Category Archives: Word of God

Worship Wednesday – Alleluia, the Majesty and Glory of Your Name – Tom Fettke & Linda Lee Johnson

Rainy morning quiet. When I got back from walking with my neighbors, the backyard feeder was swaying from the perching of a wide array of birds. My favorites, the cardinals, were there, along with many others, including goldfinches. Those little yellow birds flew before I could get a picture of them, but Michael Seeley captured a similar scene (below).Photo Credit: Michael Seeley, Flickr

Mornings like these, with a rained-out event clearing my schedule, I sit in quiet. In times like these, with nature all around magnificently displaying the glory of its Creator, the Psalms come to mind.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!Psalm 8:3-4, 9

Photo Credit: Pixabay

No matter what we are facing in the moment – great joy or great sorrow – this world of ours, the beauty of it, reminds us of the Author of it all. Who are we that the God of this universe should visit us with such wonder? I think it is to lift us out of our present circumstance and to demonstrate His own beauty, His glorious nature, and His tender care.

…for the tiniest of creatures and for His beloved children…even made in His own image (Genesis 1:27). We lift our eyes to Him in worship…on a rainy morning, in a moonlit evening, and at our work stations wherever we are.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Photo Credit: Chris Yarzab, Flickr

Tom Fettke and Linda Lee Johnson, inspired by Psalm 8, wrote a perfect anthem to the majesty of God’s name as displayed by the beauty of His creation – The Majesty and Glory of Your Name.

Worship with me. If you’re at work, you made need to plug in earbuds – this gets louder and more glorious as it goes – like the praise of children.

When I gaze into the night skies and see the work of your fingers; The moon and stars suspended in space.

Oh, what is man that you are mindful of him? You have given man a crown of glory and honor, And have made him a little lower than the angels. You have put him in charge of all creation: beasts of the field, The birds of the air, The fish of the sea.

Oh, what is man? Oh, what is man that you are mindful of him? O Lord, our God the majesty and glory of your name Transcends the earth and fills the heavens.

O Lord, our God; little children praise You perfectly, And so would we. And so would we.

Alleluia! Alleluia! The majesty and glory of Your name. Alleluia! Alleluia! The majesty and glory of Your name. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! (Alleluia!)

Psalm 8 Bible Study/Commentary – David Guzik

A Year Missing Our Friend Jeannie Elliff – Remembering – Jeannie had asked for this anthem to be sung at her funeral. At the end of the video of her funeral you can hear it sung as a benediction on the God she loved so much.

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 8 – He is Risen! Resurrection Sunday

Blog - Easter - Empty Tomb

Photo Credit: TurnbacktoGod.com

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1 

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. John 20:18

On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walking with them, eating with them, teaching them again…as he promised.

He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!* – Trevin Wax

[Read the rest of Wax’s poem here.]

Oh the joy…the indescribable joy of that reality. He died and yet he lives. We were dead in our sins, and because of him, we have life.

Take the time to read this amazing story yourself. The Gospel writers all have given detailed accounts of the risen Christ ( Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29). The Apostle Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57

Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed.  This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.

I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.

For the past almost 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19

“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

Holy Week – Day 8: Resurrection Sunday! – Thank you, Mary Fairfield for writing so well, so thoughtfully, and so thoroughly for Christianity.About.com.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

5 Reasons to Believe That Jesus Rose From the Dead – Adam4d

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

**The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People (1994) by Adrian Plass

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God Above – sung by Selah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

YouTube Video – Easter Song (Live) – Keith Green – (song starts 2 minutes in)

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

عيد القيامة يسوع المسيح مبارك وكلّ عام وانت واعئلتك بالف خير! المسيح فام! حقّاً قام!

Jesus and Holy Week – Thursday, Day 5 – Passover Celebration and His Last Supper Before the Cross

IslBGPhoto Credit – Baptist Press – Courtesy of DeMoss News Pond

[Adapted from the Archives]

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

The Thursday before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was the awaited celebration of Passover. In this day, we have a picture of Jesus, in all his humanity, and in all his deity. All four of the Gospels written about Jesus’ life have the account of this day’s events (Matthew 26:17-75; Mark 14; Luke 22:7-65; John 13:1-18:27).

After sunset, the Jewish people would take the Passover meal together – as families usually. They would share the Seder and remember how God protected them during the days of their slavery in Egypt. When Jesus and his disciples gathered around this meal, there was not just looking back, but also a looking forward. The disciples still may not have understood that Jesus was hours away from dying. However, I’m sure they listened carefully to his teaching in those sacred moments together.

This Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday. Maundy means “commanded” and also can refer to the ceremonial washing of feet.  Jesus took upon himself to wash the dusty feet of his disciples, modeling for them his command to love one another (John 13:34-35).

After Jesus and his disciples finished their meal together, he would go into the garden Gethsemane to pray. They were all with him, except Judas Iscariot, who stole away to bring Jesus’ enemies to trap him there in the garden. Jesus prayed there long into the night. He wrestled with his heavenly Father over the need for him to die. “Oh my Father, if it is possible, let this cup [of suffering and death]pass from me.” Then, settled in his obedience, “O my Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Sometime during that dark night of the soul, he turned his attention toward his disciples and all the rest of us, across the ages, who would follow him. His prayer to the Father, recorded in John 17, is exquisitely beautiful, especially in the context of this difficult night. [Take time to read it in full, but I’ve included a part of it below.]

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Then out of the darkness, Judas came to betray Jesus. He was leading a group of the religious leaders, along with a huge company of soldiers. Although Jesus’ disciples wanted to resist his arrest, Jesus refused their intervening and surrendered himself…not to the mob, as much as to the will of the Father.

The betrayal was complete. His disciples fled (although those closest to him would soon follow). He would spend the rest of the night in the tormenting custody of his enemies. The countdown to the cross had begun in earnest. A countdown that was from the beginning of time…and under the careful watch of God, our Father…to restore us back to Himself.

One more day…

YouTube video – Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn) by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Holy Week – Day 5: Thursday’s Passover, Last Supper

What Is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday 2015: The History Behind The Holy Thursday Before Easter – Also enjoy the beautiful Lent Meditations Slideshow at end of article.

Jesus Prays for His Disciples…and For Us

Jesus and Holy Week – Tuesday, Day 3 – A Long Day Teaching & Countering Religious Opposition

Blog - Holy Week - The Olivet DiscoursePhoto Credit – slidesharecdn.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

When He [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”Matthew 21:23

On this long day, Jesus would demonstrate in one situation after another that he spoke and acted with the authority of God Himself. The barren fig tree cursed by Jesus the day before had indeed withered and died. The disciples saw it themselves that morning as they walked again from Bethany to Jerusalem. Jesus spoke to them of faith, which they would need all the more in the days ahead.

Again in Jerusalem, in the Temple and on the busy streets during Passover, Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders. They were determined to trap him in some sort of blasphemous teaching or interpretation of the law. It would not happen, yet they were set on his destruction one way or another.

In an attempt to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, a legal advisor to the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law. The Pharisees emphasized strict adherence to the laws of the Torah, all 613 of them! I don’t think they were prepared for Jesus’ response:

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” –   Mark 12:29-31

Two commands: 1) Love God with your whole being; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Some might say that a third is presumed in that you must love yourself in a right and wholesome way in order to truly love others. Jesus’ love for the Father and his love for all people were in perfect unity. Loving God, with all we are, gives us perspective and capacity to love those around us, whomever they are, as we have experienced love ourselves, from the God we love.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish leaders grew more angry at Jesus and were vexed as to how to destroy his popularity and influence with the masses of Jews loyal to him. All their trickery that day failed. Jesus was not intimidated by them, and in fact, spoke some of his strongest words against them while teaching that day. His 8 “woe to you” pronouncements against the Pharisees are listed at bottom of this page. When I read them, the song from the original Godspell film comes to mind as the Jesus character stands against the religious “machine” of his day – those “hypocrites”, those “blind guides” of the people. Blog - Holy Week PhariseesPhoto Credit –www.faithbibleministries.com

Finally, leaving Jerusalem that day, Jesus stopped on the Mount of Olives (Olivet) to speak about the future. He talked at length, to his disciples and all those who followed, about the end times, cautioning them about false teachers and the evil that would rise up in those last days. What it must have been to listen to Jesus, the Messiah, filled with a mixture of faith in him and fear of what could lie ahead for them, and the generations to come.

When Jesus and his disciples returned for the evening to Bethany, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, stole away and met with Jesus’ enemies. [Matthew 26:14-16] He would betray Jesus to them in the dark of night, away from the crowds who would have objected to this…in just two more days…for 30 pieces of silver…Judas would seemingly take history into his own hands, but the clock was already ticking, and Jesus would finish what he came to earth to do.

Postscript:

8 “Woe’s” Spoken by Jesus Against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-30)

1- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men.

2- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses, and pray at length as a pretense.

3- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

4- Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.”

5- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.

6- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.

7- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

8- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”*

Holy Week – Day 3: Tuesday in Jerusalem, Mount of Olives

YouTube video Alas for You from the original film Godspell

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree

Jesus and the Pharisees

*8 Woes Upon the Pharisees

Great Texts of the Bible – The Two Commandments – commentary by James Hastings

613 Laws of the Torah

Jesus’ Olivet Discourse about Two Future Events

Jesus and Holy Week – Monday, Day 2 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Cleanses the Temple

Blog - fig treePhoto Credit: Fig Tree by Bob Orchard

[Adapted from the Archives]

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”Mark 11:12-14

During that week in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples spent the nights with friends in Bethany, two miles outside of the city. Each morning, they would walk into Jerusalem. On that Monday morning, just four days prior to his crucifixion, Jesus became hungry on the walk in. Seeing a leafy fig tree, he looked for fruit. With fig trees, where there are leaves, there should be figs. Since green figs are edible, and it wasn’t yet harvest season, there should still be some fruit on the tree.

When he found no figs, Jesus cursed the tree. This seems out of character for Jesus, until his action is put in the context of his culture and community. Throughout his public ministry, especially as he became more known and revered, the Jewish religious leaders held him in contempt. Jesus’ teaching of our dependence on God’s righteousness and not our own flew in the face of the Pharisaical teaching of the day – that of strict adherence to Jewish law as the only hope of finding favor with God. For Jesus, the leafy barren fig tree must have been a picture of religious Jews of that day, all flash and finery but no fruit of faith.

Jesus was left still physically hungry and then also spiritually hungry  – for this people of the Book to receive the good news that the Messiah had come.

Finally, arriving back in Jerusalem, Jesus was deeply troubled by what he found inside the Temple. The crowds of Passover pilgrims did not disturb him, but temple grounds turned marketplace did. In this sanctified place, meant only for worship, there were money-changers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, right in the Court of the Gentiles – in the only place where non-Jewish God-believers could worship.Blog - Jesus Cleansing the TemplePhoto Credit:Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple” by Luca Giordano

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”Matthew 21:12-13

Often in film depictions of Jesus cleansing the temple, he appears a crazed individual, flailing about, throwing tables and flinging pigeons into the air. I can’t even imagine him that way. We can’t know how it happened except that in Jesus’ anger, he did not sin. I know the Jesus Film is just another director’s film rendering, but in this scene, Jesus showed great restraint. Disturbed at the buying and selling that actually kept believing Gentiles from worshiping, he moved to correct the situation. He was unafraid of the temple officials, burning with zeal for his Father to be truly worshiped in that place.

Zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.Psalm 69:9

Later in the week, he himself would be the one sold –  for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by one of his own disciples, to satisfy the wrath of the religious leaders. That story is for another day.

This Holy Monday, we are drawn again to this Messiah who teaches us that the way we live our lives matters but not more than the way we relate to God. He is holy, and in His righteousness, we stand…on solid ground.

Holy Week – Day 2: Monday Jesus Clears the Temple

YouTube Video with Lyrics of In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree

Monday of Holy Week

The Righteous Anger of Jesus

Cleansing the Court of the Gentiles

Jesus Film Media – website & app to watch videos

Palm Sunday – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross – Day 1 of Holy Week

Blog - Palm Sunday & CrossPhoto Credit – inexplores.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

For anyone who considers herself a critical thinker, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter your religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything you may think of God. You will better understand the core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known to you as Christian. For in the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, you will see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.

{Sidebar: I taught a World Religions course some time ago in a Moroccan high school. In that course, we studied all the major religions. The students were challenged to think critically of each religion. I encouraged them to study each one, 1) trying to put themselves in the perspective of one who believes (i.e., a true follower, using eye witness/historical accounts and Scriptures when available), and then 2) to break down each belief/tenet of faith critically. We all benefit thinking through Holy Week this way; none will not come away the same by examining the life of Jesus.]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.

He knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.Matthew 16:21

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. – Matthew 17:22-23

As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,  and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”Matthew 20:17-19

I can’t even imagine what those disciples must have felt as Jesus predicted his own death. They loved him and all pledged their lives to him, even to death. They believed him to be the conquering king, sent by God, to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and to restore the nation of Israel. Although they had soaked up three years of his teaching, this “end of the story” was more than they could bear. Just a week later, they would gloriously understand that it would not be the end of the story of Jesus’ life.

On this Sunday, before the Passover, Jesus would enter the great city of Jerusalem, teeming with crowds there to celebrate. He entered, riding a donkey*, as was foretold by the Jewish prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowds did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dust before him welcoming him:

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:8-10

“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who knew him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.

The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.

Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.

[Each day in this week, the posts will mark the journey of Jesus of Nazareth through the last week of his earthly life. Join me please.]

*Matthew 21:1-11 & Commentary

**”Hosanna” means “God saves”.  YouTube lyric video of Hosanna – Hillsong

Holy Week Timeline

Look, the World Has Gone After Him: Prelude to Palm Sunday – Jon Bloom

The Significance of Palm Sunday in Relation to Passover

Kings Riding on Donkeys? What?

Photo Gallery: Egypt’s Coptic Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday – When our children were young, we lived in Cairo, and bought palm fronds to make some of these crafts, as well as buying them ready-made.

Worship Wednesday – Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – Part 2

2014 Dec Blog pics - Stones of Remembrance 002

[Adapted from the Archives]

“…that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”Joshua 4:24

In a stressful week and a spiritually dull time, it’s been good to reflect on the work of GOD in our lives. 12 stones of remembrance are piled on my kitchen windowsill. 12 recollections out of the many times He has moved on our behalf. The first 6 are found here.

7) We moved overseas to work almost 20 years ago. Our children were young and we felt terribly young ourselves with the language skills of a preschooler. On arriving in a beautiful capital city in North Africa, with survival Arabic and the grace of God, my husband needed to find a house for us to rent. It seemed a daunting task.  That first morning, we prayed together, and he left the hotel to begin the search…by faith, really. Even hailing a taxi requires some cultural understanding of how it’s done there, and it took a few tries for him to “win” a ride. Finally a taxi driver invited him in, and off they went. In a country of 9 million Muslims, there were many 30 Christ-followers. In all this huge city, the taxi driver who stopped for him was one of those few.  Over the years, we have known the friendship of many wonderful Muslim people, but on this stressful first morning, to have the company of a brother was a special kindness of God. Housing was eventually found; that encounter was a special grace.

8) Sometimes God’s might and gentle care both shine through a seemingly insignificant situation. After some time in this North African country, work took us outside the capital city to a distant town. Now my husband would have to purchase a vehicle which we had not needed in the capital. Again, like so many seemingly simple processes, this took on a whole new level of complexity when done cross-culturally. The used car souk only happened on Sundays, and the bargaining process was incomprehensible. He was unsuccessful for weeks. Knowing our move was imminent added pressure. Finally, one Sunday, he just gave up. He walked up the ridge to the highway to catch a taxi and looked back over all the business of car sales, feeling hopeless. A taxi pulled over for him, and he got in. The driver said, “Are you buying or selling a car?” When my husband told him that he was unsuccessfully trying to buy a car, the driver asked what kind.  It turned out that the driver had a friend selling a car, just the kind we needed. Random, crazy, love-filled act of GOD.

9) While we were overseas, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It was a lymphoma and, by all rights, should have been cured, or at least arrested, by the treatment of that day. It was not to be so. For three years, Mom endured aggressive chemotherapy. The cancer was relentless. In the course of her treatment, she also had a severe Shingles attack that went into her nervous system and caused her pain for the rest of her life. We came back to the US for what would be her last year. My mom loved the LORD. She never prayed for healing, although we sure did. She only prayed for GOD to be glorified through this cancer. He answered her prayer…and ours, in a different way. Much of her life, she lamented that she didn’t hear GOD speak to her in ways she was sure he did with others. I asked her once, near the end, if He spoke to her now, and she smiled, and said, “All the time.” For her, the cancer was worth it.Fuji002 152a

[Since writing this blog originally, we’ve also lost our dad. He had both Alzheimer’s and colon cancer that was spreading. We had prayed for months that he would not be afraid as he lost his memories and that he would not be in pain in the end. God gloriously answered those prayers for us. We know it doesn’t always work out that way, especially with Alzheimer’s. We are so grateful.]

10) Losing my mom was especially hard, a “severe mercy”*. Losing my older brother was strange and complicated for me. Robert had what I would describe as a self-imposed hard life. He could be rough with those he loved the most, almost taunting them to desert him. Yet, he had a kind heart that would often betray his attempts to be distant from us. He finally did move away from all his family, building a house way out in the country. When mom died, I think the sense of home for Robert died with her. Two things I prayed for him, during this hermit season of his: that he would not die alone and that he would be reconciled to his family. Although we lived far away, we saw at a distance that Robert began softening in his conversations with us. On our last phone call, he actually sounded happy. He talked excitedly about meeting up with one brother and working on a project with the other brother. At the young age of 61, piercing chest pain forced a call for an ambulance, and he, not many hours later, died on the operating table. He did not die alone, surrounded by the surgical team who sought to repair a shredded aorta…and many in his family praying for him outside. He died short of repairing all his relationships, but he was moving miraculously in that direction…by God’s grace.2007 SepOct 046

*A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken – autobiography about losing his wife and finding God in the midst of the loss

11) Our oldest son, Nathan, is a classical guitarist. In his last year of college, he was to perform a Senior recital as part of his requirements for graduation. In the process of preparing for this recital, he developed a tendonitis from the hours of practice. His doctor told him he had to rest his hands for the 2 weeks prior to his recital. This could have been devastating to his performance. Nathan was able to practice the day before and the day of his recital. He was a bit shaken mentally because of those days without practice, but he determined to continue with the recital. I may be his mom, but his playing that day was technically brilliant and incredibly beautiful. Especially given the stress coming into that day. There was a row of us, family and close friends, praying for him through the recital. With every piece completed, it seemed we were more in a worship service than a concert. I filmed his performance, and later as we watched the video, we saw something very interesting. There was a light artifact of some sort, and it looked as if a shaft of light beamed down through his right hand. It was a picture of GOD being  there with Nathan, and we knew He was by Nathan’s performance. Nathan had played for all of us, and for an audience of One. He told us afterwards that his hands ranged from feeling ice cold and difficult to manage to feeling on fire and exquisitely painful…yet he played so well…and so to the glory of GOD.

Nathan & Bekkah Wedding Slideshow Final 060

YouTube Video of “Preludio” – one of Nathan Mills’ pieces during his Senior recital

Nathan Mills – Classical Guitarist, Composer, Arranger of Themes from Films, TV Shows, and VideoGames

12) Finally, the last stone of remembrance for today: being present when someone receives the LORD as her own. Many of you may have that experience on a regular basis. For me, spending so many years in North Africa, I have only personally had this experience a precious few times so far. One very dramatic time was when we came back to the US. A young woman I really didn’t know very well appeared at our women’s Bible study. There was an urgency about her…a quiet earnestness. She was there on a mission. The LORD had clearly been working in her heart and she wanted to settle things with Him. There was only a handful of women in the room, but the power of the Holy Spirit was so evident. While some of us explained how to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, the rest of us prayed…back and forth, as she talked, listened, cried…and then prayed aloud herself. Did one of us lead her to be a Christ-follower? No. We were merely and miraculously witnesses of a redeeming love. I wish you could have heard her pray…so full of humility, and longing, and finally peace. To witness the work of GOD in a life He drew to Himself…incredible.

Right now, as we are days away from this year’s Easter celebration, I am once again riveted by God’s reach into our lives. Just in this past year alone, He has been with us through great joys and great losses, a cancer diagnosis, much change in our work, and the birth of a precious grandchild. The handprint of God is everywhere…even on days when I have to get my heart quiet and my eyes focused to see. He is always near…it just takes us looking…and then remembering all the times before.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:13

Will there be days we forget? It happens… Fortunately, for us, even when we forget, He never does.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 49:15-16

Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – What Are You Remembering About God Today? – DebMillsWriter

Worship Wednesday – On Anxiety – My Anchor – Christy Nockels

Photo Credit: Flickr

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:19

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. – Psalm 71:1-3

In my late teens and 20s, my mom endured a hard and painful-to-watch season. A few of my other friends’ moms went through what then was called “a nervous breakdown”. Somehow, my mom pushed through. She felt tremendous responsibility to get her four children grown and established in our adult lives. She worked hard at her job and served well in her church and community. Mom was unshakeable in her love for God and for us.

Yet the demons were real. I will never forget sitting beside her as she lay weeping on her bed. Deep, shaking, inconsolable cries. She was never able to say what the tormentors were – regret? worry? There were times she described how it felt like something was in her throat (that proverbial “lump”) that she couldn’t get down – literally like she couldn’t swallow (or stomach) whatever was going on.

In those days, holding my mama who I loved most in the world, I promised myself I would never let that level of misery happen in my life…I would figure out how not to be taken down by fear or the threat of the future…especially such that my children would not have to see me in such pain.

It was sometime in my 20s that my own tears dried up. After watching my mom cry so much, I just didn’t have any tears…maybe I didn’t want to go to that hard place…

Praise God there is always more to the story. My mom survived those years and lived more joyfully and peacefully after that, right through the day she went Home to be with the Lord. Thanks to my mom, I did learn how to cope with the stressors of life…not always well, but I know how.

Mom and I both learned through our lives how to cast our cares on God. There may have been times in Mom’s later years that she wrestled with anxiety just between God and her. There are times, as well, that I wrestle, especially in the night hours, before sleep.

Right now, anxiety seems to be gripping the hearts and lives of some dear friends of mine. I’m not sure how to counsel but am absolutely sure how to pray.

Anxiety is not the same as fear. It is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil…It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Fear is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. It is a distinction between future and present dangers which divides anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused. It is the mental state that results from a difficult challenge for which the subject has insufficient coping skills.

Photo Credit: SketchPort

God never meant for us to live in anxiety.

For clinical helps on dealing with anxiety, Debbie Hampton has written a concise and practical piece (linked below) entitled Four Steps to Take Control of Your Mind and Change Your Brain. She takes it from the book You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Golding. The 4 steps are written from more of a Buddhist mindfulness orientation, but they actually easily translate to Biblical wisdom.

For today, I just want to express my profound gratefulness for the God who meets us in the dark nights of the soul and reminds us of what is true and restores our joy and peace. He is faithful, and His Word never fails.

Worship with me through the song My Anchor by Christy Nockels and Jason Ingram.

You’re the Lord Almighty
Your every word is sure
And in Your love unfailing
I’m safe when oceans roar
Yes, I’m safe when oceans roar
My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on
Here within the struggle
And every crashing wave
You are more than able
Your hand is strong to save

Yes, I know Your hand is strong to save

My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on

I hold on to You
And You hold on to me
Jesus, I hold on to You
And You hold on to me*

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

By the way, I seem to have gotten my tears back, for which I’m grateful. Also, for those of you, like me, who struggle with anxiety, it’s a battle. We must be gentle with ourselves but, at the same time, disciplined in dealing with the lies with which our mind hammers us. For you who love us “sometimes anxious ones”, thank you…especially when you don’t default to anxiety…thank you for trying to understand, and for loving, and for guiding us gently to the truth, and for praying. You are the face of Jesus to us.

*Lyrics to My Anchor – Songwriters: Christy Nockels & Jason Ingram

Story Behind the Song My Anchor by Christy Nockels – Kevin Davis

How Do I Take My Thoughts Captive? – Interview with John Piper

Worship Wednesday – I Need You Now – by Plumb

Worship Wednesday – Listening to His Voice Through the Noise

12 Christian Songs to Ease An Anxious Mind – Victoria Rondinelli

7 Christian Songs That Help With Feelings of Depression – Crystal McDowell

Four Steps to Take Control of Your Mind and Change Your Brain – Debbie Hampton

Four Steps – Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s Four Steps – Hope 4 OCD – Dr. Ada Gorbis

You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Golding

Prescriptions Without Pills – For Relief From Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More – Dr. Susan Heitler

5 Friday Faves – Common Purpose, Safeguarding Your Marriage, Being Different, Hard Seasons, and Small Beginnings

Happy Friday! Here is my gift to you today – so many glorious finds I’ve tried to compress into 5 Friday Faves.

1) Common Purpose – Every year, Glassdoor, a website that assists employers and potential employees to find each other, posts a Top 50 of Best Places to Work.

Photo Credit: SAP

Glassdoors’ 2017 Best Places to Work

In his LinkedIn article, Barry Sanders talks about one of the characteristics of what makes a “best place to work”. This characteristic is “common purpose”.  He writes:

Common purpose is essential to driving organization-wide adaptability, which is key to succeeding in today’s fast-paced business world. A shared set of values and goals across the organization allows leaders and individual contributors to achieve widespread alignment, manage uncertainty, and guide decisions in times of turmoil and change.

Without establishing common purpose, companies risk a lack of motivation, lower levels of commitment, less loyalty, and decreased alignment amongst their employees—not to mention negative Glassdoor reviews.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

He also quotes from his CEO General Stanley McChrystal’s bestseller Team of Teams which gives this summary of the importance of common purpose:

“Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose…Individual SEALs have to monitor the entirety of their operation just as soccer players have to keep track of the entire field, not just their own patch of grass. They must be collectively responsible for the team’s success and understand everything that responsibility entails.”

When you can see the entire field, not just your patch of grass, your organization becomes more effective—and a better place to work. – Barry Sanders

I sure hope senior leaders get this message. Just communicating the purpose is not enough. That “patch of grass” must be given to that soccer player. He must own it and own his part of the entire field. Leaders who genuinely believe in and nurture common purpose cultivate a “best place to work” for their personnel.

15 Things I Learned From Truett Cathy [Founder of Chick-Fil-A]– Paul Sohn

2) Safeguarding Your Marriage – Infidelity or unfaithfulness in our marriage relationships is not just about sexual betrayal. Infidelity can happen when we allow our hearts to become more bonded to someone or something else more than to our own spouses.
Dave Willis defines infidelity as “broken trust or broken loyalty”. He has posted a tremendously helpful article entitled The 9 Forms of Infidelity in Marriage (Hint: 8 of Them Don’t Involve Sex). Willis is a pastor,counselor and founder of Stronger Marriages. Single or married, you will benefit from his article because too often we “fall” into infidelity by letting ourselves be deceived in thinking it’s nothing. Safeguard your relationships!

3) Being Different – Matt Damico has written an excellent piece for Christ-followers. It is The World Needs You to Be Different. If you are reading this and you aren’t keen on the teachings of Jesus, you may already think that Christians are a quirky lot of people. What Damico says in this article is to call us to the rhythms, the routines, the practices of the church that work a peculiarity in us that’s a good thing.

Piano scales make a pianist. Hours behind the wheel make a driver. Weightlifting reps make muscles, and lots of miles make a runner. Routine and repetition aid us in so many ways, yet a lot of us seem allergic to similar habits in our weekly church worship gatherings.

But just as these individual habits do something to us, so it is with our congregational habits: they’re making us into something. God willing, they’re making us the right kind of peculiar.

We’ll bear fruit in this life when our roots are firmly planted in the coming new earth. As C.S. Lewis said, history shows that “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” One of the main ways this happens is through the rhythms and repetitions worked into our weekly gatherings.

So, as your church gathers for worship this weekend, appreciate anew what’s happening, how the strange rituals — the “rhythms of grace,” as Mike Cosper calls them — are making you more faithful and more fruitful. – Matt Damico

Photo Credit: Wikipedia; Wikipedia

[Cliff Jordan, teaching elder at Movement Church, in Richmond, Va. preaches on this very thing for several weeks in a series entitled Grace On Display. Seriously transformative stuff!]

4) Hard Seasons – I’m not going to wax on here about hard seasons – we all know what ours are. I just always want to keep Syrian refugees on my radar so here’s a photo piece that dramatically displays their reality…in a way that has stayed in my mind all week.

Click the Black Background and Switch on Their Reality – Politiken

Photo Credit: Flickr

Then I also wanted to share a piece by Aaron Brown. I know his family. He grew up in Chad where his father was a physician. His reflects on a very difficult time and its oddly positive impact on his life…renewing his hope after the very difficult year of 2016.

The Do-Over Year – Ruminate Magazine – Aaron Brown

5) Small Beginnings – In the Bible, the prophet Zechariah encouraged the people, “Do not despise small beginnings.” They had the huge task of rebuilding the Temple, and Scripture tells us, this great work began in the mundane but extraordinary act of Zerubbabel picking up the plumb line. Any beginning may seem small and inadequate for the grand vision that stretches in front of us. However, we never know when the small explodes into wonder.

Chip and Joanna Gaines (HGTV stars of Fixer Upper) have an incredible story of small beginnings which grew into a huge, phenomenally successful business. They started out flipping houses as a young couple and often had just the cash in their pockets. Now they have their own TV show, a real estate business, home goods store, and “The Silos” – a refurbished commercial venue in Waco, Texas.

HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines Reveal ‘We Were Broke!’ Before Fixer Upper

Photo Credit: Flickr; Flickr

Another example of small beginnings is pastor and author Tim Keller. Just this past week, Keller announced he was stepping down from the senior pastor position of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He pastored there for almost 30 years and it now is a multi-site 5000-member church.  [This is a planned succession and he will be teaching in a seminary.] A friend of mine here in Richmond “knew him when”. Years ago, before his NYC church role he was her pastor, in a small church near here – West Hopewell Presbyterian Church. Small beginnings…

My Tribute to Tim Keller – Scott Sauls

Whether you are examining a small beginning as a Christian or from a different worldview, there is excellent counsel to be had…both in Scripture and in articles (such as those linked below).

Just yesterday I was trying to encourage a young man about what he viewed as a small beginning in his career. Not sure I made sense at all. Then today, my husband emailed me this great article – about the exact same subject.

Don’t you love when you read someone else’s brilliant words that essentially describe the counsel you just gave someone?! Benjamin P. Hardy is way more studied and eloquent than I, so please don’t miss his piece titled The 2 Mental Shifts Every Highly Successful Person Makes.  He talks about:

  • the power of choice (“you stop playing the victim to external circumstances and take responsibility for your life – the private victory“) and
  • the power of context (“In everything you do, there should be collaborative and synergistic elements. Of course, there is work which is your work. However, that work should be embedded within a group of others and toward something much bigger. – the public victory”)

Hardy’s full article is excellent (even includes components of the assist we get from brain plasticity which I wrote about earlier).

6 Personal Branding Rules To Being Popular and Profitable – Patrick Allmond

8 Highly Effective Habits That Helped Make Bill Gates the Richest Man on Earth – Minda Zetlin

50 Ways Happier, Healthier, and More Successful People Live On Their Own Terms – Benjamin P. Hardy

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get up and get on with this amazing life we’ve been given…it’s never too late.

Bonuses (for your listening pleasure)

#TheFighter

Posted by Keith Urban on Thursday, May 12, 2016

Banjo Brothers

9-year-old plays banjo… Just wait til his brothers join in! Courtesy of Sleepy Man

Posted by InspireMore on Sunday, September 18, 2016

12-Year-Old Crushes Sia's "Chandelier"!

This girl's voice gave me CHILLS & her story is even more powerful. Tune in this Sunday 8/7c on NBC, Little Big Shots is back!

Posted by Steve Harvey on Friday, March 3, 2017

Elha from the NBC TV show Little Big Shots

How Elha Nympha Got on ‘Little Big Shots’

Worship Wednesday – All I Have Is Christ – Sovereign Grace

Photo Credit: YouTube

The LORD appeared to him from far away. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you.”Jeremiah 33:3

How do we stand against the mean-spiritedness of this world? How do we pull ourselves out of the cycle of shaming, blaming and blame-shifting? How do we still the voices in our own heads and hearts… voices that tell us we don’t deserve love or honor? Or maybe it’s someone else who we have decided doesn’t deserve our love or honor?

We turn our eyes off of those we think betray us and off our own betraying hearts, and we look to Jesus.

To set the foundation here, I am deep in the book Befriend by Scott Sauls. Its byline is Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. Sauls writes about real friendship and spends twenty-one chapters unwrapping the beautiful possibilities of going deep with others. This book came at the perfect juncture in life for me as I shake off a sense of judgment (whether it’s true or not, it feels true) and the isolation that comes with it.

We get crossed-up in life by either the expressed opinions of others or our self-shaming sense of others’ take on our lives, our choices, and our preferences. My default is to go straight to fear…fear of losing place in the lives of those who differ with me. For some reading this, it may seem nonsensical. After reading Sauls’ chapter “Befriend the Shamed and Ashamed”, I am convinced we all deal with shame. It may be covered well by pride, (un)righteous indignation, or self-justification. Still…it is as present with us as in the original garden when Adam blamed Eve (and even God) for his sin, and she blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:12-13).

We want to self-protect. The pain of our own failings, and sin outright, is too much for us so we blame others…we shame others.

God knows us, through and through, and loves us. Full-stop. Not in a pitying way but in the purest, life-giving way of a faithful parent. A Heavenly Father…who came down and came close to show us how much He loved us…through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We lose sight of that sometimes. Lost in our own self-imposed dark thinking, we forget He loved us first (1 John 4:19). We forget that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31-39). We can’t earn and don’t deserve His love. His love is ours, always and forever, for the taking. The God of that kind of far-reaching love transforms us…our thoughts, our actions toward others, our understanding of who God is and who we are in Him.

We see more clearly that those who judge and isolate others are just like us. We are reminded of our own capacity to do the same. Hurt people hurt people. As we see what is true through the eyes of a God who loves, we can humble ourselves and love in return. In fact, we can love first, as God loves us, and stay on ready to do so. What glorious peace is in that possibility!

“The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” (Billy Graham and others).

Jordan Kauflin wrote the song All I Have Is Christ (Sovereign Grace Music), with input from his dad, Bob. We sang this at Movement Church this past Sunday, and God touched my heart, all over again, with the stripped-down truth of His love for us. Gospel Truth. Good news that can change a world – a heart and household at a time. Because of His love for us…there is no more shame. Hallelujah!

Worship with me.

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose.
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life*

Story Behind the Song All I Have Is Christ – Interview with Bob and Jordan Kauflin

*Lyrics to All I Have Is Christ – © 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI), by Jordan Kauflin

Explore God – Questions About God, Jesus, Christianity, and More