Worship can be a deeply emotional experience. In fact, sometimes, we lose our focus on God Himself in the midst of the singing of a familiar song. Our minds wander as memories of other times and places take us out of the moment. Not a bad thing necessarily, but…
That happened to me recently as the praise band at Movement Church opened the hymn How Deep the Father’s Love For Us. I love this Stuart Townend hymn. He published it in 1995, the year we moved to Cairo, Egypt. New to us, this hymn became a standard in our family from those early days of adjusting to a new life in another country. [This and another hymn of his – In Christ Alone.]
On Fridays, we would join other internationals and a smattering of Egyptian Christians, at Heliopolis Community Church, and we would sing and pray in English. Such a refreshment to our souls as we spent most of our week, learning and using Arabic in our work and with neighbors and friends. English was our worship language.Photo Credit: CCCLux
Sweet memories of hot Friday mornings, singing with believers from all over the world, as the call to prayer broke through from a nearby mosque. Sweet memories of a oneness with each other…and with God.
Then my thoughts sprang back to the present, as the gathered church at Movement sang this lyric:
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer; But this I know with all my heart – His wounds have paid my ransom.
Because of what Christ did for me…for us…on the cross, I am no longer separated from God by the penalty of my rebellion against Him. The debt I built up through life is paid in one great act of God through Christ – His perfect, sinless life substituted, in death, for my own sin-filled mess…for our own. There is nothing left to pay…nothing. Christ paid in full, on the cross, for all our sins.
At what cost? Oh…we can imagine the considerable cost Jesus paid because our own flesh cringes at the excruciating pain of the cross. Yet, we also must take in, as much as we can, the cost to the Father. Such great love He has…for His own son…and for us…each one of us. The whole world, in fact.
When Stuart Townend was writing this hymn, he was very aware of the emotions that can be elicited in praise music. Just as I have described, the personal joy, refreshment, and happy memories that can be so satisfying in the experience of individual and corporate worship. His hope was to write in such a way as to help the worshiper get beyond himself and to a greater awareness of God.
“The danger now is that we are so focused on the experience our worship can become self-seeking and self-serving. When all of our songs are about how we feel and what we need, we’re missing the point. There is a wonderful, omnipotent God who deserves our highest praise, and how we feel about it is in many ways irrelevant! I want to encourage the expression of joy, passion and adoration, but I want those things to be the by-product of focusing on God – I don’t want them to become the subject matter. I’m trying to write songs that refer to us as little as possible, and to Him as much as possible!” – Stuart Townend
Hymns like How Deep the Father’s Love For Us complement our prayer life and study of God’s Word. For those friends of ours who don’t yet believe…those who say, “That’s nice for you that you believe God. I just don’t believe like you do.”…we have a witness in worship.
It is not just that we “believe”… What Townend describes in this hymn, reflective of the truth of Scripture, isn’t just what we believe…it is what happened and was witnessed by others – the deep love of God displayed in the self-emptying life and death of His Son. Hallelujah!
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer; But this I know with all my heart – His wounds have paid my ransom.*
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1
…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20b
Out of nowhere, I’m reminded of the goodness of God.
Yesterday, after unloading the back of my car at my favorite thrift shop, I walked inside to shop a bit. My mind was pretty much at a peaceful neutral…then the song playing over the sound system drew me to attention. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I sang along rifling through the rack of summer shirts.
This song never leaves me the same and I have written about it previously here and here. We sing it often at Movement Church and I’m grateful.
Grateful for a God who knows us perfectly and who lavishes His love on us. A God who is faithful to us when we are not faithful…when we wander from Him. Scripture calls us to count our blessings. When we do, we are reminded of what we receive from the hands of God. However, it doesn’t stop there – we are drawn to the beautiful face of God. No matter our struggle, no matter what disrupts our sleep or disturbs our joy, no matter what…when we turn our thoughts to Him, our hope and peace and confidence are marvelously restored.
Whatever the “what isn’t”, in the economy of God, there is the glory of “what is to come”. We have that assurance because of what has already come to pass…through a God who blesses without counting it out…just to the deserving. He is generous to all His children. So generous.
For most of my life, I was a “cup half full” kind of person…in fact, some would say it was more a cup spilling out annoyingly, splashing on some in my life who preferred a less idealistic, more “realistic” look at life. In getting older, my focus is drawn away to the negative side of life and the world’s experience. No wonder our faces fix in frowns and we fight grumpiness in our elder years. “Cup half empty” lives. I don’t want that for myself…or for those in my life.
So here goes Worship Wednesday – counting just a few of the amazing blessings of life today, at the hand of a God who has brought me – and all His children – “thus far” (1 Samuel 7:12).
Jesus – His life, teaching, death, resurrection; his continued presence in our lives through the Godhead; and his provision and promise of eternal life to all who believe,
1 year cancer-free (actually except for last year’s diagnosis, my whole life cancer-free, thus far),
Godly moms (my mom and my mom-in-law) who showed us the essence of unconditional love and faithfully pointed us to God,
Faithful fathers who provided financially and taught us so much about getting along in life,
A husband whose love for God informs and infuses his love for the kids and me, and others,
Our children – blessings I never thought I would enjoy, marrying later in life, and continue to be a source of great joy (including bringing the great gift of grandchildren along with them!),
Friends – oh my goodness, friends all over the world – who love no matter what. What a blessing!
A community of faith wherever we lived where the Word of God is treasured and serving Him through serving others the standard – Movement Church today,
Extended family who we have the privilege of loving across a lifetime…and who love back and never give up on us,
A world full of people to share Jesus with – in word and deed,
The beauty that surrounds and fuels us – nature, music, good company, the influencers and multipliers in our lives, food, clean water, and sleep (it’s a beautiful thing, right?),
Purpose – work that matters, hobbies that can leave a legacy (for me writing, photography, hospitality), and at every turn, the possibility and opportunity to glorify the God of the universe through our small lives made large by His Spirit.
I do not always count my blessings…there are days that I want more or different or less, even, of some things. We looks to others’ lives and want what they have rather than just being glad they live next door (or next somewhere). Facebook is not always our friend those days…but when my heart’s right, everything in real life and on social media can shimmer with the kindness, mercy, and sometimes the justice of God. He knows what He’s doing…and His love rains down good in all kinds of ways…we can count on it.
Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I’m come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
O to grace how how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Robinson wrote a fifth stanza that is often omitted. Here it is:
O that Day when freed from sinning,
I shall see thy lovely Face;
Clothed then in blood-washed Linnen [sic]
How I’ll sing thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransom’d Soul away;
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.
How about you? Want to count some of your blessings in the Comments below? Would love to celebrate God with you.
Postscript: Don’t miss the video below with the Aeolians singing this great hymn accompanied by pipe organ. We don’t often get to hear this sort of musical feasting very often anymore. Glory! A glimpse of the worship of which we may be a part in Heaven…thanks to a faithful God who restores a repentant people.
When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.” They were all astounded and perplexed…
But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them…“God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. …Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:1-12a, 14a, 32, 36
We are in the season of Pentecost. Last night, the Jewish celebration of Shavuot began, and for the Christians, Pentecost Sunday is just ahead of us. For the Jews, it is a dual commemoration – one of the giving of the Torah (God’s Law) at Mt. Sinai, as well as the celebration of the wheat harvest (Festival of Weeks). For the Christians, Pentecost is the promised coming of the Holy Spirit, 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ.
Because of the Jewish celebration and pilgrimage of old, the apostles (in Acts 2) had an audience of many unfamiliar with the Hebrew and Greek languages. This was essentially the first time the Gospel was preached to the nations, and the Holy Spirit’s grand entrance into our lives made it happen.
Depending on our church tradition, we celebrate Pentecost in various ways. How we see the Holy Spirit at work in the world, and in the church, also differs.
Completing the triune Godhead, with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is a mighty force in this world. Incomprehensible in His power and movement in the world and yet as intimate as that still small voice, almost audible to those who attend to Him. Almost audible and completely understandable in His gentle ways with God’s children.
How is it that we allow ourselves to be mesmerized with the seen and discount the marvelous and miraculous all around us?
I usually pray to the Father as the model Jesus taught us, in His instruction to the disciples. It is in Jesus’ name, that come to the Father, because through Jesus’ righteousness and death for us, we have access to God. It is through the Holy Spirit, we pray rightly. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we find the words to pray. Sometimes, when we can’t find the words, the Spirit lifts the contents of our heart to the Father…better than we can ourselves. What an incredible mercy of God!
Where do we see the movement of the Holy Spirit in today’s world?
making truth and the path to righteousness joyfully clear to us
convicting of sin in a world grown comfortable with it
healing in an impossible situation – be it disease or addiction, broken relationship, or a life of sorrowful decisions
opening shut doors to the Gospel – that we might serve in word and deed
calming anxious hearts and fearful minds
giving courage on the battlefield and compassion toward an enemy
restoring joy in the darkness of depression and grief
ministering to those deprived of human comfort – those in prison or isolated by other life circumstances
setting peace within our hearts through the hearing or reading of God’s great promises
moving in ways unseen across our world and across the ages that we will only know fully in Heaven.
Today, around the world the celebration of Pentecost begins. In this season, let’s quiet our hearts before God and hear the counsel of the Holy Spirit. He points us to the fullness of who God is – One in unity, and us with Him, through Christ (John 17:21).
There’s nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You’re our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I’ve tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord
Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord
There’s nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You’re our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I’ve tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord
Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness
What a week! How about for you? I’m on the other side of a medical emergency and thankful for timely and excellent care and for a rapid return to health. The weekend around here promises to be a sweet one with beautiful weather, outings with a son whose birthday we’re celebrating, a family gathering, and a long-awaited visit with an old friend. Oh…and rest, of course. Don’t want to overreach my recovery. Hope you have a weekend that fills you with anticipation as well…even if it’s just much-deserved rest and solitude.
Here are my favorite finds for this week.
1) Eurovision Song Contest – Since 1956, a European song contest has been held annually, much to the delight of all the countries participating. I never heard of it until a Portuguese friend of ours introduced us to it this season. [We know Tiago thanks to his friendship with Nathan on Krue.TV and Patreon].
In the Eurovision contest, each participant country puts forward an original song sung by person(s) from that country.
In the final TV extravaganza, the songs are performed and then judges vote on which should win the prized Eurovision title for that year. Along with the judges, citizens of all those countries can cast votes as well (only not for their own country; they vote for their favorite of any of the other countries). The process is fascinating and suspenseful as the votes are counted and the various songs rise or fall on the leaderboard as votes are announced.Photo Credit: SBS
Portugal’s Salvador Sobral won with the song Amar Pelos Dois, written by his sister. It is a lovely but sad love song reportedly reminiscent of Portugal’s folk tradition.
A YouTube video with the lyrics posted in Portuguese and English can be viewed here.
During the televised competition, our friend, Tiago, did a livestream of it on Krue.TV so we could enjoy watching. When Portugal won, his joy was uncontainable…reminded me of watching friends whose favorite team won the World Cup. So congratulations, Portugal, on the long-awaited first Eurovision win!
2) Expertise – I grew up at the end of the Vietnam War during the era of Hippie politics. Free speech was a really big deal, and we had opinions about everything…really not so dissimilar as today. A popular adage of those days was “Don’t trust anyone over 30”. Today, all of us of that era have been “over 30” for decades. We find ourselves faced with much the same thinking in a younger generation. [Maybe we modeled too well.] Let’s consider the concept and actuality of expertise.
Are there those in our lives who have, by deep study and long experience, become expert in their fields and worthy of a hearing and a following? Expertise is defined as “basis of credibility of a person who is perceived to be knowledgeable in an area or topic due to his or her study, training, or experience in the subject matter”.
With the wide use of internet searches and the palpable power of social media, we can all be self-proclaimed “experts”. Those with more knowledge and more experience are just “extra voices” in the conversation. In my younger years and too often since then, my own thinking has bent toward valuing my own generation’s thinking above those “over 30” (or 40, or 50, or 60). Of course, those younger sometimes get the same treatment (just search the enormous commentary on millennials on the web). That view of trusting my own generation has softened, over the years, as I’ve experienced the wise leadership of many. I regret thinking so highly of my own view and have tuned myself toward becoming a life-long learner (using my writing as a way to curate wisdom gained from others, as an example).
I haven’t read the book but DeYoung’s review opened the door to Nichols’ belief that our culture has a growing distaste for expertise (as derived from knowledge and experience).
DeYoung lists Nichols’ prescriptives in brief and they follow:
For experts: don’t drive outside your lane. Stick to what you know. By the same token, stop making predictions.
For the rest of us: Be ecumenical—don’t get all your information from the one source that magically you always agree with. Be less cynical—most people are not out to get you. Be more discriminating—consider whether the source you’re reading has editors, is tied to a reputable institution, is transparent about its sources, and present facts that are testable and checkable.
For everyone: Be humble. This goes for experts and laypeople. If you are an expert, use your knowledge as a servant not as a master. If you know stuff, use it to help others, not yourselves. At the same time, all of us have good reason to assume we don’t know as much as we think we know. Let’s be humble enough to learn from others.
3)– Food Festivals – Food festivals abound in the spring of the year. We’re headed to one this weekend – the Lebanese Food Festival. Like many national food specialties, Lebanese food is very time-intensive and ingredient-rich. I’m very thankful for the folks at Saint Anthony’s Maronite Church – for the food, the music, the conversations, and the occasional brush with our local dignitaries.
4) Anti-Aging – There is so much written these days on staying young and staving off aging – it’s enough to make you old trying to keep up with the latest on keeping from getting old. When you have a life-threatening event in your life, you realize all over again the gift of life. I wouldn’t mind growing old. However, I can’t deal with the myriads of tips on how to live young old.
Benjamin P. Hardy, one of my latest favorite writer/researchers, posted a fascinating piece this week entitled How to Reverse Aging and Become Whoever You Want To Be. He gives research findings (in very engaging, almost story-telling, ways) that are riveting in their support of his prescriptions. One study he shared was about a group of men in their 70s who were to share a living space for five days. It was designed and outfitted as a dwelling set in 1959. They were only to talk about their lives, careers, interests, as they would have in 1959. The impact on their thinking, and even their physical agility and capacity, was amazing. My sense from this and my own experience is we think ourselves old, and too often believe ourselves old by the behavior of those younger than we are. No harm, no foul. Just how we probably trip ourselves up.
Hardy’s prescriptions have to do with making goals for our present lives:
1. Determine your goal.
2. Commit to your goal by leaping into situations that require you to live up to your goal.
3. Determine the roles you will need to play in the various situations you create.
4. Act the part until you become the part.
5. Develop relationships with people who have your back and can help you achieve your goals.
6. Repeat — but at higher levels, with more strenuous leaps.
What Is Your Goal?
“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.” — Ryan Holiday
Most people are wandering through life like they wander on the internet, reactively scrolling their news feed and landing on the random pages that appear. They haven’t determined what they want, and thus they haven’t consciously designed their environments. Rather, they adapt to and become the product of whatever environments they wander into.
However, when you decide what you want, the universe conspires to make it happen.
[I love this young Benjamin P. Hardy. He has given me such rich fuel for living, of late. Read his blogs and follow him on Twitter.]
5) Blue Bloods – As much as I like to watch TV, I don’t watch that often…usually using it as a nap-generator. However, this week, I saw one of my favorite shows – Blue Bloods in its season finale (Season 7, Episode 22, The Thin Blue Line). It was so so good.
Blue Bloods is about a family that makes its living in public service – either in law enforcement, the court system, or nursing. Their Sunday family dinner gathering scenes are so appealing to me.Photo Credit: Huffington Post
On this season finale episode, son Danny, a NYPD detective, confronts a Mexican drug cartel and acts against it in a bold and risky (and unsupported) way. He was successful but the cost was huge. The cartel ordered his home to be bombed. Danny, arriving as his house is blazing, he searches for his family, and, relieved, finds them shocked…but OK.
He blames himself for their loss, and when the family gathers on that Sunday (his family now staying with his father and grandfather), he didn’t want to come down for dinner. He was persuaded and asked to pray over the meal. That scene (not on YouTube yet) was just beautiful. Here is a bit of it:
Wife Linda: It’s just a house, Danny.
Danny: It’s our home.
Linda: We made it a home. Without us, it’s just a house.
Danny’s youngest son: And we’re still that us.
Danny’s Father: When we have everyone we love, we have everything. For that we should be grateful. No matter the hardship or the loss, this family does not stand down…ever.
Danny then prayed…with his family.
Loved it so much. This family does not stand down…ever.
In a few days, it will be a year since this non-smoker received a lung cancer diagnosis (Stage One, fortunately). Over these last several months, breath and breathing have become something very precious to me. You can tell when you search my blog archives for either topic. We take breathing so for granted, even when we acknowledge that every breath’s a gift. That rhythmic rise and fall in our chest that strengthens and refreshes us. Breathing just happens.
Until it doesn’t.
There have only been two times as an adult that I couldn’t get my breath. The first was eight months ago (you can read about it here.) The second time was less than 48 hours ago.
For the second time in my life, I was surprised, just before bedtime, by a rapid and terrifying development of shortness of breath and quickly got to the place that Dave had to call 911. He was still talking to the dispatcher when we heard the sirens.
So thankful for our local fire department and rescue squad.
We live in a quiet neighborhood, and most of the residents are older. The rescue squad shows up often here, and, of course, no one wants to be the one on the receiving end of their excellent care. Every time it happens, a neighbor or two stand sentinel in the road watching and hoping for a good report. While the rescue squad was getting me stabilized and Dave was waiting in his car to follow to the hospital, he would tell me later of a neighbor standing in the shadows. Not wanting to intrude but standing watch. It’s a comforting thing.
From the first hours in the emergency room through the next two days in the top floor ICU, I received excellent and thoughtful care at St. Mary’s Hospital. The crisis was averted, and the testing began again to determine the cause. The same testing that was done eight months ago. The findings were not so much different as they were the first time it happened. Maybe they were taken more seriously with it happening twice. Anyway, I am now in the care of a cardiologist with some meds on board that will hopefully help me NOT to go through this experience again.
To go from thinking you’re going to die to feeling pretty much as well as ever, within hours, is a strange and wondrous experience. We will all die one day, so it doesn’t always end as it did for me these two times of not being able to get my breath. For this, today, I am so grateful to God for breath…and I am reminded it is His to give.
Tonight, still fresh from the frightening experience of two nights ago, I give God His breath back in praise. So thankful for a husband who acted quickly for me when I couldn’t, for trained professionals and volunteers, for watchful neighbors, for kids who show up (physically and in prayer), for praying friends and family, for all the many employees at St. Mary’s (including my own youngest son) who were kind in their care …for all of this I’m grateful.
Most of all I am so very thankful for the God who gives us breath.
I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “Please, LORD, save me!” How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the LORD has been good to me.– Psalm 116:1-7, NLT
Would you worship with me, as I am home once more, praising God for His healing and for His helpers?
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord*
“She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31: 27-30
My Mom was a treasure – a lavishing of God’s grace on four undeserving children. She was my best friend, and I miss her every day. She taught me the most important lessons of life – the value of hard work, loving and serving others no matter what, and a life of following God. I have written, not well enough, about her (here, here, and here, etc.). She was my hero, and, though she is in Heaven now, she informs much of how I live life still.
Whether we are mothers or not, we all have/had mothers. I hope yours was/is lovely, and Godly, and inspiring. Whichever is your situation, we have an opportunity to honor those who mother well and we have still other opportunities to love and forgive those who didn’t. My children are grown and I am not supposed to “mother” them now – a heart habit hard to break. Now that their childhood is over, I miss those years. Still, like my mom, I will encourage and pray and marvel at how God moves in their lives. Grand-parenting is a sweet dividend to mothering – a season of pouring into those little hearts – wonder, love, and grace.
Today, I share a bit out of Ruth Bell Graham’s lovely book Prayers from a Mother’s Heart. Wife of Billy Graham, with the Lord now, Mrs. Graham compiled some of her own poetry, her daughter’s, and that of other Godly moms. She touches on all seasons of growing up and mothering. May your seasons, mothers and mothered, be touched by God’s deepest wisdom and dearest kindnesses.
Prayers for Our Little Ones
“Lord, as I stand beside this crib, watching this little boy fall asleep…
his blond curls sticking to his small, damp forehead, his chubby fingers wrapped tightly around his blanket,
my heart is filled with emotion, wonder, and awe. I have so many dreams and ambitions for him.
Please help me to remember that he is first of all Yours, and that the most important thing of all is that he grow to love You and follow You. So, Lord, tonight I put aside any and all prayers that could have their roots in selfish motherly desires, and pray these words for him,
Beloved child, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58)
Because, Lord, if this prayer is answered, then one day I will be able to say with John that my greatest joy is knowing that my children are walking in the truth.” – Gigi Graham
“Lord, remind me often that parents are intended to be a mooring post, a safe place to stay, a sure place to cast anchor come wind or weather. It is not the time for me to worry about the storms beyond the bay, for now we have the gift of a little time called childhood; tethered to love, the little boat bobs and weaves about the post – happy and secure!” – Jill Briscoe
A Prayer for Hurting Mothers“Be tender, Lord, we pray with one whose child lies dead today.
Be tender, Lord, we plead for those with runaways for whom moms bleed.
But be tenderest of all with each whose child no longer cares…is out of reach.” – Ruth Bell Graham
Turning Children’s Cares Over to God
“Lord, I think it is harder to turn the worries and cares of my children over to You than my own. For, through the years, as I have grown in faith, I have learned that You are merciful and kind.
Not one time have You failed me, Lord – why do I fear You will fail mine?” – Ruth Bell Graham
Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Ones. May this day not just be about flowers, cards, or dinners out. May this be a day that’s full of encouragement for moms “to go deep into their gifts, to focus on their Maker or to see how we’re made and who we’re made to be. …to live out faith in daring, dangerous ways…to know God better.” (Caryn Rivadeneira)
Love You Forever.
Dedicated to my mom-in-love, Julia – who loves us with bold devotion and fierce determination – giving us an example to do the same.
Rainy morning quiet. When I got back from walking with my neighbors, the backyard feeder was swaying from the perching of a wide array of birds. My favorites, the cardinals, were there, along with many others, including goldfinches. Those little yellow birds flew before I could get a picture of them, but Michael Seeley captured a similar scene (below).Photo Credit: Michael Seeley, Flickr
Mornings like these, with a rained-out event clearing my schedule, I sit in quiet. In times like these, with nature all around magnificently displaying the glory of its Creator, the Psalms come to mind.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8:3-4, 9
No matter what we are facing in the moment – great joy or great sorrow – this world of ours, the beauty of it, reminds us of the Author of it all. Who are we that the God of this universe should visit us with such wonder? I think it is to lift us out of our present circumstance and to demonstrate His own beauty, His glorious nature, and His tender care.
…for the tiniest of creatures and for His beloved children…even made in His own image (Genesis 1:27). We lift our eyes to Him in worship…on a rainy morning, in a moonlit evening, and at our work stations wherever we are.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Worship with me. If you’re at work, you made need to plug in earbuds – this gets louder and more glorious as it goes – like the praise of children.
When I gaze into the night skies and see the work of your fingers; The moon and stars suspended in space.
Oh, what is man that you are mindful of him? You have given man a crown of glory and honor, And have made him a little lower than the angels. You have put him in charge of all creation: beasts of the field, The birds of the air, The fish of the sea.
Oh, what is man? Oh, what is man that you are mindful of him? O Lord, our God the majesty and glory of your name Transcends the earth and fills the heavens.
O Lord, our God; little children praise You perfectly, And so would we. And so would we.
Alleluia! Alleluia! The majesty and glory of Your name. Alleluia! Alleluia! The majesty and glory of Your name. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! (Alleluia!)
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1
Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.– John 20:18
On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walking with them, eating with them, teaching them again…as he promised.
He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.
With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.
With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!
The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!* – Trevin Wax
Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57
Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed. This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.
I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.
For the past almost 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – John 20:19
“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**
As I write this morning, it is quiet outside. Very quiet. Lonely quiet. This is the morning of exhausted grief. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Sent One; His Only One lay dead in a tomb. Dead. How is this possible? The disciples, his family, those followers whose lives were transformed must have been numb with the stark reality that he was not with them…not on that Saturday. What would they do without him? What would happen to them? What? What? What?
There is only one scriptural reference to this day and it related to the threat of Jesus’ power and influence, even in death:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66
Because for the Jews, days begin and end at sundown, most probably this visit with Pilate occurred Friday night. At his command, guards were placed. The tomb was sealed. Jesus would be no more trouble….
He is dead: this man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.
With His dying breaths, He spoke words of forgiveness, finality, and faith.
But now the breathing has ceased, and the lungs that exhaled forgiveness are deflated. My Jesus – dead.* – Trevin Wax
We have the great knowledge of the risen Christ, but his followers, on that Saturday, only had dim recollection of his words of promise. Shrouded in grief, they found themselves quite “in between” – in between the death of their Savior and the life of his glorious promises.
“Saturday is the “in between” day: in between despair and joy; brokenness and healing; confusion and understanding; death and life.” – John Ortberg
A dear friend of ours, Beth Wayland, shared with us this message by John Ortberg (quote above and passage below) from a conference where he spoke on Black Saturday, well, “Saturdays” in general. He describes so well this day in between.
“Saturday – the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. What do you think the disciples were doing on Saturday? Here they have seen their friend and their Master killed the day before but also have this vague promise, which probably seemed ludicrous at the time that he would rise again. So what do you think they were doing on Saturday between the tragedy and the promise?
Most of life is Saturday. We`re in a terrible position, but we have a promise from God that we only half believe. It`s after the doctor tells us we have cancer, but before we`re cured or find a new depth of faith to cope with it. It`s after the marriage breaks up, but before God heals the grief. It`s after we`ve been laid off, but before God uses our gifts in a new place. Most of life is Saturday. It`s waiting in faith and hanging onto the promise that God is going to come through for us in spite of how bad things look. Most of life is Saturday. — I don`t know where you are this Holy Week. Maybe you`re in a Palm Sunday kind of mood wanting God to get on board with an agenda and maybe he will, but if he doesn’t, know that his plans are always good. Maybe you`re feeling a little unlovable because of something you`ve done or haven`t done. Maundy Thursday means that God loves us no matter how dirty our uniform gets from the game of life. Maybe you`re in a Saturday kind of place – between a hard time and a promise you only half believe. Know this for sure that God`s Easter irony is still at work, and he can use even the worst tragedies for good, and he always has at least one more move left. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday`s coming, and it`s coming sooner than you think. “ – John Ortberg
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” – Mark 11:12-14
During that week in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples spent the nights with friends in Bethany, two miles outside of the city. Each morning, they would walk into Jerusalem. On that Monday morning, just four days prior to his crucifixion, Jesus became hungry on the walk in. Seeing a leafy fig tree, he looked for fruit. With fig trees, where there are leaves, there should be figs. Since green figs are edible, and it wasn’t yet harvest season, there should still be some fruit on the tree.
When he found no figs, Jesus cursed the tree. This seems out of character for Jesus, until his action is put in the context of his culture and community. Throughout his public ministry, especially as he became more known and revered, the Jewish religious leaders held him in contempt. Jesus’ teaching of our dependence on God’s righteousness and not our own flew in the face of the Pharisaical teaching of the day – that of strict adherence to Jewish law as the only hope of finding favor with God. For Jesus, the leafy barren fig tree must have been a picture of religious Jews of that day, all flash and finery but no fruit of faith.
Jesus was left still physically hungry and then also spiritually hungry – for this people of the Book to receive the good news that the Messiah had come.
Finally, arriving back in Jerusalem, Jesus was deeply troubled by what he found inside the Temple. The crowds of Passover pilgrims did not disturb him, but temple grounds turned marketplace did. In this sanctified place, meant only for worship, there were money-changers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, right in the Court of the Gentiles – in the only place where non-Jewish God-believers could worship.Photo Credit: “Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple” by Luca Giordano
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” – Matthew 21:12-13
Often in film depictions of Jesus cleansing the temple, he appears a crazed individual, flailing about, throwing tables and flinging pigeons into the air. I can’t even imagine him that way. We can’t know how it happened except that in Jesus’ anger, he did not sin. I know the Jesus Film is just another director’s film rendering, but in this scene, Jesus showed great restraint. Disturbed at the buying and selling that actually kept believing Gentiles from worshiping, he moved to correct the situation. He was unafraid of the temple officials, burning with zeal for his Father to be truly worshiped in that place.
Zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. – Psalm 69:9
Later in the week, he himself would be the one sold – for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by one of his own disciples, to satisfy the wrath of the religious leaders. That story is for another day.
This Holy Monday, we are drawn again to this Messiah who teaches us that the way we live our lives matters but not more than the way we relate to God. He is holy, and in His righteousness, we stand…on solid ground.