Category Archives: Heaven

5 Friday Faves – Answered Prayer, Avengers on Classical Guitar, Financial Security, Community, and Moms

Friday Faves – let’s jump right in!

1) Answered Prayer – This week has been wave after wave of answered prayer…so much so that I’m without words…almost. Many times when we pray, we have to wait…sometimes for years. I have prayers on deposit with the Lord that (at least on this side of life) are still “in waiting” for his perfect timing. We pray on. Then we have the acute occasion when we seek a quick and crucial response. My brother spent a night this week in ICU because of a hard fall to concrete. How grateful I am for people who stand “in the gap” for each other in prayer, no matter the time of day, or whatever is going on in their own lives. For hours we prayed and waited for news that he would recover…and tonight he sleeps in his own bed at home. Just. Like. That. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Answered prayer does not always turn out the way we want. When our mom got cancer, we all prayed she would be healed. Her prayer, through the three years of fighting that dreadful disease, was a constant “for His glory”…only. Her prayer was answered in the positive, countless times. Our prayer was answered with healing in Heaven. Still, we praise God with all our hearts for how we saw Him draw near to her in the hard places. Her tender communion with God in those days was the sweetest I had ever seen in her life.

What might we see altered in this world, were it not for our prayerlessness. This week, because of my brother and othersacred turns of events, I am again reminded of great and present value of prayer. Not just in what we secure from God’s hands…but the journey with God Himself.

2) Avengers on Classical Guitar – I haven’t seen the film yet, but it’s on my summer film list. Like with other arrangements of Beyond the Guitar, I look forward to hearing this now familiar melody rise and fall in the background of the film itself. Since Nathan’s Fortnite Dances video debuted, his viewership and YouTube subscriptions have taken off.  Become a subscriber or Patreon supporter to be a part of the team that guarantees we see more and more of this young classical guitarist’s creative work. His arrangement for Avengers follows:

3) Financial Security – Sociologist and elder rights advocate Dr. Brenda K. Uekert has written a fascinating piece on losing her job in her 50s and the financial safety net that got her through that time. Take the time to read her story, but here are her 6 safeguards to consider in our own financial journey.

  • Pay off your mortgage.
  • Max out retirement contributions.
  • Max out accumulated leave.
  • Be wary of dabbling in individual stocks.
  • Shore up your taxable accounts.
  • Be careful in your spending, in general.

The simplicity of this is its own brilliance. Thank you, Dr. Uekert.

Fired in My Fifties: The 3 Best and Worst Moves that Determined My Fate – Brenda K. Uekert

4) Community – I write about community often. It’s hard for me to imagine maneuvering through this life without the constancy and care of community. For the last couple of weeks, some of us have been briefly in the life of a homeless woman who, it turns out, was just passing through Richmond. Her story had the sad markings of one who had either lost community from no fault of her own or had burned bridges with community across the years. She had to reach out to strangers because there seemed to be few else who would or could help. The margin we have to thrive in life, thanks to community, was difficult to even discern for her. I have no idea where she is right now. We did what we felt we could do, hopefully without being a toxic influence in her life…and now she has moved on.

It reminded me, all over again, how thankful I am for real and deep community. I pray that for us all.Community Group, Movement Church

5) Moms – This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day in the US. For some, it is an uneasy day… Not all of us have had loving, nurturing moms. Not all of us have become moms…or not yet anyway. Mothering can also be a painful experience. I think of dear friends who are estranged from some of their children…and other friends who have lost children, either through miscarriage or death.

Mother’s Day can be painful. Even in the pain, celebrating mothers ever how we can is a good thing. None of us would be where we are today were it not for mothering, whether good, bad, or just imperfect.

Today I remember the two women who have had the most impact in my life as mothers, and it is all for good. My mom and Dave’s mom.

As with all of us, through the years, other women have captivated us with their love, their servant hearts, and their wisdom. I celebrate them as well.

My friend Carol Ann Lindley captured the hard and even awful when mothering didn’t happen or go as we had hoped. Read her words:

I am all for celebrating moms…I look forward to celebrating my two miracles every year. I cherish it because I waited so long. I rejoice with my friends who have endured long years of waiting and have the chance to celebrate. I am aware of some who will be missing a mom this year. Mother’s Day is special because motherhood is such a gift.

But don’t forget to look around and remember the ones who ache this Sunday because they hoped that this year would be different. The ones who watch the celebrating and remembering from a distance, hoping to join in next year. I never ever resented the celebration…I just longed for the chance to celebrate the fulfillment of my heart’s desire.

I have had some hard Mother’s Days. I have had the “maybe next year it will be me” Mother’s Days. And I have had the “I’m missing a baby that I lost” Mother’s Day. Today, I am thinking of our 3 little ones who are celebrating with a different Momma. But I am also rejoicing over God’s two miracles that I have the privilege of being Mom to.

No one said Motherhood would be easy. In fact, the journey to Motherhood is hard. The day to day mothering of littles is hard. And I’m sure I will face other hard days in the future. But it is a precious gift from God and I rejoice in it every day.

So, you Moms who are enjoying this Mothers Day. Don’t feel bad. When I was waiting, I never wanted my Mom friends to skip out on Mothers Day. Enjoy and it and give your kids extra kisses. And look around and see who you can hug and encourage. I had those people on those hard days and their acknowledgement of my “hope deferred” made all of the difference.

And you Moms who are waiting for your babies or are missing your babies. I’m with you. I know how you feel. This is a hard day. But I can promise you that God is faithful and will not waste your tears. The desire to be a Mom is a good one and you are not wrong to feel sad today or to feel like a little piece of your heart is missing. If I could hug you, I would. And I am definitely praying for you.

Here’s the verse that pretty much sums up my journey:

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Carol Ann Lindley

Happy Friday! Happy Weekend! Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s to being gentle with each other and lavishing love on those around.

Bonuses:

YouTube – Dr. Seuss Does Advance Directives: A Tim Boon Poem – ZDoggMD

Bobos in the Church – Scot McKnight

Bobos In The Church

Stop Making Hospitality Complicated – Brandon McGinley

Why So Many Americans Are Lonely – Quentin Fottrell

Boss Doesn’t Trust you? Here are 4 Likely Reasons Why – Randy Conley

Brave Global – a Catalytic Movement for Girls

Photo Credit: The Kindness Rocks Project, Facebook

Worship Wednesday – Stained Glass Windows – Reflecting the Light and Beauty of God

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” – Psalm 27:4

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

My mom instilled in me a love for colored glass. She filled beautiful old wine decanters with color-tinted water and set them in our windows at home. On sunny days, the rooms dazzled with rainbow light. Such delight for us children! Then she discovered depression glass and again placed these translucent colored pieces on our dining table, making special occasions even more special.

My kitchen reflects my Mom’s influence with colored glass.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that stained glass windows became a real experience. Their wonder and beauty that changed with the light mesmerized.

Over the course of the last several years, my family has had opportunity to see some of the beautiful churches in the world…and right here in our own city. Below are just a few samples:

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Richmond, Virginia

We don’t always have a grand choice of a worship space, depending on where we live, given both our means and religious freedom. For some, a storefront is where we gather. For others, under a tree or in an apartment, shutters closed. Part of that reality makes the appeal of stained glass all the greater.

Stained glass windows evoke “the presence of the holy in our worship spaces” (in the words of artist Elizabeth Devereaux).

We know from Scripture that God is with us wherever we are. We count on that. Still, in a culture that cries against His very existence, being surrounded by sweet reflections of His light and beauty can lift our eyes up…to Heaven, to Him.

Stained glass relies on a light source for its characteristic vivid illumination. [It] is specifically designed to be highly translucent. This quality allows a great deal of light to pass through it which highlights its colors beautifully. That is why stained glass is particularly bright when viewed from inside a building on a sunny day or from outside the building on a night when there is ample light within. Stained glass works with the light to create its powerful effect…the color and brightness of the glass clearly has immense aesthetic appeal. That beauty often triggers powerful emotions within us – joy, inspiration, elation, humility, gratitude, and virtually anything else along the human emotional spectrum. – Steven L. Yarbrough

What Makes a Stained Glass Window Shine? – Steven L. Yarbrough

Our gathering space may be such that it has to work for multiple purposes – worship, concerts, conferences, suppers together. Nothing wrong with that. When we worship, visual art forms can set a tone for us to corporately and intimately connect with God

Stained glass windows are such an art form.

Stained Glass and the Book of Revelation – Msgr. Charles Pope

Our church building in Richmond (Movement Church) actually has stained glass windows. They weren’t on our wish list; they were part of a great gift to us by Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

They are beautiful and we are grateful.

As Yarbrough says above, stained glass windows transmit light – either from outside during the day, or from inside during night hours. They speak to us of the great impact of God’s light in our daily lives and our darknesses.

Movement Church, Richmond, Virginia

As beautiful as stained glass windows are from the inside, they call us to worship at night. A church near our home has stained glass windows, and I love when they have services at night. Driving by, glancing over, I am transported by the colored light streaming through into the dark night reminding me. Not of differences in religions, or worship preferences, or negative religious experiences. No…none of that. I am reminded of the light and beauty of God. Joyfully.

We may be coming back around, the church today, to a preference of a more classic and sacred worship space…a place where stained glass windows draw our eyes and hearts up toward Heaven and all the hope and joy it reflects.

Worship the Lord of light and beauty with me today. Hallelujah!

[My only piece of stained glass at home – again a reminder of the Lord’s great gift of a Godly mom who taught us the Word and brought so much beauty into our lives – including an iris garden.]

Heavenly Illumination: The Science and Magic of Stained Glass – Andy Connelly

God in the Mending – Carrie McKean

Protestantism’s Great Opportunity – Lighting the Wasted Windows – The Literary Digest – November 26, 1921

What Kind of Church Appeals to Millennials? It’s Not as Trendy and Modern as You Think – Cath MartinPhoto Credit: Barna Group

Worship Wednesday – Jesus & Holy Week – Day 4 – A Day of Quiet Before the Storm – & We Worship

Photo Credit: Baptist Press

[Adapted from the Archives]

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels…fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.Revelation 7:9-11

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”  – Revelation 5:12

There appears to be nothing recorded in Scripture of events surrounding Jesus on the Wednesday before his crucifixion. Nothing. After two difficult days dealing with his enemies and accusers, it is quite possible that he took a rest. A Sabbath rest. Given the terrible nature of what was ahead of him, starting just the next day, he could surely use a day to rest and reflect. To remember how the Father had sustained him through all the strains of his public life. To refresh himself in prayer and in the company of those on earth who loved him most – his disciples, his friends, possibly his family. We know no details of that day.

Since we also know what is coming for Jesus…and all for our sakes…we pause today, as well, to worship. He is the perfect lamb, without blemish, perfectly fit to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins. God provided a ram for Abraham to take his son’s place in that strange and amazing sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:1-14). This was a foreshadowing of our own need for a Savior. We also can be saved by the blood of “the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus was not killed on that Friday, two days hence. His life was not taken. Not by the Jewish or Roman authorities. He gave his life…for us…there are no words adequate to respond…worship is all we have.Hispanic celebration at Central High SchoolPhoto Credit – Baptist Press

Worship with me:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat
[Repeat 2x]

(Chorus)
Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come
With all creation I sing:
Praise to the King of Kings!
You are my everything,
And I will adore You…!
Yeah!

Clothed in rainbows, of living color
Flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor, strength and
Glory and power be
To You the Only Wise King,
Yeah

(Chorus)

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery
Yeah…

(Chorus)

Holy, Holy, Holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come,
With all creation I sing:
Praise to the King of Kings!
You are my everything,
And – I – will – adore YOU…

(Chorus)

(Repeat a cappella)

Come up lift up His Name
To the King of Kings…
We will adore YOU Lord…
King of heaven and earth
King Jesus, King Jesus
Aleluya, aleluya, aleluya!
Majesty, awestruck Honor
And Power and Strength and Dominion
To You Lord,
To the King, to King
To the King of Glory

Chorus (Repeats)*Blog - Holy Week Wednesday 9Photo Credit – Baptist Press

*Lyrics to Revelation Song written by Jennie Lee Riddle

Story Behind Revelation Song – Jennie Lee Riddle’s vision of the Church wholly united in worship of God – here as we will be one day in Heaven

YouTube Lyric Video – Revelation Song – Kari Jobe – Passion 2013

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

Podcast – Easter and Hymns with Keith Getty – Rainer on Leadership

Holy Week Timeline Graphic

FREEDOM TO WORSHIPCHINA RELIGIONBlog - Holy Week Wednesday 4Blog - Holy Week Wednesday 2BLog - Holy Week Wednesday 3Photo Credits – Baptist Press

Worship Wednesday – Come to the Table – Sidewalk Prophets

Photo Credit: Flickr

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” –  Revelation 19:9

That experience of being on the outside looking in can be excruciating. You know what it is…when someone draws a circle that shuts you out”. What Jesus does for us is as opposite as it’s possible for us to be – He invites us in. He “draws a circle and takes us in“.

Sunday, at the end of our church service on “Race and the Gospel“, the worship team led us in Chris Tomlin‘s song Even So ComeThe lyric line below really gripped my heart.Photo Credit: YouTube

“Like a bride waiting for her groom”. One day, Scripture states that Jesus will return for us. He is coming as a bridegroom for His bride. What will he look like? Well, he will definitely look familiar to us – a person of color that somehow we will all be able to relate to. And what will we look like – this bride he is coming for?

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands.Revelation 7:9

We will, as his bride, be a people of many colors, tribes, and languages. Dressed in white with bouquets of palm branches.

All invited to his banquet table. A place for each of us. A place for all of us who respond to his invitation…yes. No one is lesser. No one is greater. None of us more deserving, none less. All sinners made beautiful again because of what Jesus did for us.Photo Credit: Pinterest

Yesterday, in the car again, listening to the radio again, I heard a song for the first time…again. It’s Sidewalk ProphetsCome to the Table. The lyrics remind us that “we all start on the outside looking in”. Whatever you think of the Jesus as bridegroom and the church (each one of us) as his bride, there is nothing like having a place. Belonging. Being invited in. No longer an outsider.

That is what Christ has given us. He has restored us to Himself and has united us together in that bond of reconciliation as well.

Worship with me please. Come to the table He has prepared for us.

We all start on the outside
The outside looking in
This is where grace begins
We were hungry, we were thirsty
With nothing left to give
Oh the shape that we were in
Just when all hope seemed lost
Love opened the door for us

He said come to the table
Come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table

Come meet this motley crew of misfits
These liars and these thiefs
There’s no one unwelcome here
So that sin and shame that you brought with you
You can leave it at the door
Let mercy draw you near

Come to the table
Come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table
Come to the table

To the thief and to the doubter
To the hero and the coward
To the prisoner and the soldier
To the young and to the older
All who hunger, all who thirst
All the last and all the first
All the paupers and the princes
All who fail you’ve been forgiven
All who dream and all who suffer
All who loved and lost another
All the chained and all the free
All who follow, all who lead
Anyone who’s been let down
All the lost you have been found
All who have been labeled right or wrong
To everyone who hears this song

Ooh
Come to the table
Come join the sinners you have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Oooh
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table
Come to the table
Just sit down and rest a while
Just sit down and rest a while
Come to the table*

Sometimes you get messages of “you don’t belong” from the world, and occasionally, sadly, from those in our family or the church. Remember what God says about you, and listen to truth (like what author Kristen Strong writes) –

Remaining still and receiving what the Lord wants to give us right now.

Remaining calm and refusing to feel anxious about our abilities or worth.

Remaining quiet in our own spirit as we lift up the spirits of others who need encouragement.

Because here’s the truth, dear ones:

You don’t have to try to move inside because you were never out.

You are in.

You are in.

You are in. – Kristen Strong

When we are secure in God’s invitation to “be in”, we can give grace to those around us figuring it all out as well. Even those, in the church, who don’t receive others not like them as “in”. If they are in Christ, they are in, too. Let the Lord sort it all out, and “come to the table.”

Lyrics to Come to the TableWriter: Dave Frey, Ben McDonald, Ben Glover

Sidewalk Prophets Website

Something Different Audio CD – Sidewalk Prophets

Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, Past and Future – John Piper

On the Outside Looking In – Kristen Strong – (In)Courage

Photo Credit: Flickr

Worship Wednesday – I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin

Photo Credit: David Joyce, Flickr

Yesterday, driving to an appointment, an old Chris Tomlin song came on the radio. It touched my heart in an unusual way. Familiar words, I Lift My Hands stilled my thoughts for the moment. God drew me to Himself, and worship flowed. Not even thinking, one hand on the steering wheel, my other hand rose… I made a note on my phone of that old song and didn’t think about it again. Then early this morning, the Bible reading for today was in Psalm 63.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.Psalm 63:3-4

I wanted to write on joy today. Especially after reading Psalm 63-65. That unquenchable joy at all the good in our lives. New babies. Graduations. Weddings. Health. Milestones. Victories.

Then my newsfeed on Facebook brought the news that a friend’s sister died yesterday. Heidi Lodenstein – 47 years young. Adored by her husband. Two children at home. Glioblastoma. Devoted daughter of an all-loving God who chose not to heal the cancer here but received her Home, healed There. Sad? For that sweet family and friend group. Joy in grief?…abundantly so.

A Lament for Heidi – Cindy DeBoer

We lost a dear friend to glioblastoma a couple of years back as well. He left behind a much-loved wife and three darling little daughters. As we prayed through those months of his disease, while he fought for his life, we asked for miracles of healing. On this side of Heaven, it wasn’t meant to be.

At his funeral, Dave and I sat, tears on our faces, along with his family and friends. Sad with the loss of him. Yet, there was also something else. Something from so deep in us all, it had to push up and out. It was a strange and magnificent joy. How grateful we were to have known him. To have been a part of something bigger than all of us…with him. To be connected forever with each other by the God he trusted…and we trusted.

Joy. Even in that awful grief.

At that funeral, we lifted our hearts to the God who brought us all together…to be comforted together…and especially by Him. To breathe in the peace that we would see our friend again…whole and himself.

Whatever your situation is right now, my prayer for you is to know joy… May the object of your joy be the Lord Himself, who turns our weeping into dancing…our sorrow into joy [Psalm 30].

Worship with me.

Be still, there is a healer
His love is deeper than the sea
His mercy, it is unfailing
His arms are a fortress for the weak
Let faith arise
Let faith arise

[Chorus]
I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, you are my strength
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember
You are faithful, God, forever

Be still, there is a river
That flows from Calvary’s tree
A fountain for the thirsty
Pure grace that washes over me
So let faith arise
Let faith arise
Open my eyes
Open my eyes

[Chorus]*

Sometimes our thoughts take us place we weren’t aiming to go. Today I wanted to write about joy. It flowed out of sorrow…but it flowed full. 

Listen to the sound of my pleading when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary…May the Lord be praised, for He has heard the sound of my pleading. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song. The Lord is the strength of His people; He is a stronghold of salvation for His anointed. Save Your people, bless Your possession, shepherd them, and carry them forever. – Psalm 28:2, 6-9

[Postscript: Presently reading Rob Morgan‘s The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times. It came at a good time.]

YouTube Video – Chris Tomlin – I Lift My Hands – Official Lyric Video

*Lyrics to I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher

Story Behind the Song I Lift My Hands – New Release Today – Kevin Davis

God Gives Us Joy in Grief – John Piper

YouTube Video – With Hope – Steven Curtis Chapman

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times – Robert J. Morgan

Heath Has Finished His Race… – Deb Mills Writer

When Christmas Is Hard – the God of Comfort & Joy

On this predawn Christmas morning, my thoughts are heavy remembering a year ago when Dad died about this time. He died after a long goodbye with cancer and Alzheimer’s. He died under the tender care of my brother and sister-in-law who had already lost her own dad just days before.

Dad is in Heaven, and joy comes thinking of seeing him, Mom, and others there one day. The heaviness of my heart is just to be endured for now…I can’t seem to fix it. It’s been a year of not quite what it should be. Hard to even write those words because I am deeply grateful to God for even being here, in front of this keyboard, able to reflect on His goodness and provision.

Dad, in his sweet and generous heart, was one of those provisions. The only dad I ever knew, even though he wasn’t our biological father. He loved Christmas and brought to it a gleefulness that I can’t find this year.

Maybe some of you are struggling with Christmas this year. Away from family or with them in the shadows. Or there is something else going on…I don’t really want to string a series of possibles here. You know for yourself what is making Christmas hard.

If this is not your situation, just be glad in it. Most years, I have known that kind of Christmas and will again.

Sadness makes it hard to reach out to others (although I have a friend who today, pushing through her own sadness, will serve in a hospital hospitality house). I have struggled to reach out this year.

Still, we will hold to the comfort and joy that is ours through Christ Jesus. What he did for us…what he continues to do in the greatest love known to us.

If you are having a hard time reaching out, and getting the help you need, just please be gentle with yourself. There are resources for us in the depth of our despair (links below). God is near. He desires to comfort us and restore our joy. He will pierce the dark cloud of our sadness as we turn to Him. He will be with us right where we are.Photo Credit: Holley Gerth

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Postscript: We have known a lot of airports in our long life of travel – and watching folks arrive to family and friends has always been a marvel to me. I think of Dad’s Homegoing and smile, in spite of this morning’s sadness, at the welcome he received in Heaven. Sweet.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. it seems to me that love is everywhere. Ofte, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” – from the film Love Actually

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255

Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart – Brittany Salmon

What Suffering People Wish You Would Do at Christmas – Vaneetha Rendall Risner

A Sorta Gift Guide for the Overwhelmed & Broken Hearted This Christmas – Ann Voskamp

How Having a Little Charlie Brown Christmas Gets You into the Best Christmas Spirit of All (About Fears & Heartbreak & Hard Families at Christmas) – Ann Voskamp

This Christmas – Our Little Clark

Worship Wednesday – Loving Broadly Is God’s Path to Holiness – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Photo Credit: Desiring God

As a small child, I loved my mama with all my heart. She was the source of all the goodness in our lives. She was my hero.

Through the many deep and painful hardships in Mom’s life, she had lost her way spiritually and we were unchurched in the early years of our childhood. When kind and persevering neighbors finally won Mom’s trust, we accepted their invitation to church. It was in that small congregation with hearts full of love that we found God.

It was no time before I was ready to receive, as my own, this beautiful, persistently loving, perfectly holy Savior. I was ready because of my own failed attempts to be good for my mama – to take some of the burden off her shoulders through my own small efforts. The knowledge from Scripture that we could never do enough on our own, that we needed a sinless Savior, was the best news I’d ever heard!

In recent weeks, we have been studying 1 Thessalonians (the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church) through our church’s sermon series and in our home groups. The two short versions below were like a shock of glorious truth for me:

May the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows, so that He may establish your hearts in blamelessness and holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Anything good in our lives comes through the hands of God. In fact, as Pastor Cliff said Sunday, “No matter how far away we feel right now (from being blamelessly holy), what God Almighty has declared so He will make so.

Pursuing holiness is a theme much talked about in Christian circles – almost to the point of it being an idol. God orders the pursuit of holiness secondarily to increasing in love. What if we went after loving first? Not in lieu of holiness, God forbid, but…on the path to it.

We know from the passage in 1 Thessalonians, and many passages in Scripture, that God means for us to be all about knowing and loving Him and, out of that, loving others. Not just others we like or those we want to like us…but ALL others. The “so that” in verse 13 gives us the context.

As we strive to love others, in obedience to the Lord, He empowers us in that love. Then as our hearts are filled with deeper and broader love, then we have less room, inclination, or desire for or toward sinful habits.

Until the day we go to be with God when He completes His work in us and we are then blamelessly holy because of what Christ’s holiness accomplished in us.

The stuff of cold chills and face to the ground in awe of Him.

Rev. David Scott describes this whole work of God so well:

“If holiness is a matter of being increasingly conformed to God’s law, and if as Paul says in Romans 13, love is the fulfillment of the law, then it makes sense that as we grow in love, we come more in line with God’s law, and thus become more holy. This dynamic also makes sense to us experientially, as we face our sin. For example, if you grow in love for your neighbor, you are less likely to covet your neighbor’s possessions. The more you grow in depth of love for your spouse, the less attractive becomes the prospect of adultery. The more you love your fellow man, the harder it is to harbor any malice towards them. If we perfectly loved everyone, there would be no sin! Chrysostom, the great 4th century preacher, put it this way, “Love to our neighbor does not suffer any entrance of transgression; there is not any sin, which the power of love cannot consume.” Love is the soil in which holiness grows toward perfection. Love is the means by which a person’s heart gets established blameless in holiness.”David Scott

[Much of how this kind of love can be cultivated is in marriage and relationships with family. My favorite book on this subject is Gary Thomas Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? The happiness comes as both of us love God in ways that leads to sweet overflow in each other’s life.]

My husband Dave often talks about the ways God shows up in our lives and the role we have in those divine appointments (Psalm 127:1, as an example). “Our part is necessary but not sufficient”.

We can’t love well enough on our own…but as we give ourselves over to how God loves through us, we can know what it means to actually love unselfishly and unreservedly. That’s the kind of love I wanted to lavish on my mom as a child. She was so worthy of it…but I didn’t understand how. Until God’s truth penetrated my heart. Through the rest of Mom’s years of life and mine with her, I loved her imperfectly…but more perfectly than I could have without God at work in me.

The same for loving all others. It’s easy to build a wall around ourselves and only allow in those easy for us to love. No wonder our hearts bend so easily to sin and selfishness if that is our default. What a world God opens to us when we surrender ourselves to His redemptive purposes.

You might say, my mom fit in the category of “easy to love”. You are right. Still, as I grew in loving God, yielding to Him and His help in seeing others as He sees them, then loving comes easier. Even those as hard to love as I can be sometimes. Loving broadly is becoming a whole daily renewing and consuming adventure. Out of that, I know from His Word, He lavishes our hearts with His holiness.

The more we love, the more God shapes our hearts toward holiness. Wow!

We usually have a song together on Worship Wednesday’s. I’ve put a couple in the links. Today seems more for glorying in God’s provision and praying to be available to Him to love generously and flesh out blameless holiness to a world that needs to see Jesus in us.

Love and Holiness – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 – David Scott

What Does It Mean to Be Holy – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 – John Piper

YouTube Video – Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty (Agnus Dei) – Michael W. Smith

YouTube Video – All to Jesus I Surrender

Praise & Worship Show “Holiness Themes”

Worship Wednesday – the Faith to Believe

Photo Credit: Flickr

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 the first twenty years of my professional life, I was privileged to have close encounters with five life-changing realities. It was a season of caring for cancer patients and their families – when their diseases were raging and in the final days of life. These experiences galvanized my faith in God and how his image is embedded in us – his creation. These realities are:

  1. Courage in exceedingly hard places
  2. Deep enduring love across a harsh illness and when time is fleeting
  3. Hope mingled with humor
  4. Death isn’t final…our spirits go somewhere (for sure, they leave the body)
  5. Faith to believe

Caring for patients receiving chemotherapy and other treatments for life-threatening complications can prompt an intimate caring relationship. To watch patients (and families) deal with such hard and to be in a position to help them through it gave me a window to extend love and honor to dear ones in crisis.

Was there always courage? Was love always expressed between us all? Was humor or hope or faith a constant?

No…but remarkably, more often than not, this was what I observed… especially in those sustained by a relationship with God.

In the last couple of years, I personally have experienced a cancer diagnosis and a couple of respiratory emergencies that brought those same realities into my life. In such times, much in life gets clarity…a sharper focus, a deeper understanding.

Breathe has been a theme in my life for over a year now…put that together with the title of a film starring Andrew Garfield…and it caused me to NOT “skip the ad” on YouTube.Photo Credit: Breathe, YouTube

I was unaware of Robin Cavendish until I saw the trailer for the film Breathe. Cavendish was a Brit who developed polio at the young age of 28. He was paralyzed from the neck down and required a ventilator to breathe. In those days (1958), he would have been confined in a hospital for the remainder of his days. However, he nor his wife, Diana, would hear of it. After a year in hospital, he went home and adjusted to this very different life, as only Robin would. They had a child and he would be able to see him grow up (in fact, son Jonathan Cavendish produced this film). Robin was a pioneer in advocating for the disabled, especially those like him needing more extreme measures to live a more normal life. He died at 64.

[Since my years in graduate studies in rehab and cancer nursing…the courage I saw in so many patients and families…courage in struggle…never ceased to inspire me.]

I am always intrigued about “based on a true story” films. Reading up on Robin Cavendish’s story, my heart soared and then sank…fullstop at the short statement below:

Cavendish was an atheist.Wikipedia

I have never understood atheism. Even during spiritually flat and confusing times in my life, the existence of God has never been at question.

Especially watching beloved patients at the moment of death…their faces relaxing and their bodies emptying of who they really were. We don’t just stop existing…life here stops and starts at exactly the same moment…There.

Now that I know Robin Cavendish, he has my admiration and respect at how he took back his life and helped others do the same. I wonder if, before his life was done…if he had the faith to believe. One line in his obituary reads:

It is a strange irony that, though professing to be an unbeliever himself, he had a capacity for making other people feel closer to God.*

*Obituary – Robin Cavendish – Alice and Tim Renton

What a great gift is faith to believe. We don’t conjure it up. God Himself presents us the faith to believe…it is ours to reject or receive.

Worship with me. Below you will find two songs – Faith to Believe by Shane & Shane and Jesus Is Better by Austin Stone. Choose either or both in celebrating the God who gives us the faith to believe. [Then scroll down to the prayer at the end.]

YouTube Video – Shane & Shane – Faith to Believe – (with lyrics)

Give me the faith to believe You
When I’m stuck here in my fear
Give me the strength to trust You
When my vision’s blurred by tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the strength to believe

Even when I cannot see You
You’re still shining, You’re still shining
Even when I cannot hear You
You’re still calling out my name
Even when I cannot see You
Your arms are open
Always holding on to me
Give me the faith to believe

You say You’ll never leave me
Your love will conquer fear
You say Your day is coming
When You’ll wipe away my tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the faith to believe

Give me the faith to see the invisible
Give me the faith to believe the impossible
Give me the faith to receive the incredible
Oh give me the faith to believe it**

There is no other so sure and steady, my hope is held in your hand
When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand
Upon this rock I will stand

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Your kindly rule has shattered and broken the curse of sin’s tyranny
My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me
Your crimson flood covers me

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all***

Photo Credit: Flickr

Maybe this is the first step for atheists, too (it was for me)…so thankful for the faith to believe…to see the truth and beauty of Scripture. The Word of God walks us right up the staircase to be with Him – now and forever.

Thank You, God, for the faith to believe. With my whole being, I’m sure you daily, moment by moment, extend grace to all of humanity to know You, through one witness of Yourself or another. Help us to receive this grace. God, give us all this faith to believe.

**Lyrics to Faith to Believe – written by Shane Everett & Phil Wickham

***Lyrics to Jesus Is Better – written by Aaron Ivey & Brett Land

Nabeel Qureshi – 1983-2017 – Less About Religion, All About God

Photo Credit: Nabeel Qureshi

I am grieving today for someone who has touched my heart in a huge way, though we have never met.

Nabeel Qureshi is a son, brother, husband, and father. He is a writer, speaker, theologian, and medical doctor. Until recently he also was in treatment for a very aggressive cancer.

None of these descriptors speak to how deeply he has moved my heart and mind. His faith…and the God of his faith…speak volumes.

He is a follower of Jesus today, after being a devout Muslim. His relationship with God through Christ is laid out in detail in his books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God, But One. Much of his story and the object of his faith are also highlighted on several YouTube videos.

His courageous battle against cancer ended yesterday. At the age of 34. Father of a little girl. Just really at the beginning of his career.

I have never spent much energy in questioning God when one of us dies. My understanding of such things is so limited. Why Nabeel had to die so young is beyond my understanding. One thing I am convinced of is that just as God worked in his life, God will work in his death.

That’s why I’m writing this brief announcement of his passing… He is now in the presence of the God who loves him, the God whom he loves. God will comfort his family and friends and will provide for his wife and daughter. Many of us will know more of Nabeel in his death than we did in his life. I am thankful he wrote about his spiritual journey and spoke so lovingly and articulately about the God who drew him to Himself.

“After loving us with the most humble life and the most horrific death, Jesus told us, “As I have loved you, go and love one another.” How could I consider myself a follower of Jesus if I was not willing to live as He lived? To die as He died? To love the unloved and give hope to the hopeless?”Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

“All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing. I pray that I will meet you someday, my dear friend, so we can rejoice and praise God together for our joys and our sufferings.”Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

My first knowledge of Nabeel Qureshi‘s cancer and death yesterday was through Justin Taylor‘s blog posting. Please take the time to read it (and watch the videos included). If you have never heard of Nabeel Qureshi, you will have an introduction to him, his life, and his discovery and embrace of God. Below is Taylor’s close to his tribute of our brother Nabeel Qureshi.

Today, Nabeel Qureshi, beholding his Savior face to face, is able to declare what is true:

I have fought the good fight.

I have finished the race.

I have kept the faith.

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Entering into the joy of his Master, he undoubtedly heard the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”Justin Taylor

Postscript: I have dear Muslim friends who may take offense at his story. He spoke painfully in his book and vlogs about the loss of closeness with his beloved parents and sister…for a season. I was grateful to see that in his last-published vlog before his death, he spoke of them with gratitude as they were with him caring for him along with his wife, Michelle. Love is larger than anything that would separate us. So thankful for that.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God, But OneNabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi – 1983-2017 – Justin Taylor – The Gospel Coalition

Nabeel Qureshi – Quotes – Good Reads

YouTube Video – Vlog 33 – A Very Special Guest – My Dad! – Nabeel Qureshi

Why This Muslim-Turned-Christian Resonated With So Many Before His Death at 34 – Ravi Zacharias

Monday Morning Moment – Remembering 9/11 – and the Day Before – a Story of God and a Girl

Genessa & April

[From the Archives]

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings in the US, and we all have our stories of where we were when we heard that terrible news. I heard the news as an elevator door opened in a hospital emergency room in Cairo, Egypt. The surgeon watching for us to deliver the patient walking into the elevator, saying, “I am so, so sorry.” I thought he was referring to the precious one on the stretcher beside me, so small and injured from a terrible bus accident the day before. It turns out he was talking about the news that traveled instantly from the States about the bombings. I’d like to go back to the day before. For us, it would help to go there, before I can ever process the grief of this day that we all share.

It was like any other Monday, that bright, warm September 10th in Cairo, Egypt…until the phone call. Janna was on the other end of the call, telling me that Genessa and April had been in a bus accident on the Sinai. April had called her and relayed their location, at a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh. These were girls in our Middle Eastern Studies Program, and they were finishing their time with us, taking a vacation together. They would re-trace some of their experiences in Bedouin villages across the Sinai and then enjoy a few days on the Red Sea. They were to return that Monday, traveling in on one of the over-night buses across the desert.

Details will have to wait for another time, but with this information, my husband, Dave, left immediately with Janna and a local Egyptian friend who was also one of our language coaches. He took these two women because of their relationship with each other and with all of us. He also understood that there were two injured friends hours away in a hospital who would need women to minister to their needs. I would be praying and on the phone the rest of the day with families, other friends, US Embassy people, and our other young people in the program. I can’t begin to describe the emotional nature of that day…not knowing, hoping, praying.

When Dave and our friends arrived at the hospital, he was directed to April. She had painful, serious injuries, but none life-threatening, praise God. Then he was escorted into the critical care area to see Genessa. To his horror, it wasn’t Genessa. It was another young woman, unconscious – an Italian tourist, who rode in the same ambulance with April. April, lucid and still able to communicate, had tried to comfort her on that long dark ride to the hospital. Personal belongings were all scrambled at the wreck site, and the authorities made the mistakened decision that because April was speaking to her, she was Genessa.

Then Dave went on the search for our dear one…somewhere else in the Sinai. He back-tracked toward the site of the accident, checking other hospitals where other injured were taken. At this point, he was also talking to US Embassy staff, as he drove through the desert. Just shortly before he arrived at the hospital where he would find Genessa, the staff person told him they confirmed her identification from a credit card she had in her pocket…in the morgue of that small village hospital.

Dave and Janna, that friend who received the first phone call, stood beside this precious girl’s body, to make the formal identification…to know for sure that this was Genessa. And it was…and yet not. She, the luminous, laughing, loving girl we knew, was gone. It was more than any of us who loved her could take in on that Monday evening in Cairo, Egypt…the day before 9/11.

Genessa with team

As they left the hospital to return to April, two more friends joined them from Cairo to help. For any of you who have been completely spent in every way by such a day, you can understand what it was for them to look up and see Matt and Richard getting out of a car. God in His great goodness alerted them, stirred their hearts to drive all those hours…and then to arrive…just when they were most needed. So many arrangements had to be made…and most importantly, at that moment, to get April back safely and quickly to Cairo for surgery.

She came into Cairo on a plane near the middle of the day of 9/11. By the time we got her from the airport in an ambulance to the specialty hospital to get the further care she needed, a series of horrific events had begun taking place in the US. We would hear of them from this caring Egyptian surgeon…who had no idea how numb we were from losing Genessa and how concerned we were that April got what she needed as soon as possible. We were already so drenched by grief, this unfathomable news about the bombings washed over us without understanding the scope of it…the pain of it…for all the rest of America.

Later in that day, with April receiving the best care possible, and me watching by her side, I could take in some of the loss coming at us on the small t.v. mounted in the hospital room. Egyptians were telling us how so, so sorry they were for us (as Americans). If they only knew, they were our mourners for our loss of Genessa, too. In the din of world-changing news, and a country brought together in grief…we grieved, too, a continent away…for the losses of 9/11 and the day before.

That was 16 years ago…April healed from her injuries (only she and God know what all that took on the inside), the other young people in our program have gone on to careers and families across the US and around the world. We have also gone on…back to the US for now, and to other work.

Two things have not changed…a beautiful girl, who fell asleep by the window of a bus in the Sinai night and woke up in Heaven… and the God who welcomed her Home. There is so much, much, more to this story, but I have to close with this. As her family back in the US were pulling the pieces of their lives back together, and going through Genessa’s things, they found a little cassette player on her bed…there left by her, two years before, as she left for Cairo. In it was a cassette where she’d made a tape of her singing one of her favorite songs, I Long for the Day, by Dennis Jernigan. If we look at Genessa’s life through the lens of some American dream, then we would think how tragic to die so young, so full of promise. Look through the lens of how much she loved God, and knowing Him was what mattered most to her…and all who knew her knew His love through her.

This God…and this girl.  Genessa

 I Long for the Day by Dennis Jernigan

I long for the day when the Lord comes and takes me away!

Whether by death or if You come for me on a horse so white

And anyway You come will be alright with me

I long to just hear You said, “Now is the time. Won’t you come away?”

And I’ll take Your hand, surrendering completely to You that day!

And no, I can’t contain the joy that day will bring!

Chorus:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment I’ll be celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

O Lord, while I wait, I will cling to each word that You say.

So speak to my heart; Your voice is life to me, be it night or day.

And anything You say will be alright with me.

You see my heart’s greatest need

You and me, walking intimately.

You’re my only love, and I am waiting patiently for Your call.

When You call me to Your side eternally.

(Chorus Repeat)

Lord, I celebrate You!

Forever with You! No crying there.

Forever with You! No burden; no more worldly cares.

My heart is anticipating eternally with you celebrating You!

Forever with You I long to be;

Forever worshipping, knowing You intimately!

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

I’ll spend forever just celebrating You.

I’ll see all my loved ones gone before

I’ll get to be with them, laugh with them, hold them once more

There’ll be no more separating! [No separating]

Together we will be celebrating You!

Together we’ll worship You and sing.

Forever praising Lord Jesus, our Savior and King.

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

Enter your rest, and start celebrating, too.

Forever Lord, I’ll be celebrating You.

Chorus Repeat:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment of celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

Dennis Jernigan, from the album I Belong to Jesus (Volume 2)