Victory Dance

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 KJV

Sunday’s Washington Post recounted the story of Ghana’s dancing pallbearers. Dancing is a fixture at funerals there—upbeat performers wearing black suits, sunglasses and patent leather shoes, grooving to a tech-no beat while carrying a coffin. This unusual ritual is intended to make mourners grin through grief. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, these comedic grim reapers are being edited into footage of risky behavior as a warning to stay at home or die. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, millions of clicks on their videos have created an international fan base for the dancing pallbearers.

The Post article comments “At a time when mortality is on everyone’s minds, morbid humor seems to be a popular coping mechanism.”

Death is no laughing matter. It is a serious matter—we might even say, a life and death matter. No one will get out of this world alive, so how do we handle the fear that fact can bring?

Is humor the best way—dancing at funerals? Charlie Chaplin said “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you’ll just smile.” In a silent movie Chaplin portrayed a prisoner on board a slave ship. After shipwreck, he made his way to the beach by holding on to a board. Shackles still chafing his ankles, he tried humor to be rid of them—walking the length of the chain, he fell. Then he tried philosophy—again, he only made it as far as the chain allowed. Next he tried denial, saying this wasn’t happening to him—with the same result of failure. Finally, the film depicts him looking heavenward hopefully—realizing if he is ever to be free, he’ll need outside help.

People still attempt similar ways to deal with death—laughter, philosophy, denial. Our only hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, who “died to break the power of death and set us free from living our lives in the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Trusting our Savior, we can face death confidently, even joyfully—a far better way than joking, trying to think our way out of it, or denying its reality. A beautiful prayer confesses our faith:

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, 
     where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind;
     and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return.
For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.     
    – Book of Common Prayer

The last Old Testament prophet wrote that the Sun of Righteousness frees us to “leap with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2). David praised God for turning his mourning into joyful dancing (Psalm 30:11). Our victorious Savior can do the same for us.

Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote lilting lyrics in The Bonnie Breath of God

I see the sorrow that has left your heart almost paralyzed frozen in the frost of fear.
Real forgiveness falls like a rain from heaven sent to free us from the dreads we feel.
God’s been dancing two thousand years ever since Jesus showed up around here.
I know everything you’ve ever been through, and I’ve got some very, very good news.
I love ya so much I wanna dance with you.

The living Lord invites us to join him in his victory dance—replacing our blues with the jig of joy. Rubem Alves, American theologian, said “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to that melody here and now.” If we spend more time listening to that melody, we’ll learn some new dance steps.

© Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Traveling Music

Strike up the music, beat the tambourine, play the melodious harp and the lyre;
blow the trumpet for the new month, for the full moon, for our feast day!

PSALM 81:2-3 TNJB

I am your Vital Strength.
     When you feel like giving up, I give persevering courage—
          so you can keep on keeping on.
     O to grace how great a debtor daily you’re constrained to be
(Robert Robinson, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”).*
     I am your Power.
     Outsoar mediocrity—outrun temptation—outwalk lethargy.

I am your Victorious Success.
     When you’re on the verge of losing the battle with sin—
          I inspire you to purify your heart.
     I am your Purity.
     You are prone to wander from the God you love.
     Let My goodness, like a fetter, bind your wandering heart to Me.
*

I am your Visiting Support.
     When you’re burdened by taxing cares of life—
          I invite you to trade your struggle for My serenity.
     I am your Peace.
     Praise My name—you are fixed upon it, Name of My redeeming love.*

I am your Vision in the Storm.
     When you think nobody is listening, and you’re frazzled by stress—
          My theophany sets your heart at rest.
     I am your Paraclete.
     I am the Fount of every blessing—I tune your heart to sing My praise.*

I am your Veritable Supply.
     When you’re afraid you are about to run out of critical necessities—
          I reassure you by supplying everything you need through Christ.
     Give Me your heart, let Me seal it for My courts above.*
     I am your Provision.
     Meditate on My generosity—let music and gladness fill your soul.

I am your Vivacious Song.
     When you’re down-in-the-mouth for no particular reason—
          I give you a melody that puts a spring in your step.
     Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.*
     I am your Praise.
     On your journey toward heaven, I am your Traveling Music.

(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond
Day 221, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Good Grief

It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.
PSALM 77:10 NRSV


Crying to a Good Source is a sincere quest.
     Hold nothing back—let your tears flow freely in My Presence.
     When you are in deep trouble, reach for the Most High God.
     Pray all night long, if you feel the need—I bless desperation.
     You need My Presence more than sleep—only in Me can you rest.
     I hear your problems.
     Urgent faith consoles you in life’s search.

Contemplating a grievous situation raises serious questions.
     The difference between your sad now and your happy then hurts.
     The good old days seem to never repeat themselves.
     Your heart aches pondering the apparent absence of My love.
     Heavy questions bother your mind and burden your soul.
     Never forget—the Comforter will not leave you.
     Never doubt—the Encourager will not orphan you.
     Never fear—the Advocate will not forget you.
     Never worry—the Sovereign will not fail to take good care of you.
     I heal your pain.
     Ultimate focus changes life’s sufferings.

Considering a Great Savior results in serene quietness.
     Preoccupying your mind with My love tranquilizes panic.
     I am the Good Shepherd—follow Me to heavenly peace and quiet.
     “No pain, no gain” encapsulates more truth than you can imagine.
     There are no rainbows without rain.
     You could not appreciate calm without weathering storms.
     You would not celebrate spring if you did not shiver thru winter.
     You would never know the thrill of dawn without lonely nights.
     There could not have been a resurrection without a crucifixion.
     You couldn’t walk gold streets if Jesus hadn’t walked Via Dolorosa.
     Hard times strengthen character—tears cleanse the soul.
     Coal under pressure makes diamonds—trouble purifies the heart.
     I give you historical perspective and hopeful prospects.
     Unseen footprints carry you through life’s storms.

(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day 220 Gentle Whispers from Eternity

A Creed for Troublesome Times


My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

PSALM 73:26 NLT

    
Life is difficult, but you can depend on Me whatever happens. Circumstances may depress, but inner-stances delight if you trust Me. In a quicksand world, I am the Solid Rock—your Firm and Faithful Friend. Never give up—though your body is dying, your inner being is being renewed day by day. Your troubles are small potatoes compared to the glory of paradise. Hard times are temporary—heaven is forever.

     Believe I am real—trust My perfect wisdom, power, and love. Let these realities become your unflinching confession of faith. Opinions are carried around like a suitcase and just as easily dropped. But convictions carry you around and are your driving motivation—they are more than ideas in your mind; they possess your mind.

     Believe I am righteous—be good for something, My smile. Life’s unfair conundrum is the Job problem—a question of justice. Wicked people get away with murder; you cannot get away with anything. They think I do not realize what is going on, or that I am powerless to do anything about it. You attempt to understand why the rebellious succeed while the righteous suffer—it is puzzling to you. When bad things happen to good people, you wonder if you are being good for nothing. At the end of the day, the world will feel the heat and see the Light.

     Believe I am redemptive—let the Good Shepherd tend your life. The universal church is the circle of My children around the world who implicitly depend on Me and worship Me with all their heart. Believe I am Ruler—bow your knee at the mention of My Name. The inevitable consequences of ignoring Me will be crystal clear at the crash site of sin’s slippery slope. Rebels will have hell to pay! Defectors will face court martial before the Judge of the universe.

     I am your Counselor giving you a creed for troublesome times. I am your Travel Companion on the journey, Guide through life’s maze, Center of Gravity in a topsy-turvy world, Designer of your mansion, Guardian of your heart, Sustaining Breath, and Perfect Storm Shelter.

     Believe I am reliable—lean your whole weight on the Rock of Ages. Every other staff you lean on breaks and pierces your hand and heart—I am the Only Completely Reliable Spot in the universe. Whatever fails, rest assured the Almighty never will disappoint you—you can trust Me.

(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond
Day 219, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

In God’s Time

I’ve lost it; I’m wasted. God – quickly, quickly!
Quick to my side, quick to my rescue! GOD, don’t lose a minute.

PSALM 70:5 THE MESSAGE


Through all time and eternity, rest assured I will encircle you.
     In your panic, you wish I would hurry.
     Opponents think they have got you, but they do not—I have you.
     Enemies of your soul will be disgraced, but you will not be.
     Do not let the sense of being targeted and wished ill overwhelm you.
     Unfailing Love encompasses you—death’s terror, life’s trouble,
          demons’ distractions, today’s fears, tomorrow’s worries—
          none of these things come between us, because we are inseparable.

In My gracious time, rest assured I will educate you.
     In your praise, do your best to honor Me.
     I engineer life’s circumstances for the good of those who love Me.
     Time educates for eternity—you are enrolled in Adversity University.
     Friction polishes the gem—hurt can help you grow in holiness.
     Unforgettable lessons instruct you—be sure you learn them well.

In My own good time, rest assured I will enrich you.
     In your poverty, count on My compassionate help.
     The One who died for you lives for you—and He is praying for you.
     In My time, I will replace sin’s ugliness with heaven on earth.
     Unimaginable lavishness is preparing a mansion with your name on it. 

In My glorious time, rest assured you will exult in Me.
     Glory will make you forget gloom—paradise will eradicate pain.
     All creation will one day celebrate total freedom—and so will you.
     Do not let winter freeze your hope—spring is just around the corner.
     Wait patiently and confidently—heaven is sure as sunrise.
     I orchestrate life’s every detail for the good of those who worship Me.
     When My New World Symphony is debuted,
          the universe will stand to its feet in thunderous applause.
     Unending Life encourages you—My promises brighten the future.

(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day 218 Gentle Whispers from Eternity

The Other Side of Fear

Whatever we’re afraid of, whatever we worry about, even death—the worst thing we think can happen, will not end our relationship with God.

The reality is that none of us will get out of this world alive. The ultimate statistic? One out of every one born will die. But we believe that our loving Heavenly Father will give us the grace we need to cross the Jordan, when our time comes—like Corrie ten Boom’s father gave her a ticket just before she boarded the train.  

Beyond death is eternal life. The most famous verse in the Bible reminds us of that. Sometimes at funerals I’ve challenged people to “do something radical—believe that Jesus Christ tells the truth!” Since He does, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, defeating death. Because Jesus did this for us, we do not “live our lives as slaves to the fear of dying” (Hebrews 2:14-15). As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message, we don’t have to be “scared to death of death.”

In a silent movie, Charlie Chaplin portrayed a prisoner in chains aboard a ship that was wrecked and began to fall apart. Clinging to debris, he made it to shore. Desperately wanting to be free of his chains, he tried humor, denial, and philosophizing—but every time he tried to walk, he went the length of his fetters then fell down. The last scene shows him looking heavenward—finally realizing if he’s ever to be rid of his chains, he must have outside help.

Looking up is our only hope too. We cannot laugh, deny, or think our way out of the fear of dying—only Jesus can help us. His death has removed the sting of death, overturned the grave’s despair, and brought us eternal victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).   

Depending on our Shepherd, we find a better way to face forward than “perhaps” or “maybe.” God teaches us faith language, trust vocabulary. Then we can say with confidence “I will (not might) live in the house of the Lord forever.”  

We joyfully anticipate what God is about to do. Here’s what we can expect—death of death, burial of badness, resurrection to resplendence.

From where we sit, we may feel there’s plenty to be scared of. From where God sits, it has already been taken care of. God sees the bright side of gloomy clouds; one day we will see it too.

The other side of death is life. The other side of despair is solace. The other side of sin’s dirge is redemption’s dance. The other side of earth’s sad discord is the joyful symphony of paradise. The other side of fear is blessed relief.

Thunderstorms obscure stars. Clouds camouflage blue sky. Dark valleys threaten peace of mind. But we can take heart—Jesus walks beside us through shadows to His house. Nothing will ever terrorize the place our Savior is preparing for us on the other side of fear.

Johnny R. Almond

Pastor Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Panorama of Praise

Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
and did not withdraw his unfailing love from me.
PSALM 66:20


I have not rejected your prayer—I have responded to you.
When you confess your wrongdoing, I cleanse your soul.
When you cry out in desperation, I pay attention to your pain.
When you plead for help, I do not turn a deaf ear.
Prayer is always a local call—wherever you are, I can hear you.
Praise Me for an audience with the King.

I have not restricted your praise—I have released you.
You do not have to hide your faith as a secret disciple—breathe free.
You do not have to stifle your joy—sing My praises for all the world.
I have made you genuinely rich by giving you a contented mind.
My gift to you is out-of-your-world peace.
Praise Me for invulnerable joy greater than any earthly happiness.

I have not refused your pleas—I have reinforced you.
My awesome miracles on your behalf irrefutably prove My love.
Enemies of your soul, including the evil one, cringe at My power.
Trust in Me—and trouble will not get you down.
Stay close to Me—and the prince of the world will not conquer you.
Praise Me for supernatural assistance.

I have not removed your problems—I have refined you.
Adversity is My University—trust Me and pass the tests of your faith.
Time educates you for eternity—prepare for your final exam.
Low points teach you lessons you would never learn any other way.
The fiery crucible purges filth—trying floodwaters remove debris.
I defend in guilt, comfort in sorrow, and encourage in frustration.
Praise Me for being your Travel Companion on rough roads.

I have not renounced My promises—I have redeemed you.
My Son became a Sacrificial Lamb to buy your freedom from sin.
I keep all My promises to you—I am the God of My Word.
With all my heart, I love you—love Me the same way.
Praise Me for the honor of serving the God of Truth and Love.

(c) Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day 217 Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Dawn to Dusk Celebration

Golden Sunrise

From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy.
Psalm 65:8b NLT


Prayer is your highest expectation.

     Around the globe, people approach the Sun of Righteousness in faith.

     East to West, the Name of Jesus, King of kings, is the world’s hope.

     Celebrate universal search.

My pardon is your greatest elation.

     I am merciful and gracious to the repentant, broken heart.

     I have removed your sins infinitely from My awareness.

     Celebrate unmerited salvation.

My Providence is your humblest election.

     Marvel at My choice to bring you near My heart.

     Early morning and late evening, I never doze; I keep constant eye on you.

     Celebrate unimaginable selection.

My power is your strongest energy.

     Your help originates from the Constellation Designer—I can handle it all.

     My heart understands you—My might stands under you.

     Celebrate unequaled strength.

My peace is your sweetest enjoyment.

     I quiet high seas—I calm your restless, pounding heart.

     There is no need to ever be afraid of anything—trust Me.

     Celebrate undisturbed serenity.

My provision is your fullest enrichment.

     At sunrise, humbly bow your knees and say please.

     At sunset, gratefully bow your head and say thanks.

     Celebrate unlimited supply.

My praise is your purest ecstasy.

     I am Everything You Ever Really Need in life.      

     Dawn to dusk, find inspiration in Me.

     Celebrate unending song.

© Pastor Johnny R. Almond     Day 216, Gentle Whispers from Eternity  

God is Great … God is Good

Beautiful Temple

Power, O God, belongs to you; unfailing love, O Lord, is yours. Psalm 62:11, 12 NLT

No force in the universe is more powerful than the Most High.  Artificial light cannot outshine the sun and moon I spoke into existence. Technological advances never do away with the overwhelming need to humbly bow before the Almighty. The Most High God is transcendent—holy, high, above all, outside everything created, distant from earth.

Yet no friend anywhere is more personal than the God who is Love—immanent, nearer than your hands and feet, closer than your very breath. I am big enough to rule the world, and small enough to live in your heart.

Because My Son condescended to become a human being, you can see My glory in His face—He reflects My love and faithfulness. No one is nearer My heart than He is—the closer you draw to Him, the closer you get to Me. His grace and truth flood the believing heart with blessing and reality.

St. Augustine reflected poignantly in his autobiography Confessions: “Our hearts are made for Thee, O God; we are restless until we rest in Thee.” Wait in My Presence—and experience the strength I alone provide. Make Me your Center of Gravity—and discover the true meaning of life. Nestle near My heart—and relax in My dependable care.

I am your Happiness—so you are not sad in the world’s shadows.

     My strong love inspires a song in your heart.

I am your Help—so you are not shaken by violent faith quakes.

     My strong love energizes you to keep on going.

I am your Hope—so you are not sarcastic or down-in-the-mouth.

     My strong love puts a spring in your step.

I am your Honorso you are not a self-centered egomaniac.

     My strong love overshadows your flawed reputation with glory.

I am your Home—so you are not stranded in an impersonal world.

     My strong love makes us inseparable friends.

If I were great and not good, My awesome power would make Me a punishing tyrant, a heartless despot, and a demanding dictator. If I were good and not great, I would be merely an abstract ideal, of no practical value, and powerless to assist you. I am great and good—strong and loving, authoritative and compassionate, just and merciful, powerful and caring.

Revere My greatness—relax in My goodness.

© Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day 215, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Higher Ground

Crown Point at Columbia River Gorge, Oregon


From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2 KJV

I am God Most High—when you are faint, I give you new perspective.

     I am your Rock, higher than the valley of limited vision.

     In the midst of life’s sinking sand, I am your Stability and Confidence.

     In conflicts and sorrows, do as William Cushing* recommends in a hymn

          “Hiding in Thee”—fly to the Rock that is higher than you.

     From your dark valley of despair, view mountains in the distance.

     In your desperate situation, look forward to the daybreak of joy.

     Whatever your angst, I am your Hope.

I am Almighty God—when you are fearful, I surround and protect you.

     I am your Refuge, towering high above the valley of limited valor.

     In the midst of life’s storms, I am your Security and Courage.

     In tempests of life, on its wide, heaving sea, hide in the Rock of Ages.*

     I am your Solid Rock in a quicksand world.

     I am your Mighty Fortress in a dangerous world.

     I am your Shield in a demon-infested world.

     I am your Strong Point in an impersonal, uncaring world.

     Whatever your anxieties, I am your Hiding Place.

I am God of your life—when you are fragmented, I hold you together.

     I am your Residence, high above the valley of limited victory.

     In the midst of life’s stress, I am your Sanity and Calm.

     In conflict, pressed by the foe, flee to Me and breathe out your woe.*

     Whatever your address, I am your Home.

I am God above gods—when you are frustrated, I focus your heart.

     I am your Resolve, higher in meaning than the valley of limited value.

     In the midst of life’s sin, I am your Sanctification and Celebration.

     Looking for light in the darkness, joy in your sorrow, grace in your sin?

     Whatever your ambition, I am your Higher Ground.

© Pastor Johnny R. Almond, Day214 Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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