You’ll Be – Listening?

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My Dad, Rev. George Whitman

Growing up as a preacher’s kid in a small country church that was surrounded on all sides by dairy farms, I suppose it was rather unusual to have vivid memories of a radio broadcast, “Echoes of Faith,” being recorded from our Sunday evening services (choir, special music and all), but that was exactly what took place. My Dad delivered an evangelistic message every week. We even had a small orchestra, led by my Mom. During the week, she would faithfully listen at home while preparing school lunches and rounding us up for breakfast. The messages have long since receded into my long term memory bank, although I suspect they are living out their truths in my life. However, I can still hear the choir’s opening hymn:

Encamped along the hills of light, ye Christian soldiers, rise!
And press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below shall all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world!
– John H. Yates, Faith is the Victory

I have to tell you – we had some pretty good musicians in that little congregation! They loved the Lord and you could hear it in their singing, which my Dad often explained was the spiritual thermometer of the church.  But even more remarkable to me was that humble, unassuming servant of God, whose main objectives in life were to bring as many souls to heaven with him as he could, and to train and equip the next generation to go out and do the same. And I can still hear him signing off each week with,

“This is Pastor George Whitman speaking. Until next time, you’ll be – listening?”

He was never famous, although his children can hardly go anywhere in the world without running into someone who knew him or sat under his ministry that extended well past his 53 years of pastoring churches. His early childhood and upbringing were very simple and ordinary: raised on a farm in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, a mischievous lad who walked with his sisters to a one-room schoolhouse. His family was so poor he had to sell homegrown popcorn to buy his first bicycle. He even brought a cow along with him to his first week of Bible camp – you know, to pay his way by providing milk for the campers that week! Wouldn’t our health inspectors have a cow over that?

What was it that compelled such an ordinary young man to go out and accomplish such extraordinary things? What was it that inspired a young farm boy to set his sights on eternity, planting seeds throughout his life that would bear fruit in the Kingdom of God? It was the soft prompting of the Holy Spirit calling him out and leading him on to do great things — things that most likely seemed ordinary and mundane to him as they played out in his daily life.

“There’s no sense in going further — it’s the edge of cultivation,”
So they said, and I believed it — broke my land and sowed my crop –
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
“Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!
. . . Anybody might have found it, but his whisper came to me!”
– Rudyard Kipling, The Explorer (1898)

And his whisper came to me, too. I shall never forget it and I cannot quit. I must forge ahead even though I most often feel undeserving – inept, inadequate and incapable. I know that when he calls and where he leads, he will provide and he will keep. I am reminded that as long as you and I have breath, there is work for us to do.  It may not look glamorous to us and at times may seem far too difficult and costly to complete. But “it will be worth it all when we see Jesus,” and we must allow the Lord to accomplish his creative and redemptive purpose in our lives.

We are continually retreating behind our limitations and saying, “Thus far and no farther can I go.”  God is ever laying His hand upon us and thrusting us out into the open, saying, “You can be more than you are; you must be more than you are.”  
– Lettie B. Cowman, Springs in the Valley

So my friends, as we begin yet another year by the grace and mercy of God, let me remind you that the Lord is still seeking open minds, tender hearts and willing spirits to do His work in this world while there is time.  Our Heavenly Father is speaking.

Until he calls us home, you’ll be – listening?
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Ribbons of Goodness

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17

I love Christmas – the joy and festivity in the air, the lights, the music and friendly smiles. I love the way people can go out of their way to be cordial and neighborly, extending kind gestures in ways that are often unexpected, giving gifts that, whether they recognize it or not, point back to the birth of a baby boy over 2,000 years ago. A baby boy whose advent had been predicted and anticipated for hundreds of years and yet, whose sudden appearance in an obscure place seemed to take everyone by surprise.

cmas2God’s people had been waiting and longingcmas2 for his arrival but they were expecting more of a conquering king; a political savior and religious leader who would play by the rules. Mary and Joseph held their firstborn son, not in the comfort of their home with adoring family and friends, but huddled in a cold and lowly stable they shared with some animals and a few shepherds who had just received a celestial invitation. Not exactly what the young couple might have expected, but far beyond their wildest dreams. The heavens erupted in praise. The angels looked on in wonder.  The shepherds knelt in reverence as the tiny Prince of Heaven locked eyes with his earthly parents, and Mary and Joseph rejoiced.

I love to watch the pure excitement on children’s faces as they gather around the tree. My younger grandchildren can hardly contain themselves. In fact, they have forced me to become more creative with the gift wrapping because the little urchins will gang up on me and somehow figure out who got what, thus spoiling the surprise. I have been known to employ riddles, numbering systems, color coding and themed gift wrap to help preserve the suspense and while they’ve never met a gift they didn’t like, they are naturally drawn to the biggest, brightest and most colorful packages, mesmerized by the possibilities contained therein.

Although I wouldn’t accuse my Heavenly Father of resorting to such trickery,  I realize how very childlike I have been in my expectations and yes, demands. For I desired only the gifts that looked like blessings to me – the brightly wrapped presents that everyone else would admire and crave. The exciting and noteworthy things that would announce to the world that I somehow deserved the goodness that had come my way.

“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God; not only by unbelief, but by thinking that you know what he can do.  Expect unexpected things ‘above all that we ask or think.'” – Andrew Murray

I blush at my youthful dream of becoming a songwriter. I knew that God had gifted me. Surely the songs would flow effortlessly and pain-free from my pen and paper to the ears of eager listeners who would anticipate with enthusiasm each new offering. I was naive in expecting that my songs would be recognized and sought after, that I would be “discovered.”  Well, they weren’t, but I was – discovered, that is, by a God who could see through all my delusions and superficial requests. He knew exactly who I would become, where I needed to be, and how he would get me there.  With utmost patience, he continued to surprise me with a lifetime of unexpected gifts.  Some actually looked like blessings and I shared them with excitement, while others came wrapped in heartache and I stared at them in disbelief from a lonely, impoverished place, not understanding until much later that all were tied with ribbons of goodness and given in the fullness of time to carry out his perfect plan.

So this Christmas, whether you are rejoicing over the many good things the Lord has bestowed upon you or struggling under the weight of an unexpected circumstance too difficult to carry, remember – they are all good in the Father’s gift-giving plan.  Take a moment to look for those ribbons of goodness and let his sweet presence fill your heart with comfort and joy.  Though born of humble means, these gifts can lead your soul to greatness.

“…and I thank you, Lord, that when everything’s put in place,
 out in front I can see your face and it’s there you belong!” – Dan Burgess

Have a blessed Christmas!

Becki

Lift Me Up

2This is a little story about a day in the life of a starving artist who has to work to support her music habit.

I would love to tell you that there was some grand spiritual moment, a great awakening that prompted the writing of this song. But it wouldn’t be true. I was rushing around to get ready for work and there was a good chance I might be late. But when I pressed the nozzle to put on a little perfume, nothing happened. I looked at the empty bottle in shock and dismay and said out loud, “I’m fresh outta Happy!” Frantically, and slightly annoyed, I searched the vanity for another bottle that may hold a drop or two of my favorite fragrance but to no avail. I got nothin’! Then I began to chuckle as my mind repeated the phrase, “fresh outta happy!”

What a great track that provided for my train of meandering thoughts! I began to revisit many of the extreme circumstances of my life and realized that even in times of deepest despair, I could not recall one single moment when I didn’t know that God loved me.  He had never failed and had always been there for me. I began to wonder what life would have been like had I not known Him and how it must be for the multitudes who don’t. My heart broke for others  – the loneliness and hopelessness they must feel, the alienation when Christians get all joyful and singing Love Lifted Me all the time. Without Jesus, that kind of deep abiding joy is foreign and unattainable.

I thanked God then and there for all the times I had cried out to Him and He had faithfully lifted me out of the depths and set my feet on higher ground. An old hymn from my childhood (Higher Ground by Johnson Oatman, Jr.) kept inserting itself into my thought process, seeming to want to climb aboard at every stop.

“Lord, lift me up and let me stand by faith on heaven’s table land;
A higher plane than I have found, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground!”


I don’t remember much about the rest of the day except that even as I worked, this song was on continuous play in my mind as it sought to find the right words to express itself, and by the time I got home that night, it was complete.

“I shoulda known you would provide along the way
All that I needed to get by another day.
Now I can sing and shout about how your love lifted me;
I want everyone to see!”

Hear “Lift Me Up” and all the songs on the new album by Becki Bice, “Color Me Love”. Click here.

 

The Colors of Love

BeckiBice_ColorMeLove_r3-1If it’s true that every singer has but one song to sing, and they sing it all their life, mine would have to be the love of God: vast, unmeasurable, unconditional, extravagant – its power completely underestimated by his prized creation, the very object of that love.

“Did you ever find the song that sang of itself  in the quiet of your closet, when you heard His ‘Yes’ to your prayer for His glory to come on earth? When nothing was seen of His working for you or your loved ones, did you hear the sweet strains of the song that sang?”  – Lettie B. Cowman, Springs in the Valley

It is my motivation, my compelling force, my guiding light and ultimate source of all the good I can do in this world. All humanity craves its comfort, cries out for its healing touch. It is the birthmark of true believers, the one characteristic that identifies me as a child of God.

It has been a golden thread weaving its way over and above, around and through the fabric of my life.  As a child, I was an unwitting and oblivious recipient. As a wayward teen, I ran from and resisted the love I was so desperate to find, knowing in my heart that it was there all the time.

From the moment I began following Christ in earnest and loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, its recurring theme began showing up in my songs like some rogue musical photo-bomber, seemingly out of turn, yet strategically poised, ready and waiting for that look of surprise when I found it front and center once again.

So when I read the following phrase in a blog by Dr. Charles Ware about this time last year (thank you, sir), I started smiling because I knew I’d have to sing it again. I could already hear it easing into the next refrain:   just “color me love!”


May my life present a portrait of His love in living color – His peace, my frame!

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can.  In all the places you can.  At all the times you can.  To all the people you can.  As long as ever you can.”  – John Wesley

Hear clips from all the new songs from Becki Bice’s new CD “Color Me Love” at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/beckibice2

End of the Road

bb3A feeling of panic swept over me as I prepared for my first trip to Nashville to meet with Creative Soul. What was I thinking – saying I’d go down there? I started assembling all of the lyrics I could find – some scribbled, some typed, and others written neatly on legal pads. After I had exhausted all possible options of where they might be hiding, I stared at the dining room table covered with songs spanning several decades. With a lump in my throat I began to talk to myself – half complaining, half praying – “this cannot be for nothing – this cannot be all there is … there must be a purpose. Whatever possessed me to sit down and write all these songs? Why would anyone one do that, Lord?”

I stood there, tears streaming down my face for several minutes as I reflected on all he had brought me through. I sat down at the piano and started singing the chorus … “This can’t be the end of the road …” The first verse came quickly and by the time I got to the end I realized that my musical journey was remarkably similar to the story of the prodigal. Broken once again, I wept as I realized how tired I was of trying to figure things out on my own and that my Heavenly Father was indeed waiting; but not only that, he had been with me all along and was even now preparing the way before me.

Buy the Song | Buy the Album

Just As Long As I Have You

bb8This was written for our friend, Nikki, who valiantly and joyfully lived every moment of her life until she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. I can still see her sitting in the balcony at church wearing a brightly colored scarf, face beaming with sheer joy as she watched her children participate in the annual Christmas pageant.  And maybe there was a little coaching going on up there when the three ‘wise guys’ sang! My daughter had recently given me a quote: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow is the future, today is a gift; that’s why we call it the present!” I was pondering that as I went to see Nikki in the hospital early one morning. She was in and out of consciousness but smiled and held me close as I thanked her for all she had taught our church family about loving and caring for people.

I wrote this song, fully intending to sing it for her when she came home, but the Lord had other plans. So I can remember Nikki and share her story, but Nikki’s singing with the angels, waiting for the rest of us to come home.

Buy the Song | Buy the Album

Keep Me Tender

bb7Every time my Dad got up to preach he would pray, “…and Lord, please give me a clear mind and a warm heart with which to teach your Word. But if I ever had to choose between the two, Lord, I’d rather have a warm heart…”  I was always touched by that but as I got older I used to be a little afraid that God might take him up on that proposition and although he did repeat himself a lot in later years (jokes, that is – which we appropriately teased him about), and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was well into his 80’s, he never got confused about God’s Word and he always presented it with clarity and a warm, tender heart – 53 years in full time ministry, and many more after that, mentoring pastors and churches wherever God placed him.

Listening to Elvis on the radio one day (you’ll never guess which song), I began thinking about how much his music has influenced our society and our ideas about love. Judging by Hollywood’s perception of love, it really is “all about me” – love me tender, love me true – That philosophy has crept into our churches, too.  Love me, please me, help me – let’s just  be all about me and we’ll all get along!

We have no understanding of, and no tolerance for, the depth and sacrifice of genuine love.  But it is the only way we can ever touch the lives of others – by extending to them the selfless, unconditional love that only he can give.

Buy the Song | Buy the Album

Jesus Loves Me

bb5The story of a little girl’s journey to faith, and the Daddy who led her there.  But the story began long before that:

Once there was a group of gospel singers who devoted their lives to ministry. They came to sing for a youth rally in a small town in upstate NY in the mid 1930’s and one of the church teens invited a friend to attend. Young Leo came to the concert that night and accepted the Lord as his personal Savior. His life was radically changed and he became passionate about reaching other young people for the Lord. So, every Saturday he would drive the country roads and invite young people to Sunday School – even offering a ride if they had no transportation.

One week, he happened to stop at the Whitman farm on Ridge Road. There were several children in the home but at first, only young George accepted the invitation. He was eager to learn about the Bible and before long, he too, accepted the Lord, and his sisters soon after that.  George began studying the Bible in earnest, even doing some preaching as a teenager, and soon answered the call of God on his life. He went on to Bible college, met his bride (who has another wonderful story of God’s grace to a family extending over centuries and across continents), and they served the Lord together for 64 years until God called him home. God blessed their marriage with seven children and this is the story of just one of their little girls.

But the story doesn’t end there in that little country church in Pigeon Roost, Kentucky, for that little girl was me and now my story is part of yours.

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If I Don’t Have Love

bb2This song developed out of a personal Bible study on genuine love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.  As I read the chapter through several times the melody began singing to me. There’s an interesting story about the song’s debut in church – a stark contrast, presented just moments before I was to get up and sing – the contrast between love and hatred; a story of how God gave me the strength and composure to get up and present a message of love in the face of utter contempt and humiliation.

I’d like to say there was a happy ending but all I can truthfully tell you is that God brought me through it with His grace and dignity and for whatever reason, decided to use me in a living demonstration of how love responds when hatred rages.  The good news is, I didn’t die (as appealing as that might have seemed at the moment) – but I can never sing the song without feeling that pit in my stomach as all of my being remembers an extremely uncomfortable moment.

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Butterfly

coverA true story inspired by a little girl’s treasure hidden away in a crayon box, and the lesson I learned about how God works in us; a song for my dear friend and all the beautiful little ‘butterflies’ in our lives.  Interestingly, the song developed in much the same way as the message it conveys when I found an old journal entry 25 years after it was written.  Much like the caterpillar my daughter had tucked away in an obscure place, the journal had been sitting unnoticed in a box of personal effects that had endured several moves. When I found it I wept as I realized how true it was – the message was for me!

I am reminded of the story of Joseph and how God kept him in obscurity, bondage and hardship – testing his character until it was time for the dreams to be fulfilled (Psalm 105:18-19).  And the best part is knowing that none of this just ‘happened’ to him but rather, God sent him to that place of isolation ahead of time in order to preserve the lives of others.

Buy the Song | Buy the Album