To God Be the Glory

Years ago, indeed it seems like a lifetime, three of my siblings and I sang in a family gospel quartet.

We are four of the eight children of Rev. Melvin and Mrs. Ruth Brown who ministered in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia for most of their adult lives.

Brown family 1995
The Brown Siblings 1995

 

It was the 70s, and we had a lot of fun singing together around the piano as my brother Phillip played. We were blessed to be able to share this joy and the Good News with many people in little churches all over Southside Virginia, North Carolina, and even a view places in Tennessee and Mississippi. I am thankful that I got to be a part of it.

This week, my brother shared with me and my other brother and sisters his memories of the summer we made an album. We called the album, “To God Be the Glory” after the song by Andraé Crouch that we covered. A beautiful story, a tribute to my brother-in-law Larry Cullum, it reminds me that God is always at work in our lives, and sometimes, we get to be a part of the working of His miracles. I asked if I could share the story in this blog, and Phillip graciously agreed.

 

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Phillip, Sharon, and Cheryl Brown — around 1970

 

Phillip’s Letter:

It was the summer of 1975. You will recall that Daddy had just completed four successful years pastoring the Keysville EMC. We were out visiting [our older siblings] Becky, Joan, and Paul.  At some point, I think it was Larry [Becky’s husband] who suggested that we record an album. He had a friend, Tommy Paramore, who had some connections with Advent Studio in Memphis. I think he called Tommy to see if there would be any possibility for us to record. Tommy was able to get a bass player and a drummer for $10 an hour and the studio for $40.  I think the total deal with 500 albums produced came to $1200. Mama and Daddy, along with some others, financed it. We were booked and ready to go.

The night before recording, I got one of the worst sore throats I can ever recall experiencing. We were staying at Joan’s house, most of the kids sleeping on the floor. When I awoke the next morning, my throat felt awful but “the gig was on.” I figured that my voice would loosen up as the day progressed and it did.

 

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Melvin and Ruth Brown and their 8 kids — at Paul’s Wedding

 

The drummer, who had backed up Elvis at some point, was quite a guy. He wrote out all of the chord charts for us, we went over the instrumentals a couple of times, then we did the vocal tracks. What was really odd to me was that I was on one side of the studio and, tucked in a small glassed-in cubicle on the other end of the room, were the 3 Brown sisters. The whole thing was a strange and wonderful experience.

It seems that, at some point in the day, Carolyn and Barry [sister and her husband] stopped by. A real treat came during the lunch break. A cool African-American dude with a smooth delivery and a sax came up behind me and said, “You sound good, man.” It was Andrew Love, who along with trumpeter, Wayne Jackson, of the Memphis Horns, had come in to lay down an instrumental track for a song, “Happy Go Lucky.” I later saw their names on some Doobie Brothers albums I had bought.

The album was rough and unpolished. Still, God has used it over the years to bless and encourage people’s hearts. We were His instruments. God worked through us and what a blessing it was for us to serve Him together. I’m thankful for Larry’s willingness to listen to God’s voice and clear direction in helping to bring it all together.

 

Brown family 1987
Christmas 1987 — Larry is the gentleman on the right. (It was the era of big hair.)

I have probably “mis-remembered” some of this story but felt compelled to share it with you all.  It’s amazing to think that the awesome God who created the universe saw fit to choose, call, justify and sanctify us for His work (Romans 8:28-32).  I am deeply humbled by it all.

Blessings,
Phil

Carolyn response:

I am so glad that you wrote about the making of that album!  I’ve always loved it, and now I love it even more!

Chris [Carolyn’s adult son] liked it a lot, and, as I have told you all before, on Christmas afternoon shortly before he died, he mentioned that he wished he had it on a CD so that he could listen to it more easily.  About that time, I remembered he had an unopened gift from JoAn and [her husband] Bill, and when he opened it, there was the CD which Bill had made for him!  What a blessing that was!

Browns 2010
The Brown Siblings around 2010 — Becky could not join us.

I don’t know what this story will mean to you, but it is one of my happiest memories. Those times around the piano singing with my family were a part of my life that I took for granted. Now, I look back and see the beauty of that close family relationship we had, made even closer and more special because of our shared love for Christ.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 

And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. 

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 

Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 

Romans 8:28-32 NLT

 

Blessings.

(I had to include this medley of Andraé Crouch songs — we sang a lot of these, but not quite like this. I hope you enjoy it.)

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Counting Every Blessing

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas is just about a month away. And yeah, I have to admit, I have already started listening to Christmas music.  To be absolutely transparent, my favorite Christmas CD has been in the car CD player for at least two years, and whenever I need a reminder of what life is really all about, I play a song or two.

 

Can I get a witness?

 

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Though I am already listening to Christmas music, just this week I “decorated” for Thanksgiving. Decorating, for me, means putting the Thanksgiving tablecloth and the cornacopia (thank you, spellcheck) on the dining room table, setting the Give Thanks plaque on the front porch, and haphazardly strewing fall foliage and mini pumpkins and pinecones across the leaf garland on my mantel. Hey, it works, and I am happy with it.

My cat likes my decorating, too, ha ha!

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I love Thanksgiving, and I really love Christmas, but I have to admit, there have been times in my life when I dreaded them. Holidays can be challenging and sometimes come with a lot of baggage. The holidays often include going back home, and going home sometimes means reliving old hurts, remembering past mistakes of others and of our own, and missing our loved ones who are no longer with us.  Holidays can be hard days, and we need to remember that as we prepare to celebrate.

I’m going to tell you what some wise people have told me since I was little. When you feel sad or just not happy, when you are worried, when you are facing that long, dark night alone and are not able to sleep — count your blessings.

We all have them — sometimes it’s just not easy to see them when we are focused on the hard things.

I read a book by Ann Voskamp several years ago, and I have re-read it over and over, and I’ve shared it with many friends, and today, I recommend it to you. It’s about counting your blessings. The author is challenged to list 1000 gifts, just 3 little or big things each day that she can call good. And it changes her life.

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When we re-focus on the little things in our lives that are blessings, we begin to lift our eyes off the problems, the hard things, the darkness — and even if it is just for a moment — we see a glimmer of hope.

1000 Gifts — Blessings I am counting — 1000 ways GOD’s been good to me

  1. I woke up this morning
  2. A really comfortable bed
  3. Warm, soft blankets
  4. Good hot coffee with heavy cream (Don’t judge!)
  5. Orange and yellow and red leaves I see on my drive into work
  6. My husband loves me just the way I am
  7. My son is sleeping in his own bed under our roof tonight
  8. My older son is sharing Thanksgiving with his one true love
  9. My son’s lovely wife and her beautiful family are now a part of our family

View More: http://cameronandmadalyn.pass.us/anderson

 

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And on and on…

Thanksgiving should not just be a day or week in November. It should be our heart’s cry every single day of the year —  I’m preaching the gospel to myself.

Above everything else, I am thankful for Jesus, who

Though he was God, did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, 
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Phillipians 2: 6-11 NLT

He is my Savior, the Hope to whom I cling, the Rock I know will never fail me, and I trust Him with my whole life.

 

I’ve been blessed beyond all measure. I’m counting every blessing!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Through It All – A Tribute to Mama

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and I’m thinking about my mama. This is how I remember her — the way she looked on my wedding day.

ruth and cheryl ruth

She was a beautiful lady inside and out. I am so thankful she is my mama, and she is one of the reasons I say I am blessed beyond measure.

This is how my daddy always remembered mama — the way she looked when they met.

I like to think this is how she looks now!

It was 20 years ago this month that my mama died. I don’t remember the actual date, which is okay with me.  I just remember that she died when I was pregnant with my son David, and that it was a couple weeks before Mother’s Day. I had the privilege of putting together the program for my mama’s funeral, and the bulletin we picked out was perfect for her. It was a Mother’s Day bulletin that said, “Her children will rise up and call her blessed.” That was my mama — both blessed and a blessing to those who knew her.

I miss her every time I think of her, and there are days that I so want to talk with her. She was not just intelligent — she was wise. She had the white hair to prove it — ha ha — or maybe she had the white hair because she had 8 kids to remember in prayer.  Or maybe it was just because she had lived a good long life.

She was not really a singer — she rarely sang even during our church services. She was a pianist — she was well trained, and she could play just about any music you set before her.  She told me she didn’t think to sing because she had spent so much of her time playing the piano for others.

But she loved music. She loved good, gospel music. She loved to hear others sing. She loved to hear her family sing.

When my brother Phillip taught himself to play the piano, some of my siblings and I started to sing gospel songs at church and local Christian events. Both my parents loved this, but I think it really touched my mama’s heart. She was rarely emotional, but I remember her shedding a tear or two when she heard us sing Andre Crouch songs. This was one of the first ones we learned.

It’s really the story of her life.

I’ve had many tears and sorrows
I’ve had questions for tomorrow
There’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong
But in every situation
God gave me blessed consolation
That my trials come to only make me strong

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word

I’ve been to lots of places
I’ve seen a lot of faces
There’s been times I felt so all alone
But in my lonely hours
Yes, those precious lonely hours
Jesus lets me know that I was His own

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus
I’ve learned to trust in God

Through it all
Through it all
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word

I thank God for the mountains
And I thank Him for the valleys
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through
For if I’d never had a problem
I wouldn’t know God could solve them
I’d never know what faith in God could do

I love you, mama, and I know — I know — I KNOW — that someday I will see you again. And oh, what a happy day that will be!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Little Rascals and Paper Airplanes

We have two cats, Luna and Midnight, and I like to think of them as Little Rascal 1 and Little Rascal 2. They are warm and funny and sweet — most of the time — and they help fill a void in the house now that my sons are grown. Luna and Midnight don’t in any way take the place of my two sons, but they do distract me from missing Nathan and David.

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Today they were being particularly rambunctious. (I guess I spelled that right, because the word processor didn’t red-line it. Good for me!) After they had their wet food for dinner, they must have been feeling pretty energetic. Midnight chased Luna all over the house. Then I heard a loud thunk in the living room corner and went to investigate.

I noticed candle holder missing from its place and found the large candle it usually holds lying on the floor underneath the end table.

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Frankly, I was thankful nothing broke — this time.

As I bent over to pick up the fallen knickknacks, I noticed it. Way back in the corner, almost hidden by the speaker and the long window coverings, it was resting as though it had just landed. It was a beautiful little paper airplane.

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I picked it up and took it to the kitchen to dispose of it. And then, I stopped. I could not bring myself to throw the little thing away.

It was a reminder of my sons when they were young.

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Both of my sons are brilliant and good at many things. As a child, Nathan was the puzzled solver, never able to leave the game until he had figured out the maze, cracked the code or finished the boss and made it to the next level. David was the creative one. When he was 2, the Sunday School teacher joked that we could not bring him back because he had made a little toy gun from Legos. He once created a sword from newspapers and duct tape. David taught himself how to juggle, how to make all kinds of origami figures, and how to make 110 different kinds of paper airplanes.

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So when I saw this beautiful paper airplane, I saw the face of my son and remembered.

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Then, I smiled over the memory.

We have a father in heaven who loves us — to death — and I believe he smiles over all the paper airplanes we make. He smiles because he loves us, and he loves the beautiful things we create. Who would have imagined that a paper airplane, found unexpectedly, could actually be a treasure? Beauty is in the eye and heart of the beholder. The plane is a treasure to me because I know who made it.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

I miss my sons, but I am thankful that they have grown into the smart, handsome, strong and kind-hearted Christian young men they are now. I miss their little faces and hands and all the mess and noise they used to make around the house. Yeah, I miss those little rascals.

 

A Place for You

This week I have the pleasure of sharing a wonderful letter my big brother Phillip sent me and my siblings a couple weeks ago. It was so touching, the thoughts so well worded that I asked him if I could share it on my blog. He graciously agreed.

Here’s a picture of me with Phillip a couple years ago.

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First, I’d like to give you a little family background.

My father was a minister in a small conservative Methodist denomination (the Evangelical Methodist Church, in case you are wondering.) He always pastored small churches, so the pay was also small. He and my mama were the proud parents of 8 children, and they loved each one of us very much. You could say they were called to pastor small churches, but they were also called to have a big family. And I, for one, am very thankful for that, as I am the youngest of the 8.

Here’s my whole family at our wedding — years and years ago.

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My parents’ calling meant they lived a life of sacrifice. And so did we, the children of the called.

Now, here is my brother Phillip’s letter:

This past week I had the opportunity to watch some interviews and special presentations with Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint who, along with 4 other men, was brutally massacred while trying to reach the Auca Indians for Christ.  It struck me how each of these people, and their families, saw something that goes beyond the physical.  Looking back on the lives of our parents, I can recall how they were able to see things in a supernatural way.  Each of these people, including Daddy and Mama, were not easily distracted by the tangible and were able to look way beyond it.
“I love to tell the story of unseen things above.
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true.
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.”
I can remember a conversation I had with Mama one day sitting on her bed when they lived in the upstairs apartment next to the Thompsons in Keysville (this was shortly after I moved back following graduation from dental school).  I was remarking how tough their lives had been, materially speaking, and how this was by far the best they had experienced.  As she replied, she started recalling how faithful God had been over the years.  At some point, she started sobbing and I didn’t understand what was happening.  I thought at first that they were tears of sadness for the years of tight bills, lean eating, sub-par housing, etc.  My heart was breaking for her.  However, when she was finally able to speak, what she said surprised me and made a deep and profound impression on me.  She shared with me John 14:1-3, not by quoting the scripture passage but by speaking from the depths of her soul.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  I can’t forget that conversation and, in fact, it comes to my mind more and more these days.
“I love to tell the story ‘tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own Holy Word.”
When I look back on my life, it did not turn out as I pictured it when I finished dental school in 1985.  It has been infinitely richer, and my 401K is not very impressive.  I can see things more clearly with every day as I see through scripture and in my own life how God is sovereignly in control of every step of my life.  I’ve tried to convey this same thought to Geli [his daughter] and Vicki [his wife] in our many precious conversations over the years.
Thinking back now to the 5 martyred missionaries, I recall what the Indians saw as they were killing.  They saw men that were mighty in appearance standing on the other side of the river bank.  These men did not attack them.  They were, I believe, angels who were sent by God to usher these saints into His presence.  “Precious in God’s sight is the death of His saints.”
“I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing a new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.”
Life speeds by exceedingly fast.  I’m glad I was able to have that conversation with Mama.
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I’m so thankful for my family, for my siblings, who are all still with us, and for my parents who have gone on to the home with many rooms that Jesus has prepared for us. I look forward to seeing my room someday, and to sitting on the porch of that big house and hearing my folks tell me once again “the old, old story that I have loved so long.”

Stronger

Did you ever have a song keep running through your mind all day long, over and over and over? And nothing could make that song go away.

When this happens to me, it is usually something stupid like, “My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.”

But today, it’s a really good one.

Some days I wake up feeling really strong — like the world is my oyster (whatever that means.) “Today, I will go out in confidence and live bravely, talk to people I don’t know and really be a blessing to everyone I meet.”

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But many days, most days if I am really honest, I wake up feeling a bit weak. The thought might go through my mind that —

if only people knew who I really am,

if they knew how ______________ (fill in the blank with the negative adjective) I am,

then they would not really like me, or respect me, or appreciate me.

Thoughts like these, some positive and some negative, are clearly lies of the enemy, deceptions from the one who seeks to kill, steal and destroy anything that is of God, anything that is truly good.

And then, God in His grace takes my mind back to that sweet song we all learned in Sunday school, so many years ago.

We are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

So, yeah, some days, I am weak, maybe weaker than I know. Other days, I am strong, maybe stronger than I know. But everyday, I know this. Jesus is stronger. He is stronger than anything I might encounter today, and He loves me more than I will ever know.

 

Stronger

There is love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner’s cross
You broke my shame and sinfulness
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

You are stronger you are stronger
Sin is broken you have saved me
It is written  — Christ is risen
Jesus you are Lord of all

No beginning and no end.
You’re my hope and my defense
You came to seek and save the lost
You paid it all upon the cross

So let your name be lifted higher
Be lifted higher be lifted higher

You are stronger you are stronger
Sin is broken you have saved me
It is written  — Christ is risen
Jesus you are Lord of all

Some days, you may feel weak, and other days, you may feel strong. But everyday, if you know Jesus, know this: HE is stronger.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

He is stronger than anything you will encounter today, and He loves you more than you will ever know.

I hope this song gets stuck in your head, and that it plays over and over until it is written in your heart.

Advent

Yes, I realize it’s February, and we are long past Christmas. So when you read today’s title, you may be slightly confused.

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I have two confessions. First, I love Christmas, and I listen to Christmas music all year long — and I may, on occasion, watch Christmas movies in the middle of the summer. Whew! I am so glad to get that off my chest.

 

Second, I am a procrastinator. I have a bad habit of putting things off to the last minute. I can’t tell you the number of times I have actually been up, into the wee hours of the morning, wrapping Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve / Christmas Day. When we used to travel to my in-laws for Christmas, we would take the presents and all the gift wrappings and wrap gifts when we got there — no lie. And sometimes, even though I love Christmas, I get the decorations up so late that I leave them up until, say, late January just so we can enjoy them a bit before I take them down. So yeah — I may have a problem.

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Two pictures of my family from Christmas past.

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This morning I was doing my devotions. I enjoy the YouVersion Bible app on my phone because I can read the Bible in several translations, and it has a wide variety of Bible studies or daily readings on subjects I can follow.

I’m doing one right now on Advent.

In case there is anyone who doesn’t know what advent means, I looked it up online. Here is what Wikipedia says:

Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the second coming. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming”. 

Yes, again, I KNOW it is February, and Advent was officially over a month ago or more. However, I am a procrastinator, so I am still enjoying this little study.

Today’s lesson was on the passage in Luke that we hear every year quoted by Linus on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I love that scene and have enjoyed for decades. Here is the scripture:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, 
the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, 
and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”

Luke 2:8-20 (KJV)

In the devotional, the author says that we should go back and read these very familiar verses with fresh eyes, asking the Holy Spirit to show us something new that we may not have seen before. That sounded good, so that’s what I did. And you know what? God answered that prayer.

We all know, if we have heard these verses, that God proclaimed His coming into the world to the shepherds. They were the lowliest of the low in their culture, I think. There’s so much richness in that — to think that the God of the whole universe would, first of all, choose to come to earth at all, but then to choose to send His Son Jesus to our world through a messy human birth, to a young, poor virgin girl, to be born in a stable with  stinky animals, to be the Savior of all. Then add to that, He announced it to the shepherds.

With fresh eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, I suddenly saw these shepherds as real people in this real story. They were men that lived most of their lives alone, out tending the sheep in the fields and on the hillsides. They were loners. I wonder if they may have gone days without speaking to any other humans — days without hearing any other voices. It occurred to me that they were probably introverts, and maybe they actually were more comfortable out in the fields alone with the sheep than having to interact daily with other people. What an amazing and scary thing that angel army light show must have been to those poor souls out on the dark and quiet fields that night!

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, 
the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, 
and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And God chose them to be the first to hear that His Son Jesus had been born on this earth. He chose them to go see this thing. He chose them to leave the stable and go and tell others all they had seen and heard.

Why would God choose poor, lonely, introverts to go tell people about his birth?

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds…And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

That’s the other thing I noticed with my fresh eyes today. The angel said that this savior was born unto you.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto youYe shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

The angel made it really personal. God was sending His Son to the shepherds and this was good news – this would bring great joy — to ALL the people. This child was born for everyone.

And God told the shepherds first.

I have always thought of myself as an introvert. I am perfectly happy to spend an afternoon alone, reading, sipping hot tea, watching a good Christmas movie, haha! But getting together with other people takes effort. I realized recently that most of my best friends through the years have been extroverts. That’s because we may never have become friends if they had waited on me to make the first move toward friendship. That is not a happy thought for me.

So when I think that God entrusted the telling of the story of His birth to the likes of the lowly, introverted shepherds, I feel a bit in awe. The fact that the story got told and retold and is still being retold today is part of the miracle of Christmas.

God uses common, ordinary people in miraculous ways to do incredible things they could never have done on their own.

That’s a God-thing. And He gets the glory.