Category Archives: Church

Monday Morning Moment – Men Who Finish Well – a Timely and Timeless Message by Johnny Hunt

Photo Credit: MCC

One of our neighbors is a published historian who has another manuscript ready to go. If it were me, those pages would have been mailed to the publisher months ago. Not this author. The chapter footnotes must be accurate, so weeks upon weeks have been spent on the tedious task of checking and re-verifying their accuracy.

Finishing anything well takes great effort and persistence. Especially a life well-lived to the finish.

Johnny Hunt is a pastor and author. He has been the lead pastor and teacher of First Baptist Church of Woodstock for over 30 years. Just this past week, the execution of a succession plan unfolded as Dr. Hunt begins the process of passing his baton to the next pastor.

Photo Credit: Truett McConnell University

Leadership writer Brian Dodd captured Johnny Hunt’s message on finishing well and shared those points on his blog this week.

Pastor Johnny Hunt’s 10 Characteristics of Pastors and Men Who Finish Well – Brian Dodd

His points are as followed. Read Dodd’s blog for the rest of his notes on Dr. Hunt’s excellent talk. The observations that follow the points below are my emphases. Also every point can apply to us as women as well.

Men Who Finish Well

  1. Want to finish well. – Desire and the focus of our desire are the foundation of finishing well.
  2. Ooze with humility. – This is not about talking humble or having an humble expressiveness. This is genuine humility – a person who inserts his life into the humble; willing to do humble things; a person with a clear understanding of who he is and what he is capable of (both holy and horrible).
  3. Know they could be steps away from a fall. – One bad choice can follow us all through our lives, or catch up with us. We shouldn’t be discouraged by that, but we should be aware, from a young age, that consequences of our actions come…sooner or later. Best to avoid or correct as early as possible.
  4. Are intentional, putting up guardrails in their lives. – Guardrails are barriers we put up for ourselves that keep us from the edge of an activity or mindset that could cause damage down the road. We have all said, thought, or acted on “That’s not so bad.” or “Everybody’s doing it.” What we once considered unacceptable may be considered acceptable today but tomorrow it could be a high crime. We must intentionally determine where the edge is and take a step back by putting guardrails in place. Not for fear of consequences but out of care…and aiming to finish well.
  5. Plan to finish well. – Guardrails are part of this. Do you have a plan in place? What does it look like?
  6. Firmly committed to their families. – This makes a huge difference. Huge influence on our decision-making.
  7. Have some kind of mentor in their lives. – Another guardrail actually, but also vital to honest accountability. Lone rangers who may often find themselves at the top of organizations and culture influencers are highly vulnerable to falling from their own isolation.
  8. Live in the Word of God and on their knees. – Johnny Hunt is finishing strong because he doesn’t separate sacred and secular. He understands the importance of having a guide to live life in a fickle, changeable world system. A sign of his own humility is his dependence on being daily in God’s Word and daily praying.
  9. Committed to integrity. – Finishing well requires us to be consistent and dependable in our actions and decision-making. Dabbling in less-than-honest transactions with people will eventually find us out.
  10. Evangelize regularly. – This may seem an odd characteristic of finishing well if you are reading as a person not given to faith or especially faith in God through Jesus. In Johnny Hunt’s long faith walk, he has taken the claims of Christ very seriously and has seen the work of God’s grace in his life and others. He knows the glorious good that comes out of that relationship with God and would not withhold the knowledge of that from anyone.
  11. Ambitious only in honoring Jesus. – Dr. Hunt could have stayed in his pastor position for another 10-15 years or more. This mega-church pastor role can be a real head-trip if these men don’t take precautions to guard their hearts against that level of pride. For the sake of his church’s future and doing his best to listen to God’s leading, Dr. Hunt chose to step down…for very good and Godly reasons.

[I counted 11 so we got a bonus help from Dr. Hunt and Brian Dodd.]

When our children left home for college, one by one, we had many talks together. Trying to prepare them for what could lie ahead. All through their lives, we had taught them to treat others with care. To also see the wrong in taking advantage of someone or some situation for ill, no matter the reason. Some of that teaching came out of our own histories, Dave and me, and from making our own mistakes as young people. Doing all we could to ensure these precious ones would avoid the pitfalls of life that can take you down.Photo Credit: Michael Staires

Avoid situations where you are alone with the opposite sex, especially late at night. Don’t accept open beverage containers. Be cautious in group events where there is drinking and no supervision. Abstain from recreational drugs or beverages. Make choices regarding dress and demeanor as to not compromise another person. Keep your hands to yourself. Be responsible in choosing whom you spend time with.

[Nothing original here. The nature of these teen talks became more serious as our kids were preparing to be out on their own. No one looking over their shoulder. Their choices could have life-long implications.]

This year, I listened to a good friend process sending her oldest son off to college. He is one of the sweetest young men I know – a good heart, respectful, and genuinely friendly to all he meets. This mom (and the dad) wanted to make sure that he understood that college today is not just about his choices but how others perceive his behavior. It’s not just being careful to do right by others but also to behave in such a manner that no one could take offense…now or twenty years from now. Especially in any perceived sexual offense. Other? What are your thoughts?

This is where we seem to be today in America.

Finishing well, especially as men, might be more complicated today but it is still within the grasp of those who determine from the beginning to aim far and run their lives with steadfast resolve.

Finish Well – Michael Staires

Guardrails – Andy Stanley

Why You Need Guardrails in Your Life – Robin Steele

Four Essentials to Finishing Well – Jerry Bridges – Desiring God

7 Characteristics to Help You Finish Well – Ken Boa

Real Momentum

5 Friday Faves – Celebrating Fall, On Being Forgiven, Old Trees, Signage, and a Big Pile of Books

Weekend! Sometimes the end of the week just pours out so quickly it splashes right into the weekend. Friday Faves on a Saturday, y’all.

1) Celebrating Fall – In this part of the world, Fall has arrived. For many years, we lived in countries where seasons were subtle in their changing one into another. The rewards were the lush foliage and flowers of the rainy season and the deep textures in the seeming sameness of the desert. [I miss those places now as our American Fall was missed in those years.]

Photo Credit: Max Pixel – Geese in migration, a lovely sign of Fall

Fall is just peeking out now around the corner of Summer…even as the sturdiest of bushes push out their last summer blooms.

An East Tennessee friend of ours, Pam Archer, laid out a Fall palette for us at The Colorful Cottage. It’s like turning the pages of a magazine taking in festive and inviting entryways into homes…and into Fall. [Click through all the pictures at the link above.] You can almost smell pumpkin spice and a fire in the fireplace.

Posted by The Colorful Cottage on Friday, September 21, 2018

Photo Credit: The Colorful Cottage

…and before long, the full glory of Fall will be briefly and wondrously upon us.Photo Credit: Deb Mills

2) On Being Forgiven – This week I offended someone. It could be that offending people happens many times over, without me knowing, but this time…I knew. He made it very clear…and he didn’t forgive me.

This was a stranger…a business person we were contacting to do a service…After several messages left on the company voicemail, the last one got a quick call-back. He didn’t like my choice of words nor my tone…and essentially told me I could look somewhere else for service.

Gulp… I tried to explain again and said I was sorry several times over. He refused to understand my side of the situation. We don’t slam down phones anymore…but. That conversation and hang-up kept me up for hours. I felt terrible and then mad and then terrible again.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

A two-minute conversation full of accusation and misunderstanding was rough on me and rough on him, too, maybe. We secured another company to do what we needed, and the gentleman above may remember me as a demanding and unyielding woman for a few days. Our conversation may make it harder on the next person who calls, and for that, I am also sorry.

The marvel is what a wonder in life it is to be forgiven. When people apply grace. When margin is extended for failure or unintentional misspeak. When we are given the benefit of the doubt. When a choice is made not to be offended. When a cheek is turned. When a harsh response is withheld. Even when we feel completely justified to do otherwise.

Forgiveness – that incredible experience of not getting what we might have deserved; that generous letting go of an opportunity to have the upper hand; that treating another person just as if they hadn’t wronged you. This is not doormat behavior…this is giving grace.

Kelly Delp‘s piece this week On Becoming an Outsider reminded me of times when we lived overseas. Day after day, person after person dealt gently with our offenses… We were foreigners; we didn’t know; we were forgiven.

On Becoming an Outsider

It wouldn’t hurt, maybe, if we treated each other a bit more like foreigners… in a good way, of course.

3) Old Trees – Tall trees that have stood sentinel for decades upon decades deserve our gratitude and respect. In our backyard, we have had two giant oaks shade us in summer and drop leaves and acorns all Fall. Now, one has died. Some sort of blight. Just seeing it without green leaves in summer seems so wrong alongside the healthy sister tree. Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

So…it must be taken down…sadly.

Honestly, it was just such an excellent tree service company…and the way they took down that tree carried a measure of respect as well…I could have been imagining, but I don’t think so.

“Dust to dust” came to mind as that massive tree was chipped (branches) or hauled off (trunk) and the stump ground to mulch.

Grateful for that tree…and for the one still standing in the center of the yard.

4) Signage – Signage is a form of communication, either in words, symbols, or images. As new drivers, we all learned the importance of attending to signs to keep ourselves and others from harm. We read labels and note landmarks. Signage can communicate much more than the literal messages. Take the signage below as a for instance. It’s in a local church building. What does it say to you?

Everywhere you looked in and around this building, signs pointed to community – how folks could serve God and serve one another and with one another. This isn’t my church (I was there for a meeting), but the signage was so engaging and empowering.

Another sign that finally moved me to action was the sign below. Several of these have been placed around our city because of the daily presence of people begging at intersections. It seemed a hopeful “No worries. Your city is watching out for the homeless.”

This week, I called the number on the sign. It was our county’s social services division. The voicemail instructions were helpful and as promised I received a call back later in the same day. That was when I discovered this phone number was meant to start the process for homeless to get “in the system”. The person answering my question was honest and forth-coming. If someone was homeless (or would be in 3 days), if they called this number, it would start a process whereby he/she could get housing…as to when? Days, weeks…

This sign, its agency, and the church community above (and others like it) have the skills and desire to make good happen. Then there might be a place to sleep for that one begging …sooner.

5) a Pile of Books – Truth be told, I didn’t get nearly far enough on my summer reading list.  We always plan an annual get-away to the beach for a few days, once the high season is over. A few of these books will be coming along.

One in particular will definitely make the cut. In this season of life, I seem always to be culling one thing or another from our stash of wonderfulness. Thinning out some of our books, I found Calvin Miller‘s Walking with Saints – Through the Best and Worst Times of Our Lives. Flipping through the pages of this old book of Dave’s I realized it was one that needed to be read sooner than later.  It was a Christmas present, bought in Cairo, by a little boy who loved his daddy and loved to draw. That gift inscription alone means it will stay in our stash of stuff for the next forever.

Do you have some books on your must-read list? Please tell us about them in Comments below. Also, do you have books that have made it to be a sentimental favorite? Those stories are meant to be shared as well.

That’s the 5 this week. Hope your week was full of new and old favorites. Enjoy this first weekend of Fall…either for real, or through the images and stories of those of us who have the sweet experience of this season. Blessings.

Bonuses:

This Guy:

You Have 15 Minutes to Respond to a Crisis: a Checklist of Dos and Don’ts – Davia Temin

My name is Amy and I’ve never been pregnant

Quote: Why does “Mid-Century Modern” sound so cool when describing architecture or furniture? It was made in the 1950’s. I was made in the 1950’s. Next time someone asks me my age, I’m gonna say, “Mid-Century Modern.” – Jody Ohlsen Collins

Quote:  One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now. – Paulo Coelho

Photo Credit: Musicnotes, Twitter

The Professor Goes to Prison (Teaser) – YouTube

Photo Credit: Mystic Prayers, Facebook

Photo Credit: NPR Twitter, PBS

Koshari (Egyptian staple) rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, red vinegary sauce, and fried onions on top – Yum!

Photo Credit: Kim Audi, FacebookPhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Photo Credit: Toby Mac, Facebook

Photo Credit: Kitchen Food with My 3 Sons, Facebook

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

Photo Credit: Bible Verses 2 U

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with me.

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

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

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

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

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

We are blessed…

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

We are blessed…

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

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

We are blessed…*

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

*Lyrics to We Are Blessed – Songwriter: Andy Flannagan

Andy Flannagan Website

Blessed to Be a Blessing – Mike Pettengill

Wednesday Worship – the God Worshipper – Psalm 15

Photo Credit: Knowing-Jesus

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do love how the psalm ends.

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

How to Live the Psalm 15 Life – Kenneth Copeland

Singing with Jesus – Psalm 15 – Acceptable Worship

Worship Wednesday – Thank God for Vacation Bible School & Those Strong Winsome Women Who Make It Happen

Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Parent

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:13

But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”Luke 9:47-48

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 18:10

In the summer of my 9-year-old life, I came to faith in Jesus…at Vacation Bible School (VBS). My mom always worked outside the home so someone must have brought my brothers and me each day for 5 days. I have sown parts of that week deep in my heart and memory.

Strong winsome women leading the Bible School. A week of mornings packed with fun. Koolaid & cookies for snack. Pastor doing the Bible lesson for us like he did our parents on Sunday. Big songs I can still remember. Bible verses we memorized. Craft time. Friday night “graduation” service where we performed for our parents.

This was the Vacation Bible School of my childhood. I asked my daughter what she remembered about Bible School. Some similar memories…the songs stay with you. Here are some she remembers from her childhood:

Jumping Up and Down, Shout Hosanna

Kind, K-I-N-D, Kind; Love Is Kind

Romans 16:19 – Be Excellent at What Is Good

Ain’t No Rock Gonna Cry in My Place

Behold What Manner of Love the Father Has Given Unto Us

For today’s Worship Wednesday, I just wanted to thank God for Vacation Bible School. Although having received solid Bible teaching as a child through Sunday School, preaching, and my parents, VBS sealed the deal for me that year I was 9.

We have young moms in our lives today who seek out Vacation Bible School for their children through the summer…sometimes more than one. The churches who have made VBS part of their DNA amaze me. It has to be very hard work to pull off that kind of programming (even if it’s shortened time-wise to 2-hour evening sessions).

Earlier today, I talked to one of those strong winsome women who make VBS happen at her church. She talked about how the success of the Vacation Bible School hinges on their volunteers. She is blessed to have workers who really love the children of their church…sounds like they follow how Jesus thinks of children.  I’m thinking this friend models that for her volunteers. VBS has to be led by a woman (or it could be a man) who casts this vision for other adults and gathers them to extend themselves farther than they might usually be inclined. Photo Credit: Midway Community Church

Vacation Bible School makes for an obvious outreach opportunity for kids within the church community, but more than that, it’s an opportunity for an extended and concentrated touch into the lives of the kids in our own churches.

I will spend eternity with the Lord because of a Vacation Bible School…because some strong winsome women did the hard work (including recruiting the pastor and other Godly men) to break up a long, lazy summer with a fun, penetrating, life application of the Word of God.

Every Breath I Take (lyrics & music)

All That Is Good (lyrics & music)

Deep Cries Out (lyrics & music)

God Is For Me (lyrics & music)

VBS in the 1980s: Cookies, Kool-Aid, Songs and Jason – Holly Hollman

10 Myths People Believe About VBS – Part 1 and Part 2 Lori Hatcher

What Jesus Thinks About Children – R. Kent Hughes

YouTube Video – Never Let Go of Me – Songs from Shipwrecked 2018 VBS

YouTube Video – Honest VBS Volunteer – John Crist

Worship Wednesday – Undivided – First Call

Photo Credit: Every Day Is Special

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:3-6

But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” – Luke 11:17

“Always pull from the same end of the rope.” This was the marriage advice given to Nathan and Bekkah by a couple of strangers. An older man and woman came up to Bekkah after one of Nathan’s concerts and just engaged her in conversation. Over the course of their chat, they gave this young couple a jewel of wisdom…not just for marriage but for life…

“Always pull from the same end of the rope.”

We live in a divided world.

Even in the church, the unity God means for us to have with one another is constantly under fire. By our differences, our ambitions, and our passions. How do we link arms when offenses and attitudes and preferences loom large? Sometimes larger, if we are all honest, than our calling in Christ.Photo Credit: Paul Lee, Heartlight

God help us…and He will.

In my regular Bible reading this morning, in Nehemiah 3, God displayed a beautiful picture of unity. Nehemiah, a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, heard of the distress of the Jews in the broken-down city of Jerusalem. He was personally moved to action on their behalf and asked leave to go help them. He would undertake supervising the great task of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem.

Throughout chapter 3 of Nehemiah, you read the phrases “after him” or “next to them”. Nehemiah recorded name after name of the men stationed one beside the other, doing the work of rebuilding the wall. In Nehemiah 4, when the local authorities felt threatened by the work, they did all they could to demoralize the workmen. Even to the point of inciting fear for their lives. Nehemiah, for the sake of the workers and the work, assigned half of them to shifts repairing the wall and half to stand ready with spears. In fact, even those laboring on the wall would have their weapons at hand. Ready to fight for each other whenever necessary…whenever the alarm is sounded.

“In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” – Nehemiah 4:20

This is unity.

The determination to be one together…as in a part of the whole…as we see in the unity of God in Three (John 17:22). The conviction that division, no matter the worthiness of the reason, robs us of our power and influence Robs God of His glory in His people. The humility and courage to root out division – with our work tools in one hand and our weapons in the other.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – JesusJohn 13:35

In an era sadly in the past, churches would, as needed, call themselves into a solemn assembly. This wasn’t just a share around a campfire, or a “confess fest”. A solemn assembly provides the setting for a deep dealing with sin in the church. Division, unholy and self-serving, can only be rooted out by corporate prayer and repentance.

Each of us can make a difference in the lives of our families, our churches, our cultures by refusing to be divided against each other. If we are willing to walk humbly and biblically with each other.  Working with one hand and holding God’s Word (toward love and against division) with the other. We are rarely given the option, in Scripture, to just walk away. To be repulsed by what we think is wrong; to pull ourselves out of the work and relationships; to just walk away.

[If an enemy threatens…we have God’s instructions as well…and His power fighting for us. However, to just abandon one another, especially to an enemy…and weaken the work and our witness? This is not the answer. Dealing with an enemy that divides us takes great wisdom, faith, and both courage and humility. Pointing our fingers at another is part of the problem, and we all know it if we would open our eyes to it. However, confronting the enemy in wise and Godly ways, may be required of any or all of us at some point in our lives. Remembering also that our enemy is spiritual more than physical.]

When we are having a hard time in this work of being in unity, Dave and I sometimes run through the names of people who give us hope. Those whom we know will always hold the rope for us if we are dangling off the edge of a cliff. Those also for whom we would do the same. It’s an exercise that helps us remember that God calls us to fight for each other…for those most worthy and even those, in our estimation, least worthy… In actuality, we are not the judge of this, God is. It is God who is worthy and He calls us, in His strength, to stand with each other. Alongside each other. Undivided.

Take a moment to savor the singing of this song Undivided by the vocal trio First Call. In this rendition, they are joined by Wayne Watson, Larnelle Harris, and Steve Green – all pioneers in contemporary Christian music.

[I get cold chills every time.]

Worship with me to Undivided by First Call:

We may worship different ways
We may praise Him
And yet spend all of our days
Living life divided

But when we seek Him with open hearts
He removes the walls we built
That keep us apart
We trust Him to unite us

In our hearts, we’re undivided
Worshiping one Savior, one Lord
In our hearts, we’re undivided
Bound by His spirit forevermore
Undivided

It doesn’t matter if we agree
All He asks is that we serve Him faithfully
And love as He first loved us
He made us in His image

And in His eyes, we are all the same
And though out methods they may be different
Jesus is the bond that will remain

In our hearts, we’re undivided
Worshiping one Savior, one Lord
In our hearts, we’re undivided
Bound by His spirit forevermore
Undivided

In our hearts, we’re undivided
Worshiping one Savior, one Lord
In our hearts, we’re undivided
Bound by His spirit forevermore
Undivided*

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:12-15

*Lyrics to Undivided written by Melodie Tunney, 1986

First Call Music

Don’t Give Up – Jon Bloom – Desiring God

Worship Wednesday – O Praise the Name of the Lord Our God – Hillsong

Photo Credit: Church Front

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” Psalm 30:4

“Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:1

Lost in the moment, it was as if the Heavens opened. We were in a Christian conference surrounded by medical and nursing personnel who want to serve those least served around the world. They would go out as volunteers, leaving their lucrative practices and their comfortable specialties. They would spend several long days in sticky hot makeshift clinics…in obscurity. Tending grateful patients and family members who would never post their experiences to social media. Deep in another world, very different from the US. These will go to serve a needy people and a God who loves that people…and who loves those going.

We were at the mid-point of the conference, reconvening after the supper meal, and a praise team took the stage to gather us together in worship. Maybe this small group of singers and instrumentalists were regulars in a local church. [I missed the introduction.] They did not draw our attention to them (may have been intentional)…and God used them to draw us to Himself.

The “cool factor” of this praise team…and this whole conference actually…was beautifully not the focus.  As we sang, we forgot about those on stage. Just a quiet pointing to God, and the Holy Spirit settled all over the rooms, and especially on our hearts.

Maybe you experience this on a regular basis. It was a sweet reminder of how, even in our best efforts, we can avoid our culture’s trappings of “cool” which add nothing to what God is already about.

Jon Bloom explores this in his article The Cool God Is a Puny God. He warns against bowing to the idol of cool in our worship of God. God just doesn’t do “cool”.

That’s because, in the apt words of the Incredible Hulk in The Avengers, Cool is a “puny god.” Just because Cool is culturally pervasive doesn’t mean it’s big. It just has good marketing.

The true, big God is after our biggest, deepest, widest, longest-lasting joy. That’s why he commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… [and] love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). He designed us not to find happiness in how others think of us, but in our loving others; not pursuing others’ admiration but in pursuing others’ good. That’s the joy that God has for us in commands like this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his interests, but also to the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:3–4)*

[Sidebar: I mean no offense. Some of you may be completely cool without seeking it – trendsetters, generally just winsome to those around you. If you’re just being yourself…but if you’re trying to be “cool”, that’s a bondage none of us need. Our dilemma is when people measure themselves and each other by the culture’s “coolness” gauge. Jesus just doesn’t fit anywhere on this scale. He is so far beyond anything we might think is cool. Right?]

Worship with me to the Hillsong‘s O Praise the Name of Jesus. That little praise team led us in singing this song…and we forgot them, forgot ourselves, and gathered together around the throne of God:

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet
My Saviour on that cursed tree

His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forevermore
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

And then on the third at break of dawn
The Son of heaven rose again
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forevermore
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

He shall return in robes of white
The blazing sun shall pierce the night
And I will rise among the saints
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God**

Postscript: This world lost a man this week who definitely gave no thought to whether he was cool or not. His name is Robert Wink, and he was welcomed Home by His Savior – the One he made much of his whole life. Bob understood that whatever cool was added nothing to the Person of Jesus. Bob was also moved to action by our need for God’s enduring love. A love that is steadfast despite the changing whims of a self-seeking culture.

Bob loved people and he loved Jesus, and he took every opportunity to bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

Obituary – Robert E. “Bob” Wink

The world is diminished without this dear man. May it be true of us that at the end of our days, we chose Jesus over self, in our every endeavor…no matter how uncool that might make us. It doesn’t matter.

Hallelujah!

Song Story – O Praise the Name – Marty Sampson

*The Cool God Is a Puny GodJon Bloom

**Lyrics to O Praise the Name – Songwriters: Dean Ussher, Benjamin Hastings, Marty Sampson

YouTube Video – Hulk vs. Loki – Puny God – The Avengers

Worship Wednesday – Dream Small – Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Josh Wilson Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discern What Pleases God Himself – John Piper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Pinterest, Toby Mac

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

*Lyrics to Dream Small by Josh Wilson

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

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

Josh Wilson Music

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

Worship Wednesday – Belief and Unbelief – Jesus Is Better – Austin Stone

Photo Credit: Slideshare

He [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:6

“…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” “If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”Mark 9:22b-24

My ambition has never been to make Jesus marvel at my unbelief. In fact, I’ve written about believing here and here. It is what I want in life. To know Him and to make Him known.

This past Sunday, our pastor, Cliff, taught on Mark 6. It was the account of Jesus’ return to his hometown to preach and heal. The townspeople who knew Jesus from an early age called into question his authority and ability to do the miracles which characterized his public ministry. They chose to be offended by him…they chose not to believe.

Cliff described belief as where our aim is. “[God] takes even small faith aimed at Him (in belief) and does great things with it and for those who believe.”

When we choose to be offended by Christians, or the church, or the religion of Christianity, we turn away from all things Christ.

In unbelief.

In unbelief, we lose Jesus – that beautiful representation of God Himself. Too great a loss…too great.

I’ve had seasons when the aim of my life shifted away from Jesus…and it showed…in my decisions, my relationships, my character.

Before I got too far down any of those roads away from God, He drew me back to Himself. Unbelief will not characterize my life! “I do believe. Help my unbelief.”

The song Jesus Is Better (by Austin Stone Worship) is a great testament to the excellence of knowing Christ. He is better than any other person, pleasure, or pursuit. He is perfect in love and life.

After Cliff’s message on Sunday, I asked someone close to me, “If you believe that Jesus was truly good and only did good, what keeps you from believing Him and wanting to know all you can know of Him?”

What keeps us from Jesus? Unbelief.

Jesus is worthy of our faith and our belief. We deceive ourselves if we refuse Him, reject Him…to our eternal peril. Choosing separation from Him in this life and the next.

This is both sobering and terrifying.

Believe.

Worship with me.

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 sins’ tyranny

My life is hidden
‘neath heaven’s shadow
And 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*

So little in life we can control really, BUT we can control where we fix our aim…where we set our minds.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…As God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.  Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Colossians 3:1-2, 12-15

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis; The Time-Warn Wife

*Lyrics to Jesus Is Better – Songwriters: Aaron Ivey & Brett Land

YouTube Video – Jesus Is Better – Story Behind the Song

YouTube Video – Jesus Is Better (Live) – Jimmy McNeal

Movement Church – Podcast on Unbelief/Belief – Mark 6:1-6 – Pastor Cliff Jordan

Movement Church Facebook Live – Worship May 20 2018 – Mark 6:1-6 Sermon

Case Study: Too Late for Salvation? – Journal of Christian Nursing – Deborah Stephens Mills & Kathleen T. Flynn

Jesus Is Better – Melissa Kruger

Sermon Slide Deck – “I Believe; Help my Unbelief” – Luke 9:37-45 – SlideShare

5 Friday Faves – Fortnite Revisited on Classical Guitar, Spring Rain, Habits of Love, Andy Crouch on Shame, and Wonder

Happy Friday! Here are my five favorite finds for this week:

1) Fortnite Revisited on Classical Guitar – About a month ago, classical guitarist Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar posted his arrangement of Fortnite Dances. Like the popular game and its celebrity players, this video skyrocketed. 5 million views and Beyond the Guitar YouTube subscriptions doubled over the course of days. Now he has a second video out featuring another set of Fortnite Dances.  Gamer or not, if you love music, this is a fun sampler!Photo Credit: Beyond the Guitar, YouTube

The dances are fun to watch and feature a wide range of music. Nathan’s classical guitar renditions are uniquely beautiful. My favorite of the dance/music combinations on this video are Bluegrass, a polka or Russian dance, a pop oldie, and a Rock finale (where Nathan brings out his electric guitar!!). Enjoy!

2) Spring Rain – We’ve had a fairly dry Spring in Richmond, Virginia. What this means for allergy-sufferers is the barrage of tree pollens that make being outside insufferable. The yellow blanket on all surfaces this time of year could use a good washing.Photo Credit: Charlotte Observer

This week, finally, the rain came. As happens with rains in our part of the world in May, all of nature seems to push up, greener and more vivid. We can all breathe deep the freshness of the air and the beauty around us. For me, the sound of rain is as glorious as its visual aftermath. We don’t live where flash flooding is a problem, so I do want to remember that days and days of rain isn’t happy for everyone. Still, it is a welcome respite from the hot dry days of late Spring in Richmond.

3) Habits of Love – Thanks to Andy Crouch (see #4), I have discovered Richmond attorney and thought leader Justin Earley and The Common Rule. So thrilled about this. The funny thing is that I ALMOST heard Justin speak on busyness earlier this month but couldn’t make it work schedule-wise (ironic, huh?). When Andy retweeted this image from Justin’s Twitter page, I was captivated.Photo Credit: The Common Rule, Twitter

From there, I discovered The Common Rule website and Facebook page. Subscribed, subscribed, subscribed. Justin focuses on habit formation towards love. He has really useful helps on his website and through his email subscription. I am on it!

Photo Credit: Common Rule of Life, Facebook

Meaningful Work – a Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul – Shawn Askinosie

4) Andy Crouch on Shame – Author Andy Crouch has written an essay on how our culture has changed. For most of our history as a country, we have been a guilt-based culture. By that, I mean we measured ourselves and others as being “right or wrong” in our thinking, choosing to do right or wrong. This is how we raised our children. We determined not to measure our children up against (compared with) other people, but to raise them up with a standard of right living and making right choices (for us, it was based on the Bible…on the teachings and life of Jesus). “Right” was not legalistic or moralistic; “right” was loving, kind, serving, non-judgmental.

Only in recent years has our culture been moving toward more of a shame-based view on life. Here the difference is how our character and behavior reflects on a larger community (“how others see us”). This is somewhat different from the traditional shame-honor culture. In that culture, honoring your family, country, religion was all-important. If your behavior did not comply with those values, you were shamed, even ostracized.Photo Credit: The Rise of Shame in America, Honor Shame

Today’s American culture has definitely moved away from a guilt orientation. We hear it all the time in statements like “Well, that may be OK for you.” “You have the right to believe that way.” “Don’t try to put that guilt on me.” However, our culture is not moving toward the traditional shame society, but more a shame-fame culture. Fame over honor. Social media has driven this in recent years. We want to be “seen” a certain way. In fact, a young colleague of ours once said, “It’s my job to make you look good.” I was shocked at that. One, “looking good” was not even on my radar. Either I was good (competent, responsible, dependable, etc) or I wasn’t. It demonstrated the culture shift and generational disconnect.

The shaming still happens in our culture. Children can be shamed for not behaving in ways that make their parents look good. Public shaming of people who don’t agree with each other can be as brutal as real ostracism. And so it goes.

I miss the guilt culture. Where, whatever your religion or political ideology, you could tell the good guys from the bad guys. Or maybe we were naive, but I hope not. Today, it seems all about how we portray ourselves…how we are received by those that matter to us.

Sigh…any thoughts? Please.

[Don’t forget to return and read Andy’s essay and David Brooks’ review of Crouch’s essay and this whole social phenomenon.]

The Return of Shame – Andy Crouch

The Shame Culture – David Brooks

The Rise of Shame in America – HonorShame

5) Wonder – we are surrounded by the wonderful. The older we get, the more the losses and hardships of life push in on our experience of wonder. Children, and especially grandchildren, help us with that. They fill our storm-dampened sails. I am so thankful we live in the same city as our children.  When we have time with them, we stand a little taller, walk a little lighter, and wonder comes home to nest. Just last night, while our daughter and I were having a visit with an old friend, Dave elected to play with our little granddaughter. Off they went (not sure who was more excited). After the visit, daughter and grand-daughter headed out into the night, with “Bye…love you” resounding out of the back window. A tiny hand waving…

Dave was full of wonder. He marveled at how they read the whole hour. How a two-year-old could be that captured by stories! Maybe she was also in her own world of wonder, in the company of a granddad who loved her.Photo Credit: Pixabay

Hard to say, especially as a grandparent, who (in image below) is helping who…more.Photo Credit: Pixabay

Wonder is not just bound up in a child. It is all around us, in God’s own nature and his created nature. In all of us, bearing His image. Not just children, but everyone. I’m struck lately with how strong, and resilient, and persevering, and sharp most of the older adults are in my life. They are my heroes. Even when the mind and body weaken, life itself…the gift of life in all its forms and capacities…is a wonder.

Again, happy Friday! Hope yours is a rain-refreshed but not flooded weekend! [Edit: Have I got a story to tell for another day – It’s Friday night and the rain ceased to be refreshing hours ago – praying it stops!]

[Please share your own favorites or thoughts on above in the Comments. Much-appreciated.]

Bonuses:

Indoor Generation

Save the Storks – Pro-Woman, Pro-Baby, Pro-Family, Pro-Life

CNLP 192: Caleb Kaltenbach on How to Embrace an Outraged and Polarized Culture Most Leaders No Longer Like

Photo Credit: Matt Lieberman, Twitter

Photo Credit: Intelligence Is Sexy, Facebook page

On Being a Millennial Pastor – Leaders Who Don’t Remember the Glory Days – Erik Parker