Category Archives: Easter and Lent

Monday Morning Moment – The Tyranny of Sensitiveness – C. S. Lewis

Photo Credit: QuickMeme

Years ago, my best friend and I went on a cross-country sight-seeing trip. Our plan was to camp out a couple of nights and then stay in a hotel for the third, and continue in that rhythm for the two weeks we were on our adventure. It didn’t always go well. I loved camping; she preferred the hotel. Our food preferences were more different than we realized. We did, fortunately, agree on the “not to be missed” aspects of our journey across America.

Along with all the great memories made, we had some humdinger disagreements through the course of our time away and returned home even better friends as an outcome. However, it didn’t come easily for either of us.

It turns out I could majorly stomp on her feelings without even knowing that was happening. We have both matured greatly since then so this can encourage you…it has for me in the times in recent years when I find myself in similar situations.

First, you must know I never intended to plow through her preferences to race toward my own. She was my dearest friend. It gave me joy to see her happy. Still…somewhere I crossed a line. In our responses to one another, as friends, family, colleagues, (even strangers on social media) we can discover things both about ourselves and about the other.

Emotions are different from feelings. I’m not going into the physiological pathways or mental habit formation of all this, but the quote below by Debbie Hampton is very helpful:

“Feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin and highly interconnected but are two very different things…Emotions originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments. Emotional reactions are coded in our genes. Emotions precede feelings, are physical, and instinctual. Feelings are sparked by emotions and colored by the thoughts, memories, and images that have become subconsciously linked with that particular emotion for you. But it works the other way around too. For example, just thinking about something threatening can trigger an emotional fear response. While individual emotions are temporary, the feelings they evoke may persist and grow over a lifetime…In the gaps between emotion, feeling, and acting, we all have the power to change and direct our lives for the better. “Debbie Hampton

In the milliseconds between any stimulus and our response to it, we can choose how we will respond emotionally. However, because we have set a course “over a lifetime” of responding certain ways, emotional patterns (feelings) are formed and put into practice. We can change these, if we find them detrimental to our physical, emotional, and relational lives.

That happened between my friend and me. In close proximity, for two weeks, our daily experience very dependent on the other, we found we could irritate each other. The statements “That hurt my feelings” or “You hurt my feelings” became her lament…this from an accomplished teacher and successful manager of a classroom of tiny children. Somehow, on this trip, I had the capacity, regularly, of stealing her joy.

For me…inconceivable. I loved her and had no desire to hurt her, ever. Still, it happened.

[By the way, this expression of sensitiveness using the word “feelings” may be more encountered in women, but men have some similar experience – you know you do – but call it different things. “Offended”, maybe? “Annoyed”? Is that where sarcasm or cynicism is birthed?]

Back to the story: In some way, my behavior set off for my friend emotions that were tagged by past feelings of being discounted, not considered, not favored. It wasn’t pretty…for either of us.

Fast forward, decades later.

We live in a culture of lofty sensitiveness. The measure for political correctness in our speech continues to get moved upward. We are a nation so easily offended that we can’t even discern what is truly intentionally offensive from what is just true.

Have you ever been in a season with a friend or colleague that feels emotionally murky? You don’t really know what’s going on, but you sense something is. Then…you step on the landmine – and you say something or do something or your face shows something – that explodes all kinds of feelings in the other person, from what seems a life-time of storing up.

This is what has now been popularized as weaponizing feelings or emotions. The outcome? Guilt, shame, wounding, and (for some) returning fire.

It will make me sad if this post “hurts feelings”, especially of those friends of mine who read my stuff. The thing is, just like my friend and me, we can go deeper in our relationships when we refuse to let feelings define our friendships. When we refuse to think ill of others we grow a spiritual maturity and neuroplasticity that impacts our emotional responses and our relational resilience.

What got me thinking about all this, this week was actually a Lenten reading from British scholar C. S. LewisPreparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis.

He talks about the danger of weaponizing sensitiveness long before it became the cultural phenomenon it is today:

“‘Did you fight fair?’ Or did we not quite unknowingly falsify the whole issue? Did we pretend to be angry about one thing when we knew, or could have known, that our anger had a different and much less presentable cause? Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings…when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real trouble? Such tactics often succeed. The other parties give in. They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us. It needs surgery which they know we will never face. And so we win; by cheating. But the unfairness is very deeply felt. Indeed what is commonly called ‘sensitiveness’ is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny sometimes a lifelong tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearances in ourselves.C. S. Lewis

After being an atheist, Lewis did not come to faith in Christ until his mid-thirties. His intense study of the Bible, relationship with God, and deep, gut-honest conversations with a circle of intimate friends moved him to such understanding of people and life…and our responses to both. Any thoughts on this? Please comment below.Photo Credit: Flickr

Preparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis

What Is the Difference Between Feelings and Emotions? – Debbie Hampton

The “Weaponizing” of Emotions Wade Trimmer

The A-Z Guide to Feelings and Emotions – Sebastian Gendry

Monday Morning Moment – Neuroplasticity – Resetting Your Brain for Success at Work and Life – Deb Mills

Inner Circles – the Mad Pursuit of Position, Power, Prominence, and Plenty – Deb Mills

Invisible Wounds of the Sensitive, Empathic and Emotionally Intense Child – Imi Lo – this is a sobering, emotionally charged article. I resonated with it in preparing for the blog above and include it because it might be helpful for some to read. Just a warning that it is hard to read because it honestly did not give much place for hope. [If I missed it, please illuminate me in the Comments below.] Maybe the hope comes in recognizing what we as parents might be doing that’s hurtful to an emotionally intense child and correct course.

Worship Wednesday – Kara Tippetts – Suffering as an Instrument of Love and Worship

Photo Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-7

Kara Tippetts is one of the loveliest women I’ve never met. She died of cancer four years ago this month. Although cancer sharpened her experience of life, it did not define her life. She was a Christ-follower, pastor’s wife, mom of 4, writer, and amazing sister and friend. How I know her is through the cancer she battled, through her faith, and through her writing…this is how I know her and how I love her (from my earlier blog on her life).

On March 22, the documentary The Long Goodbye is released. Directed by Jay Lyons, it is an intimate story of Kara’s last months of life here on earth. It is a story of deep love, crazy humor, hard yet sweet moments, and forever faith. [See trailer here.]Photo Credit: Hallels

Some of my friends here in Richmond are joining with me for a premier party to watch the documentary together. I am excited to introduce them to Kara. It will be sad but also funny and supremely victorious.

Premiere THE LONG GOODBYE with your Friends! — Limited Time Offer

Over the course of Kara’s cancer, she wrote three books (with the help of friend Jill Lynn Buteyn). I remember the blog she wrote about signing contracts for the two last books just weeks before she died. Her determination to leave this legacy was buoyed by a husband, family, and friends who helped her keep living the life she loved until the end. These books are so beautiful. I spent a couple of decades doing cancer nursing and those experiences forged an understanding of the rare and beautiful gifts found in suffering. Walking through it with God. Kara has captured so much of that and shares it with us in these sweet, sometimes hard stories.

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard – Kara Tippetts

Just Show Up: the Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together – Kara Tippetts & Jill Lynn Buteyn

And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye – Kara Tippetts

By the way, there is way more joy than sorrow in her story. Her love for her family and friends. Her joy in the beauty that surrounded her. Her confidence in the God who loved her. It’s all there.

In her last book, And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye, she writes a brief letter to the cancer:

“…So here we are. The truth is that now you are in my bones, my bone marrow, my blood-making place. I did not want you there. I asked you not to go there. But you did it anyway. But here’s something. You will never separate me from the Holy Spirit. He’s watching you, every single cell of you. He’s the One giving me all this peace that confounds you. You won’t take my joy, cancer. You won’t keep me from living as close as I can to my people. And I know you think you are killing me with all your fast-growing cell business, but you are not the boss. The day I breathe my last is exactly numbered. You don’t have a say in that, sorry. And when that day comes, and it will come, my people will be kept safe in God’s beautiful arms…I do hate you, and I’m still here.”Kara

Photo Credit: Deb Mills Writer from Mundane Faithfulness

This year during Lent, I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s 40-Day Journey. He writes beautifully about what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus. Here is one excerpt:

Luther translates the Greek word for what is blessed with “to bear suffering.” The important part is the bearing. The community of disciples does not shake off suffering, as if they had nothing to do with it. Instead they bear it. In doing so, they give witness to their connection with the people around them. At the same time this indicates that they do not arbitrarily seek suffering, that they do not withdraw into willful contempt for the world. Instead, they bear what is laid upon them and what happens to them in discipleship for the sake of Jesus Christ. Finally, disciples will not be weakened by suffering, worn down, and embittered until they are broken. Instead, they bear suffering, by the power of him who supports them. The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the Crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. Psalm 30:11-12

Kara, in your living and your dying, you taught me so much about being a disciple of Jesus. You knew/know Him so well. Thank you. Photo Credit: Life News

My Other Blogs on Kara – Here, Here, Here & Here

**Memorial – Mundane Faithfulness – read Kara’s blog – her story and her God will change your life.

5 Friday Faves – International Women’s Day, “Sunflower” on Classical Guitar, Recycling in Peril, Understanding Whiteness, and Great Teachers

Welcome to your Friday and my favorite finds of this week:

1) International Women’s Day – When there is an international day of celebration, it’s worth a pause. Especially International Women’s Day. I had an amazing mom – who grew up poor during the Great Depression and then raised four kids pretty much on her own. She lived during an era where work situations did not favor women at all but she bore up under it with dignity and grace. Just glad to have a job. I love her so much. She was and is my hero.

My mom-in-law, Julia, is that same kind of strong, faithful, loving woman.

There are so many other women in my life who deserve celebrating, although none of them look for such a thing. They just live and love fully, doing what they can for others…I am better for knowing them.

So on this International Women’s Day, I salute you older ones and younger ones…you women out there, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.

On International Women’s Day, Rise Like a Deborah – Cassia Glass

2) “Sunflower” on Classical Guitar – Rappers Post Malone and Swae Lee perform this amazing song “Sunflower” on the movie Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Written by Post Malone, the song is just plain fun. Nathan Mills arranged it for classical guitar and brings all the happy over from the original. Check out the Beyond the Guitar version below:

3) Recycling in Peril – We generate an enormous amount of solid waste in this country. So much packaging, so many disposables. I remember as a child when we carried garbage to a burn-dump. Recycling as a solution to some of the solid waste burden was very new. This week I read a sobering article on how our current recycling solutions won’t be able to keep up. Please take the time to read Alana Semuels‘ piece Is This the End of Recycling?

We recycle as much as we can in our household. I am guilty at times of still using plastic grocery bags when I forget to bring my own – even though those bags are banned in some countries. As they should be. When we lived in Egypt and had the occasion of snorkeling in the beautiful Red Sea, we could not imagine the problem of garbage sullying those waters. It happened.Photo Credit: UN Environment

In Semuels’ article she talked about the familiar adage: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Except that she added a fourth imperative: Refuse. Consider how we can use less…refuse to buy products with over-packaging; stay away from disposables or single-use items if possible. It’s something to think about.

We are All Accumulating Mountains of Things – Alana Semuels

YouTube Video – America’s Dopamine-Fueled Shopping Addiction

San Francisco’s Race to Zero Waste Has One Last Major Hurdle – Anne Poirot

A Brief History of Solid Waste Management in the US, 1950-2000 – Part 5a – H. Lanier Hickman Jr.

4) Understanding Whiteness – OK, so I’m white. It’s not something I have thought much about in the past. Even in filling out questionnaires or applications that ask for race, I check “Caucasian or white” because it is what I am…but the implications of being white haven’t really driven much thought for me…until lately. Now, when we lived in North Africa, it was my first experience of being a minority. Even in the most awkward situations, when I was the only “white person” in the room, it wasn’t “white” that I felt so much as being “American”. The privilege came from that identity.

Writer, thought leader Jackie Hill Perry tweeted the following this week and it really got me thinking. In fact, if you click on her tweet, it will take you to a long thread of opinions about the issue of “whiteness” with a diverse crowd of folks giving their take on it.

To be honest, I was a tench offended by the tweet at first. Because I don’t see myself as “being shaped by being [white]. However, it is important to me not to be ignorant about things that shape culture and especially the stuff that divides people. So…I’m thinking about it now.

Writer Kesiena Boom posted an article last year on 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color. Again, at first, I was put off by it momentarily, and then decided to read those 100 ways. It was illuminating. Not as instructional as I had hoped but illuminating.

“Remember: Being an ally is a verb, not a noun. You can’t just magically be an ally to people of color because you say you’re one, it’s something that you must continually work on.” – Kesiena Boom

I do want to be an ally of others…including persons of color. Very definitely. So Jackie Hill Perry and Kesiena Boom have both given me a window to see through this week.

Also Darrell B. Harrison, a politically conservative reformed theologian who is also a black man, gives much food for thought as well…from a different stance…

I don’t want my whiteness to be a barrier…nor do I want to be blind to any privilege it gives me. There is just so much bias in our culture today, it’s difficult to know how to maneuver. Any thoughts?

100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Color – Kesiena Boom

The Glorious Love of God as Our GPS – Trevin Wax

5) Great Teachers – If you’re like me, you remember all your teachers through elementary and high school. If there are gaps in our memory, there’s probably a good reason. I’ve had some teachers that were just to be endured, but for the most part, they were good teachers. Some were even great.

A friend of ours, Jeff Maxey, has been named the  2019 Teacher of the Year in South Carolina.

Now, we have another friend Jamie Sherwood who is also among those being considered for Teacher of the Year in our county. This week he is the #HeartofHenrico.

So proud to know these and other great teachers who are not only content experts but also genuinely care for their students and their futures.

That was my favorite finds for the week. Any you would be willing to share with us in Comments below? Have a great weekend. Thanks for stopping by.

Bonuses:

The Long Goodbye – Think about having a launch party March 22:

Premiere THE LONG GOODBYE with your Friends! — Limited Time Offer

Photo Credit: Hallels

Daylight Savings Time Is Actually a Good Thing – Dan Nosowitz

Photo Credit: The Colorful Cottage, Facebook

Alex Trebek Announces He Has Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer – Alex Trebek, host of TV show Jeopardy, is determined to beat the statistics on this disease. If anyone can, I believe it can be this much-loved celebrity.

 

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – the 40-day Lenten Road to Easter

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

[Adapted from the Archives]

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”Henri Nouwen  (From A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Orbis)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church even came on my radar as a thing. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a different life of meager means and lavish love. It was in those days that we responded to an invitation to church from neighbors. A weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would be a survey course on Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism.]

My first experience with Lent, for instance, was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust – Preparing for Ash Wednesday – Pastor Kirk Thorson

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to (or if I should) incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking has changed. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God, and our corporate and personal need for Him, more clearly, then I want to integrate some measure of Lenten practice into my life.

Month-long fasting (one part of Lent) has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of our Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

As I write this, my penitent friend with the ash smeared on her forehead comes to mind again. Decades later, on this day, I’m sure, wherever she is, she has a new ashen cross applied. Reminding her of the sin in her own life that Christ paid for Himself with His death on the Cross.

[We like our foreheads clean, don’t we? Being reminded of the dark and dirty smudge of sin in our lives is not something we want to carry around with us publicly. Especially in this post-Christian world of ours. Even with the message of the Cross as the only response to that sin…it’s just too public, too culturally “in your face” so to speak.]

Many may see Lent as extra-Biblical and therefore unnecessary to add to our countdown to commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For me, at least, it gives a bit narrower road to walk for forty days – examining our own frailty, our sin, and the brevity of life alongside the magnificent perfection of the life and love of a wholly surrendered Christ.

Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace – Ryan J. Pelton

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily until Lent from A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ll be going through that as part of my reading these 40 days until Easter.

Also for the past several years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was a gift from a good friend during our years living overseas. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle with prayer and fasting. This is a power unleashed in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

May the days of Lent roll on naturally into the rest of our days…

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort – Deb Mills Writer

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Monday Morning Moment – Christmas Eve – Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa

[Adapted from the Archives]

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:5-8

There are words, it seems, we can’t use any more in polite company – words that have changed as culture changes and have been altered, perverted, in the common language. I have happened on such words by using them and then being gently corrected by my 20-something-young friends. “That word doesn’t mean what you think anymore.”

Condescension seems to be one of those words. In today’s usage, it  has come to mean “an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain”. Merriam-Webster has retained some of the fuller meaning of the word: voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.

At Movement Church, Pastor Cliff has spoken on it and our worship team led us in singing Matt Papa‘s Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (lyrics follow below). Afterward, we had this lively conversation on whether referring to God as condescending was correct or not.

Oh yes…in the fullest sense of that word!

Hang in there with me as I take you through a quick study of the word…with the help of others much smarter than I am.

“God is condescending. It’s true. However, the problem is not that God is condescending, but that most people have no idea what condescending really means, nor why it should be a good thing that God has such an attitude.

If you were paying attention during high school English class, you know that there are actually two definitions for every word. One is the denotation, which is what the word actually means. The other is the connotation, which is the way the word is usually used in popular conversation. Condescension has a pretty bad connotation; it’s usually used to refer to someone who thinks they’re better than you are, and talks down to you as if coming down to your level is a major chore for them.

The denotation, however, is quite different. The word itself merely means “to come down [descend] together.” The prefix “con-” means “together with.”

If you split the word up and look at its parts, “to descend with,” you actually get a pretty good idea of what God’s interaction with humanity is all about. While it might be offensive for me to act as if I was in any way superior to my fellow humans, it would be silly for God to pretend that he was not superior to us in every single way.

Descending to our level is the only way he could possibly have a relationship with us at all. There is certainly no way that we humans, imperfect as we are, could otherwise ascend to his level. Unless God comes down to our level, we’re stuck with this gigantic gap between God’s holy perfection and our miserable imperfection.” – Jim Barringer

“Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.” – Charles Spurgeon

“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension.”Jonathan Edwards

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Condescension, when applied to Redeemer God, is a word that must be reclaimed from the common vernacular of this culture. God, in sending His son, did not just descend. He condescended…He came down to be with us. He came as close as it was possible for a holy God to come to His people…bridging the great gap we could not bridge in our own helpless estate. He came down to be with us.

Thank You, God, for your glorious transcendent condescension. We are forever changed.

Worship with me to Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery“.

Come behold the wondrous mystery in the dawning of the King,
He, the theme of heaven’s praises, robed in frail humanity.
In our longing, in our darkness, now the light of life has come;
Look to Christ, who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: He the perfect Son of Man,
In His living, in His suffering, never trace nor stain of sin
See the true and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man,
Christ, the great and sure fulfillment of the law, in Him we stand.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: Christ the Lord upon the tree;
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.
See the price of our redemption; see the Father’s plan unfold,
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold!

Come behold the wondrous mystery: slain by death, the God of life;
But no grave could e’er restrain Him, praise the Lord, He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance; how unwavering our hope:
Christ in power resurrected, as we will be when he comes.*

Explore God – Is Jesus really God?

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, and Matt Papa

God Condescends – Charles Spurgeon

Jonathan Edwards: The Infinite Highness and Condescension of Christ

God Is Condescending by Jim Barringer

Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent

The Condescension of our Transcendent God by Lee Tankersley

The Condescending God?

Does Condescend-Condescension Always Have a Negative Connotation?

Lady Catherine’s Condescension

*Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery: Hymn Wednesday

“In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us”*

Worship Wednesday – How Many Kings? – Marc Martel with Downhere

IMG_0019

[From the Archives]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Two out of so many favorite December experiences are Christmas songs on the radio and Christmas cards in my mailbox. For some maybe, all that Christmas music on various stations gets old…but for me, it’s a continual feast. Then those old-fashioned cards in red or green envelopes transform our mailbox from bill and junk mail holders to a wonder of news from friends and family.

[Most of the images you see on this blog are from treasured old Christmas cards.]

As to Christmas songs…there are so many beautiful ones – both standards and newer ones. Songwriter Marc Martel‘s How Many Kings, out since 2009, performed by the Canadian Christian band Downhere is one such song. My favorite radio station pops this one up often during the Christmas season. The lyrics allude to a visitation of some number of wise men from the Far East. Through their knowledge of both the ancient Scriptures (Micah 5:2)and the stars of Heaven, they were able to chart a course right to the baby Jesus, in his home in Bethlehem. How Many Kings speaks of their amazement and wonder…and ours…at the coming of the Christ Child. It is the story of such love as God had…has…for us in that even His own son He would not withhold from us…to make a path for us back to Him.IMG_0048

God sent His son to us. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perfectly One in unity through the ages – would somehow include 33 years of life on earth to bring Himself close to us. God with skin on – that we might understand better what love looks like and how we can live because of that love… Glory! Blog - Worship Wednesday - What KingsPhoto Credit: Quotesgram.com

Worship with me:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart – how many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure and myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Only one did that for me
All, all for me…
All for you…

IMG_0003

I am not sure Downhere is even performing together currently, but thank you, Brothers, for this song…and thank You, God, for giving Your Son…for us all.Blog - How Many Kings - DownherePhoto Credit: Downhere.com

Lyrics to How Many Kings – Songwriters – Marc A. Martel and Jason Germain

Story Behind the Song How Many Kings

Downhere Band Website

Bethlehem Skyline – album including How Many Kings

Worship Wednesday – Jesus, Thank You – Sovereign Grace Music, Pat Sczebel

Photo Credit: The Apologetics Group, Eric Holmberg

Thank You, Jesus, for the creche, the cross, and the crown.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us [creche]. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [cross] the Son of God; the King of Israel! [crown]John 1:1-5, 14, 29, 49

A middle school in Virginia won’t subject its students, staff, or families this year with any holiday songs having the name Jesus in them. Some students reportedly were uncomfortable singing the songs in a school program, so instead of giving them the freedom not to sing those particular songs, the songs themselves are banned. The school officials felt it appropriate given the increasingly diverse nature of the student body. So what if most religions of the world recognize Jesus in some capacity or another?! I don’t understand removing such a world-impactful historical figure from a school curriculum or extra-curriculum.

The movement of our culture and its sensibilities toward the secular is obvious in so many arenas. Whatever one ends up believing at the end of their lives, to miss the person of Jesus altogether is a terrible thing, a brutal consequence of living in a post-Christian world.

Today, I wanted to highlight a simple song with a glorious message. As I write, it’s Christmas time and images of a Christ child in a manger are everywhere (even in a town where a middle school won’t allow such a thing as part of its programming).

A child in a manger…such an extraordinary birth. One part of the triune God, separated for a time into humanity. Thinking about that in front of the fire this morning, it hit me again what that birth must have meant to God the Father…and for all of Creation.

Jesus was born to give us a closer look at the God of the universe – the beauty of a sinless life, the mystery of justice perfectly balanced by mercy, the love that never turns from His own.

In celebrating the birth of Christ, we have the creche, the cross, and the crown [to which the Scripture above points]. The creche demonstrating a God-life made small so we could even begin to fathom a God who loves us His frail ones. The cross displaying a God-love that withholds nothing – “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” – that we may have everything – forgiveness and life forever with Him. Lastly of the three, the crown signifies the risen King, who is seated triumphantly by the Father, interceding for us, until the day we all enter His Kingdom.

Thank You, Jesus is a song by Pat Sczebel, of Sovereign Grace Music. Its focus is Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Still, the first time I heard it was a couple of weeks ago as part of a worship service in a small downtown church in Tennessee. It was the beginning of Christmas time, and the merging of the creche and the cross touched our hearts so deeply.

Worship with me:

VERSE 1
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

CHORUS
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

VERSE 2
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

BRIDGE
Lover of my soul

I want to live for You*

This Christmas time, don’t let our culture silence our rejoicing. Jesus did not come just for Christians (as some would like to argue)…He came to the whole world to point to a loving and holy God. Jesus, thank You.Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

*Lyrics to Jesus, Thank You – Songwriter: Pat Sczebel

Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions? – J. Warner Wallace

Creche, Cross, and Crown – Eric Holmberg

Cradle, Cross, Crown – Liz Giertz

Worship Wednesday – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:1-9

So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us.

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

Earlier this year, we were in Tennessee visiting our home church in Kingsport. Indian Springs Baptist Church (ISBC) has two campuses. The Hill Rd. campus is the larger of the two. It is our home church. Our family grew to five in that church. We love the people there. The Glenwood Church campus is new to us. It is now under the ISBC umbrella, although originally it was the mother church.  We worshiped happily at both campuses that weekend. It was at Glenwood that we heard and sang the song, “Is He Worthy?” for the first time.

In this beautiful old church building, being led by a praise team (and a Baptist Hymnal sweetly propped up in a window), Dave and I worshiped God as intimately as we would have in our own church. God was present…and this small congregation sang this song as, I’m sure it will when we are in His presence in Heaven..

When I came home, I looked up this song and its writer, Andrew Peterson. He wrote this song for a congregation to participate as deeply as the worship leader would. The responsive reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

[Sidebar: If you worshiped God with the help of this video, you saw a sea of white faces as the singers. Andrew Peterson wrote an apology worthy of your time. Let’s none of us falter from what he calls a misstep and miss the larger message of this beautiful song.]

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

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

Photo Credit: Church Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obituary – Robert E. “Bob” Wink

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

Hallelujah!

Song Story – O Praise the Name – Marty Sampson

*The Cool God Is a Puny GodJon Bloom

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

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

Jesus & Holy Week – Day 8 – He is Risen! Resurrection Sunday

Blog - Easter - Empty TombPhoto Credit: TurnbacktoGod.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1 

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. John 20:18

On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walked with them, ate with them, taught them again…as he promised.

“He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!”* – Trevin Wax

[Read the rest of Wax’s poem here.]

Oh the joy…the indescribable joy of that reality. He died and yet he lives. We were dead in our sins, and because of him, we have life.

Take the time to read this amazing story yourself. The Gospel writers all have given detailed accounts of the risen Christ ( Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29). The Apostle Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57

Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed.  This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.

I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.

For the past 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19

“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

Holy Week – Day 8: Resurrection Sunday! – Thank you, Mary Fairfield for writing so well, so thoughtfully, and so thoroughly for Christianity.About.com.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

5 Reasons to Believe That Jesus Rose From the Dead – Adam4d

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

**The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People (1994) by Adrian Plass

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God Above – sung by Selah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

YouTube Video – Easter Song (Live) – Keith Green – (song starts 2 minutes in)

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

عيد القيامة يسوع المسيح مبارك وكلّ عام وانت واعئلتك بالف خير! المسيح فام! حقّاً قام!