Category Archives: Gospel

Worship Wednesday – Come to the Table – Sidewalk Prophets

Photo Credit: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because here’s the truth, dear ones:

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

You are in.

You are in.

You are in. – Kristen Strong

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

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

Sidewalk Prophets Website

Something Different Audio CD – Sidewalk Prophets

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

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

Photo Credit: Flickr

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

Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery, Alpha Stock Images

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

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

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

This is what I’m asking and searching out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Morning Moment – Lost In Translation – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Photo Credit: Revive Our Hearts

Monday morning, Y’all! Last night’s sleep was done way early for me. I’m not super pumped for the day, but the day is here, so onward.

Tomorrow (October 31) marks the grand finale of a year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Writer pastor David Mathis posted a fascinating article on A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: Discovering the Power of Luther’s Original Lyrics.

The lyrics that we in the US church call to mind as Martin Luther’s are actually a translation from German to English by Reverend Frederic Hedge. American-born, Hedge was a German scholar therefore his handling of the lyrics of this great hymn should be supposed as honoring of the original.

Still, Hedge was a Unitarian minister. His particular theology, in Unitarianism stresses the oneness of God, without the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – three persons in One being). This thinking did, in fact, shift some of the meaning in the translation of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

David Mathis’ 7 points on what was lost in translation help us appreciate the hymn even more, in its original form. Read those lyrics re-translated from German by John Piper and Matthias Lohmann in Mathis’ article.

  1. God is not only our safe refuge but He is also our strong offense.
  2. God doesn’t just help in some of our woes but in ALL of them.
  3. Compared to Hedge’s strong statements abut God’s power and our weakness, Luther’s original lyrics were extreme descriptions – ALL-powerful God and our total defenselessness.
  4. In Luther’s words: All that happens is according to God’s plan.
  5. Hedge speaks of God’s sufficiency in our day-to-day, and Luther further clarifies that even in our worst situation possible, we are secure in God’s sovereignty.
  6. Hedge’s claim that God never changes is true, but Luther stressed that there is no other God. Full stop.
  7. Hedge closes the hymn with the great truth that God’s “Kingdom is forever”. Luther personalized it more stating that His “kingdom must remain for us.” For us. Hallelujah!

The nuances are worthy of note. Hedge’s translation brought the hymn to English for many more of us to enjoy. His translation left intact the hymn’s power in speaking to the greatness of God and the church’s confidence in Him. Yet, Luther’s original lyrics were even more emotive of the glorious nature of God, His working out His purposes in the world, and His complete provision for us.

I know it’s Monday (when I usually write about leadership), but as the year closes on the grand celebration of the Reformation, can we worship together? Hedge’s English translation will more than suffice.

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim — We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.*

*Lyrics and Hymn Story: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Tim Challies

[Movement Church‘s Trunk or Treat yielded our own Martin Luther.]

Happy Reformation Day tomorrow!

Worship Wednesday – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – Deb Mills Writer

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World – Eric Metaxas

The Real Story of the Reformation – Eric Metaxas – Wall Street Journal

Luther (2004) DVD

YouTube Video – Martin Luther in Rome – film clip from above film

Wednesday Worship – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Martin Luther – 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

Blog - A Mighty Fortress Is Our God - suwallsPhoto Credit: Suwalls

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.”Psalm 46:10-11

In the dark days of oppression, the great Reformer Martin Luther would sing in the streets of Eisenach, Germany, both to encourage himself and those within hearing. He wrote many hymns, but this one, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, written in 1527, became his most well-known. Inspired by Psalm 46, it became the heart cry of the Protestant Reformation.

[This year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The worldwide celebrations culminate on October 31.]

‘A Mighty Fortress’ so captured the spirit of the Protestant Reformation that when Protestant emigrants were forced into exile or martyrs went to their death, ‘A Mighty Fortress’ always seemed to be the song they chose to sing.” – Diane Severance

Blog - martin Luther - youtubePhoto Credit: YouTube

Severance also wrote about Luther’s love of music:
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions…which control men or more often overwhelm them…Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to subdue frivolity, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate…what more effective means than music could you find?”Martin Luther

As Movement Church gathers, we sometimes sing this great hymn. In the past, this song was usually accompanied with pipe organ or orchestra. These days, electric guitar riffs and a measured drum beat remind us of the call to remember who God is…even in the midst of great struggle and the hard press of a changing culture.

This God is the Lord of the church…and we are His people…not just some seemingly silly church people clubbing together. His people are meant to be ready for whatever comes. Not because we are great or able, but because He is…He is our mighty fortress!

Worship with me in the way we learned this great hymn many years ago or in the more contemporary style of HeartSong (below).

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim — We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.*

*Lyrics and Hymn Story: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Tim Challies

The Weak Man Behind A Mighty Fortress – Mark Galli

Martin Luther Documentary (PBS) – Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World

Luther (2003 film starring Joseph Fiennes)

Approaching the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – Thomas Ryan

The Reformation at 500 – Russell Moore

Can Catholics Celebrate the Reformation? – Jacob Kohlhaas

Worship Wednesday – The Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe

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

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

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

Saved. What does that mean? Saved from what? For what?

I had been unchurched for most of my young life. When first exposed to the Bible, God drew me to Himself, and I was saved as a 9-year-old child. This holy and winsome God reached into the heart of a lost little girl and showed divine mercy. Saved was something my mom couldn’t do for me, nor could I do it for myself.

Even at 9, the wretchedness of sin was very real to me – both as a receiver of others’ sinful behavior and as a doer myself. People can be so hateful, uncaring, deliberately mean. Contrast that with a God who demonstrated such a love to us that in our most messed-up nature, He made a way for us to come back to Him…through the perfect, sinless Savior, Jesus Christ.

For the moment, I’m not going to deal with how it is one can be saved but you can find more here. Explore God is a great resource.

Since the day that I received God’s greatest gift, the life available only through Jesus, living for Him has always been my desire.

Seasons come, however, when my heart’s desire is dampened by fears, distractions, and cultural messages that disguise lies for truth. I have not always lived for the God who saved me…definitely I have not always been faithful to speak the glorious truth of Him and His gift to us in salvation.

Oh…the silence of wanting my own comfort over care of one who doesn’t yet know God’s love. My heart breaks at this.

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

Photo Credit: Twitter

We are never too old or too far gone down the world’s path to return to God and His great cause.

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

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

What is the cause of Christ? We, who know Jesus, have been saved from the sin embedded in us from the first sinners and we have been saved from living ourselves in unbridled sin for all our lives. We are saved for God’s purposes – to live to serve Him and others in truth; to proclaim that saving truth in word and deed to all those God places in our lives. We are saved for fellowship (community) with God now and forever.

How can we keep silent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Ann Voskamp, Twitter

“…how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.  For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. – the Apostle Paul, 1 Thessalonians 2:11-13

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

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

What Is the Cause of Christ?

A Cause Worthy of Your Life – Andrew Corbett

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

For the Cause – Getty Music

The Only Name (Yours Will Be) by Big Daddy Weave (words & lyrics by Benji Cowart)

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

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

Worship Wednesday – Only God’s Shoulders Are Big Enough – Shoulders – for King & Country

Blog - Shoulders - 2Photo Credit: YouTube

[Adapted from the Archives]

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.”Psalm 121

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”Matthew 11:28-29

[After several days of grieving over a series of events meant to divide our country right now and a natural disaster and national catastrophe across the ocean, I needed the reminder that our shoulders are not strong enough to bear these burdens…only God’s shoulders can carry us through all our days.]

There are wonderful and terrible things in this life I do not understand. The cycles of seasons. The next breath. The birth of a baby. The death of a young mother. A world crumbling under the weight of its own sin. At the same time, a world still sustaining life in exquisite beauty in the face of centuries of war. How is all this possible?

We are carried. By a God who loves us, comes alongside us, and lifts us up out of the muck and mire of our troubles. He shoulders our burdens. I am daily grateful to Him for that, because our shoulders are too small and weak for the task. Even when I don’t see God in a situation, I know, by faith and by experience, that He is present. How would we bear the wonders without Someone to praise for them? How would we bear the deep wrongs of this world without knowing, deep in our hearts, that He carries us?

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some of you go forth to your daily labors and you find the place of your service to be a real wilderness, full of trial and everything that is unpleasant to you. Yet look again, with eyes touched with Heaven’s eye-salve and, instead of seeing the bitter poverty, and the grinding toil, and the daily trial, you will begin to see that God is in it all and, ‘underneath are the everlasting arms!’ You shall go cheerfully home to Heaven, borne up by God. He who made you will carry you! He who loves you will bear you all the days of old till you shall come unto the Mountain of God and stand in your lot at the end of the days!”*

Luke and Joel Smallbone, of the group for King & Country, write so honestly about the Shoulders of God. The writing comes out of their personal experience of both a life-threatening illness and the birth of a child. It’s no longer a new song, but it draws me back to the truth of what is most real in our lives. Watch their video linked below which visually tells stories some of which we have also experienced. Thankful for these guys who help me to worship God as He is. Strong and true.

Worship with me:

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near
When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

CHORUS
My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

You mend what once was shattered
And You turn my tears to laughter
Your forgiveness is my fortress
Oh Your mercy is relentless

My help is from You
Don’t have to see it to believe it
My help is from you
Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true.**

Blog - Shoulders - for King & CountryPhoto Credit: www.forkingandcountry.com

A Kingdom Agenda Strategy for Community Transformation – Tony Evans

Baptist Global Response

*The Everlasting Arms by Charles Spurgeon

YouTube Video (Lyrics) – Shoulders – for King & Country

YouTube Video – Shoulders – for King & Country – Official Video

YouTube Video – Shoulders Live on K-Love with For King & Country

See It First: Go Behind the Scenes of For King & Country’s Powerful Video, ‘Shoulders

**K-Love – Lyrics to Shoulders by songwriters Luke Smallbone, Joel Smallbone, Ben Glover, Tedd Tjornhom

Story Behind the Song – Shoulders – NewReleaseTuesday.com Interview with Luke Smallbone

For Hope: Luke Smallbone Finds Grace in the Darkness

Worship Wednesday – Blessed Assurance – Fanny Crosby & Third Day

2014 May Blog 002

[Adapted from the Archives]

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:22a, 23

America’s Hymn Queen. Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was an American songwriter. In fact, she’s considered American’s “hymn queen“. She wrote the lyrics to more than 8000 hymns. Many in church today do not sing the hymns of old, but even my millennial era children know all the words to Crosby’s Blessed Assurance.

The history of the hymn is a quick glimpse into Fanny Crosby’s life. She was visiting in the home of a composer friend who had just written a melody. The friend, Phoebe P. (Mrs. Joseph K.) Knapp, asked her what came to mind upon hearing the melody, and Fanny responded immediately, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” She then completed the rest of the lyrics shortly thereafter.

Fanny wrote both secular and sacred music and taught school. She was also profoundly concerned for the urban poor and lived most of her life in and around the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. She was a vocal protestor against slavery and testified before the U.S. Senate in support of education for the blind.

Blind all her life.  Her physical eyes were dark but her spiritual vision was crystal clear.  She commented often how if she’d been sighted she might have missed the depth of awareness of God and His nearness to her. [Autobiography of Fanny Crosby]

Her songs communicate strong emotion and deep devotion. I am thankful to have grown up attending summer revival meetings and church camps where these hymns were regularly a part of the program.  Some of my favorites are: I Am Thine, O Lord; Jesus is Calling; Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer; Redeemed how I Love to Proclaim it; and To God Be the Glory. Just remembering the titles of these great old hymns takes me back – to warm summer nights; women fanning themselves with paper fans advertising the local funeral home; preachers making passionate appeals as if a matter of life and death; singing “one more verse” of one of those Crosby hymns.

benevolence-ga-randolph-county-baptist-church-interior-funeral-home-fans-folklife-picture-image-photo-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-20121

Or at church camp, by a lake, around a huge crackling fire popping and sending sparks up to the dark night sky; all of us circled around, singing and praying…for our sinful teen-aged selves or for the friend on either side of us. Those were experiences deeply imprinted in my life’s story – those experiences, Crosby’s hymns, and the God of those hymns.

Some of my contemporaries write about those “contrived” experiences as emotional ploys to bring some weak soul to a public profession of faith. All I know is that God grabbed hold of me in a very real way through the music of those old hymnists like Fanny Crosby.

She was one who knew God – who saw Him with eyes that couldn’t see anything else. And at some point, early in her life, she became one who only had eyes for Him…and that intimacy is reflected in her hymns. God Himself is marvelously magnified in her hymns. Blessed assurance.

Worship with me (Third Day‘s rendition of this great old hymn):

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Refrain:
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.*

*Lyrics to Blessed Assurance – Fanny J. Crosby

Blessed Assurance by Third Day (with Lyrics)

Blessed Assurance by Third Day (Live)

Blessed Assurance by The Angelic Choir

In Christ Alone – a contemporary hymn by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

Fanny Crosby: America’s Hymn Queen

Fan Photo by Brian Brown

Worship Wednesday – Why Singing Matters – with an Early Chris Tomlin Song

Photo Credit: BP News

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” – Ephesians 5:18-19

Okay…be honest. Do you ever get distracted during the singing portion of a worship service? Maybe you’re looking for a friend who hasn’t arrived yet. Perhaps, your attention has turned to those with their hands up, sweetly swaying to the music. Or, the song is new to you, and you are wondering who else is struggling with the lyrics.

Singing songs out loud in public (even among friends) is awkward for some. I totally get that. Still, it seems the comfort level of many in congregational singing has to do with growing up in a worshipping culture that they embraced early in life. [Now, don’t get me wrong – this is a totally casual observation. It does not include people who came to faith later in life and who can’t contain their joy because of it.] If you agree, or disagree, please respond in the Comments.

Our children had the privilege of participating in worship singing since they were tiny. Even living overseas for so many years.

I went through a season that children’s church choir programming was a benefit of larger more privileged congregations. That season was short, and now I’m over it.

Teaching children and youth to praise God in singing Biblical songs is essential to raising up worshippers. It’s not about performance; it’s about the heart-mind connection between us and God.

Although children’s choir programs may be right up there with elementary school piano recitals, think about the outcomes. Kids who love Jesus and express that love together, and for the encouragement of all the church…and beyond even.

My heritage is lots of choirs and lots of church events with singing. I will never forget the many times God met me at a youth camp bonfire, with someone with a guitar leading us in singing. We must have known those songs. No projected lyrics onto the nightime sky. No songsheets. We knew the songs.Photo Credit: BP News

In 1998, a young singer/songwriter Chris Tomlin released his second album, Authentic. He was just 26 years old. Just the year before, he was asked by Louie Giglio to join Passion Conferences where he continues to minister.

In those days, worship songs often looped or repeated the lyrics, so that’s one way we all learned them so well. Many worship songs also included Scripture verbatim, or the lyrics were essentially Scripture. Both (repeated Bible verse lyrics) were the case with Tomlin’s song Romans 16:19 on his Authentic album.

That song came to mind just yesterday…after all these years.

I remember that verse to this day because of Chris Tomlin and all the times singing it, dancing around with youth at bonfires or in crazy Friday night church rallies. Contemporary worship music has evolved and matured in many ways. Still a lot of the “old” early standards continue to minister to our hearts because they are in our heads.

For all of us, it is wisdom then to teach our children to worship (in other ways but also with singing). Why? Because we remember those songs the same as we remember Bible verses we learn as children. They go down deep in our minds. Also, and most importantly, worship should be as natural as breathing for God’s people. Learning to worship young helps us to seek Him in that way our whole lives…even, and especially, in the times when worshipping is not so easy.

7 Biblical Matters Why Singing Matters – Unlocking the Bible

Worship with me, please…to this great old song by our great brother Chris Tomlin. [I bet my kids still know this song.]

Romans 16:19 says!
Romans 16:19 says!
Be excellent in what is good
Be innocent of evil
Be excellent in what is good
Be innocent of evil
[Chorus:]
And the God of Peace will soon crush Satan
God will crush him underneath your feet!
And the God of Peace will soon crush Satan
God will crush him underneath your feet!
Be excellent in what is good
Be innocent of evil
Be excellent in what is good
Be innocent of evil[chorus 2x]Romans 16:19 says!

Next time you’re in worship with the church gathered, I hope you sing. Please put some of your favorite early worship songs in the Comments for us to enjoy reminiscing about…or to learn anew. Also I would love to know what songs your little ones are singing in your church’s children’s ministry…or what songs you’re teaching them.

[Below you will find a published playlist for this summer’s Fuge Camps. These could be the songs your youth will remember into adulthood.]

Worship Wednesday – All These Babies – Raising Up Worshippers – Lullabies – Deb Mills Writer

Leading Children in God-Centered Worship – Pam Grano

Teaching Our Kids to Be Worshipers – Kevin West

Worship Wednesday – the Church Segregated – Black & White – Erskin

Photo Credit: Church Leadership

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
 – Galatians 3:28

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.Ephesians 2:14

Racial segregation in the church must break the very heart of God. How is it that we, who love Jesus and want to live as He modeled and taught us, continue to live and worship apart from one another racially?

We live in a racially complex city. Richmond, Virginia, was once the capital of the Confederacy. Even now, the racial divide is shamefully wide. The church, both black and white congregations, has Christ’s mandate to come together. To be reconciled. To live at peace with one another. To enjoy community together.

My family is part of a church that has a vision to reach Richmond. Our city is ethnically diverse. To reach Richmond includes figuring out how to not just be another white church in the neighborhood.

Erskin Anavitarte is a Christian songwriter. On his website, he also identifies as a diversity spokesman and adoption advocate. He is a Kingdom builder and a reconciler. This is a man who calls us to enlarge our lives and our churches to include one another.Photo Credit: Erskin Music

He wrote a little song Black & White which really touched my heart this week. Simple and yet profound lyrics.

“One song may not make much difference, but my prayer is that we remember that God made us all and perhaps bridging the gap begins by focusing our eyes on Jesus. That’s the message of this song.”Erskin Anavitarte

After our country’s last election, I was burdened afresh how racially polarized we are as a nation, and even in the church. This can’t be the case, in daily life, for Christ followers. Not in daily life. Not in corporate worship. How do we come together?

As we worship the Lord today, we ask Him for wisdom and for opportunity. We ask for compassion and understanding. We determine to “love beyond the limits of our prejudices…to speak love and embody love” (Rev. Michael Walrond, Jr.).

Today, I want to make it a priority to discover the black church in the same neighborhood as our white church. To find those who love God as I do…and this city in a way that can stretch my own love…and maybe it could go beyond the reach of either of us. Just maybe.

[Let’s close in worship now. Check out the super helpful links below, later.]

Worship with Erskin and me, would you?

The most segregated time in our country

Is Sunday morning 11 o’clock

Black churches, white churches

Right next door

They’re on the same block.

Both with hands raised high for Jesus

Still a million miles between us

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

We all want to walk with Jesus

We all want to be about His will

How do we break down the unseen walls

Where bridges need to be built

This song may not change your mind

Jesus won’t let me keep it inside.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Maybe it all begins

By not focusing on ourselves

Fixing our eyes on Him

Living our lives as friends.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal.

Photo Credit: James Estrin, The New York Times

YouTube Video – Erskin – Black & White – Official Lyric Video

A Shift in Demographics at a Church in Harlem – Samuel G. Freedman

YouTube Video – Global Spirituality: Pastor Michael Walrond at TEDxHarlem

They’re Playing Our Song – The Secret Multiracial Churches Know About Music – Michael O. Emerson

7 Key Characteristics of Diversity-Oriented Churches – Brian Leander

Racial Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia? – Wendy McCaig

[Links below showcase Christian comedians who help us with some of the things that unnecessarily make us uncomfortable with each other’s church cultures…although I couldn’t find one that caricatured white church worship for blacks. Could someone help me?]

YouTube Video – Gary Owen – My First Time at a Black Church

YouTube Video – Unwritten Black Church Rules – KevOnStage

YouTube Video – Black Church Phrases Explained – KevOnStage

Worship Wednesday – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend

[Adapted from the Archives]

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.blog-international-church-worship-how-deep-the-fathers-lovePhoto 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!

Worship with me.

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.

blog-how-deep-the-fathers-love-youtubePhoto Credit: YouTube

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.*

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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

*Lyrics – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Cover by Joy Williams

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Lyrics (with Scripture portions that support them)

The Depth of Christ’s Love: Its Cost – John Piper

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song – How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Stuart Townend

The High Cost of the Cross – Joe Crews

Hymn Reflection: How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Adam Faughn