Worship Wednesday – Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

Blog - Music inspired by the film Amazing GraceAmazing Grace is probably the most well-known Christian hymn of all time. The lyrics are powerful, written by John Newton, an 18th century slave trader, who had a riveting experience with God that changed his life forever. Amazing Grace is a deeply personal confession which we who are followers of Christ also share with Newton. Chris Tomlin’s cover (on his 2006 album See the Morning) is an updated version of the hymn which honors the melody we all love. He also includes a last verse that Newton wrote that was omitted in previous versions. This version is also a part of the soundtrack of the film Amazing Grace.

This film (2006, Michael Apted, Director) is high on my all-time-favorite-film list. For those of you who missed it, for whatever reasons, consider watching it now. It is beautifully filmed with great performances and magnificent sound. Amazing Grace is a biopic on the life of William Wilberforce, a member of the 18th century British parliament, who fought for the abolition of the slave trade. With John Newton as his mentor and pastor, Wilberforce was personally tormented by the reality of slavery. He battled, fearlessly and tenaciously, for over 20 years in Parliament, and, before his death, saw the passage of law abolishing slavery in Great Britain.

This film shows the story of how one person can affect great change. One person. It’s very reflective of how One brought us out of slavery through His life, death, and resurrection.  Amazing Grace.

There’s the phenomenal true-life subplot in the film, as well – the friendship and shared faith and passion of William Wilberforce and John Newton.  Newton spurred Wilberforce on, encouraging him that he could do more through his political life than if he became a member of clergy. There’s a lesson here for all of us as well – that whatever our work or calling, we are meant to infuse it with the great grace and purpose God has given each one of us.

Worship with me today through this lovely hymn. Consider renting Amazing Grace to watch with your family or friends (who somehow missed it the first time around).

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine.

What’s your favorite version of Amazing Grace? Youtube or other? Share it with us in the Comments.

YouTube video of Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace with clips from film

Brief & thrilling summary of the life of John Newton who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace

Film Clip from the Film Amazing Grace – 2006 drama of political & spiritual life of William Wilberforce and his battle against slavery

Music Inspired by the Film Amazing Grace

Film Amazing Grace

Chris Tomlin Website

Youtube Amazing Grace (Chris Tomlin) with Lyrics

Amazing Grace Lyrics

 

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Stop…and Then Go – Connect with Internationals

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For many years, our family lived overseas. When work takes people out of their home countries into other cultures, we can embrace the experience or insulate ourselves from the experience. I loved living overseas. The people who invited us into their lives were some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Our family tried to live very intentionally, learning all we could about the ebb and flow of life of each new culture and what mattered to the people there.

Our friendships grew deep, even when we didn’t share the same religion or the same traditions, we lived life alongside each other. We learned from them and they learned from us. Now, working back in the U.S., I find that we’re on the flip-side of that experience. We have many, many internationals living in our city, and some are our friends. They are here for school or for work or for refuge from war or other disasters. Just as local people overseas reached out to us with help and hospitality, we want to reach out to these internationals who are now our neighbors here.

Rachel Pieh Jones, in her blog Djibouti Jones, lists out 20 things expats should stop doing if they are going to really thrive in their host countries (where they’re currently working or studying). I was intrigued by this list and saw how some of Rachel Jones’ observations would be helpful when applied here, by us in our home countries. Out of her list of 20 “stop’s” – things to stop doing in order to make a foreign place more your home – I adapted 10  (with her permission) to help us be less “foreign” to internationals/immigrants – those who are among us gradually making this country their home (even for a season). As we are willing to stretch out our lives to truly welcome internationals in, we can help make it possible for them to feel at home here (for a season…or a lifetime).

10 Things We Should Stop Doing if We Desire to Build Relationships with Internationals

  1. Stop complaining. We complain a lot, and often about first world problems. We also too often complain about peoples of other nationalities (both those in our home country and in their own). If we truly desire to demonstrate the love of Christ to them, we look for what is good (about our own country, and theirs).  Focus on what is good about both their country and our own. Look for the common denominators that build bridges.
  2. Stop putting off language learning. You may not have any ambition about learning another language, and for sure, most internationals living here for school or work are doing what they can to master English. Still it is a delight for any of us to hear even a few words in our own language. Rachel Jones talks about the great impact you can have by learning even a few words: “Make their day by putting in the time, effort, and laughter to honor their language.”
  3. Stop hanging out with only other Americans. Internationals, and especially immigrants, will find each other, and tend to also gather just among themselves. However, if you reach out to a neighbor or colleague or fellow student, you will, more often than not, be well-received. Strike up a conversation and gently ask questions about them and their country and their culture. You may be opening the door to a friendship beneficial to you both. Visit your new international neighbor (bearing in mind possible cultural constraints, but don’t let those keep you from extending hospitality). Are there immigrant vendors/proprietors in your neighborhood? Call them by name. “Celebrate holidays with gusto”, Jones says, (both yours and theirs).
  4. Stop your addiction to social media. There’s a lot to be said about what we gain from social media. Eventually, however, to really engage with international/immigrant neighbors or coworkers, you have to get up, go out, and meet them where they are. Just this week I celebrated the discovery of an authentic Japanese noodle restaurant with a young Japanese friend. She just graduated from her university here and, with no family in the US, we celebrated together as family.
  5. Stop taking yourself so seriously. To pursue cross-cultural relationships, you will make mistakes and sometimes misunderstand social cues from an international friend. You will make mistakes, sure, but your friend knows your heart. People who don’t make mistakes in international relationships simply don’t have them..at least at any deep, constant level.
  6. Stop ignoring beggars.  This may seem a strange point in this list. Rachel Jones’ family has made their second home in a very impoverished African country. If you live in a US city, you have probably encountered beggars. They are most probably Americans, not internationals. Still beggars are found in most cultures. How to respond to beggars is a challenge for us all. It may be a case-by-case decision, but seek the Lord about a Biblical response to beggars. Beggars remind us all of how Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Your immigrant/international friends will take note of how you respond to beggars. In her blog, Jones said, “That doesn’t mean to start giving to them; decide your own convictions on that. But look at them and talk to them. Ask their names and listen to their stories.”
  7. Stop ignoring the international press and international events[observed locally].  To often we focus on the news reports that only affect us. As you develop friendships with internationals, seek out news items that affect them or their families back home. Participate in their cultural events or festivals when possible.
  8. Stop shopping only at the more high-end stores. Of course, there are internationals who are very wealthy and shop in those stores, too. This is just to keep in mind for the others in your lives. Find where your immigrant friends shop and how they manage to feed and clothe their families. You may learn how to better, or more creatively, do the same for your own family.
  9. Stop being afraid. Examine your heart about what makes you afraid of being in the lives of internationals. Is it the language difference? Their culture? Are you afraid you might offend? Or you afraid a friendship might be too time-consuming? Or will it become awkward if they need jobs or a visa? Or is it an issue of love – you are not even sure how you feel about them being here? With God’s help, deal with the fear and allow Him to work in your heart to build bridges, rather than walls.
  10. Stop thinking you can solve the(ir) country’s problems.  I heard a very strange news report this week that enemy nations were accusing each other of killing their own people and blaming the other side.  We live in strange times, and it’s difficult to know really who to believe about politics or the world’s problems. We all have opinions about how nations can improve the situation for their peoples, but very few of us are in a position to make that happen. Praying and loving, in Jesus’ name, are our best tools to help our friends as they look back “home” and long for things to be better there.

A Bonus: Rachel Pieh Jones ended her list of 20 Stops with:

20.  Stop forgetting to call your mom. Good advice for us all.

I hope you found this helpful. Jones’ blog for expats reminded me of how we’re all pilgrims on this journey. Whatever we can do to help and understand each other will make community for people who very much need community…and in demonstrating the love of Jesus to these immigrants/internationals, they gain much more than just our friendship.

20 Things Expats Need to Stop Doing

 

 

 

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Life Skills – Stewardship of the Essential in the Workplace – 5 Helps

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A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.                      Proverbs 16:9

“He who believes in Me [Jesus], the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” John 14:12

5 Helps to Keep Essentials in Focus

1) Pray – do business with God on the issue of stewardship of work.

2) Re-visit your job description/annual goals. Do they match up?

3) Determine when you’re sharpest or freshest & guard that time.

4) Practice intentionality with meeting invites & other distractions.

5) Do what only you can do whenever possible.

Books, blogs, and experts abound in the field of leadership and workplace productivity. A challenge for me at work is the constant press of the urgent, and the seeming necessity of meetings upon meetings. I actually don’t really mind meetings; processing in group is my method of choice for information-sharing and developing strategies. Yet, there are those colleagues of ours whom we depend on for deep thinking and creative planning and who need time in quiet to accomplish that.  Too often their work-day is packed with people (either across a meeting table or through electronic communications). They’re then less able to be proactive in their thinking and more prone to reactive decision-making.

Shane Parrish (@farnamstreet) wrote about this phenomenon several months ago. The title of his article was intriguing: “Most of what you are going to do or say today is not essential”.

I don’t want to spend my life doing things that don’t matter, especially in the huge investment of life at work.

In the above article, Parrish continued: “If you’re a modern knowledge worker, odds are you’re going to go to work, read some emails, reply to some emails, attend some meetings, grab a coffee, have lunch, attend another meeting or two, catch up on emails, and finally head home. You’ll be busy from the moment you get to work until the moment you go home. When you do find a nook of time, you’ll likely be bombarded with beeping, dings, calls, and other people who only need a sliver of our time. After all, they too have something urgent to do. They too have a deadline.

After a long day, you’ll come home mentally and physically drained. Eventually you’ll reach a tipping point and say enough is enough. The very next day you’ll head into the office vowing to change things. You’ll start to think about how to work more productively when, ding, a meeting invite pops up for an urgent meeting to decide the fate of a product.”

Later in the article, he said, “Sure we do more busy work, but we’re doing less real work. To get any real work done we come in early, stay late, or both. That’s the only way we can get some peace and quiet.”

We must take a step back from our hectic workday and refocus our thinking on why exactly do we have our jobs anyway. Why were we given the responsibilities we have or how are we to use the authority/influence we have? Are we being good stewards of what is absolutely imperative or are we just ticking off what is necessary? We have to recapture the essential elements of our work before they’re lost in a muddle of ineffective organizational structure.

There has been lots written on effective leadership, workplace productivity, and time management. For me, these 5 helps encourage me in resetting my priorities when I lose balance or energy or joy in the work:

1) Pray – really do business with God on the issue of your stewardship of your work. Are you being faithful in the essentials?

2) Re-visit your job description and annual goals. Do they match up or have your time and mental energy been outsourced to other activities eroding your creativity and productivity?

3) Determine when you are the sharpest or freshest and guard that time of the day for the most essential thinking and decision-making you need to do. “Silence” the distractions for that block of time.

4) Practice intentionality in dealing with meeting invites, drop-ins, phone calls, or email. Urgent matters will come up and may need only your attention for some part of them. Just beware that you don’t fall into a habit of doing what may come easy – for example, filling up your day with meetings generated by others leaving you with little time for  your own responsibilities.

5) Do what only you can do whenever possible. You’re in the position you’re in, hopefully, because you are just the right person for that job. What is it that you need to be focused on? You don’t just ignore the other needs of the office or organization that vie for your attention, but you help work out how best (either through a process or another person) those needs are met.

What has helped you in stewarding the essentials in your work life? What are your particular challenges?

Shane Parrish – What You Do Today Is Not Essential

Biblical Time Management

Michael Hyatt on Cutting Your To-Do List in Half

Time Management Matrix

5 Tips for Increasing Workplace Productivity

5 Real Tips to Get More Done at Work

 

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Worship Wednesday – Listening for His Voice through the Noise

Blog - MercyMeHe who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. – 1 John 4:4

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1

All kinds of voices bang around in our heads. Some of those voices belong to family and friends who say things which wound us, whether they meant to or not. There are voices belonging to society that call us “judgers” or “haters”, when we know it’s not true. There are voices from our workplace (sounding like our own voice sometimes) that say we aren’t doing enough or doing our jobs well enough. Then there’s the voice of the Evil One speaking in the first person, with my accent, saying, “I’m too fat. I’m not smart. I’ll never get it right. I’m going to fail…again.”

There are nights when I struggle to fall asleep wondering how to fix what seems wrong, at the time, in my life or relationships. Fear, anxiety, sadness crowd out rest…but worry finally collapses into prayer. It’s then that the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice breaks through the noise, and my head clears. Reminded of what’s true. Peace restored.

In worship, the voices in our heads are silenced by the Voice in our hearts, speaking His Word to us…reminding us of who He is, and who we are, in Him…that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”; we were chosen by Him; we are forgiven; His grace is sufficient for whatever comes; nothing can separate us from His love; and He will never leave us or forsake us…ever.

MercyMe’s song, Greater, from their Welcome to the New album (2014) describes this wrestling in the lives of believers. Until the day, we leave this place for Heaven, we will struggle against what the world says about God and about us, and we’ll cling to what God says…and what we know to be true in walking with Him.

God has used this song to lift my head, and, with joy and gratitude to Him and MercyMe, I invite you to worship with me, singing Greater.

Greater

Bring your tired; bring your shame; bring your guilt; bring your pain; Don’t you know that’s not your name. You will always be much more to me.

Everyday I wrestle with the voices that keep telling me I’m not right; But that’s alright.

‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed; when others say I’ll never be enough. And greater is the One living inside of me than he who is living in the world. In the world. In the world.

And greater is the One living inside of me Than he who is living in the world.

Bring your doubts; bring your fears; bring your hurt; bring your tears There’ll be no condemnation here. You are holy, righteous and redeemed. Every time I fall, there’ll be those who will call me a mistake; well that’s ok.

(He’s greater, He’s greater)

There’ll be days I lose the battle; grace says that doesn’t matter ‘Cause the cross already won the war.

(He’s Greater, He’s Greater)

I am learning to run freely understanding just how He sees me and it makes me love Him more and more.

He’s Greater He’s Greater

My God is greater than he who is living in the world.

Mercy Me – Greater Lyrics | MetroLyrics

YouTube video of Greater with Lyrics

YouTube video of Bart Millard Telling Story Behind Song Greater

More of the Story

The Stupendous Reality of Being in Christ Jesus by John Piper

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Remembered in Her Will – A Chance to Change the Future if Not the Past

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[ Continuation of the story from The Father I Never Knew – On Father’s Day ]

An aunt I never knew remembered my brothers and me in her will. She was my father’s older sister. When my parents divorced, I was not yet 6. My mom divorced my dad, and our understanding as children was that his family wanted nothing more to do with us. It seemed true as decades have passed without contact with them. Whatever childhood memories I had of my relatives on my dad’s side are gone.

Then through a search on the part of a cousin of my aunt Pauline, my father’s sister, we were found. This cousin and Pauline were very close, and the cousin, Mrs. Betty Anne, is actually responsible for our being remembered in our aunt’s will. Aunt Pauline had planned to leave some money to the children of one brother, and this cousin, encouraged her to remember her other brother’s children as well…even though she never knew us.

It turns out, as we heard the story from this lovely lady, that our family on my father’s side did want to know us, but didn’t know how…I will never know the details of that longing. My father made few attempts to see us after the divorce, and, I suppose, lost track of us…even though we grew up close by. My mom lived in the same house a county away for nearly 40 years, an address my father knew. All my wonderings about this will never be satisfied. My paternal grandparents, my father, and his siblings are all gone now.

However, there is hope in these situations, I am finding, and it doesn’t just happen to other people.

Mrs. Betty Anne, this dear cousin of Aunt Pauline, tracked us down.  In our visit with her, we talked about the family we shared that she knew well and we didn’t at all. She said our father was a good man. He always dressed well, and was handsome and charming. He didn’t work much (which we knew from our mom’s account), but he was a good man, she would say often.

What was bittersweet, during this long-awaited “re-acquaintance”, was how she talked about our aunt and how she had wanted to know us. She was 97 when she died this Spring, and probably wasn’t internet-search-savvy. We would have been easy to find really…but it did not happen. I regret her loss, and our own…to not know each other.

Now, weeks after this first visit, I’m continuing to learn about my other family through Mrs. Betty Anne. She’s been a kind and generous historian, sharing pictures of family and telling us stories about them. People we don’t know and yet are as close a relative to us as she is to them. It’s been both a joyful and peculiar experience.

I have two first cousins in Athens, Georgia, and am planning to write them. Hopefully they won’t think that too strange after all these years. I wonder what they knew of us…yet, without interest.  Maybe they knew nothing of us, as we didn’t them. I’d like to at least change this now.

Finally, Mrs. Betty Anne set me thinking about redeeming the future since I can’t redeem the past. Sometimes when there are issues between family members, they continue through generations, even when the issue itself has long-since-died, along with some in that family. I have that situation with an uncle and aunt on my mom’s side. As much as I believe in the rightness of forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s not been a priority for me to reach out to them. Mrs. Betty Anne, fresh from this experience with our Aunt Pauline, implored us to reach out to this aunt and uncle, as much for their sake as for ours.

I’m writing them tomorrow…maybe this time, the future can be changed.

 

 

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Worship Wednesday – Tribute to Kelsey Kennedy & Matt Redman’s Never Once

Blog - The Kennedy Crew -  Kelsey, Chris & Alexa Kennedy

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

I’ve never met Kelsey Kennedy, but she is dear to me. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma. This is a rare cancer of the extremities that occurs in young people and spreads aggressively to other parts of the body. From the beginning, Kelsey must have known what a relentless cancer this was, and yet she faced it with great courage and faith. Thanks to social media (Facebook, in particular), I am a small part of a huge army of prayer warriors who have been committed for months/years to pray healing over Kelsey and grace for her husband, Chris.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been praying for her (having discovered a Praying for Kelsey page through a friend’s Facebook wall). Kelsey’s tenacity, in the face of a cancer that continued to spread despite the best treatment, was unflagging. She had so much to live for – a sweet husband, darling little daughter, family and friends who adored her, and a God she wanted to glorify for years to come…a lifetime to come.

Cancer nursing is my background, and even as I prayed for complete physical healing for her, as she had asked us all to pray, I struggled against the knowledge of what a dismal prognosis she had. Yet, she kept her focus on life and she fought for it. Not just for herself, but for those she loved. And even in this past week, what would be the last week of her life, she poured grace on all who came to encourage her. She encouraged them, and she encouraged all the rest of us – who didn’t know her, but loved her. She pointed us to her Saviour…and now she sees Him face-to-face.

I don’t understand why this lovely young mother had to die at 35 years old. It is not for us to understand. Having lost family members myself, and not sure I would be able to manage after they died, I understand the great reality that God doesn’t always heal on this side…but He heals all of us ultimately. And as we go through the dark valley of dying or watching someone we love die, He never leaves us to take this journey alone. He is very near…and that is what got Kelsey to Heaven at the end of her battle…and His presence is what will get Chris to tomorrow…and the day after. By His grace.

After hearing (through the Praying for Kelsey Facebook page) that Kelsey had died, hundreds of us expressed our condolences through postings on this page. Several folks included links to praise songs that had comforted them and hopefully would comfort Chris and the rest of Kelsey’s family. The song that came to mind for me from Kelsey’s life was Matt Redman’s Never Once.

Never Once

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful.

[Writers: Ingram, Jason/Redman, Matt/Wanstall, Tim]

In Chris’ blog posting  the day Kelsey went to be with Jesus, he quoted a favorite short piece of mine (which I found at the time my Mom died):

“Final thing to share, as we close out the first chapter of Kelsey’s life – a neat illustration which was written in a pamphlet about the final days of life:

“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone!’

‘Gone where?’

Gone from sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone!’ there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying.”

— Henry Van Dyke

Never once did Kelsey or Chris walk alone through this…never once.

So thankful for a God who never leaves us or forsakes us…ever (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Image Credit – Christ > Cancer: Kelsey’s Journey to Healing

The Kennedy Crew Blog

Kelsey Kennedy – Obituary

Never Once by Matt Redman live

 

YouTube Video – Story Behind Never Once

 

Godtube Video of Never Once – Slideshow with Lyrics

 

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The Fruits of Summer…and Year-Round Deliciousness…Not to Be Taken For Granted

At our house, there are almost always apples and bananas. They are the go-to snack for my husband (when he’s trying to be healthy). Well, there is a brief period when he says, “Don’t buy any more apples. They’re out of season.” He’s talking about Honeycrisp and Pink Lady apples, his favorites. As the food shopper, I’m more aware of the seasons coming and going, not just here but other cultivated places (Chile, for instance). Fortunately, when these apple favorites are dwindling here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere orchards are bearing and apples will soon be shipped to us again.

Bananas are a different story altogether…seemingly always in season, thanks to being grown all around the world. For now, you can always find bananas, right? Inexpensive at $.49/lb, or a bit more for organic. Always there…dependable, affordable, delicious fruit. Our family did have a unique experience a few years ago, living in North Africa in 1990’s, when bananas weren’t a part of our household fruit supply. Not because there was a scarcity of them but because of the politics of the day. [See link below.] Bananas are the perfect imported fruit.

These fruits are not what we in the U.S. think of as summer fruits; they are more the old standards.

Summer fruit is a many-course feast of perfect deliciousness. Where we live, summer begins with strawberries. Then there’s the brief glorious seasons of cherries, blueberries, and blackberries. They make for handfuls of plump sweetness, and we all have our favorites.

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The berry season is followed by the melons – watermelon and cantaloupe – the perfect finish of every summer cookout.

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And last, for us, are the sun-bronzed peaches that drip sweet juice down your arm as you eat them over the kitchen sink or without a plate outdoors.

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Summer fruit can stand alone as clear evidence of a kind and loving Creator God.  So much goodness is fruit in season. The Bible is full of references to fruit as gifts from God and as the outcome of lives yielded to God (Psalm 1:1-6; Song of Solomon 2:3-5; Galatians 5:22-23; John 15:1-17; etc.)

I love all of these fruits, but my favorite is the cherry in its season. Cherries are completely perfect, right down to the seed pit which requires disposal, forcing us to slow down eating these lovelies, or we would eat them until they made us sick.

One of the leading national producers of cherries is Turkey, and we had the sweet opportunity of being there during cherry season one year. In the hotel where we stayed for a conference, the buffets offered huge bowls of cherries. We ate to our full every day that we were there, such that, just the memory of that culinary experience would be enough for us if it was all we would have of cherry season.

Still, at least once a summer in the US, I pay the big bucks to buy cherries trucked to us from Washington State or California. And I remember that there are places in the world, where “bad” or blemished cherries are transformed into indescribably lovely juice or cooked into pies for the pickers’ families who gathered them. Cherries are grown for those able to afford them…and at least once or twice in the season, we are among them.

Summer fruit is remarkable, really. Short growing seasons. Heat. Drought. Transport issues. We definitely should savor them (as we do) and not take them for granted.

The always-present fruit like bananas should cause us to be grateful as well. Bananas are not bound by a short season and they are enjoyed by most peoples of the world, not just the affluent. Still as I read about fruit, trying to raise this piece above just a love affair with food, I was struck by how the fruit that we just assume will always be in our supermarkets may actually not be. Not just related to drought, for instance, but also to disease. Bananas are no exception (see links below).

I am grateful for all these delicious fruits of someone’s summer – those we find locally, and those touched by hands across the globe to bring them to our market. I am thankful for the means to enjoy cherries and for those who did the work to bring these to our table.

Track Meet & Turkey Trip 04 & 05 027Our Kids in Turkey – not in Cherry Season.

 Why Do We Import Apples From Other Countries?

Michigan’s Cherry Festival

Turkey has Best Cherry Harvest of Last 20 Years – FreshPlaza: Global Fresh Produce and Banana News 

Best Blueberry Muffins ever from YaYa – “I also add one teaspoon of cinnamon & two teaspoons of vanilla and a few extra berries doesn’t hurt”

Import Duties, Internal Taxes, Local Production – Why We Had No Bananas in Tunisia in Early 1990’s

The Banana Trade War – Fruit, Economy, Society

How the Global Banana Industry is Killing the World’s Favorite Fruit

Yes, We Have No Bananas

 

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Power Down & Reboot – Our Family Gets Out of the City For a Re-set of Life – Oualidia, Morocco

 Morocco Casablanca Grande MosqueSomehow, we raised a set of city kids. Over the course of nearly 20 years, we have lived in medium to large cities across two continents. They don’t require a lot of space to enjoy life…a cozy bit of couch for our daughter and her book; electronics for the boys; a movie shared with friends; games around a table. Our world can become small in the city…maybe as a defense against all the noise and craziness outside our door. Or maybe home, at the end of the day, is that place of respite for us…it’s all we need.

For the husband/dad in our family…a wider, less-peopled place is required, from time to time, to take that deep breath and remember a larger world out there, beyond the city. He has to get away from email and phone calls and appointments sometimes…just for a few days…and we all are the better off for it.

Ten years ago, while living in Casablanca, Morocco, we discovered a well-kept-secret, revealed to us by some of our local friends. Just a two-hour drive south of Casablanca is a tiny town by the name of Oualidia. It’s a fishing village, beside the Atlantic Ocean. Unique to Oualidia is a lagoon alongside the coast, protected by natural sea-walls. It provides a lovely space for families to picnic, swim, and play. Fishermen cast their lines off the rocky cliffs or take boats out into the open ocean. Young people gather for surfing or soccer, or in couples to properly court in this open public area. It is a magical place…Oualidia.

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These were the days before we had smart phones, and internet connectivity was spotty. Leaving the city, heading out into the countryside, slowed down our lives the farther we got from home. Getting outside the normal can be a bit unsettling, especially for 13- and 14-year-old boys. Surely, there would at least be satellite t.v. in the hotel rooms…or maybe not. I didn’t always know what they were thinking, as our eyes got used to a different view outside the car windows. Winter wheat fields now golden, the occasional sheep herd, and people walking along the desolate road…to who knows where.

It would take us a few hours  to recalibrate fun to a much more fundamental or even primitive level than what we were used to in town…with all our electronic supports removed, as well as our friends now more than just a phone call or taxi ride away.

As we settled into our shared hotel room (no t.v. after all), something  extraordinary began to happen. The simple beauty of Oualidia and even our hotel, L’Araignee Gourmande, began to settle us down like a gentle massage. Our communication/entertainment choices in the city would keep us attached to screens (email, internet, computer games, t.v., phones). We could do just fine for hours on end, not looking at each other or engaging the world. In Oualidia, there was no other option but. After an early awkwardness, we made peace with our situation and each other. It happened on the walk to the hotel restaurant and over dinner that first night.

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It was always fun for us to vacation in North Africa, especially not being tourists really. We lived there and we spoke the language. This always surprised the hotel staff and the servers in the restaurants and stores. We met kindness everywhere we went. And especially in this little hotel/restaurant. This tiny establishment was known for its fresh seafood brought in daily from fishermen just down the beach. And we ate like royalty – all types of fish, crab, mussels, oysters, and even sea urchins. Every meal was an adventure.

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For that long weekend (and others after it), we  let go of the city. In place of all our electronic devices and constant city friends, we found each other again. The boys played together, and with their sister. We took long walks on the beach and played for hours in the water, finding creatures in the tide pools we’d never seen before. We talked to strangers with abandon. We quietly soaked in the goodness of God through His creation of this beautiful spot and all its richness.

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Late each day, we watched the fishermen cleaning their nets on the shore (just like they must have in Bible days).

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Every evening the sun set into the Atlantic, with us watching, and we retired to our little hotel room to our books and thoughts. Apr 04 154

By the end of the weekend, we would giggle and be silly in the dark of the room with a daddy who had repaired from his city life, along with us.

In those days, we loved our lives in the city, and returned quickly to the routines of life there…but a few days in that little fishing village changed us…reset us again to what mattered most.

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The High Calling – Best Vacation Stories

8 Tips for a Nearly Tech-Free Vacation

Keeping It Simple & Tech-Free Tips for Surviving Travel with Kids

Technology-free Vacation

Best Unplugged Vacations

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Worship Wednesday — This Good Day by Fernando Ortega

O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions. – Psalm 104:24

The garden came with the house. We needed a house where we could do our living on one floor, with elder parents coming for visits. The one we finally bought was everything we needed…and more. Walking out the back door, we enter a green space beautifully tended by the previous owners. Just in the few weeks since moving in, we have enjoyed the flowering of azaleas, irises, rhododendron, daisies, lilies, and more. We are mesmerized at all the beauty and refreshed by both the new growth and old – the flowers, changing weekly, and the tall ancient trees, standing at watch over the garden.

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In the morning, when there’s time before work, I walk outside, coffee in hand, just to take in the gift of this garden – something we have the pleasure of, although we did not plant it. And I am reminded of the glorious and undeserved provisions of God in our lives. The beauty that surrounds us  reminds us of His tenderness and care.

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There’s a worship song that affects me like strolls in this garden. It is Fernando Ortega’s This Good Day. He wrote it in 1999 during a time in his career when he was touring with a band, and away from home for long periods of time. The album Home, released in 2000, came out of this journey. He recalled of this experience: “I missed being home a lot this past year, and so several of the songs reflect that, along with the recognition of God’s goodness and kindness in giving me a place I can call ‘home.'”

 Fernando Ortega - Worship Wednesday blog 2Fernando Ortega

We call this home now…this easy house, fit for old and young…and this beautiful garden. It is a glimpse of Heaven for us…and especially of the majesty of God as displayed in His creation. I love the garden best in the morning.

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My husband lays claim on the garden in the early evening after work. It seems a respite to him, even though he is the one who will tend it, like those who planted it before we settled here. It’s a quiet place…like him, and made even more beautiful by our adult children from time to time…who find their way to their father…there.

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In this place, and on this good day, I found my way to the Father there as well.

This Good Day

Morning sun and morning glories pouring down the hill, through my window I can feel the ocean breeze.  Noisy sparrows fill the oak trees.  Swallows can’t stay still, and in the glad commotion, Lord, You speak to me.

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow, You’re the One who goes before me, and in my heart I know:

This good day – it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place because You made it to. I lift my voice to sing a song of praise – on this good day.

I will walk to Woodman’s Cove. The fishing boats are leaving. Seagulls follow just above the water. I will wait until the sunset brings them home again, rigging lines and anchors in the harbor.

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow, You’re the One who goes before me , and in my heart I know:

This good day – it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place because You made it to. I lift my voice to sing a song of praise – on this good day.

2006 April -- Recording Session & Easter weekend 061

Fernando Ortega Official Website

Album Review of “Home”

YouTube video – Live Performance of This Good Day

YouTube video of This Good Day with Scripture for Worship

Give Me Jesus

 

 

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What if Romans 8 was the only Scripture Portion You Had

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The Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches must have been a great treasure to those believers, as they continue to be to us centuries later. His letter to the Romans, written in A.D. 57, is rich instruction and encouragement in the things of God. For those who want to know God in the fullness of His glory and to faithfully follow Christ, the book of Romans is invaluable. How grateful I am that God has preserved this letter over the ages, as He has done with all His Word, for our sakes.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is worth examination, no matter what your religious (or non-religious) affiliations.  Sometimes when I read the Bible, the thought of “What if” comes to mind. What if I only had this portion of Scripture? How would it change my life? It’s dangerous for any of us to pull out bits of Scripture to order our lives without considering the whole counsel of God. Yet, in some parts of the world, the Bible is not available to everyone. There may come a day, when it might be censored where you live, if it isn’t already. It’s already precious, so to think we might not have it all, I read sometimes as if what I am reading is all I have of the instruction and character of God. Romans 8 was my focus this morning.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (verses 1-2, Romans 8) You have to look back to Romans 7 to see what the “therefore” is there for…but in case, we only hypothetically have Romans 8 in our hands, let’s focus on what remains in the passage. No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation! What a glorious word for us who live under perceived condemnation (by self, Satan, or the world) every day. And with no condemnation comes the freedom we have in Christ. He has set us free. Amazing truth given our condition from birth apart from Him.

On a side note: Paul’s letter to the Roman believers also often refers to the perfect unity of God (in God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son). Watch for references to the Three-in-One – magnificent “Unity in Trinity”.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (verses 10-11) No matter how deep our theological understanding is about life, we know that we wrestle daily with our flesh (body, sinful nature)…even as Christ-followers (not even…maybe more so). This struggle is with us until we leave this life. However, we are not alone in this. The Spirit of life (God), because Christ is in us, gives us life. Life here to choose to live according to God’s teaching and in His power…and life forever with Him. Let that wash over you this morning, Dear One.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (verses 15-17) Here we see the witness of the unity of God in three persons as Paul further explains our position and inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We are adopted into His family. We are His heirs, fellow heirs with Christ! We share in the inheritance of Jesus which is His by divine right. Yet God the Father includes us…adopts us as His children. A casual read of this will not do. It is a mind-blowing gift from God!

On a side note: I’m sure the bit about suffering registered. Suffering is inevitable for all of us. It just is, and God tries to prepare us for it through His Word (including these great letter-writers). Yet, with the suffering comes glory. We share in the glory of Christ!

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (verse 28) This is such a familiar verse, often-quoted and sometimes misquoted in difficult circumstances of life. Still the truth of it resonates so well with us who follow Christ.  God works good out of all things…no matter what…for those who love Him and for His purposes. We can take great comfort in this promise…great comfort in the One who makes this promise.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be  against us?” (verse 31) Enough said. Hallelujah!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (verses 35, 37-39) No matter how evil the times are in which we find ourselves. No matter what the course of our lives. Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nada. No matter the press of confusing circumstances or the prosecutorial arguments of the world or the evil whispers of Satan himself lying in our ears…God tells us that we are more than conquerors through Him and that absolutely nothing will separate us from His love.  That is the message Paul delivered to the Roman believers in this letter. They understood and clung to this message during a horrific time in history, and, one day, we will join them, worshipping the God of these great words.

This was my word from God this early morning…still resonating all these years after it was written. My life is steadied and course set on a foundation that is not shaken…thanks to a God who preserved His word for us to the present, and for as long as this world continues…as He purposes and in His love.

Romans 8 (and the rest of God’s Word) in Many Languages

Called According to His Purpose

The Preservation of the Bible

How We Got the Bible

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