Category Archives: Lives Full of God

Monday Morning Moment – a Comforting Reminder When Family Gathered – “Do the Next Thing”

Photo Credit: Francis J. Gavin, Kristian Dela Cour

This morning I woke weighed down with so much undone that needing doing. A week of travel, as delightful as it was, lends itself to a deep sleep on Sunday night and an early fretful waking on a Monday morning.

Do you have those awakenings? When your mind clears from sleep and you begin looking at the week ahead and think “How am I going to get it all done?” Or “How do I even do it?” Anxiety builds, and depression follows.

That’s how this morning started…and then the heaviness lifted with the simplest thought. A reminder I received just this weekend…a reminder that stirred sweet memories of a woman with huge influence on my younger years…writer Elisabeth Elliot.

On our trip to see family this past week, we had an evening with girl talk. Four generations of women around the dinner table, laughing, sharing, and remembering. [I know men do this, too – how else do they keep all those football, baseball, and fishing trip stories so fresh in their memories?]

In the course of the warm glow of that conversation, my dear sister-in-law, Stacie, reminded her girls of how she counseled with them through their high school angsty moments. She told us she used to  quote Elisabeth Elliot‘s own advice to her daughter, Valerie, when she was overwhelmed by life: “Do the next thing.”

[Stacie sounded just like Elisabeth Elliot as well…took me back to when I was her girls’ ages and first began reading Elliot’s books, including her husband Jim’s journals.]

Elisabeth Elliot died in 2015, but through her life she wrote many books that had huge impact on my life. From my teen years. Books that remain treasures today…http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Blog-Elisabeth-Elliot-Love-is-a-Laid-Down-Life.jpg

For years after, as a struggling mom with young children, I would tune into her daily radio shows – Gateway to Joy – listening to her “square-your-shoulders” walk-with-God counsel. Her manner was both tough and tender as she covered the real stuff of life and how we maneuver through it in the presence of God.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

This morning, in the cloud of confusion over where to even begin this week, God brought our dinner table conversation to mind. Hearing Stacie quoting Eliot in that no-nonsense voice of hers made me laugh then, and smile today.

Four little words that brought clarity.

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now…Do the next thing.Elisabeth Elliot

When You Don’t Know What to Do – (a tribute to Elisabeth Elliot) – Rhonda Quaney

On the Passing of Elisabeth Elliot – Love Is a Laid Down Life – Deb Mills

Love Is a Laid-Down Life  – a Slowing Down for a Season – Deb Mills

Photo Credit: Pinterest, AllysTruth

YouTube Video: Elisabeth Elliot: Suffering Is Never For Nothing

Worship Wednesday – We Are Blessed, to Bless a World in Pieces – Andy Flannagan

Photo Credit: Bible Verses 2 U

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – God to Abraham –  Genesis 12:2

We are so blessed. Even those who don’t believe God is will use the expression of being blessed. I wonder, “by whom” and “why?”

We are blessed to be a blessing. From the beginning of time when God instructed His first man and woman. Especially to childless Abraham who would receive that promise in faith…blessed to be a blessing.

From a young British friend’s Facebook page sometime ago, I was introduced to songwriter Andy Flannagan and Reverend Kevin Lewis. They both love Jesus and sing and write about blessing…

They both cheer us on to shake off the weight of self-interest and reach out to a broken world…that those desperate for love will find it in the same Savior we know…and show by our love that He loves them, also.

“[We need to] come out of Moral Superiority Castle, cross over the stagnant moat of separation and meet the kingdom of God where justice and mercy meet, where the never-ending stream is full of justice and goodness; where people are messed up and broken and dirty like old cracked pots that leak and feel pretty useless and that, that is where we are and where we are a part of the repairing and restoring and transforming of the world. It is a place of tension. It is a place of unresolved hurt.

No-one said that where justice and mercy meet was a comfortable place.” – Kevin Lewis

Worship with me.

Bring heaven to earth, Lord
Bring peace where there’s fear
Bring life where there’s death, Lord
Bring joy in these tears
Bring love where there’s lust, Lord
Bring hope where there’s pain
Bring rest where there’s chaos
Bring faith where there’s fame

You invite us to partner with you
To see your kingdom come

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces
We are loved, to love where love is not
We are changed, to be the change you promised
We are freed, to be your hands, O God

Bring home to the homeless
Bring keys to the chained
Bring worth to the purchased
And touch to the shamed
Bring flesh from your word, Lord
Bring truth where there’s spin
Bring risk where’s there safety
And grace where there’s sin

In the broken, we shall see restored
The image of our King

We are blessed…

Lord we cry out to you
Change the atmosphere
Breathe new life in all who gather here

We are blessed…

Bring justice to profit
Bring patience to growth
Bring wisdom to progress
Plant trees on this road
Bring freedom from debt, Lord
An end to excess
Bring closer your kingdom
By quiet success

May we grow in the knowledge of you
Through every heart and face

We are blessed…*

Postscript: Andy Flannagan, in a town meeting with London mayor Sadiq Khan, at a local church, talked (in this video clip) about what we as Christians do well. He closed with “The harder thing is to go back to the Jericho Road to work out how to stop anybody else getting mugged.” (Luke 10:35-37)

*Lyrics to We Are Blessed – Songwriter: Andy Flannagan

Andy Flannagan Website

Blessed to Be a Blessing – Mike Pettengill

Wednesday Worship – the God Worshipper – Psalm 15

Photo Credit: Knowing-Jesus

Worship. Such a tension to keep the focus on the Lord and not on our own preferences, our own pleasures.

King David had his own slippery slopes through life, but worship that pleases the Lord was clearly something he understood. Psalm 15 came up in my regular Bible reading this week and is still working its work on my heart.

Lord, who can dwell in your tent?
Who can live on your holy mountain?

The one who lives blamelessly, practices righteousness,
and acknowledges the truth in his heart—
who does not slander with his tongue,
who does not harm his friend
or discredit his neighbor,
who despises the one rejected by the Lord
but honors those who fear the Lord,
who keeps his word whatever the cost,
who does not lend his silver at interest
or take a bribe against the innocent—
the one who does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

Who is that person?! That person who lives a life of worship as if he enters the “holy of holies” as he would enter his house or his workplace or his church.

What we do briefly on a Sunday morning matters to God, for sure. What we are about through the week (including Sunday morning) is the substance of the life of a worshipper. There is no separation of sacred from secular. Of daily or divine. We all know this in our hearts.

Psalm 15 puts me on my knees. Let’s break it down. How does the psalmist describe one who essentially lives in the presence of the Lord?

10 rules are laid out in Psalm 15. The first three are in verse 2. These only God can see whether we live by them or not. Now others may see our actions but these verses pertain more to the content or motivation of our hearts. The other seven are listed in verses 3-5. These are straight-up actions toward those we encounter each day.

Here they are in Easy English*, these rules or habits that mark a true worshipper:

1) She “makes no mistakes”; lives a life of integrity and uprightness. Consistent. Honest. What you see is what you get.

2) She does what is right and fair. Practices righteousness. In fact, he works righteousness into every situation, as one would knead bread.

3) He speaks out loud what he knows to be true in his heart. She does not withhold the truth in timidity, but acknowledges the truth with courage.

4) She tells no lies about another. In fact, even if something seems true, she reminds herself that telling it won’t help the person or the situation. He refuses to speak ill of others. No slander. No back-biting.

5) He does nothing harmful to his neighbors. No mean intentionality. Nor cruel or indifferent neglect.

6) She does not harm others with words. She makes no slurs nor discredits them. He does not make slurs or gossip about others. [Similar to #4; the repetition shouldn’t be lost on us. Our mouths can betray what’s in our hearts which can disqualify us for true worship.]

[Sidebar: If we can determine to speak truth in love, the temptation to talk about others INSTEAD of to them would be less a problem. What do you think?]

7) He does not keep company with bad people. He despises those who show themselves despicable. She does not seek the favor of those who reject God.

8) He gives honor to those who fear God. She serves those who serve God.

9) She keeps her word no matter what it might cost her. He is dependable and trustworthy.

10) He uses money to bless not to profit. She is generous. He remembers the poor.

*A Place for You – Psalm 15 in Easy English – Gordon Churchyard

Psalm 15 – the Character of the One God Receives – David Guzik

We look at these rules and spiritual habits and wonder how we can offer pleasing worship to the Lord…ever. We are imperfect and follow Him imperfectly. The key is the aim of our hearts. If we tune our hearts toward God as a matter of life, we set our aim on Him. In such a way, that the arrow of our lives hits the center of the target of these habits…these disciplines…these practices.

I always loved Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. He was a monk who struggled against the mundane of serving God and the brothers in his monastery. Then he caught onto the idea that God was in the mundane…as in any of the holy sacraments.

Writer and farm wife/mother Ann Voskamp wrote about this in her blog How to Practice the Presence of God. In her critique, she posed the question of how can you practice His presence. “God’s presence needs no practicing because God’s presence has no end. God presence needs no practicing because it’s perfect and it’s present everywhere.” 

What she says is true, but we are frail in our faith and too often distracted by the many tantalizing imperfections of life. We miss God if we don’t make seeing Him a practice. It’s less like practicing the piano and more like practicing medicine. Less works. More faith. Faith in a sure truth and great God. Worthy of worship in every aspect of our lives.

We know Him and we live in ways that reflect knowing Him.

No song today through which we might worship together. Songwriter Hoss Hughes has penned a sweet response to Psalm 15 (see link below).

YouTube Video – “Never Shaken” – Psalm 15 worship song personalized by Hoss Hughes

I do love how the psalm ends.

“The one who does these things will never be shaken.” Hallelujah!

How to Live the Psalm 15 Life – Kenneth Copeland

Singing with Jesus – Psalm 15 – Acceptable Worship

Worship Wednesday – Fear Is a Liar – Zach Williams

Photo Credit: Flickr, Lisa Hall-Wilson

Now this is what the LORD says–the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.1 John 4:18a

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

When we, or people we love, come under an attack of some sort, we respond. Always. Two physiological responses may immediately come to mind. We fight or fear (literally fleeing or just in our head). That fight or flight response is much researched and well-documented. My default is flight…in fear. If I have to, especially for the sake of my children or others needing help, I would fight, but fear would be part of that battle.

I too often go to fear. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you go to fight. Either one can be used in ways by our enemy to keep us from a third response. That being collecting our thoughts around what is true and acting in a way that gives space for God to fight for us. That does not mean we won’t be physically removed from a fight (to protect or for justice or mercy’s sake). Nor does it mean that we won’t be tempted to fear. The big however is that we are not defeated already by believing fear’s lies or by unleashing fury that hurts in its own right.

When I heard Zach Williams’ song Fear Is a Liar, the lyrics drew me in immediately. I knew that experience. That experience of fear being a voice in my head, telling me things that simply were not true…but sounded true. Paralyzing me when God means for me to be free. I am free in Him. Fear picks us up to throw us down somewhere dark and outside of who we really are. Fear is a liar…and is generated by the “father of lies”. At first, I struggled with the personification of fear in this song…but more and more, it is like battling with Satan himself, or one of his minions. The truth is that “greater is he (God) in me, than he (the evil one) in this world”. Photo Credit: Flickr, Artem Popov

My Mom and I, through the years, would often quote 2 Timothy 1:7 to each other. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” We both struggled with fear and needed to remind each other of the truth. Dave has often helped me come back to my senses with just the two-word imperative: “Pull up”. When we struggle with fear, our thoughts can grow more and more terrifying and send us on a deep dive, spiraling out of control. Just the reminder to “pull up” would spark my returning to remember what is true.

Those of us who fear need people in our lives who remind of us of the truth and the God of truth. Not in a platitudinous way. But in a way that wraps around us, stays with us, loves us through it. Who are your people?

[Sidebar: For those of you who default to fight or fury…the wisdom is the same. Return to what is true, what is full of love, what is genuine power. Being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” is not weakness; it is a right response that gives space for God to act.]

Worship with me and cancel the fear with the truth of God. Extinguish its darkness with the light of the perfect love of Jesus.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar*

Fear does not die easily. Often I have to pray myself out of fear before sleep at night, and praise my way out of picking it back up in the morning. This is after a lifetime of battling with fear. However, there is nothing sweeter…nothing…than knowing that God’s got this. Whatever “this” is. We live in a world full of scary and confusing struggle. We can’t see yet how it will all come out or what is happening in the unseen. Trusting God with what frightens and acting accordingly is how we deal with the struggle. We don’t retreat…but we don’t go it alone. That gives me joy, and I will not to be afraid.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – JesusJohn 16:33

*Lyrics to Fear is a Liar – Songwriters: Zach Williams, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Lindley Smith

Zach Williams Music

Worship Wednesday – No Fear – Same Power – Jeremy Camp

Fear Is a Liar – 91 Images on Pinterest

Worship Wednesday – Dream Small – Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Josh Wilson Music

Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much.  Luke 16:10

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’  Matthew 25:21

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.Colossians 3:23

For those who have served well as deacons acquire for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 3:13

Here we go again! Round Two on life in the small.

The Lord has really been speaking to my heart of late in being faithful in the small things. Just a week ago, I posted on this very thing – Days Packed With Ordinary. Today we will go deeper still in this being faithful with the little.

Our hearts can get so entangled with ambition and greed. We as Christ-followers are meant to be dead to all that, but it creeps in if we are not vigilant to keep our eyes on Him. Even in our faithfulness in doing the small things, we must be wary of that tiny thought taking root in our hearts…that thought of doing to please – either God but too often people. One would think that good works done to please God is a good thing…make sense, right? Yet, it takes on a whole other color when we act in hopes of pleasing God more – maybe even to get more from Him. Maybe to please him more than one of our brothers or sisters. Oh this journey!!

Our focus is off here if this is our struggle. It’s “not about us”. When we are faithful in the big and small, it’s not always because we do what we do well. No, it doesn’t always work out that way. The key is that we do, in the small and big, what we do because of Him. Our love for God trumps every other motivation.

Discern What Pleases God Himself – John Piper

As I’ve thought of this taking joy in the small, many different people have come to mind. Here are just a few of them:

  • A member of our church is one of the hardest workers I know. She is there most days taking care of one odd job or another. She does work that most of us wouldn’t volunteer to do but rather be willing to pay a professional to do it. One day, when I commended her on all she does, she told me a story of another woman in a far country who served in her own church in various small ways as her tithe because she had little else to give. This woman at our church works without pay, for God and for us.
  • A single friend of mine works a regular work-week and then gives of herself to the community through various agencies. She’s an introvert and needs decompression time, but she stretches herself in this way. I learn so much from her.
  • Another guy at our church isn’t even a member but he often stands at the door greeting and welcoming folks as if into his own home. We feel like rock stars around him.
  • The stay-at-home moms in my life extend themselves both in the home and out in ways that encourage me and cause me to marvel.
  • That unseen coworker who makes the coffee and washes the cups at the end of the day. We are always impressed when our boss makes and serves us coffee. How about this guy or gal? This small kindness and others like it show a side of people that may not get noticed by the highers up…but God sees.
  • Lastly there’s a family pastor in our lives. He lives states away and has served in a small church for nearly 20 years. With what all his many responsibilities must be, he never forgot our dad. Regularly visiting him and other old ones in their homes or nursing homes.

After my blog of last week was published, a dear friend wrote some very kind words on my Facebook page and pointed me to singer/songwriter Josh Wilson‘s song “Dream Small“. It is so fitting for today’s conversation.

Worship with me…this God who fits us for every good work, big and small, but most importantly, calls us to Himself.

It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time that the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving for the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world

Dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Dream small

It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things
‘Cause these simple moments change the world

But dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
So dream small

Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans
From rivers

But dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Yeah, five loaves and two fishes could feed them all
So dream small
Dream small *

Photo Credit: Pinterest, Toby Mac

Faithful With Little, Joyful in Much – How God Meets Us in the Small Things – Adam Cavalier

*Lyrics to Dream Small by Josh Wilson

Worship Wednesday – Days Packed with Ordinary and the Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe

YouTube Video – “Dream Small” Inspired by Becca (Josh’s wife)

Josh Wilson Music

Josh Wilson Returns to Christian Radio With New Single Dream Small – Explains Story Behind the Song

Worship Wednesday – Days Packed with Ordinary and the Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe

 

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. – the Apostle Paul, Acts 20:24

My mom was tireless in serving God and others right to the moment she lost consciousness in her last hours on earth. She always amazed me. Never too busy to be interrupted. Never too tired to respond to a need. Just never. She amazed me.

Toward the end of her battle with cancer, I asked her (you’ve heard this story before) if she heard God speak to her. In years past, she struggled with whether God was guiding her or she was on her own. It was something she fretted over at times. In the hard days of cancer, I was hoping maybe that had changed… Again, when I asked if she heard God when she prayed, and she trained those clear blue eyes on me. With a smile that comforts me still, she said, “All the time.”

Too many of my days seem full of the ordinary. Full to overflowing; jam-packed with the mundane. There was a time when I had influence – different from now. There was a time when (in my meager estimation) my showing up made a difference…even potentially an eternal difference.

I know, right?! Too much about me when He makes the difference.

This week, God spoke to my heart through the crammed days of ordinary. I was reminded of the Scriptural account where Jesus fed thousands with the smallest of provisions. Five loaves of bread and two fishes.

It calls to memory an old praise song, “Little Is Much When God Is In It”. God can do so much with whatever we give Him…including all the ordinary of our lives.

One Sunday, during worship at Movement Church, I heard the song The Cause of Christ by Kari Jobe for the first time. In the setting of church gathered, the Holy Spirit moved my heart deeply with the purpose of this life. Then Cliff preached from 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 (podcast here). The focus of this scripture, teaching, and worship was to encourage us, as church, as saved peoples, to “persevere and refuse to be silent”.

My heart’s desire is to be wholly about God’s purposes and to radiate, in word and deed, the love and person of Jesus Christ.

Seasons come when this desire is dampened by fears, distractions, and cultural cloyings that disguise lies for truth. I have not always lived for the God who saved me…definitely have not been always faithful to speak the glorious truth of who God is and what He has done for us.

Oh…the awful silence of choosing my own comfort over the cause of Christ.

Photo Credit: Twitter

What joy in those occasions when we enter into the cause of Christ and share the truth of God, in word and deed. He takes our feeble attempts and, through His Holy Spirit, gives us the opportunity to point to love and life in Him.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.John 3:16-17

How can we keep silent?

It is not fame that I desire
Nor stature in my brother’s eye
I pray it’s said about my life
That I lived more to build Your Name than mine*

Worship with me for the cause of Christ (music in the link):

The only thing I want in life
Is to be known for loving Christ
To build His church, to love His bride
And make His name known far and wide

For this cause, I live
For this cause, I’d die
I surrender all
For the cause of Christ
All I once held dear
I will leave behind
For my joy is this
Oh the cause of Christ

He is all my soul will prize
Regardless of the joy or trial
When agonizing questions rise
In Jesus, all my hope abides

For this cause, I live
For this cause, I’d die
I surrender all
For the cause of Christ
All I once held dear
I will leave behind
For my joy is this
Oh the cause of Christ

Jesus, my Jesus
For Your glory, for Your name
Jesus, my Jesus
I will only sing Your praise

For this cause I live
For this cause I’d die
I surrender all
For the cause of Christ
All I once held dear
I will leave behind
For my joy is this
Oh the cause of Christ

It is not fame that I desire
Nor stature in my brother’s eye
I pray it’s said about my life
That I lived more to build Your Name than mine*

Photo Credit: Ann Voskamp, Twitter

Oh God, thank You for the only ordinary and the magnificent mundane…when You show up in small lives and do something big.

*Lyrics to The Cause of Christ – Writers: Kari Jobe, Benjamin Hastings, Bryan Fowler

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song The Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe – interview starts at 4:45 [also how to play the song]

What Is the Cause of Christ?

A Cause Worthy of Your Life – Andrew Corbett

What Does It Mean to Be Saved? – Steven J. Cole

For the Cause – Getty Music

YouTube Video – When It’s All Been Said and Done – Robin Mark

Finishing Strong – Mildred McAdams – (our mom) – 1927-2002

Worship Wednesday – The Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe

Worship Wednesday – When We Pray – Tauren Wells

Photo Credit: More Famous Quotes

We talk about the need for prayer. We “send prayers” to those in difficult situations. The Scripture has prayer woven throughout. Below are just a few references to the powerful nature of prayer.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”Psalm 34:15

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”Jeremiah 33:3

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'” – Jesus – Matthew 6:9-13

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”Romans 12:12

Do you find praying challenging? It’s strange that it is, when it is challenging. We know that God invites us to be in conversation with Him (Jeremiah 33:3). He even taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). He tunes his attention to even our baby prayers. His desire is to show Himself faithful and loving and all-sufficient to his children. Even when our prayers get locked on what we want rather than whom we want…our Heavenly Father…that whom.

If the Scripture doesn’t settle for us why we pray, a little song I learned years ago might be an added help…especially when the answers seem delayed or denied. It is Babbie Mason‘s  Trust His Heart and the chorus follows:

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see his plan
When you can’t trace his hand
Trust His Heart

The most beautiful part of prayer is that God meets us wherever we are…his faithful children and his prodigals coming to their senses:

“There is a story in the Talmud about a king who had a son who went astray. The son was told, ‘Return to your father.’ The son replied that he could not. The king then sent a messenger to the son with the message… ‘Come back to me as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way’. ” – The Chosen

For Christ-followers, we don’t even make that journey back to Him alone, maybe even frightened. When we belong to Him, the Holy Spirit draws us back to Him…and the Savior is with us every step of the way.

What would put you on your face before such a God right now?

Photo Credit: Shawn Gray

Were it not for pride, or the cares of this world, or our culture’s clawing at us with its lies? God has already set prayer in motion by stirring up that desire, by making us aware of that need, by fanning our small faith into flame.

Our delight is to turn our hearts toward God…to enjoy His company, to see His mighty works, and to share community with others longing for Him as well.

My Mom, my Mom-in-law, my husband…other family members, and many many friends have deepened my prayer life by witnessing and being the beneficiary of their own…and their walk with the God of this universe. I wage spiritual warfare with them for the sake of those we love…and for the world that God also loves.

Worship with me (link to lyrics & music)…to this song, When We Pray, by Tauren Wells.

People hurting, people broken
Beaten down and feeling hopeless
Wonder if it’s gonna always be this way
Who will speak up for the captive
Show some love and heal a past that
Binds the wounds we think will never go away

But what if we could be a people on our knees
As one before the King
‘Cause we believe

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray
Oh, when we pray, oh

I see revival rising
I see hope on the horizon
As a generation stepping out in faith

As one before the King
Yeah we believe

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray
Oh, when we pray, oh

Let Your kingdom come, Lord
Let Your will be done

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray, oh
When we pray, oh

In Jesus name (when we pray)
In Jesus name (when we pray)
When we pray, oh
When we pray*

Photo Credit: Pixabay

*Lyrics to When We PrayWriters: Tauren Wells, Colby Wedgeworth, Ethan Hulse

Worship Wednesday – My Hope Is In Jesus – David Crowder and Tauren Wells – Deb Mills Writer

YouTube Video – Trust His Heart – Cynthia Clawson – lyrics by Babbie Mason

When You Pray – Shawn Gray

When God’s People Pray – Jim Cymbala – Session 1 (of 4) – Vimeo

10 Most Important Verses on Prayer in the Bible – Lori Hatcher

Worship Wednesday – Up and to the Right with Andy Crouch

Photo Credit: Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch w/ Jonathan Storment

I want a Tshirt with this graphic on it. I also want to learn how to live “up and to the right”.

This graphic comes from Andy Crouch‘s book, Strong and Weak, which is still my favorite of 2018 so far. It sets out Crouch’s premise that flourishing is how God means for us to live. How we get to “flourishing”, individually and in community, is with high authority coupled with high vulnerability.

Authority is defined as “capacity for meaningful action”.  Vulnerability is “exposure to meaningful risks”. These are the truest definitions. We have bent both of them to mean something else in today’s culture – either power with potential to be corrupted or a smarmy sensitivity that needs protecting.

Both authority and vulnerability when aligned with the will and nature of God are so much more…and work together to make us true image bearers of our Creator and Redeemer. As community (church), we can actually move toward a flourishing that includes the most vulnerable and the seemingly least empowered.

This Worship Wednesday blog is not about singing praise but about thinking and meditating on God’s Word and His intent for our lives.

“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, or well pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

Thus says the LORD, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”  Jeremiah  22:3

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”Isaiah 58:6-9

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of a Common Good RVA event. Andy Crouch was the keynote speaker. He spoke practically about how we could apply ourselves to the good of all, especially through the vocations God has given us.

As educated and affluent, our temptation is to avoid vulnerability placing us on the left side of the graph. In our flesh, we prefer withdrawing to safety or exercising control at all costs.

God calls us to a different life…a surrendered life for the common good.

A writer pastor, Jonathan Storment, wrote a series of blogs, taking the reader through a thought-provoking review of Crouch’s wonderful book. Below are quotes from his review and from the book Strong and Weak. When you read the take-aways below, you’ll want to read the book…then you will be compelled to act, with authority and vulnerability.

This paradox of both God-given authority and also the vulnerability that we all face in the world is where true Jesus-like leadership occurs. This is what it has always meant to be humans made in God’s image.Jonathan Storment

Power that is transfigured by love is an entirely different kind of power. It’s the kind of power that leads people to lay down their lives for the good of others. It’s why the New Testament can use the word Dunamis (the word for power, where we get the word dynamite) so often in positive ways. Because Jesus redefined what it meant to wield power.Jonathan Storment

Think back over the people who have made a difference in your life. Chances are they had roles as teachers/parents/mentors/friends. If they helped you flourish in your life, it was because they were acting in some kind of authority, and exposing themselves to some type of vulnerability. They had authority because they had the capacity to make a meaningful difference in your life, and they had vulnerability because they were opening themselves up to someone (you) who could potentially hurt them…Crouch is talking about what the word vulnerability really means…woundable.Jonathan Storment

Idols always promise to give you everything and cost you nothing, but given enough time, they take everything and give you nothing. So Crouch says: “The first things any idol takes from its worshippers are their relationships. Idols know and care nothing for the exchange of authority and vulnerability that happens in the context of love.”Jonathan Storment

[Sidenote: We don’t usually think about idols…probably because we have already been deceived by their control of our lives – alcohol, drugs, pornography, position, wealth.]

Nothing is sadder than a leader who has refused to bear vulnerability. Whenever someone in authority refuses to bear vulnerability someone else is forced to bear it. But it’s not just the people who are oppressed, it’s also the oppressor. They lose something of what it means to be made in the image of God. They slowly create a Hell for themselves and then are forced to live in it.Jonathan Storment

“This is the definition of Hell. To know the power you have and not have the ability to realize that potential.” Hell is like a cruise that never ends. But the real danger for us today is not that we book ourselves a lifetime filled with cruises. It’s that we do the same thing in different ways. Here’s how Crouch says it: “The real temptation for most of us in not complete apathy but activities that simulate meaningful action and meaningful risk without actually asking much of us or transforming much in us. So if you really want to see what withdrawing looks like in affluent, technological America, you don’t have to visit a port of call. You just have to turn on the PlayStation in your living room.”Jonathan Storment

[Sidebar: This is not about bashing ocean cruise aficionados or gamers. I know both who are incredibly engaged as image bearers in their communities. This is about not being deceived. Recreation or needed downtime are not the same as a life’s pursuit of avoiding risks and settling for idols.]

The way of Jesus is up and to the right, authority and vulnerability in the world, bearing in the world’s suffering while being a part of the God’s redemption  process.

I don’t think Christians are the only ones tempted to escape, and in our secular age, it’s no longer Heaven that people are escaping to. It’s much easier to stare at your iPhone than to have a conversation, slowly spend your life watching t.v. every night instead of going that group or civic effort.

[God help me here.]

Vulnerability and Authority – called to make a difference and remain open to the suffering of the world. Because we follow a God who did anything but withdraw, we are called to do the same. Now Up and to the Right. Jonathan Storment

Now the challenge for us is to take the wisdom of these words and apply them to our lives and our community. Thoughts?

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch

Strong and Weak: The Hidden Vulnerability of Leadership – Jonathan Storment

Strong and Weak: Flesh and Bones – Jonathan Storment

Strong and Weak: Crown of Thorns – Jonathan Storment

Strong and Weak: Numb to the World – Jonathan Storment

Strong and Weak: Drunk on Power – Jonathan Storment

Strong and Weak: Up and to the Right – Jonathan Storment

What Is True Worship? – Got Questions

Worship That Pleases God – Isaiah 58:1-14 – Brian Sandifer

Characteristics of Acceptable Worship – Gregory Brown

Monday Morning Moment – On Being White in a #BlackLivesMatter America – in Remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery, Alpha Stock Images

I have never felt so white as in recent years. Even all the years we lived in North Africa weren’t like now. Being white, politically conservative and evangelical, some would say, in our current political and cultural climate, that folks like me come from a camp of perceived unsavories.

That reality is might be changeable as political parties come and go in power. What I would love is to have conversation with you…if you would engage with me in the Comments below…is about the realities of those whose skin and cultural experience is black.

No matter what my heart is toward people of color or my attempts to bridge the racial gaps of this city…is it too little, too late? No. I know it’s not too late, but what can I do definitively to help?

This is what I’m asking and searching out.

When the Rodney King arrest happened and became a cultural phenomenon, we were living in the hills of East Tennessee. Far from the struggles that poverty and racial tension bring to urban America.

With violence in the US on the rise, it is easy to see how edgy police officers could get. Police brutality is never the answer. It is, however, a part of the many problems we have in our country right now.

Don’t Just Blame the Cops: Who Is responsible for America’s Killing Fields? – John W. Whitehead – Huffington Post

[I couldn’t imagine someone I loved being in law enforcement and am grateful for these men and women who try to do right and try to keep us ALL safe.]

What stirred me to write today (besides it being MLK Day) was an account by a friend of mine who was pulled over recently by local police. This friend is well-educated, conservatively dressed, articulate, and kind. He lives in a part of the city that is being revitalized, doing work in a non-profit organization and he has a family. He is also black.

When we talked, he told me this was actually the fourth time he had been stopped for confusing reasons that could have put him in harm’s way, when he wasn’t guilty.

When he was in high school, he was among a group of students gathered by a police officer. The purpose of the class was to teach them “how not to get shot” if ever approached by law enforcement.

My friend has applied those lessons on these multiple “pull overs”.

When he and his wife shared the details of some of these encounters with police, it caused me to be scared for them…and for all those who experience this kind of profiling (because of their color?).

That conversation reminded me of my only experience that was anywhere close to his. [And then, it’s not even close.] Once when we lived in North Africa, a police officer pulled me over, took my papers and refused to return them to me until I paid him “a fee”. I had done nothing wrong, and I couldn’t leave without my papers. Stuck. It was the only time in all the years we lived overseas that I essentially cooperated with a bribe.

As infuriating and exasperating as that North African experience was, I still felt the benefit of white privilege. I had the money to pay him. I, an unaccompanied woman, was driving a car. I knew if I appealed (to anyone in our hearing that day), he may have probably backed off.

A big difference between my friend’s situation and mine was that I knew there was a way out. Not sure of his confidence of that…

Photo Credit: Flickr

The phrase “white privilege” feels wrong, to be honest, and I chafe in every conversation where it comes up. I wanted to be a person who has tried to be “color  blind”. The problem with that “color blindness” is our black neighbors, coworkers, friends don’t have that option. I’m beginning to see and acknowledge how privileged I am in so many ways. This is what I used to call “blessed” which had no color attached. Unfortunately, when my friend shares his experiences, I want to agree with him. There is privilege attached to my life. If there is privilege, then how do I use it for the sake of others?… This friend of mine has his own privilege through education and class, BUT the color of his skin trumps all of that.

YouTube Video – If Someone Doesn’t Understand Privilege, Watch This

On Sunday, at the start of our church service, I saw, sitting by our pastor, a person of color, wearing the “pastor’s mic”.  I’d been praying for some time that when we added to our staff, we would seek a black man or woman. When Rayshawn Graves was introduced as our speaker, I forgot for a moment that his presence was aligned with our observance of MLK Day. Initially my heart thrilled at the possibility that he was preaching “in view of a call”. Oh well (I would find out later)…he is contentedly on staff at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond.

Rayshawn preached out of Ephesians 2:11-16 on the reconciling of Jewish and Gentile believers. He also preached on Galatians 2:11-16 on how racism can creep into even the most devout believers if we aren’t careful. His message was so encouraging to me as a white believer desiring to figure how to deal with racism in America (what could I do?). My takeaways from his assuring and equipping sermon follow:

  • Racism is a sin which will always be present. It separates and isolates us from God and each other.
  • Jesus died for that sin as for all other sins.
  • Through Him, we can have the guilt of that sin removed. We can all be free to live in unity with God and each other.
  • Our identity in Christ is above every other identity we may have.
  • We don’t have to live out guilt (as whites) or the hurt of racism (as blacks). We belong to Christ and we are called to live that out – loving God, loving others, making every effort to keep and preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
  • We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) – within the church and with marginalized peoples especially. Unless we come close to each other, and have heart conversations, how will we know what those burdens are?
  • Because our identity is in Christ, and we love Him and want to be like Him, we make a habit of being proactive in pursuing reconciliation.

You can listen to Rayshawn’s sermon in entirety here. So helpful.

#BlackLivesMatter: A Guide for Confused White People – Sarah Wotaszak

YouTube Video – A Biblical Response on Race – Sermon by Tony Evans

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As we pause on Martin Luther King Day and reflect on the sobering issue of racism in our country, and world, we can be hopeful. The hope must be grounded in what has already been done for us to be unified…and what we can do, based on truth, towards racial reconciliation. Still thinking of my friend, somehow profiled by law enforcement, I am more resolved than ever before to reach out in as many directions as possible. May God open doors and bring unity.

Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist – Daniel Kleven

Postscript: Below I have excerpted just a few of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observations on what was happening in his day. He wrote these to a group of white pastors who had expressed concern about his actions.  He wrote from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for nonviolent demonstrations against segregation.

[Bold emphases are mine. Read his letter in its entirety here.]

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…
I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Photo Credit: Flickr
I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”  Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love?

Monday Morning Moment – New Year’s Day – Resolved

Photo Credit: Reformed Outfitters

I take New Year’s resolutions very seriously. They have served me well through the years in shaking up troublesome habits as well as galvanizing better ones. New (or restored) habits that nurture the body AND the spirit.

Today we started another sugar detox to deal with those few extra pounds from all the great holiday eating. Also started a gentle-on-the-heart decluttering project. Will deal with exercise at some point.

What I’m most excited about are the resolutions that were actually spurred on by our pastor during his sermon Sunday [podcast of 12/31/2017 here]. Cliff challenged us to commit to some to the Lord…together.

In fact, before the end of the service, we were to think, pray, and write down our resolutions and place them in a self-addressed envelope. He will mail them back to us in three months to encourage us back to resolve if we have faltered at that point.

Cliff preached from 1 Corinthians 1 about the callings God has placed on our lives…and with the callings He empowers us, providing all we need to be successful. Our responsibility…privilege, really…is to resolve to enter into the life God intends for us, rather than play around with something much less. God calls us into deep relationships with him and with each other. We can miss that by paddling around in the shallows of life…choosing superficial over the supernatural.

Anyway, I was resolved, before that sermon, to go deeper with God this coming year and to surrender myself to Him in my relationships with others as well. Cliff’s encouragement came at just the right time. I especially appreciated a phrase he used about God being the “first voice” in our ears each morning. Not our phones, not email, not social media, not any other distractor. Just His voice…first.

Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century preacher and theologian, definitely understood the importance of praying through and writing out resolutions that would inform his daily life. Over the course of several months, he composed seventy resolutions for life. You can read them here. The five resolutions I made during church on New Year’s Eve are weighty enough for me…can’t imagine 70! Edwards just gives an example to us of a man who, even as deeply devoted as he already was, did not want to miss God in a busy life of ministry. Nor did he want to miss the people God placed in his life as the focus of that ministry.

Resolutions help us to keep the main thing the main thing. Sure, we may struggle to keep our bodies and houses in order. Those are temporary situations. Where we hope most to be successful is in keeping our hearts tuned to what matters most. Going deep with God and others. I am resolved…

Resolved – The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Monday Morning Moment: Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – Deb Mills Writer