Story Behind the Song (Christmas Version) – I Heard the Bells

I still can’t believe it’s December! Do you feel like this semester has just flown by?

Resound is playing Christmas music now. 🙂 So in honor of the season, today’s “Story Behind the Music” is focusing on a Christmas song.

“I Heard the Bells” was written in 1863 as a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Here’s an amazing, live rendition by Casting Crowns…

Song Credits: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – LIVE” by Casting Crowns

To find out more about this song, I went to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia:

Longfellow lost his second wife two years before writing this song. In 1863, his oldest son Charles joined the Union troops during the Civil War, leaving home without his father’s blessing. By November, Charles was wounded and no longer able to fight. So there’s no doubt that Longfellow was burdened with grief while writing these lyrics.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”

When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.

O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.

Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The imagery of peace in this song is so beautiful.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the craziness of the holiday season. Trying to find the perfect gifts. Attending Christmas parties. Finishing the semester well. Traveling.

My favorite words of this song are

O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice

So that’s the focus of today’s devotional. The key to finding peace in this busy time of year is taking the time to listen to God’s voice.

Sometimes, peace seems impossible. As we enter into finals week, you may be feeling overwhelmed with everything. Trust me, I get that feeling.

But even among the craziness of life, we can have peace. We can also share that peace with others by taking time to hear God’s still, small voice.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope the rest of your semester goes well.

What are your favorite lyrics from “I Heard the Bells”? Feel free to comment below.

-RaeAnn

 

Story Behind the Music: Scars by TobyMac

Video Credits: “Scars” by TobyMac

TobyMac just released his album The Elements last month. I highly recommend checking it out – every song is unique stylistically, but the album has an EDM feel of sorts.

Maybe you’ve heard “Scars” on Resound Radio and wondered what it’s about?

In a YouTube video, TobyMac says,

“The people I love the most are going out facing the pain, the struggle, and the temptation of this crazy world. I’m very aware of the scars that come with life’s journey. But sometimes we insulate those things from the ones we love.”

He goes on to say, “I wrote this one for my boy. I wanted to let him know that I’m here for him and that and that God is there for him. So lift your head up, my son, to where your help comes from.”

I’ll admit it. I’m a huge TobyMac fan and I probably have Internet-stalked him way too much. His oldest son is twenty and in college. It’s so easy to relate to the message of this song as a fellow college student.

Transitioning from being a “kid” to an “adult” is definitely a journey. College comes with more independence and life becomes so much different than what you’ve previously known.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed about change. Am I really following God’s path? Is this the right major/career to pursue? What if God calls me completely away from the place I’ve known for years?

And along the way, mistakes are going to happen. I showed up to a professor’s house for a party a week early! I completely misread the date. While it was super embarrassing at the time, I learned an important lesson from it.

Now I triple-check dates to make sure I’m at the right place at the right time.

Maybe you’ve made some mistakes along the way too.  Maybe some have left scars. But you don’t have to dwell in guilt or shame.

I absolutely love the chorus of this song:

You are not alone
We’ve all been there
Scars come with livin’
You are not alone
We’ve all been there (been there, been there, oh), oh
So lift your head, lift your head
Lift your head to where your help comes from
Yeah, you, you’re not alone
We’ve all been there
Scars come with livin’

Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV) says,

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lordwho made heaven and earth.”

Even though change in life can be intimidating, it’s so comforting to know that we don’t have to go through anything alone.

This world may leave scars. But God promises to never leave or forsake us. No matter where we go or how badly we mess up, He’s there.

What’s your favorite line from Scars? What verse helps you the most when you’re feeling overwhelmed or lonely?

Fear, You Don’t Own Me! – Thoughts on “The Breakup Song” by Francesca Battistelli

Song Credits: “The Breakup Song” by Francesca Battistelli

As a child, what were your biggest fears?

Maybe you were afraid of the dark or monsters. Maybe you were afraid of thunder. Or like me, maybe you were afraid of everything.

As we get older, most of the irrational fears fall by the wayside. At least, they probably should. But I’m honestly still afraid of Narnia and riding a bike.

Unfortunately, these childish fears are often replaced with other fears.

Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of losing people we love. Fear of the future. Fear of what people think.

Sometimes, fear keeps us from moving forward. Sometimes, fear keeps us from doing what God is calling us to do. Fear calls us to the comfortable; the familiar. Fear causes us to waste valuable time worrying over what we can’t control. Fear will get us nowhere in life.

As someone who greatly struggles with fear, I really appreciate Francesca Battistelli’s “The Breakup Song”.  You can hear this incredible song on Resound Radio, and feel free to check out the video above.

I love the idea of “breaking up” with fear.

In the chorus, she sings:
Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you telling me what I’m not
Like you know me, well guess what
I know who I am
I know I’m strong and I am free
Got my own identity
So fear, you will never be welcome here

Breaking up is definitely an emotional process. If you’ve ever been in a relationship that didn’t work out, you know the feelings involved.

Spring 2017, I thought for sure I was going to marry a coworker. He loved the 50s like I did. He was interested in radio. He was old-fashioned and respectful. He was great with customers. But he wasn’t a Christian. As it turns out, he only cared about himself and what he wanted.

We never moved past the “friends” stage, but I spent way too much time thinking about him, texting him, and inviting him to church or family dinners.  By last July, he stopped texting me and it became apparent he had moved on. While it hurt at the time, I’m so glad that this relationship didn’t work out. I was in the wrong frame of mind. I had become so absorbed in him and his hobbies that I forgot who I was. 

And you know what? Fear does the same thing. It seems comforting and welcoming at first, but ultimately traps us into forgetting who we are. 

Breaking up is hard to do. Some fears have had such a strong hold on us that it’s difficult to let them go. But with God’s help, it’s possible to be free from fear.

Our identity is not found in fear. It’s found in Christ. Under fear, we’re slaves. Under God, we’re free.

If you’re someone who struggles with fear like me, here are some amazing verses that can help us learn to trust God and not live under fear’s control.

  • For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” ~ Romans 8:15 (ESV)
  • For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. ~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~ John 14:27 (ESV)

What are some ways that you deal with fair? Do you think the “breakup” analogy works well in this case? I’d love to hear your thoughts and thanks so much for reading!

 

What Being Left Out Taught Me About Valuing People

Girl Alone in Corner

Have you ever had a time where you felt left out?

Maybe you were the only one not invited to a friend’s party. Maybe you didn’t make a sports team or audition, but your friends all did.

Let’s face it, rejection hurts. It’s not fun to be left out.

I’ve had so many times growing up where I was the only one. Believe it or not, my worst “left-out” experiences have been at church.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been the only one my age at church who actually came on a regular basis.

When I was 3, I was in a Sunday School class by myself. My teacher, Miss Sue, was the sweetest lady. She even made a blanket and pillow for my Sheepie, so that we would both be comfortable in her class. In Miss Sue’s class, I felt welcomed. I knew I was the only one and I kind of wanted others to come, but I liked the individual attention.

Fast-forward ten years, and my family switched churches. That was one of the most difficult times of my life. As someone who dreads change, this was a major transition.

At this new church, I was still the only one my age. The majority of the kids there were either two years older or two years younger.

For a while, I was lumped into class with the younger kids, but finally, kids my age started coming. We had a 7th-9th grade class and there were five of us in there on a good day.

Well, after a while, the other four drifted away. And week after week, month after month, I was the only one.

Now, being the only one didn’t bother me as much as the way this new teacher handled it.

She constantly made comments like “Nobody’s here” or “Why doesn’t anyone come to class?” right to my face. Every single class, she complained about who wasn’t there. I was the “nobody” that came.

It was like I didn’t exist.

There was never appreciation for the fact that I came faithfully. Just constant grumbling about how no one ever came. Even to this day, she acts like she did nothing wrong. She never realized how much she hurt me.

Talk about a slap in the face!

So for the longest time, I tried to make excuses so I could avoid going to church. I felt “sick” almost every week and tried to convince my church-faithful parents that we should skip Sunday School. Let’s just say, that didn’t happen.

After a few years, I was old enough to move to another class and new people around my age joined the church. Although no place is absolutely perfect, church became a lot better after leaving that negative class.

But this whole experience taught me a valuable life lesson: Every single person matters and wants to feel valued.

Even in youth group, the leaders would spend a whole night focused on how many people weren’t there and how we were failing to bring friends to church!

Yes, I think it’s important to invite friends. But, I think leaders should be appreciative of every single person who comes.

I’m sure it’s frustrating to put in a lot of effort and very few people show up. It probably makes the leaders feel like their time is being wasted.

But I don’t think it should. God’s message matters the same whether one person hears it or one million do.

In this day and age, I think we’re all focused on numbers. How many likes we get on Instagram, how many YouTube subscribers we have, how many people read our blog posts. I’m guilty of this too.

Trying to get a bigger following isn’t entirely wrong, but I do think we should be grateful for everyone who has been faithful and is choosing to view our content/ come to our class. Successful companies know the value of rewarding faithful employees and customers. If people aren’t being treated kindly, why would anyone else bother coming?

Since I know what it feels like to be treated like you don’t exist, I want to make sure that I go out of my way to make people feel welcome.

I hope to teach Sunday School one day and I eagerly await the day I have one student. I want to pour as much energy and passion into that beautiful soul as I would into a room of 100.

To God, we all matter. Not just collectively as human beings, but as individuals.

He even knows the number of hairs on our head! (Matthew 10:30). 

I absolutely love Psalm 139. If you ever feel left out or like no one cares, this is the chapter for you. You are so loved and valued by God!

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!”
~ Psalm 139:13-17 (NLT)

In all honesty, I don’t always do a good job of making people feel welcome. I get shy, I get comfortable, I fail. But I’m striving to love people like God loves them more and more.

So if you’re feeling left out or like you’re the only one, I want to encourage you that you matter SO MUCH. No matter what hurtful things people have said or done. You are so valuable and wonderful.

And sometimes God uses the most painful times we’ve had so that we can encourage others who’ve dealt with similar struggles.

Convictions – What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Basically, convictions are your personally-held beliefs that guide the way you live. 

In the Bible, there are definite rights, ie. love God, love your neighbors, treat others the way you want to be treated.

And there are definite wrongs, ie. don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t be jealous of what other people have.

The Bible is 100% accurate and perfect in every way and is the ultimate guide to life. But it does not always spell out exactly what to do in every situation.

It’s like the U.S. Constitution. Everything in it is true and relevant, but it requires interpretation in cases not specifically covered in the law.

Sometimes church denominations will hold certain convictions that they expect their members to follow, like abstaining from alcohol or requiring women to wear dresses and have long hair.

But I truly believe that convictions are personal.

The ultimate purpose of convictions are to keep yourself in a place where you are best able to worship God.

Convictions can help you set boundaries to keep you from situations where you would be more likely to make wrong choices.

For example, let’s say Bob gambled for many years. He lost his wife and family because of his addiction and ended up deep in debt. Eventually, he gave his life to Jesus and decided he wanted to leave gambling behind him.

So Bob decided to quit going to casinos and playing card games all together. It’s not that he thinks Solitaire is a sin, but he knows that being around cards could trigger his former desire for gambling. His choice to stay away from cards is helping him focus on living for God, and not dwelling on his past.

Now, Bob doesn’t expect everyone to quit card games and he doesn’t judge anyone that plays them. He just personally chooses not to.

Growing up, my family had 2 major convictions: 1) we didn’t go to movies and 2) we didn’t go to restaurants that served alcohol.

The movie conviction actually used to be part of the Nazarene church’s member covenant. My grandma never went to movies growing up, nor did my mom, nor did my brother and I. It’s not that the movies themselves are inherently evil, but rather the fact that there was no control over what commercials would play and no way to skip over objectionable content.

We usually watch movies on Netflix or Prime, or get DVDs from the library. So while I’m not always current on the latest movies, I end up seeing them eventually. 🙂

I personally am apathetic on this issue. I don’t feel strongly about NOT going to movies, but I don’t really desire to go either. In all honesty, I’m not a movie person. Give me five billion episodes over a movie any day (unless it’s Marvel). Movies are long, expensive, and some theaters have bed bug issues (no thanks!). And, I want to respect my family’s convictions.

However, I do agree with my parents’ conviction about not going to restaurants that serve alcohol. This comes from a very personal place. My dad’s biological father was an abusive alcoholic. My dad and his nine brothers and sisters were placed in foster homes from a young age and there have been so many health and mental problems among my aunts and uncles that came from his drinking.

Alcohol is literally in my family’s blood and one drink could lead to a lifetime addiction. So my parents always felt strongly about staying away from it as much as possible. There are still several excellent restaurants that don’t sell alcohol and we’d prefer to go there than be exposed to something that destroyed my family.

But here’s the thing: not everyone has to agree.

Growing up, I always thought that we didn’t go to movies or restaurants that served alcohol because that was the “Christian” thing to do.

I always wondered how people at church and school could be Christians if they went to those restaurants and theaters. I didn’t understand what convictions were at all.

And then, I read Romans 14. I highly encourage that everyone reads this chapter. It completely changed the way I viewed convictions.

The Apostle Paul wrote Romans during a time of major change for the church. After Jesus died and rose again, salvation became possible for Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were still used to the law and their traditional customs. Gentiles didn’t have these same customs.

There became major debates as to what was necessary for faith and what didn’t really matter in the long run.

One huge issue was food. Under the Jewish law, there were many foods considered “unclean”. It was also common that meat was sacrificed to idols in those days.

So some believers only ate vegetables. They knew it was kosher and there was no idolatry connected to it. Others argued that God made all food and it was fine to eat whatever.

Paul basically tells the Romans to not condemn others for their beliefs. In verse 6 (NLT), Paul says, “…Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t condemn other believers.

“Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”
~ Romans 14: 12-13 (NLT)

Another important part of convictions is sometimes doing or avoiding certain things to help other believers. Let’s say you invite Bob (in the example above) over to your house to hang out one evening. Instead of playing Hearts, you could opt for Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. You are 100% free to play Hearts any time, but choosing another game that night out of respect for Bob would help him stay true to his convictions.

Ultimately, here’s what Paul has to say about convictions:

“…Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
~ Romans 14:22b-23

What are your thoughts on convictions?

What convictions do you personally live by?

Thanks so much for reading,

RaeAnn