Tag Archives: John Piper

5 Friday Faves – Body Language, the Wisdom of Andy Andrews, Healing Arts, Cheese, and Don’t Waste Your Life

It’s FRIDAY! Wrapping up another week that roared by. Without further ado, here are five of my favorite finds.

1) Body Language – Since our moms first instructed us to “smile at the nice lady” or “stand up straight”, we’ve been aware of the impact of body language. Posture, attitude, and approachableness are all a part of that.Photo Credit: DevZone

We communicate so much through our faces and bodies. Eye contact is a big one as well as what we do with our eyes – as in rolling them or staring off.  What does our body language convey?

Are we too self-important to engage with the person in front of us? Are our children growing up too cool to be bothered with the people around them?

Earlier this week, I saw a 2-minute video of UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemmas talk about body language. He nailed it! Not just in athletics but in any other life situation. We can still help our children and grandchildren to think beyond themselves…as we model it, too.

Geno Auriemma’s Advice: Body Language matters on Court and On Bench

How Coaches Evaluate Body Language During A Game – Joe Leccesi

2) Wisdom of Andy Andrews – Andy Andrews is an author and speaker. Years ago, I read his book The Traveler’s Gift – Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success and then more recently his book The Noticer – Sometimes All A Person Needs Is A Little Perspective. Photo Credit: Andy Andrews

Andrews is so engaging. His books are highly readable and full of wisdom. His easy writing style is like having the author himself telling you the story out loud (in fact, in his audio books he does just that). I used his book The Traveler’s Gift in teaching ESL while we lived in Morocco.  The adult students loved it!

Andrews’ Seven Decisions (see image below) were gleaned from his own life experience and through reading and researching. He read over 200 biographies of  great men and women of history. What was it in their character or circumstance that led to their greatness?

In his book The Traveler’s Gift, he fleshes out the Seven Decisions through the story of a desperate man’s fantastical visitation with historical figures, learning their stories and gaining their wisdom.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Seven Decisions – A Breakdown of “The Traveler’s Gift” – Keith Laskey

Q & A with Andy Andrews

The Traveler’s Gift – Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success – Andy Andrews

The Noticer – Sometimes All A Person Needs Is A Little Perspective – Andy Andrews

 3) Healing Arts – I was excited to hear recently that the local VA hospital incorporates the arts in the treatment of veterans with PTSD.  We read so much these days about post traumatic stress disorder. We see it in the lives of soldiers returning home from war as well as in the lives of survivors of adverse childhood experiences.
Photo Credit: Pinterest

How humanizing and honoring to see that visual and performance arts are being used right alongside medical treatment for our veterans.

Healing arts can include so many different expressions – photography, drawing, spoken word, story-telling, and music. During college, our son, Nathan, played his classical guitar as a volunteer at the medical center nearby. I have friends who also facilitate art projects, therapeutic story-telling, and photography.

It’s a beautiful thing.
Using Music to Help Parkinson’s Disease – Video Besides working with PTSD survivors, music can benefit patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s/Dementias.

4) Cheese – One of my absolute favorite foods. My heart goes out to those who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Our life overseas even had an element of cheese discovery. Often when people live outside their home countries, they have cravings for what feels like home. The longer and happier you live in another country, those cravings subside. It happened for us in many ways. However, we were thankful that each of our resident countries had great cheese.

Egyptian cheeses most enjoyed by Egyptians are gebna rūmi (similar to a hard Romano cheese), and Gebna bēḍa (a soft salty cheese). We ate those cheeses but also found a wonderful white cheddar from New Zealand in the larger supermarkets. Tunisian cuisine was much more exotic, but cheese wasn’t a mainstay. There we again ate imported cheese from the Netherlands. Edam cheese encased in a red rind. We used it for everything we would have ordinarily used Cheddar or Mozzarella. Moroccan food again was really wonderful…with few cheese offerings. There was a fresh goat cheese available locally that was yummy. Still we found the Netherlands Edam and were satisfied.Photo Credit: Gouda Cheese Shops, New Zealand

Why the meandering about cheese this week? Not exactly a new find. The reason I’m writing is that my husband sent me searching the answer for why is cheddar cheese in America orange in color.

Well, it turns out you can follow the money for the answer to this. Centuries ago, when cows (Jersey and Guernsey, in particular) were grass-fed, they produced milk that was more golden in color. The color came from the beta-carotene in the grass. This golden-colored milk yielded a deep golden cheese. The deeper the color translated to the higher the quality. In fact, consumers were (and still are) willing to pay more for a deeper colored cheese.

Cheddar is the preferred cheese in the US, and most people associate it with its orange color (even though there are white Cheddars). Dyes (more natural dyes now, like the plant seed Annatto) are used to produce the deep color. In these days of the artisanal farmers, cows are becoming more grass-fed, and we see cheeses of deeper colors (without dyes added).

[Probably more than you ever wanted to know about our food preferences or the color of cheese.]

5) Don’t Waste Your Life – In 2000, a much younger John Piper preached to a crowd of young people at a Passion Conference. He focus in this sermon was to urge these college students not to miss the Kingdom of God before them…not to waste their lives on what wouldn’t last. Here is a brief (7-minute) excerpt you might want to watch. It is gripping.

John Piper is not against enjoying the glorious gifts God has given us (see John Piper Is Not Anti-Seashell – Trevin Wax). He just wanted those students…and any of us after them…to know our lives can make a difference…if we don’t waste our lives.Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition

God gave us the beauty of this world…and He gave us eternal life, if we receive it…He gave us more…He gives us Himself…

That’s it for me.

Have a beautiful weekend. Please share any of your favorites in the Comments below.

Worship Wednesday – On Anxiety – My Anchor – Christy Nockels

Photo Credit: Flickr

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:19

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. – Psalm 71:1-3

In my late teens and 20s, my mom endured a hard and painful-to-watch season. A few of my other friends’ moms went through what then was called “a nervous breakdown”. Somehow, my mom pushed through. She felt tremendous responsibility to get her four children grown and established in our adult lives. She worked hard at her job and served well in her church and community. Mom was unshakeable in her love for God and for us.

Yet the demons were real. I will never forget sitting beside her as she lay weeping on her bed. Deep, shaking, inconsolable cries. She was never able to say what the tormentors were – regret? worry? There were times she described how it felt like something was in her throat (that proverbial “lump”) that she couldn’t get down – literally like she couldn’t swallow (or stomach) whatever was going on.

In those days, holding my mama who I loved most in the world, I promised myself I would never let that level of misery happen in my life…I would figure out how not to be taken down by fear or the threat of the future…especially such that my children would not have to see me in such pain.

It was sometime in my 20s that my own tears dried up. After watching my mom cry so much, I just didn’t have any tears…maybe I didn’t want to go to that hard place…

Praise God there is always more to the story. My mom survived those years and lived more joyfully and peacefully after that, right through the day she went Home to be with the Lord. Thanks to my mom, I did learn how to cope with the stressors of life…not always well, but I know how.

Mom and I both learned through our lives how to cast our cares on God. There may have been times in Mom’s later years that she wrestled with anxiety just between God and her. There are times, as well, that I wrestle, especially in the night hours, before sleep.

Right now, anxiety seems to be gripping the hearts and lives of some dear friends of mine. I’m not sure how to counsel but am absolutely sure how to pray.

Anxiety is not the same as fear. It is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil…It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Fear is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. It is a distinction between future and present dangers which divides anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused. It is the mental state that results from a difficult challenge for which the subject has insufficient coping skills.

Photo Credit: SketchPort

God never meant for us to live in anxiety.

For clinical helps on dealing with anxiety, Debbie Hampton has written a concise and practical piece (linked below) entitled Four Steps to Take Control of Your Mind and Change Your Brain. She takes it from the book You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Golding. The 4 steps are written from more of a Buddhist mindfulness orientation, but they actually easily translate to Biblical wisdom.

For today, I just want to express my profound gratefulness for the God who meets us in the dark nights of the soul and reminds us of what is true and restores our joy and peace. He is faithful, and His Word never fails.

Worship with me through the song My Anchor by Christy Nockels and Jason Ingram.

You’re the Lord Almighty
Your every word is sure
And in Your love unfailing
I’m safe when oceans roar
Yes, I’m safe when oceans roar
My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on
Here within the struggle
And every crashing wave
You are more than able
Your hand is strong to save

Yes, I know Your hand is strong to save

My anchor, forever
My shelter within the storm
You’re my deliverer
You never falter
You’re the rock I stand on

I hold on to You
And You hold on to me
Jesus, I hold on to You
And You hold on to me*

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

By the way, I seem to have gotten my tears back, for which I’m grateful. Also, for those of you, like me, who struggle with anxiety, it’s a battle. We must be gentle with ourselves but, at the same time, disciplined in dealing with the lies with which our mind hammers us. For you who love us “sometimes anxious ones”, thank you…especially when you don’t default to anxiety…thank you for trying to understand, and for loving, and for guiding us gently to the truth, and for praying. You are the face of Jesus to us.

*Lyrics to My Anchor – Songwriters: Christy Nockels & Jason Ingram

Story Behind the Song My Anchor by Christy Nockels – Kevin Davis

How Do I Take My Thoughts Captive? – Interview with John Piper

Worship Wednesday – I Need You Now – by Plumb

Worship Wednesday – Listening to His Voice Through the Noise

12 Christian Songs to Ease An Anxious Mind – Victoria Rondinelli

7 Christian Songs That Help With Feelings of Depression – Crystal McDowell

Four Steps to Take Control of Your Mind and Change Your Brain – Debbie Hampton

Four Steps – Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s Four Steps – Hope 4 OCD – Dr. Ada Gorbis

You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Golding

Prescriptions Without Pills – For Relief From Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More – Dr. Susan Heitler

Worship Wednesday – At Your Name, God – Phil Wickham

Photo Credit: Lisa Delay

Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord,
    Give praise, O servants of the Lord.

Your name, O Lord, endures forever,
    Your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages. Psalm 135:1, 13

So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands.Psalm 63:4

Ten years ago, a father raised his arm over his son’s high school graduating class and spoke a blessing on them. In this American school, the program was made fit for all the students in this diverse setting – a Quranic reading, speeches from student-picked favorites, an address from a US Embassy representative, and a benediction from this parent.

As this father beamed, looking at the class, he quoted the poet Hafiz, “This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.” He offered for these young graduates the blessing God gave Moses to bless His people:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

There is so much noise in the world today. So many opinions spoken as truth. So much gossip and name-calling. So much harkening to the latest and greatest wares – to satisfy our pleasure, our longings. The noise is deafening.

We lived for many years in places where a call to prayer rose above the noise in the streets. Although I believed differently, it was a call for me to pray as well. To remember the great God of Heaven who condescends to enter the experience of His children.

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa

Sometimes I felt like shouting the name of Jesus where we lived. Off our balcony and on the streets. With all the noise of city and village life…no sound of that name…Jesus. Shouting his name would not be the answer…living and loving like Jesus would…and speaking his name as I could.Photo Credit: Pixabay

Where we now live in the States, there is no call to prayer ringing from a loud speaker. No call to prayer. In a nation where we still have religious freedom, too often the name of God is spoken in our streets (and through our media) in the form of an expletive…a curse word. God have mercy on our souls.

May we be people who bear the name of God in all ways meaningful – in our speech and through the reach of our hands.

What extraordinary power exists in God Himself, absolutely, and even in His name! I remember one time, while living in North Africa, a friend asked us for money for her mother to have surgery on a badly broken leg. The fracture was complicated and she needed surgery not available in the public hospitals reserved for the care of the poor. Dave expressed his willingness to help with the hospital expenses, but he then asked if he could pray, in the name of Jesus, over this dear mother. As we stood around her bed, Dave touched my shoulder as I touched her casted leg. He prayed for healing. In the days and weeks ahead, the doctors determined she would not need the surgery, the healing completed with what they had already done.

Was it the good doctoring of the team in the public hospital? Maybe. Was it Dave’s faith and prayer? Possibly. Was it God moving in love for this mother and daughter…with pleasure at His name being called by a mere man in simple faith? Absolutely.

At Your name, God…

We live in a world where a vacuum exists…a vacuum that begs filling with the love of God…with the name, the life, and the teaching of Jesus.

God calls us to speak his name over our world…in both word and deed.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you, He [Jesus] answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” … And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it. (Luke 19:39-41)

Worship with me.

At Your name
Mountains shake and crumble
At Your name
The oceans roar and tumble
At Your name
Angels will bow
The earth will rejoice
Your people cry out

(Chorus)
Lord of all the earth
We shout Your name, shout Your name
Filling up the skies
With endless praise, endless praise
Yahweh, Yahweh
We love to shout Your name, oh LordPhoto Credit: Pexels

At Your name
The morning breaks
In Your glory
At Your name
Creation sings Your story
At Your name
Angels will bow
The earth will rejoice
Your people cry out

Chorus

There is no one like our God
We will praise you, praise you
There is no one like our God
We will sing, we will sing (X3)

Chorus (X2)*

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11

*Lyrics for At Your Name

YouTube Video – Phil Wickham – At Your Name – Story Behind the Song

10 Things “Yahweh” Means – John Piper

30 Days of Praying the Names and Attributes of God – pdf – Navigators

Worship Wednesday – Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa

Explore God

Worship Wednesday – We Won’t Be Shaken – Building 429

Photo Credit: ABC News

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.Hebrews 12:28

The longer we live, the more we have those stop-you-in-your-tracks, breath-catching experiences. Those “Do you remember where you were when……?” moments . Those consummately positive memories like our wedding day, the birth of a grandchild, or that time a guitarist son‘s music video goes viral.

These are not the experiences that take us to our knees (except in gratitude, for sure). What shakes our core are times we are faced with something so devastating we fear we cannot recover – a cancer diagnosis, the death of someone dear, or even what could have just happened in our lives this week.

When the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989 struck, it shook (literally and metaphorically) that community in California…and all of our nation. We had grown quite accustomed to a safe and settled America. A time of relative peace before the wars began again. Since then, we have had so many natural and international shakings, we wonder if the ground will ever again be still under our feet.

John Piper, after hearing the news of the 1989 earthquake, preached comfort and truth on the unshakeable Kingdom of God. As he started speaking, he prayed:

O Father in heaven, it’s times like this in the life of a nation when the voice of the Lord needs to be heard, and you have much to say, and we have little time in which to say it. So come, Father, boil everything down to the bare essentials, sharpen the arrow of your Word, may it sink home to do its appointed work of mercy in the lives of every person here. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.John Piper

The Christian group Building 429 well describes our experience as Christ-followers when faced with confusing and faith-shaking times. In the song We Won’t Be Shaken, we are reminded of the great truth that whatever we face in this culture and the larger world around us, God is always in the mix. God’s purposes are never thwarted and His love and mercies will help us stand, even when the earth shakes all around us. This is not platitude. We know it, because we’ve experienced it. We know God, because we’ve experienced Him…with us. In the darkness and in the shaking.

Worship with me.

This world has nothing for me
This life is not my own
I know you go before me
And I am not alone
This mountain rises higher
This way seems so unclear
But I know that you go with me
I will trust in you

Whatever will come my way
Through fire or pouring rain
We won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken
Oooh Oh Oh
Oooh Oh Oh
Oooh Oh Oh
No we won’t be shaken

You know my every longing
You’ve heard my every prayer
You’ve held me in my weakness
Cause you are always there
So I’ll stand in full surrender
It’s your way and not my own
My mind is set on nothing less
Than you and you alone
I will not be moved oh

Whatever will come my way
Through fire or pouring rain
We won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken

(3x)
We will trust in you
We will not be moved
We will trust in you*

Take time to read the transcript of Piper’s sermon. He closes with this appeal to those in his hearing who  do not yet know the God of the unshakeable kingdom:

Receive the kingdom that cannot be shaken. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you receive the kingdom like a little child, you will never enter it.” See how simple it is? What does “a little child” mean? It means you humble yourself and recognize that you can’t make a place for yourself to stand. You can’t cut it in life and make the future what it needs to be. You just humble yourself like a little child. You recognize that there’s a Father in heaven. You see the gift offered through his Son Jesus Christ—forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life and a firm kingdom that can’t be shaken—you extend your hands and say, “Sinner though I am, I receive it. This is now my portion forever and ever.” – John Piper

Photo Credit: Mariel Davenport

Lyrics to We Won’t Be Shaken by Building 429

YouTube Video – K-Love – Building 429 – We Won’t Be Shaken – LIVE

A Kingdom That Can Not Be Shaken – John Piper

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Worship Wednesday – Undivided – First Call

Photo Credit: Redeemer, New Paltz

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours...Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”– Jesus – John 17:9, 11b, 20-23

Years ago, on a hot summer evening, I went with a friend to a church deep in Coptic Cairo. We took on the challenge of the choking downtown traffic and dusty dry heat to hear a Christian radio team perform. “A Verse and a Story” – [“Aya wa Hekaya”] – was the name of the humorous program on the radio. The actors present a situation from life and weave Scripture through the story. As inadequate as my understanding of Arabic was, I could get the meaning of the stories and loved being a part of that group of Egyptians that evening. There was also a time of worship – singing and prayer…also in Arabic. As the ceiling fans moved the hot air around and we all glistened with sweat, there was such a oneness there…of sheer enjoyment of Jesus in our midst and the pleasure of being together.

All were welcome that night. Foreigner and local person. Varying doctrines…yet no divisions, in this moment, on style or substance. The love and unity of spirit in that great gathering hall was a sweet glimpse of Heaven (Revelation 7:9).

Enjoying a sense of unity for an evening with like-minded strangers is one thing…determining to live daily in the bond of love, as Christ-followers, is on an altogether higher order… Yet, Jesus prayed to the Father for us to live in those kind of unity…for our own sakes and for the sake of those who peer into our lives. Do they see Jesus when they see us?

John Piper, in his piece on What Is Christian Unity?, quotes Francis Schaeffer:

It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father. – Francis Schaeffer (Complete Works, vol. 4, 201)

My husband rides his bike on a trainer for exercise. Several evenings a week, I know what he’s doing by the playlist that filters through the house at different parts of his ride. There’s an old Gospel song (popular in the 80’s) that pops up which I love. It is First Call‘s Undivided.

Here are two YouTube videos of this group singing – Undivided with the original First Call (in 1986) and again more recently. The second performance comes 30 years after the first (and at 2:12 into the video, First Call is joined by Wayne Watson, Larnelle Harris, and Steve Green – all who gave us wonderful worship songs from early in the Contemporary Christian Music era).

Worship with me (with either of the versions above)…undivided:

We may worship different ways
We may praise Him and yet spend
All of our days living life divided
But when we seek Him with open hearts
He removes the walls we built
That keep up apart
We trust Him to unite us

Chorus
In our hearts we’re undivided
Worshipping one Saviour, one Lord
In our hearts we’re undivided
Worshipping one Saviour, one Lord
Bound by His Spirit
Forevermore

Undivided,
Undivided

It doesn’t matter if we agree
All He asks is that we serve Him faithfully
And love as He first loved us
He made us in His image
And in His eyes we are all the same
And though our methods they may be different
Jesus is the bond that will remain

Chorus
In our hearts we’re undivided
Worshipping one Saviour, one Lord
In our hearts we’re undivided
Worshipping one Saviour, one Lord
Bound by His Spirit
Forevermore

Undivided,
Undivided*

As much as I love contemporary worship, I miss the harmonies of another era – the four-part harmonies of these Gospel singing groups as well as just the corporate hymn-singing of my childhood. There is a unison of singing the melody line led by today’s worship teams, but the unity Jesus prayed for us is more symbolized in the many different voices heard in the old Gospel harmonies.

It’s not just unity longed for in the “Why can’t we all just get along?” lament. It’s a unity in Christ that is an answer to His prayer…a bond between us that transcends our many political opinions, cultural preferences, and national loyalties. It is a bond of love that begins with Christ and extends to the nations…a unity that holds believers together in an inclusive circle that opens its arms to all comers.

*Lyrics to Undivided

What Is Christian Unity? – John Piper

Advent – Welcoming the Savior at Christmastime – Holding a Place For His Coming

blog-peace-at-christmas-crosswalk-25-joyful-prayersPhoto Credit: Crosswalk

So it begins. December 1. Turn around…and Christmas will be done. NOOOOO! There are those out there who respect no day over another (Romans 14:5). I get that. Still, Christmas is such a sweet time of year. What’s not to love about it? All the bright colors and shimmering lights in the dark of winter (granted, this is in the Northern Hemisphere). The many expressions of generosity (gift-giving among family and friends and kindnesses to strangers near and far). The secular and sacred observances that we share within this holiday and holy day.

“Christmas is too big for one day”, writes Andreas Köstenberger, and I agree. As the years go by, some Christmas observances deepen while others diminish. I’m becoming a lack-luster gift-giver, but cherish times together more than ever. December weekends full of parties just make the month fly by, but quieter more intimate times are the experiences I long for.

Connecting with people, savoring the beauty around us, remembering Christmases past, and pondering the wonder of what it all means. This Christmas miracle…this Child who would usher in a redemption only He could provide…from before Creation through a coarse cradle all the way to a Cross.

I need to stretch time in December…to go as deep as is humanly possible into the reality of this Savior King…to think long on the incredible truth of what happened there – To hold a place for His coming…“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
blog-advent-christmas-for-unto-us-a-child-is-born-youtubePhoto Credit: YouTube

Celebrating Advent (the “coming” of Christ) marks out the month of December in Sundays. If it’s not your tradition, you can search it out easily (here is one resource). For me, it doesn’t require prescribed readings and lighting candles…but I’m beginning to delight in those expressions of worship, as well.blog-advent-church-stage-design-ideasPhoto Credit: Church Stage Design Ideas

Advent, to me, incorporates prayer, meditation on God’s Word, worship in song…and quiet. A quiet that gives space for God to fill it with Himself. That is Advent. The coming of Christ into hearts made ready for Him.

Are there times in December when darkness attempts to extinguish the Light? Sure…I’ve known those times…that’s actually one reason I love Christmas so much…celebrating the coming of a Savior who shines light into the darkest of our nights…setting us free from what keeps us in darkness…because He came.

Not celebrate?

Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?

Not celebrate?

You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you. Ann Weems

In the hordes of shoppers and restaurants bursting with celebrants. In the packed candlelit churches and at boozy company parties. In the silence outside of celebrating Christmas as well as the quiet night within…

You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.

Christmas Is Too Big For One Day – Why We Celebrate Advent – Andreas Köstenberger – Desiring God

Advent Begins Today – David Mathis – Desiring God

25 Joyful Prayers to Ready Your Heart for Christmas – Candace Crabtree

Good News of Great Joy – Daily Advent Readings – John Piper

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy – Daily Advent Readings – John Piper

Why Advent Is As Important As Christmas – Veronica Neffinger

Hark! The Long-Lost Verses Sing – David Mathis – Desiring God

The Problem with Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs – Russell Moore

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

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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 as the praise band at Movement Church this Sunday 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 adjustment 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 on Sunday, as we 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.

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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

Worship Wednesday – God Who Moves the Mountains – Dustin Smith

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“…Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Jesus – Matthew 17:20

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  – Jesus – Matthew 13:31-32

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Jesus – Luke 17:6

Jesus taught about faith many times to his slow-to-understand disciples. Like them, we can get things backward, thinking that if we only had greater faith, we could pray more effectively and act more powerfully. It’s not about the mustard seed-size of our faith. It’s always been about the object of our faith.

What a relief and what a challenge. If my faith has to be big enough to deal with cancer, a job for a friend, the poor health of our dads, or this world’s woes, the focus is on me. That won’t get us far at all.

With eyes on God, there is no limit to the majesty or sufficiency of His presence and provision in our lives. Eyes on God.

When we look just for what we pray, we try to put almighty Creator God into a small box of “here and now”, while He is working out His purposes for both today and forever. Yet, He calls us to trust Him for the smallest desire of our hearts, at the same time, drawing us to the greatest love possible…in Him.

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I trip over wanting to have a greater faith in God than I have at present…but it’s not about going after more faith, it’s going after God Himself. He is more than big enough for whatever situation we are facing today…and He is good…and He loves us. Hallelujah!

You demonstrate faith not by what you say but by what you do. Faith shows up in your feet, not just in your feelings. That is why Paul instructed us to “walk by faith,” not to “talk by faith.” Faith is an action. Jesus said that whoever has faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain into the sea. The power of faith isn’t based on who you are, it’s based simply on who God is. Your faith is as big as the God you believe in. Like David facing the giant, sometimes God gives you a bigger-than-life problem so that He can show you His bigger-than-Goliath solution. Keep your eyes on Him…He is faithful. Tony Evans

Worship with me to Dustin Smith’s God Who Moves Mountains. He wrote this song as part of his Healing Is Right project. Within the song performance, there is space, for the singer/worshipper to pray. Pray in your worship today for that deep hurt in your heart today…for that undone thing…for your eyes to be fixed on God who loves you and is working out His will in this thing…Whether you see it yet or not…see Him. Eyes on God.

He is not confined, He confounds
He will not resign, He resounds
He is not restrained, hear the sound
Oh hear the sound

Rocks are falling, the broken calling
To the God who moves the mountains
The Earth is shaking, the weary waking
To the God who moves the mountains
You’ve gotta move this mountain

He is not surprised, he surrounds
He can not be stopped, he astounds
He is drawing near, hear the sound
oh hear the sound

You say speak, so we say, “Move!”
You say watch what You can do
You say, trust, and then You prove
You’re the God who moves the mountains
You’re the God who moves the mountains*

*Lyrics to God Who Moves Mountains – Writers: Dustin Smith, David Leonard, Richie Fike

YouTube Video – God Who Moves Mountains (Live from Dustin Smith)

YouTube Video – Trust His Heart (with Lyrics) – Babbie Mason

You Are Meant to Move Mountains – Desiring God – Jon Bloom

How Jesus Helped His Disciples to Increase Their Faith – Desiring God – John Piper

The Confidence of Faith – Tony Evans

Worship Wednesday – In Suffering – Where Were You?- by Ghost Ship

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“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God (Job 38:4)

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”…and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.Job 42:1-6, 9b

I don’t cry easily. Maybe it’s all the years of cancer nursing where my tears were spent. Or having already lost loves of our own has drained them. Or this broken world has finished off my tears.

Or so I thought. This morning has brought tears as my sister-in-law texts with me about Dad. He is in his last weeks…days…we don’t know. This funny, intelligent, extraordinary and simple farmer’s son…this man who took in four more children when he married my mom…this man who has always been strong as an ox even in his 90s…this man who fiercely loves his family and friends…this man is winding down in this life.Dad and Debbie - July 2016

I don’t ask God “Why?” about Dad’s dying…he’s lived a full and amazing life. My prayer has been that he can enter the healing of Heaven without the terror of late Alzheimer’s or the pain of cancer spreading. So far, he still knows us all and has sweet moments of reflection…when he wakes from his long naps. The pain, like the cancer, is growing, but so far, with medication and the close care of family and hospice, he is managing to be comfortable most of the time…and we’re thankful.img_9067

The part of life, for any of us, when suffering looms large does cause us to ask “Why?” sometimes. This past Sunday, at Movement Church, we sang Where Were You. We are in an Explore God sermon series along with several other churches in the Richmond area. This Sunday the topic was “Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?” [You can listen to that podcast here.]

The issue of suffering is a very personal one. It’s really a wonder, in such a fallen world, that there is not more suffering. God has always been intimately present with us in times of loss and suffering, and I hope to be able to trust Him in future hard places.

The song Where Were You? is taken directly from the book of Job. He suffered enormous loss and physical pain which could have entirely shaken his faith in God. The book describes his wrestling with the “why’s” with the help of three not-so-helpful friends. Beginning in Job 31, Job makes one last appeal to God to satisfy his questions. Before God speaks, another friend, Elihu, shows up and offers a glorious defense of God’s character. He speaks through 5 chapters of Job on God’s behalf. Then, God Himself, makes the closing statement to Job (Job 38-41). It is thrilling to read. God is the answer to all our questions…if we will listen.

Worship with me to the words from Job by the Christian band Ghost Ship.

I said God I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but suffering

God I’m asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?

He said where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?

Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show

Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth

Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor

Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife

Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike

Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built

Can you hunt the prey for your lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?

I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me*

We are not alone in our suffering. There is plenty of great teaching on suffering elsewhere (including John Piper’s article linked below). For me, for today, thinking about and praying for my dad…this song was a just-right reminder of God’s power and His goodness. He can do all things and His purposes are not thwarted. Hallelujah!

[If you’re reading this just after it’s been posted, we would appreciate your prayers for our dad and for those most closely caring for him. Thank you.]

*Lyrics to Where Were You?

YouTube Video – Where Were You? – with Lyrics – Ghost Ship – Mars Hill Music

YouTube Video – Where Were You? – Lyrics without Images – Ghost Ship

Video Collection – Why Does god Allow Pain and Suffering? – Explore God

Job: Rebuked in Suffering – Job 32:1-37:24 – John Piper

Worship Wednesday – Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard – Jason Gray

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There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John 4:18

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Fear and love. Over the last two weeks, we’ve heard a lot about these two states of heart and mind. Well, if we’ve followed the conventions of the two major political parties in the US…. Whether we’ve watched on TV or not, the messages of both conventions have blasted our newsfeeds. What does one believe about any of it?

One convention (and political party and candidate) is purportedly all about fear. The other is all about love. One sees the solution to fear comes with building walls. The other sees the solution to our nation’s problems is love. Big fear = Big walls, guns, bluster. Big love = Big government, inclusion (unless maybe you look and think like me). Gone are the days, in both conventions, when God is mentioned in light of how we are meant to do government and treat our neighbors (both near and far).

Sidebar: Regarding fear, John Piper does talk about the importance of a certain type of temporary fear. “The painful fear, the guilty fear, the craven fear, the humiliating fear — all such fear will one day be taken way. But only in the way God intends. And in his time. We should not be done with it in the wrong way, or too soon.

Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it:

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. But so do several other things — ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.

It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. (“The World’s Last Night” in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 51)” – John Piper

I wasn’t revved by the one convention’s soberness, nor was I wooed by the other convention’s frivolity. The jokes just weren’t funny, but everyone there was laughing.

Until the reality seemed to sink in for the supporters of a minority candidate, that it might be over…and the tears flowed.Blog - Fear and Love - PoliticsBlog - Fear and Love - Politics - tearsPhoto Credit: FoxNews, PressDemocrat

I actually felt some of their pain.

What is a follower of Christ to do?

Scripture makes it very clear that we are not to give into worldly fear. Scripture also convicts us that love is the solution – not the love of government, or a political party, or like for like. For us as Christ followers, we are called to love…even those who don’t agree with us, even our enemies. This kind of love is extremely costly – it’s the kind of love Jesus taught us through his life…and through his death.

We’re not meant to give into a fear that builds walls, nor are we to clamor for a love that costs us nothing…a love that comes out of government and not out of our own skin.

During a season in this country, when we’re being hammered with media messages that divide us, may we as the followers of Christ unite – not by political party or by our own offended or soothed sensibilities. May we unite in keeping our eyes on God when we fear, and apply our lives to truly loving – not just people like us but all peoples. Not just looking to an outside agency to “show the love”, but to extend ourselves to that loving…as we’ve experienced in the God of love.

Worship with me with this song from Jason Gray‘s album A Way to See in the Dark

Turn on the T.V. for the evening news
They got plenty to fear and nothing to do
Another somebody who’s gone too far
Makes you want to put up your guard
Fear is easy, love is hard
So we draw up another dividing line
We label each other and we choose a side
Peace could come at quite a cost
So we won’t build a bridge across
Fear is easy, but love is hard
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid
I’m sorry baby is what he should’ve said
But she wouldn’t listen even if he did
They’ll die without forgiveness soon
But no one wants to make a move
When fear is easy and love is hard
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid
It’s hard to bring your heart to a world that can break it
To offer love to those you’re afraid will forsake it
But a well-defended heart is always looking for a fight
In a lonely war against an endless night
But love can bring a light
Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid
It comes down to a simple choice
Shouting devils or a still small voice
One is spreading fear and dread
Oh but love has always said
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid.*

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I love the truth in Paul’s writing to Timothy. God doesn’t mean for us to fear what surrounds us, what seems to loom ahead, or what has happened in the past. He means for us to gather ourselves, as His children, to act with the power He’s given us, to love with the example He’s shown us, and to think, (and reason together), with sound minds. Sound minds. We can think through and manage this election year if we keep our wits and guard our hearts, with faith unblemished in a God “whose arm is not too short to save!” (Isaiah 59:1)

*Lyrics to Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard

Fear or Love? Responding to Terrorism Like Jesus – Nicole Simpson – Christ & Pop Culture

Responding to the Tragedy in This World – Growing In His Grace

YouTube – Chris Tomlin – Whom Shall I Fear? [God of Angel Armies] – Lyrics

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