) and read enough of them on his website that I knew Guite was just the teacher I needed to walk me through the church year this year. The book is a cycle of 70 sonnets for the church year. I was going to wait until the first day of Advent (first day of the church year) to crack open the poems, but I cheated and read the prologue out loud (the only way poetry is supposed to be read of course) last week and then immediately burst into tears. I thought, this is going to be a good year.

The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle. I enjoy Madeleine’s (rambling) prose and plan to read this book alongside Malcolm’s. It’s arranged by section of the church year, just like Kimberlee’s.

Share your favorite church year resources in the comments.

 

FAVORITE FAMILY CHRISTMAS MOVIES

The Muppet Christmas Carol. A classic, and a family favorite. This story always gets me in the Christmas mood. This year I’m going to go further than the movie and read the actual book. Probably out loud and in a British accent.

The Nativity Story. I don’t care if you think this version is not historically accurate enough, it is emotive and beautiful and true to the spirit of the story.

It’s a Wonderful Life. This is an absolute Hunzinger family favorite. We watched it every Christmas Eve growing up, and waited till our Christmas Eve showing to crack open the big flavored popcorn tin under the tree. But you must watch it in black and white. It’s silly to watch it in color.

My kids and I also enjoy Elf and White Christmas (a family favorite on Jonathan’s side).

Share your favorite Christmas movies in the comments.

When fear strikes at night, here’s something you can do

by Elizabeth

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I was talking with a friend recently when the subject of fear came up – specifically, nighttime fears. And all of a sudden I remembered the nameless, faceless fears of my early twenties. These were the fears that were irrational and nonspecific, feelings more than words. I didn’t always know what I was afraid of, I just knew I was afraid and couldn’t sleep.

Back then, all I knew to do was to sing the name of Jesus, over and over again, until I fell asleep. I had a few songs on repeat in my head. Later I would sing those same songs over my babies as I rocked them. This practice became so much a part of who I was that I didn’t consciously think about it as a weapon for fighting fear until I was in the middle of this recent conversation.

As we were talking, my friend said, “It’s like singing yourself a lullaby. We sing lullabies over our children, why wouldn’t we sing them over ourselves?” That was such a great description of the practice. So I’m going to share with you my lullabies. They’re calming to me but may not do anything for you. However, I think it’ll give you a starting point to find (or remember) your own evening songs.

The first and main song is one we used to sing in college with our friends. This version sounds fairly close to the way we used to sing together. I used to sing the “Jesus” chorus over and over to myself till I calmed down and fell asleep. There’s something so powerful about lifting your eyes up, away from your problems and even away from petitions for help, and focusing on the name of JESUS.

Here’s another one that helped me, though I can’t find any music for it anywhere. It was written by a lady in our Church of Christ circles who sang in a group called Free Indeed:

“Lord give me peace,
I’m feeling all alone,
calm my spirit,
still my mind,
fill my heart with peace.”

It had a really simple melody that I learned one Saturday morning from my youth minister’s wife. She used it when she needed peace and patience as a mama of young children; I used it at night when I couldn’t sleep.

And this last one might seem kind of strange, so bear with me. In middle school choir we sang a song set to words that had been scrawled on a cellar wall during WWII’s Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God, even when He is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying ‘Hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.'”

The melody and the lyrics are both haunting, and the song has stayed with me all these years. It gives me comfort – though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s when I’m in the dark, alone and afraid, that I need its message most. And it represents the undaunted faith I want to pass on to my children.

I was only 12 when I first learned the song, so I couldn’t understand the full soul-depth of its cries, but I remember watching people in the audience weep as we performed it. Now I know why they were crying. They were living in – or had lived in – a world where the sun wasn’t shining, a world where God was silent, a world where it seemed no one was there. Yet they still wanted to believe.

The version below is the closest I could find to the song I learned:

These days, I rely more on the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” for peace and calm. Many years ago in a ladies’ Bible class I listened to one woman talk about how her mentor had taught her to center herself with the “Doxology” when she felt anxious. (Did you catch that? That was a long stream of women passing on wisdom that I’m now passing on to you.) So now in times of stress, I tend to fall back on:

“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”

And this:

“Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World without end
Amen, amen.”

If you’ve never sung to yourself at night, I hope this post gives you a new weapon for fighting fear and anxiety. The songs that speak to you in the middle of the night may be different from the ones that speak to me, but I pray you can find your own nighttime lullabies and start singing yourself to sleep.

If you already sing away your nighttime fears, consider blessing someone else by sharing your own songs in the comments.