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Alan’s Blog » 2007 »

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05.25.07

In Praise of Prayer Warriors

Posted in Random Musings at
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1:05 am


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There shouldn’t be much controversy over this essay. I’ve often said that the
greatest advances of the kingdom of God, haven’t been made by the biggest
talkers. Every work and word given for the Lord, every silent witness; all of
these add up, and they all play their role, along with other acts of kindness
and Christian grace. It’s amazing when you think of it…so many times, little
and seemingly insignificant things have been used by God to build His church,
encourage a believer, and, well, advance His kingdom.

The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that it’s prayer that God listens to;
it’s prayer that moves His heart, that has at times made Him change His mind.
“The effectual, fervant prayer of the righteous avails much….” It has been
true for a long time. It still is.

It’s nearing midnight, and I just flew in this evening after a 15-day run to the
Bahamas. I probably should be trying to sleep, but I think I need to write this
while everything’s still fresh in my mind. I need to tell you about a man - my
dear friend - who has been a tremendous influence for good in my life. I said
goodbye to him last night, and even though it had been five years since I was
last with him, we tend to pick up where we last left off, every time I see him.

Hs given name is Hartmann, but I think it was a couple of years after I met him,
that I realized that. His nickname is “Happy”. Hartmann “Happy” Brice, and he
lives in Nassau. Happy isn’t a wealthy man in material things, but in the things
that matter, he’s richer than most. While we were together this trip, I took the
opportunity to question Happy about some things; both to refresh my mind, but
also to ensure accuracy. Happy doesn’t know that I’m writing this, and probably
never will unless someone tells him. If you see him, please don’t tell him? I don’t
want to embarrass my friend. Or rob him of his reward one day.

This is Happy’s 50th anniversary year. Not in his marriage to Sinador, his still -
beautiful wife, but rather, in his prison ministry. Happy is the somewhat unof-
ficial Chaplain to the death row inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison in Nassau, a
foreboding place known as Fox Hill. Every Sunday, as soon as the worship ser-
vice is over, Happy and my friend Billy Lowe quietly slip out and head to the
prison. He told me a few days after I arrived, that there are nine men guilty
of murder who are on death row there at present. Through all of those years,
they’ve had the joy and honor of pointing a number of the condemned men to
the Lord. You didn’t know about this until now, but the Lord has had His eye
on this gracious man of enormous dignity for a long time. Happy has told me
of the day when two men were hanged, and they invited him to witness
their last moments. One of the men sang as the noose was put around his
neck, and he asked Happy to join him. Happy said that he did the best that
he could despite his tears; together they sang of the Lord, and moments
later - in large measure because of an unassuming, sweet, and intensely Godly
man named Happy Brice - a murderer crossed Jordan ahead of his Chaplain.
Like the thief on the cross alongside of Jesus, an unlikely saint entered Heaven;
from the gallows and into glory. Grace is an awesome thing, isn’t it?!

I live in awe of the Happy Brices of the world. They do what they do without
applause, at least not down here. They do it constrained by stronger bonds
than any prisoner has ever known. I’m not a prisoner, thank the Lord, but my
life has been touched by him daily. Every day. For 28 years now. More than
half of my life. Happy began his prison work 50 years ago, when he was 26.
Two-thirds of his life ago. There’s a history there.

Our family first visited Nassau when I gave a concert there in 1979. After
that first visit, we were added to Happy’s prayer list. A few years later, we
came back, and had prayer cards - rectangular cards with our family photo
on it in color, our address and phone number, etc. Happy evidently took one.
Every day since, he has prayed for each member of our family, by name.
Every day. If he “only” prayed for us once a day, that’s nearly 10,250 times
that he has brought us before the throne of the God of the universe. But,
Happy would tell you that often through many days since then, he has also
prayed for us. I asked him how it had been during Carol’s illness, and then
after she left us. I knew the answer before I asked the question, but some
part of me wanted to hear the answer. “Many times each day, my beloved”
was Happy’s answer. On some nights, he never slept at all, worrying for us
on one hand, and on the other, committing us to the One Who cares. As
we talked, I mentioned that the apostle Paul seemed to have a stream of
consciousness of prayer; how “day and night”, he lived in an attitude of
prayer. God would bring people, churches, problems, rumors across that
amazing mind, and when He did, Paul would pray. With a humility that can’t
be properly expressed here, Happy simply said “Yes. It works that way”. I
actually know a man who prays like Paul did. How much more fortunate can
a person be?! And best of all, amongst hundreds of others, he prays for me,
and us. My life has been incredibly enriched by knowing him. The little min-
istry that God has given me, and us, has been made effective to whatever
degree that it has, in part because a lovely, Christlike man in Nassau, had
the thought of praying for us one night a lot of years ago.

Happy arises each morning at or before 4:00. First he reads his well-worn
Bible for a while. And then when God has given him something new, Happy
begins to pray. He goes around the world in his prayers. Seriously! When he
worked, as a shade-tree mechanic, (literally) he would only begin to work
the job to support his wife and children when everyone else had been com-
mended to the Lord first. Including us.

I feel that men and women like Happy Brice are what will make eternity as
long as it will be, in part. It’ll take that long to thank them. And now, I need
to turn the tables on him if I may. This is one of the reasons why I ask that
none of you ever share this with my dear friend. Please?

In one of life’s most cruel ironies, Happy’s son Ephraim is a prisoner right now
in Her Majesty’s Prison at Fox Hill, Nassau. Three and a half long years is his
sentence. Please don’t ask me to explain this in the grand scheme of life. It’s
beyond my ability to understand things like this. Happy says that Ephraim is
doing well, despite having to learn some of life’s lessons in the hardest of ways.
My heart breaks for Happy, Sinador, and their family. And for Ephraim. Despite
my decision to hide the comments that my little writings have elicited, I know
that you’re reading these, all around the world. May I ask a favor? Can we all
begin praying for all of the Brice’s, and especially Ephraim, every day from now
onward? He - and they - have earned that right.

And then, there’s Nona Williams, of Pittsboro, NC. Nona’s 94 now, and her mind
is still amazingly sharp. So is her prayer life. Three times a day, for over 20
years, she has prayed for me, and us. Before every meal she has eaten. And
so many others who do read what I’m writing. You know who you are, and in
many instances, I do too. I won’t embarrass you by listing your names. But
above all, God knows.

The hymnwriter said it best: “Prayer is the Christian’s native air; the Christian’s
vital breath.” “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire - uttered or unexpressed. That
motion of a hidden fire, that burns within the breast.” So true. And yet, I fear
that the prayer warriors are a dying breed. Am I wrong?

Many churches feel fortunate if 35% of their Sunday numbers are represented
at midweek prayer meetings - assuming they still have one. As I think of these
profound saints, who have touched the throne of God on our behalf, one thing
the majority of them share in common is that they aren’t kids anymore! Are any
younger ones today inheriting the passion and devotion that is needed to be a
real warrior of prayer? Prayer always has been, and it always will be, the key -
the secret, to advancing the kingdom. My fear is that fewer are praying - really
praying, in the hour when we need it most. WE need it as individuals, our families
need prayer, our churches, our schools, and our governmental leaders. Leaders
in local churches stand in the gap, dealing weekly with situations that are far
larger than they feel capable of ever handling. And in every one of these areas,
one thing rises above all others in need and in effectiveness: prayer.

It’s now 2:03 am. Several things have taken my attention since I began writing
this. I’m pretty tired right now. I’ve been on the go since 5:30 this morning. And
yet, all I can think of is a man in Nassau; a man of deep spiritual passion and an
amazing human dignity, who’s probably asleep right now. I hope he is. In two
and a half hours or so, he’ll be up, and after he reads his beloved Bible for a
while, he’ll begin to pray.

For me.

For his beloved son.

And ours will be two names that he once again breathes into the ear of God.

Thank you, Hartmann…Happy. My dear friend. Until He thanks you far better
than I ever can here, thank you. And now I need to pray for you. And for
Ephraim. For continued strength and health for you. For Nona, and for many
others. I need you all to be around for a while longer. For when your prayers
cease, and your lips are silenced, I have this fear that you may not be replaced.
Dear Lord, please prove me wrong. That’s my big prayer for tonight.

Blessings, friends…

Alan


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05.16.07

How Everything First Began

Posted in Random Musings at
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10:44 am


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I’m writing from Nassau, where some terrible storms have caused my laptop to
be off and unplugged a fair bit over the last days. Still, it’s so good to be back
here, and to see some dear friends for the first time in about 5 years.

You might be thinking from the title of this essay, that I’ll be writing about our
music. But no, I’m not. For anyone to sing Christian music, or to share from God’s
Word, there has to be a spiritual start, and that’s before me today.

My brother Lindsay and I had the inestimable privilege of being raised in a
Christian home. While that’s an honor that we’ll forever be thankful for, that
alone won’t change a person. Thousands have had the same upbringing, and
have turned their backs on the timeless truths that were learned from infancy.
But, our parents set and maintained an atmosphere in our home where the
Gospel was always preeminent, and they didn’t rest until both of us also knew
the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior, and then they taught us how to serve
Him, and others. Lin accepted the Lord about 6 months before I did, and one
fact never left me - if the Lord returned to the air, and gathered His church
to Him at the Rapture, I alone would be left behind for certain judgement. And
that, my friends, brought terror to my heart. Growing up in our parents’ home,
I say again, these Biblical truths were never far from me. We attended a small
gathering of Christians where the same principles and truths were expressed
continually. I’ve often wondered if these truths were learned at home and
reinforced when we gathered in that local church, or vice-versa. Regardless,
they never left the forefront of consciousness.

We learned some things that are still the same today: We’re born in sin,
posessing a sin nature that we cannot shed. The older we’d get, the easier
it became to rationalize and justify our sin and sins. We learned that every
sin-those that we think, say, or do - are recorded by a holy and righteous
God. We came to grasp a slightly more difficult principle, that the things
that we were supposed to do, and didn’t, were also sins. Sins of commission,
sins of omission. We sang a chorus in Sunday School that had this as a last
line - “My God is writing all the time”. It was a graphic reminder of how often
I sinned.

Gradually, the Holy Spirit dealt with my conscience, and convicted me of all
of this. There were times when I wanted desperately to be saved from my
sin, but I would then decide to put it off…”Some other day”, I’d say within.
And all along, my parents and so many others, prayed for me. The older I
get, the more I thank God for prayer warriors, who brought me before God’s
throne, intercessing for my salvation.

Everything came to a head in February, of 1966. See, my big brother often
“tattled” on me! And one of his friends’ parents told Lin what she’d seen me
doing one Saturday, when I was out with my friends. Lin told my parents,
and on Saturday, the 5th of February, I received a punishment from my Dad
that I can still feel! More than likely, my first overriding emotion was anger
and resentment at Lin for squealing, but I think I’ve forgiven him since. :-)
That night, for the very first time, it hit me hard…I wasn’t just sinning in my
rebellion against my parents, and the things they prayed for for me; the Spirit
of God showed me that ultimately, I was sinning against God. My friends and
I had been testing the waters of dangerous things, and while I knew how
wrong they were when I did them, the thrill of the forbidden was a strong
draw. But that night, alone in my room, the weight of it all about crushed
me. I never slept a wink that night; the lights were on all night, I read my
Bible, tried to pray, and never seemed to get peace. I’ve often said that it
was the worst night of my life. To digress for a bit, when Carol was sick, and
then after she died, I’ve had some more terrible nights. But, they were
different than that Saturday night. With Carol, as desperate as those nights
of human fears were, there was always the hope at the end. But that
February night, alone in my room, any thought of hope was absent. I was
lost, spiritually…alone, at risk. What was even worse, was that I thought
I knew the plan of God’s salvation so well, that I could receive His free gift
any time I wanted. But not that night! I was simply lost, at the bottom of
the well, and there seemed to be no help for me.

The next day dawned, and as always, we went out to meet with the
Christians. During the worship service, for perhaps the first time, I listened
to every single word. My focus that day was intense. All I wanted in life was
to know that my sins were forgiven, and that I would know that if I died, or
if the Lord returned to the air, I’d be with Him forever, and never again have
to worry about an eternity in a real Hell. That day, a tall Irishman who live in
Guthrie, OK, came as a visiting speaker. His name was Thomas (Tom)
McCullough, and it was his first and only Sunday to ever visit us there. On
Sunday evening, he spoke in the Gospel. I’ve wanted to know what Scripture
he read from that day, ever since. I even asked him afterwards once, if he
remembered what his message was that evening, but he didn’t. I do remember
one story that he told, about three boys in Iowa. A 17 year-old boy had
accepted Christ as his Savior during services that Mr. McCullough had there,
but his 15 year-old brother and cousin, who were being prayed for like I was,
had finished the evangelistic meetings still without Christ. One day the three
young men had had a cookout in a metal storage building that didn’t offer
sufficient ventilation. And soon, all three were overcome with the smoke.
The older boy, who was now a believer, did all that he could to get the metal
door open, and told his brother and cousin that he wanted them to try and
get out first, since they weren’t ready to die. And, in time, I guess he did
force the door open. The two 15 year-old boys escaped and survived, but
the older boy died. I remember Mr. McCullough pointing his finger across the
audience, as he asked if perhaps there might be a young girl or a young boy
listening, who, if they died, would have no hope of entering God’s Heaven. It
was like I was the only person in the audience. I now know that his thoughts
and words were directed entirely by the Holy Spirit, but that night, I was
riveted to my seat. I remained there even after the service was finished.
And, while most of the believers went downstairs to pray for me, I sat up
front with “Uncle Tom”. He read many verses from the Bible, all of which I
knew. He asked me pointed questions, and I could answer them all. Finally,
he looked at me, and said “Son, you know enough Gospel to save the world.
All I can do for you is to pray for you.” On our knees, side-by-side, all I could
think was that this older, experienced man had given up on me, so there was
no hope for me. I had finally reached the end of self; that moment where it
hits you that there’s not any way to save yourself. He prayed, and I think I
surprised him, as I prayed. I don’t remember what I said, verbatim, but I do
know this; I told the Lord that I was a terrible sinner, and that I was sorry
for every one. I asked the Lord Jesus to forgive me, and I accepted Him as
my Savior. There were no fireworks, no bells and whistles when I came to
Christ and was saved; just a massive weight lifted off of young shoulders,
and a joy that has never been equalled in my life. I was born again…saved
…free from the penalty of sin. I was now a Christian! Not just in name, but
in reality. February 6th, now more than 41 years ago, at 9:40 pm. The day
when my life was forever changed. Now I have two birthdays; April 2, and
February 6! One was when I began human life, and the second, when I
received eternal life as a free gift.So many today believe that their good
works will win them God’s favor at the end of life. But, I need to ask - if
all a person must do is to be more good than they are bad, why did the
Lord Jesus have to die? Others believe that when He died on the cross
to forgive us from our sins, His death gave a blanket pardon for everyone
thereafter. But note His own words, from John’s Gospel, chapter 3, verse
16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son; that
whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” So
yes - there is salvation available to all…but the words quoted show the
need for each individual to have a very real time when they - personally,
and consciously - accept Christ as their Savior. And so, this all begs a
question: What about you? Have you ever had the time in your life when
you came to God the way He demands? Have you confessed your sin to
Him, and in repentance from sin, asked the Lord Jesus to forgive you, and
claimed for yourself the great salvation from sin that He has offered? That’s
my prayer, and why I write this. Every single true Christian, who has an
experience similar to mine, looks back on that event as the day everything
real and good, first began. We thrill to remember the day, even while we
realize that despite His moment-by-moment faithfulness to us, we’ve failed
Him so many countless times. Tom McCullough, on every letter I received
from him before He died, used to stamp just 3 words on the envelope flap,
in blue ink…”God Is Faithful”. And oh, He is! While we’re light-years away
from perfection, guess what - one day we will be! We have the total
certainty of eternal life with Him, and like Him, in Heaven. And please
believe me when I say that this sure certainty of hope allowed me to
say goodbye to my Mom, then my Dad, and a few weeks later, my
beloved Carol, with no despair. Yes - there was, and is, real sadness
and heartache brought by the separation of death. But overriding it all,
there is the certain, sure knowledge that one day, we’ll be reunited. You
may ask “Why?”

It’s all based on the fact that the Lord Jesus died, He was buried, and
He rose again on the third day. He proved His resurrection to many.
Hundreds saw Him, spoke with Him, and even touched Him. And 40 days
later, He ascended back to His Father in Heaven. Paul said that “If in this
life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor.
15:19) All of our hope, faith, Gospel, and a myriad of other beliefs, are
based on the reality of God’s great satisfaction with every aspect of the
work His Son did for us on the cross. And to prove His eternal satisfaction
with His sacrifice, He raised Christ from the dead.

This is the Gospel…the very best of news. It’s why people spend their
lives serving Him, sing of Him, speak of Him. For what God has freely given
to us in grace, He now offers to you. My prayer is that you’ll have the
same experience as I did, all of those years ago. Our lives will be different
before the moment of salvation, and we all walk different roads; but, we
must all arrive at the same place - His cross -and in faith, accept The Lord
Jesus as our Savior.

Oh - I should tell you this. Remember my friends, and our dabbling in
dangerous things? Well, there were eight of us, and we were inseparable.
Six of us never made it to the age of 30. Three died driving drunk, and
three died of drug overdoses. The seventh had made shipwreck of his life,
although I’ve lost contact with him now. And then, there’s me. Like every
other believer, a trophy of grace. The emphasis certainly isn’t on me as any
trophy…it’s all because of His grace. Amazing grace. It saved a wretch like
me. I once was lost, and now I’m found. I was spiritually blind, but now -
thank You Lord - I now can see.

Come. He’s still waiting, and His arms are still open to receive any who
come. Come, He says; “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest”. (Matt. 11:28)

Blessings…

Alan


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05.08.07

The Thing About Music

Posted in Random Musings at
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3:08 pm


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Often I’m asked an interesting question: “Of all of the albums you’ve released through the years, which one is your favorite?” I always have to smile. A number of times people have fine-tuned the question a bit, and asked me which has been my all-time favorite song. I still have to smile, even though this is an easier question to answer. Admittedly, these questions both go to the personal, but they underscore what has me thinking aloud right now.

Music is many things. I feel that it’s unique to mankind, actually. And, as such, since Genesis 1:26 tells us that only man has been made “in the image and glory of God”, then it must follow that God loved music enough to pass along to us a uniquely special gift. Music stirs the emotions; one minute it can bring us to our feet with hearts soaring, and five minutes later, it may have stirred us to tears. King David was calmed by it, a captive Israel sang it in mourning. The Lord Jesus, as His last action prior to the final scene unfolding before Golgotha, stood up from that upper room table, and with His disciples, sang the Hillel. The Revelation tells us that the saints of all of the ages, led by His church, will join together in a chorus unlike any that earth has ever heard, in triumphant exultation of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. We do music a diservice, ignore history, and negate much of prophesy, when we say that music isn’t all that important.

I’m a speaker and a singer. I’ve always felt that I have the best of both worlds. Over the last 39 years, I’ve had the honor and responsibility to stand before around 12,500 audiences on every continent of the world. In the past 18 years, I have spoken from the Word much more than I’ve sung truths contained in it. And yet, between phone calls, letters, e-mails, and things said to me in person, the remarks concerning my music have outnumbered any comments on my speaking, by at least a 20:1 margin. Frankly, it’s probably much higher than that. No one can ever convince me that music isn’t a huge part of the fabric of the Christian’s life. Someone once rather wisely said that music gets the people to stop and listen; preaching brings them in the door. The more I think about it, I really am blessed…the best of both worlds.

Having said that, music is also highly subjective. Beyond music theory, there’s not much about music that can be discussed objectively. There are musical genres that I like more than others. And within the broad framework of any genre, there are particular songs that I like a lot more than others. And within that group, there are some songs that will minister to me every time I hear or sing them. Some songs will never be my favorites, even when someone whose artistry I greatly admire sings them. We’re all like that, aren’t we? And yet…and yet. Those songs that aren’t my favorites will be the very favorites of many other people, and vice-versa. So I’ll say it again…music is highly subjective. We need to realize that. You may be asking…why?

So here’s why. I’m fully convinced that the last great song wasn’t written 130 years ago. :-) I love the old hymns. Always have, and I always will. They’re timeless, and contain eternal truths set in glorious poetry, and often to phenomenal tunes. But for every 350 hymns that survived long enough to be in hymn books today, how many others were written and sung, only to fade away over time? The same holds true today. Many of today’s songs will fade over time, but I’m also completely convinced that, if the Lord hasn’t come, future generations will still be singing “Because He Lives”, “He Touched Me”, “Through It All”, “Majesty”, “Mary Did You Know?” and so many others. The reason why, is the same reason why the best of the best of older hymns are still on the Christians’ heart and lips…timeless lyrics, and grand tunes.

Personally, I like opening a CD and knowing every song as I listen to it for the first time. There’s a peculiar comfort in that. Yet, after a few listens, it fades for me, usually. Then there are the albums that make me work for things…perhaps 8 or 9 out of the 12 songs are new to me, and it’s vaguely uncomfortable the first time or two through it. And then, I’ll arrive at that moment every recording artist wishes for, when the tune becomes more familiar, and the lyrics begin to sink in…you’re part of the journey that the singer(s) first traveled. And over the next few listenings, gradually more and more opens up to you; concepts that escaped you at first, and some neat thought or harmony line jumps out at you, and you realize all over again, that God made no mistake when He gave us such a precious gift like music. The old saying is still true…music washes the dust of everyday living off of our soul. And it always works best when we give it a fighting chance. Maybe it’s time that we all first open our minds a bit more, and then our hearts, and allow the Lord to minister to us in new ways. After all, that’s what we’ll be able to do all through eternity, with a glorified and sinless heart…we’ll sing a new song then, and none of us will ever complain about a single aspect of the newness of that new song!

And, so that I don’t get a flood of e-mails, I’ll answer the questions of paragraph one. :-) Which is my favorite album out of all of them? May I answer a question with one…? Which is your favorite child, if you have more than one?! Each of the albums was, and is, special. Each was an accurate reflection of where I, or we, were right then. Each showcases songs that were enough of a blessing to us, that we wished to share them with others. “Hymns I Grew Up With” was the album that has opened almost every door for me, that I’ve been honored to have walked through, for over 30 years. It will always be a sentimental favorite, and so will “My Redeemer” be, since that was the song from that album that’s become my signature song. The “Day and Night” CD is my favorite because 8 of the songs were long-time concert favorites, that I finally got around to recording all at once. My newest album, “I Dream….” will always be special, because it came out of the desperate pain of losing the three dearest adults in my life, within a year and a half. It was the catalyst to finally reestablish my song, after so many months of musical silence. On and on I could go. So ultimately, here’s my answer: I don’t have a favorite album. They’re all my favorites. But as for a song, this one is easier. There are songs that I’ve sung almost every concert since I first learned them, and I love them to this moment. One will forever stand above all others, and it’s no real surprise. “My Redeemer, oh what beauties, in that lovely Name appear! None but Jesus in His glories, shall the honored title wear.
My Redeemer! My Redeemer! Thou hast my salvation wrought”. “When in Heaven I see His glory, When before His throne I bow, perfected - I shall be like Him; fully Thy redemption know. My Redeemer! My Redeemer! Then shall hear me shout His praise!”

So that will always be my favorite song. I’ve sung it in front of over 5800 audiences. And I have never tired of the tune or the lyrics…never once. Remember what Paul wrote, in Philippians 4:8;
“Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are admirable, whatever things are of good report, whatever things are of moral excellence, whatever things prompt praise, then think…meditate…dwell on these things.”

And remember this - some of these very things may just be contained in that new song that we have to struggle to like, or accept. It can be so very worth the effort. Tyrants have tried to quiet the believer’s song, yet the martyrs sang on while the flames grew and the arrows and bullets flew. And when their song on earth was finally silent, they sing on even now, in the very presence of the One they sang about down here.

Keep singing, friend…never lose the song!

Blessings,

Alan

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