Category Archives: Sacrifice

Worship Wednesday – St. Patrick’s Day – Be Thou My Vision

[Adapted from the Archives – Here and Here]

St. Patrick’s DayLá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Wearing green. Corned beef and cabbage…and my family background is Scottish…so a bit of a mix for us.

I am also planning to watch the David Kidd documentary Patrick. A friend who heard David Kidd speak shared the following with me via email – notes from his talk on the real Patrick (legends removed):

  • He was born in 396 AD and died in 471 AD.
  • Patrick was brought up in a Romano British Christian home somewhere in southwest Britain (his father was a deacon and grandfather a priest).
  • He was kidnapped at 16 (didn’t really know God at that time), trafficked, and taken to the West Coast of Ireland where he worked as a shepherd and learned to speak Irish.
  • As a slave, Patrick came to see the hand of God in his troubles. God broke through his defenses, and Patrick faced his unbelief and pride. Later he described how he turned to God whom he realized had been watching over him all the time. He became aware of God’s protection, and he discovered that God loved him as a father loves his son.
  • Before this, he knew he had ‘sinned’ and believed that God punished him.
  • God spoke to him in a dream about a ship coming to take him home. At 22, he managed to escape slavery.
  • At home, he had another dream of the people in Ireland calling him back.
  • He was obedient to the Spirit and went back to West Ireland (“the ends of the earth” at that time).
  • He was beaten, harassed by thieves and robbers, admonished by his British superiors, but his work grew and he remained humble.
  • He protested against injustice, esteemed women highly, and identified himself as Irish.
  • His legacy was a vibrant Christianity which lasted hundreds of years while Britain and Europe fell into the Dark Ages.

On St. Patrick’s Day, what we can do to honor Patrick’s memory?

  • The Past: Remember a humble man who had been mistreated, heard from God, obeyed, loved his enemies, lived his life for Jesus, and made a significant difference – not just in Ireland, but much of Europe.
  • The Present: Use Patrick’s life to help people focus on what really matters…Christ Jesus.
  • The Future: Be as faithful as Patrick and live for Jesus and His Kingdom – making a difference in this world with fruit that lasts.

Through slavery, Patrick’s life was essentially taken from him. In the loss of his freedom, he ultimately found Christ. That glorious salvation brought him eternal freedom. He managed to escape his slavery, but then surrendered his life, this time in his love for and obedience to God. returning to Ireland for the sake of the Gospel.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.  More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ-the righteousness from God based on faith. [My goal] is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.Philippians 3:7-11

The strongest memories I have of the old Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision are connected with worship in North Africa. We sang it across three countries in Heliopolis Community Church (Cairo), St. George’s (Tunis), and St. John’s (Casablanca). When our children were growing up, we expat families, from various Christian denominations, gathered once or twice a week to worship in English.  We sang great hymns, old and contemporary, with guitar accompaniment, and followed worship leaders with more British accents than American. Photo Credit: Eurobishop

I remember our little family, strung out along a pew of these little churches. Our stair-step children, with shoulders squared, singing from hymnals in the early years and then with lyrics projected on the stuccoed front walls.Before our children all launched back into life in the US, we “attended” traditional church less and became a part of house churches. There we still sang Be Thou My Vision, still with guitar…less with a British accent.

Back in the US, when we sing Be Thou My Vision, we are still reminded of its great truths and of other years, in other places, where His truth was being made known. In places where we prayed to see people as He sees them…and to love them as He loves.

[Movement Church, Adapted from the Archives]

Worship with me to the rendition performed by Welsh singer Noel Richards. A bit slower than I’m used to but it allows us to soak up the words in worship. Also, all five verses are included which is important.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.*

Worship Wednesday – In Christ Alone – Townend & Getty – Deb Mills

*Lyrics to “Be Thou My Vision” – an old Irish hymn (in the Celtic Christian tradition) – translated into the English above by Eleanor Hull in 1912

10 Steps to Developing God’s Vision For Your Life – J. P. Jones

Be Thou My Vision – Wikipedia – English Methodist Lyrics, 1964

Be Thou My Vision – She Reads Truth – Claire Gibson

Hymn Story to Be Thou My Vision

You are My Vision – Rend Collective – Official Live – acapella part at 2:23 will seriously give you cold chills 

YouTube Video – Be Thou My Vision – Nathan Pacheco

Photo Credit: UTubers

Worship Wednesday – Celebrating the Giver and Sustainer of Life – Life Song – Casting Crowns

Photo Credit: Bible Study Tools

Every four years, my birthday and the US Presidential Inauguration are celebrated on the same day. This year was one of those years.

Now, my birthday was one of the big ones, drawing a lot of exclamations from friends when they find out which one. So that either says I look or act younger than my age, or I’m way older than they thought. I’m wondering at my age, as well.

Not so much that this birthday isn’t getting celebrated – like a rock star! Bring on the flowers, the cake, and the meetups [COVID-altered but undaunted]. Yay, for birthdays.

Peaceful transfers of presidential power are also worthy of huge celebrations. It is the American way, and it’s happening again.

We may have mixed feelings about birthdays…and even about inaugurations. If we raise our gaze just a little higher, we can thrill to what is going on in the spiritual realm.

Whatever we might think about life right now…us getting older, or times getting stranger…we can take heart.

Perhaps we were born for just such a time as this. [Esther 4:14b]

Photo Credit: Salvation Army

God is not surprised, nor is He hindered in giving life or sustaining life. Certainly, He is able to equip us and keep us on track – in the works He has given each of us from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).

Isn’t that astounding?! For us, yes; for Him, no.Photo Credit: Daily Verses

I take great comfort in the passage in John 10 above. Nothing can snatch us out of His hands. Nothing. No one. Forever we are His.

In thinking about birthdays and inaugurations, we celebrate the God who gives us life and sustains us through it.

Facing a new decade of life, I look up. To the God who keeps His promises…who gives us life day to day straight on to eternity…and sustains His children through it all.

As for the Inauguration and a new US President…we are not saved by any political party or president, we are saved by a King. With a forever kingdom…and it stands in beauty and power and glory.

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, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

I love Gill’s Commentary on this great God being a consuming fire: “…here it is our God, our covenant God, our God in Christ; not that he is so to the saints, or to them that are in Christ: he is indeed as a wall of fire in his providences, to protect and defend them, and as fire in his word to enlighten and warm them, to guide and direct them, but not a consuming fire to them; this he is to their enemies, who are as thorns, and briers, and stubble before him.”

Oh that our lives bring a smile to the face of our Creator and Sustainer God! [As the picture the Casting Crowns‘ song paints below].

May we take birthdays and inaugurations in stride, and in the context of a larger Kingdom…and a God who is very much in control.

Worship with me:

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign Your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You

Lord I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be Your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Let my lifesong sing to You

*Lyrics to Life Song – Casting Crowns – Songwriter: John Mark Hall

Behind the Song: Casting Crowns Shares the Heart Behind Their Hit Song “Lifesong” – Abby Young

Worship Wednesday – Revolutionary Kindness – Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.Psalm 4:4-5, 8

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Ephesians 4:26-27

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”Matthew 5:43-45

Writer’s block. I have wanted to say so much…cry out against all the wrong in our world…in our country. Cry out against the hatred, the vitriol, the division. The Lord has shut my mouth and is in the process of stilling my heart. You see, I have struggled with all the same stuff that I want to cry out against in others. Sin has shaken my own heart…praise God for a Savior.
Why are we shocked in our country when the same kinds of trauma the rest of the world experiences we are experiencing now? Our outrage speaks to the content of our hearts. “We deserve better”. “We will not tolerate this”. “We will silence our enemies”. “We will put you in your place”.
As  followers of Christ, we cannot join the throngs. We may want to block or cancel the words or actions of others. Yet, we are confronted ourselves by the truth that we were all once the enemies of God…yet He forgave us. Do we presume that our indignation is more righteous than His? Do we consider our being wronged as more needful of judgment than His own? God have mercy!
I haven’t been able to write for a couple of weeks. That time has been spent in thinking, in conversation, in the Word, and in prayer. Sometimes also just in the mundane of daily work. What is the response of the believer toward our perceived enemies …toward those from whom we feel persecution? Or toward whom we are tempted to feel hate?

Jesus’ Most Radical Teaching – Lois Tverberg

Only love. Spoken and acted out in kindness and mercy.

Do we stomp and kick the dust at that? Do we hold tighter to our stones? Do we give lip service to “forgiving” but everything in our actions and attitudes tells a different story?

How thankful we can be to a God who is all-wise and all-loving! He understands us completely. He walked among us, in the sandals of the incarnate Christ. He experienced hatred and persecution, even to His last breath on this earth. Yet…He forgave, He loved, He administered the greatest kindness possible – His life for ours.

In His loving mercy, He has taught us how to live in this life. Whether things are going our way or not, it matters so little.

We are to love. We are to forgive. We are to keep our own hearts from sinning against another. We are to remember that we and our neighbor (enemy or friend) are both made in the image of God. We are not to forget our own bent toward sin…the very sin that caused Jesus to take the cross upon Himself…for us. Not just for another.

When we lie down at night and struggle to quiet our thoughts, the Lord gives counsel, if we will listen. We aren’t to put our trust in a government but in God. We aren’t to put our own preferences over persons. God calls us to remember whose we are. He is at work in our hearts, in that of our neighbors (and enemies), and in the nations.

We can join Him…through a revolutionary sort of kindness.

I’ve just recently discovered the writing of Lois Tverberg. She teaches the Scripture in context, meaning within the culture of the world in which it was written. We might think Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies is hard. Yet, if we recall our own struggle with sin and how neighbors and enemies are not so different from us, we can access the grace of God to love…and show kindness.

Loving Your Neighbor, Who Is Like You – Lois Tverberg

Instead of striving to be right…what if we strove to be kind – loving, serving, and praying for those our flesh cries out to hate? This is the way of Jesus.

Josh Wilson (with a team of other songwriters) gave us the song “Revolutionary” in October 2019, having no idea what 2020 or 2021 would hold. It was a prophetic call to the church to love…all.

“It seems natural, almost effortless, to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities. Drawing attention to those differences keeps us glued to the news and social media because of the moral outrage we feel towards the “other.” I think there’s a better way though, and that’s the way of empathy and understanding, the way of kindness….No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, deep down I know that we are not as different as we are led to believe. There is peace to be made, there are names to be learned, meals to be had, chasms to be crossed, and it all starts with kindness.”Josh Wilson

Worship with me.

Maybe you’re not like me
Maybe we don’t agree
Maybe that doesn’t mean
We gotta be enemies
Maybe we just get brave
Take a big leap of faith
Call a truce so me and you
Can find a better way
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen, yeah
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different, yeah
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
I’m turning the TV down
Drowning their voices out
‘Cause I believe that you and me
Can find some common ground
See maybe I’m not like you
But I’ll walk a mile in your shoes
If it means I might see
The world the way you do
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
What would Jesus do
He would love first
He would love first, hmm
What would Jesus do
He would love first
Yeah, He would love first
So we should love first
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
God help us get revolutionary*
“‘Revolutionary’ is all about kindness,” shares Josh Wilson. “I believe that kindness matters. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity we see in the world and on the news, and this song is a reminder that we are called to more than that. We’re called to love as Christ has loved us. I am so encouraged by the acts of kindness I’ve seen recently, even amidst a worldwide pandemic, even in an election year. In many ways, our struggles are actually bringing us together. We’re learning that we all have a lot more in common than we thought, and it’s beautiful to see the ways people are serving each other. The lyrics are a prayer for God, through us, to start a revolution of kindness. Will you join us?”Josh Wilson

Postscript:

Josh Wilson also wrote “Dream Small” which I covered here. He capturing how God has wrapped all commands into two – for our good and to the glory of our magnificent God:
Love God
Love others.
“Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans
From rivers.”

Worship Wednesday – Dream Small – Josh Wilson – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Lay Down Your Burdens – Come As You Are – Crowder

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens Crowder
[The piece below is adapted from the Archives. Last night, during an online concert thanks to American Awakening, I heard David Crowder sing “Come As You Are”. It was a much-needed reminder that although the world is crying shame and blame, Jesus calls us to come to Him “as we are”. No shame. No blame. He knows we are frail. That sin darkens our hearts, but we can be free of that and walk in the light of His forgiveness and love.
Today…rest a moment. Let us lay down our burdens and rest in Him. Remembering who He is. The battle is His. He calls us to stand in the battle and to love Him and all around us with His love. We stand with the Mightiest; we stand for His truth. We stand for each other. As the concert organizers for last night’s concert promoted: “We are Better Together.” In Him.]
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”Matthew 11:28-29

The decade of my 20s is littered with the debris of a searching, self-centered life. Even as a follower of Christ, the world drew me like a powerful magnet. I was lured by the arguments of those critical of God, the church, and Christianity. After years of standing one foot in the world and one foot in the church, thanks to God never giving up on us, my thinking finally cleared.

The world’s promises of belonging, significance, and security shattered, but not without sending shards of painful memories and regret deep into my heart. The arguments against God turned hollow, emptied of their logic. Those very arguments denied our own personal responsibility for many of the world’s woes. For a season, believing man over God, my course in life was spiraling away from the very redemptive purposes of God. Even to this day, it can still be a challenge to look away, to believe that God can’t use me for the sake of another. Or He just wouldn’t.

Crowder’s song Come As You Are ministers to my heart at every listening. There is nothing so wonderful in life as God and His love and forgiveness. I can’t look back at that prodigal decade without remorse. Yet, because of God, and the truth of His Word, I can lay all that down (again). There is a verse, recorded by the Old Testament prophet Joel, that always encourages me: [God speaking]: “I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). He has kept that promise in my life, and I am grateful.

How God restored me to Himself was through a couple of friends: one, an older believer, and the other, a close friend, who had survived a similar wilderness wandering, breaking out of it ahead of me. They always come to mind in remembering how God worked in my life back then. David Crowder speaks so clearly about his own journey of restoration:

“As it goes with hypocrisy, judgement, dogmatism, and all the rest of it that Jesus put to death, it’s hard to see in yourself what you readily see in others. And into my cynicism and anger my friend began to dream aloud, “What if church really was like family. What if we pretended the, ‘brother and sister, son and daughter,’ stuff was real. What if relationships were thought to be rare and valuable things. What if it was just a bunch of people that loved each other and were simply trying their best to follow this Jesus we read of in scripture. What if we pretended, the ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ thing was a better way to live…What if we pretended we are all sinners. What if we pretended grace is real. What if the word ‘pretend’ felt less powerful than the word ‘believe’ because we did actually believe. What if…”David Crowder

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 8 - bpnews.net

Rioters throw bricks and bottles at the police on Clarence Road in the Hackney area of London.

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 4 - bpnews.net

MEXICO CITYÕS HOMELESS Ð IMB missionaries and national believers serving among the masses of Mexico City regularly encounter homelessness, prostitution and substance abuse on city streets. Mexico CityÕs parks and city squares are often scattered with homeless men and women sleeping on sidewalks and park benches. (IMB) PHOTO

The meta-narrative of scripture is about innocence lost, it is about displacement, about things not being right and a search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life, what it means to be alive. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. The story sold is rarely that…What if we started believing?”David Crowder

There are those in the world who look at followers of Christ as pretenders. Honestly, there are “church folks” that do more to distract than draw others to God. Then there are those whose lives have truly been transformed. True Christ-followers know how far He has brought them from their broken, burdened selves. This world of ours needs that voice of hope – real hope that comes close, as God came close to us through Jesus. In this global wilderness of ours, He calls us to live small and love large, to extend His love as far as He extended it to us. This is the purpose of God’s church – to love Him and to reflect His glory in a true hands-on witness of His love for all around us.

Worship with me:

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, Oh sinner come kneel

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal

So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame
All who are broken, lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home, You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
Come as you are

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That Heaven can’t cure

Come as you are
Fall in His arms, come as you are

There’s joy for the morning, Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.

– Written by David Crowder, Matt Maher, & Ben Glover (Lyrics)

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Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 7 - bpnews.net

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Lyric Video)

YouTube Video – Come As You Are by Crowder Lyric Video

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Music Video)

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Behind the Scenes)

David Crowder Website – Read the Family History – Riveting and Real

Photo Credits: Crowdermusic.com and BPNews.net

Monday Morning Moment – Remembering on Memorial Day

[Adapted from the Archives]

“Happy Memorial Day” isn’t a fitting greeting for this day.

Our commemoration of this holiday in America is a bit complex. I get the parades, and the setting flags on tombstones, and the sepia portraits of our military heroes past displayed on Facebook pages. Grandfathers, fathers, husbands, brothers…and their female counterparts.

The grilling and road races and t-shirt giveaways at baseball games, I don’t get as much. Yet, like our fellow Americans, we will grill and we will celebrate a day off…and through all that we will remember. We will remember the sacrifices of those who died to preserve our freedom.Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Normandy Landings

This year’s celebration is even more complex than usual. With the losses of COVID-19 casting their own shadow over this day of remembrance. The socially distanced gatherings will be small, but the grief will be large with us.

Photo Credit: Twitter, The New York Times

Memorial Day 2020: Grieving Another COVID-19 Death Count Milestone – Alan Cross

Writing helps me remember. The many lessons of life, the travels, all the people we’ve known along the way, and the great provisions of God. It has helped me to write them down.

Memorial Day is a somber remembrance. All the soldiers I’ve known personally survived the wars they fought . Still, I have friends who lost loved ones serving in devastating situations. I stand alongside to remember. To remember those of our own who died and to remember those families who also lost their loved ones on the other side of battle. There’s always the other side of war…the family side.

How ever you spend your Memorial Day…whether with a burger or fasting or at work or play, stopping and remembering is the first order of the day. We have much to be grateful for. On this day and every day.Photo Credit: Paul Davis On Crime

[Added from Comment when this blog first posted: That gravestone graphic leaves out the deadliest war in our history for some reason. Civil War – 620,000 dead. What a strange omission. – John]

Vietnam War is the war of my youth. We didn’t understand why we were there. I participated in protests but it didn’t take me long to realize how that wasn’t honoring of those of our country fighting for us. We thought we were communicating to “Bring them home!” but when Vietnam vets did return there really wasn’t a “Welcome home!” So short-sighted of us.

[Letters from pen-pals, soldiers in Vietnam, who shared details of what they experienced there. Sacred writings for me now.]

Don’t miss the PBS Memorial Day Presentation. So powerful! Stories of those who gave their lives in battle, honoring the different branches of service, and glorious music. Here is Christopher Jackson in last year’s performance of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”:

If someone you love died in one of these recent wars or in any service to our nation or community, please comment below with their names and any details you choose to include. I would be pleased to help honor them in this small way.

In closing, I’d like to add this clip from the 2002 film The Four Feathers – the brief and beautiful speech of a returning soldier who described why they fight:

Independence Day in the USA – Remembering that Freedom Is Not Free – Deb Mills Writer

Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – What Are You Remembering About God Today? – Deb Mills Writer

Worship Wednesday – Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – Part 2 – Deb Mills Writer

E. John Mills, US Navy – Dave’s DadGeorge T. McAdams (in center), US Army – my Dad

Thank you for your service.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Tim Wink

Worship Wednesday – Proximity to God and the Marginalized – Nearness – Nearer to God

Photo Credit: Heartlight

But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:13

On the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we marvel at our first responders and health care workers. Running toward danger. Staying on the frontlines. For the sake of others.

We have a Savior who came close to us…who made a way for us to be reconciled to holy God. We could not redeem our sinful selves. We cannot, in our sinful conditions, draw near to the God of this universe. Except for a sinless savior who drew near to us, who bridged the distance, who made a way for us to be restored to God.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!2 Corinthians 9:15

Earlier this week I watched the documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality. In this film, he uses the word “proximity” in a way that immediately reminded me of the life of Jesus…and the life to which he calls us.

Bryan Stevenson is an American attorney who works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. Predominately, he advocates for those who may not have received (did not receive) fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row.

Bryan Stevenson at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 – March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson – WikipediaRead some of what he says about “proximity”:

“We’ve got to find ways to get proximate to the poor and the vulnerable…There is power in proximity….I am the product of someone’s choice to get proximate.” – Bryan Stevenson, Fortune’s CEO Initiative

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”  – Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
“The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.” –  Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality – 2019 HBO Documentary

Just Mercy – 2019 Warner Brothers film

In our current situation with COVID-19, proximity is not something we can as easily pursue as before now. Still, the kind of proximity that Mr. Stevenson urges has never been easy. It cost Jesus everything.

For the love of Christ and in obedience to him (for the sake of those around us), we seek creative ways to be proximate. Our proximity to others, especially to those suffering, must be grounded in and infused by our proximity to a loving and empowering God.

We are called to worship. Two songs come to mind: Bethel Music’s Jenn Johnson’s Nearness and Sarah F. Adams’ Nearer, My God, to Thee. Both videos below include the lyrics to these worship songs. Take one of these options to soak into your soul today as we draw near to the God who draws near to us. He calls us to proximity to Him, to His people, and to those not yet His people.

11 Contemporary Christian Songs That Are Perfect For When You Are Crying Out to God – Beverly Gard

Near to God – Song Resources

Just Mercy Quotes – Good Reads

“Do Some Uncomfortable and Inconvenient Things”: A Civil Rights Champion’s Call to Action for CEOs – Matthew Heimer (watch the video at start of the article)

TED Talk – We Need to Talk About Injustice – Bryan Stevenson

Jesus & Holy Week – Day 6 – Good Friday – His Trial, Crucifixion, & Burial

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Holy-Week-Good-Friday.jpgPhoto Credit: GoodFridayQuotes2015.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

It was a day like no other day in history. For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. The few Christians in those places passed this week in reflection and wonder. It was, of course, just another week for most of our friends and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but Good Friday was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus and all who have experienced life through his teaching and example, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.

Good Friday – good for us, hard for Jesus. His mockery of a trial, crucifixion, death, and burial are all recorded with great detail in the four Gospels. They are riveting accounts of this terrible and triumphant day – Matthew 26:57-27:61, Mark 15Luke 22:66-23:56, John 18:28-19:42.

Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed the night before, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary, with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people. In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, hiding himself nearby…in his own painful moment.

The outcome of all the wrangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash of his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.

Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the resolve of His Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him. We, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21). It is a miracle of grace.

Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.

It Was My Sin That Held Him There – Greg Morse

Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross.  Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words are recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.

Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!

‘Finished’ – What the Son Cried as He Died – Scott Hubbard – Desiring God

There is so much more to say about this day and the people present. Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return his wage of betrayal and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he no longer could. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him.  John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.

So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. Mine included… saved from my sin through Jesus’ sacrifice. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Good-Friday-from-popgodblog.jpgPhoto Credit: popgodblog.com

[Postscript: In the links are several beautiful songs of worship. Tributes to the Lord on this day. Don’t miss the articles and the great sermon “It’s Friday But Sunday’s a Coming” by S. M. Lockridge.]

Holy Week – Day 6: Good Friday’s Trial, Crucifixion, Death, Burial – Mary Fairchild

The Cross – Billy Graham 2020

YouTube Video – Passion – What’s So Good About Good Friday?

YouTube Video – It is Finished – Matt Papa

YouTube Video – Forever – Kari Jobe

YouTube Video with Lyrics – The Wonderful Cross by Chris Tomlin & Keith Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – The Power of the Cross – Kristyn Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – Lead Me to the Cross – Hillsong

*YouTube Video – It’s Friday but Sunday’s a Coming – S. M. Lockridge

YouTube Video – Skit Guys – Good Friday

YouTube Video – Passion Song – The Story of Holy Week (Lyric Video) by @scartermusic – powerful.

It Wasn’t Nails that Held Him to the Cross – Blog by Michele Perry

Good Friday – Bible Study

I Did It His Way: A Collection of B. C. Religious Comic Strips – Johnny Hart

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Blog-Cross-Good-Friday-Wikimedia.jpgPhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Worship Wednesday – Jesus & Holy Week – Day 4 – a Day of Quiet Before the Storm…and We Worship

[Adapted from the Archives – search blog under Holy Week for the description of the remaining days.]

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels…fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.Revelation 7:9-11

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”  – Revelation 5:12

There appears to be nothing recorded in Scripture of events surrounding Jesus on the Wednesday before his crucifixion. Nothing. After two difficult days dealing with his enemies and accusers, it is quite possible that he took a rest. A Sabbath rest. Given the terrible nature of what was ahead of him, starting just the next day, he could surely use a day to rest and reflect. To remember how the Father had sustained him through all the strains of his public life. To refresh himself in prayer and in the company of those on earth who loved him most – his disciples, his friends, possibly his family. We know no details of that day.

Photo Credit: klove

Since we also know what is coming for Jesus…and all for our sakes…we pause today, as well, to worship. He is the perfect lamb, without blemish, perfectly fit to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins. A sacrifice wholly satisfying the wrath of God the Father. God provided a ram for Abraham to take his son’s place in that strange and amazing sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:1-14). This was a foreshadowing of our own need for a savior. We also can be saved by the blood of “the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus was not killed on that Friday, two days hence. His life was not taken. Not by the Jewish or Roman authorities. He gave his life…for us…there are no words adequate to respond…worship is all we have.

Worship with me:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Holy holy is He
Sing a new song to Him who sits on
Heaven’s mercy seat

Holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come
With all creation I sing praise to the King of kings
You are my everything and I will adore You

Clothed in rainbows of living color
Flashes of lighting rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor strength and glory and power be
To You the only One for me

Filled with wonder awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your name
Jesus Your name is power breath and living water
Such a marvelous mystery.*

*Lyrics to Revelation Song written by Jennie Lee Riddle

Story Behind Revelation Song – Jennie Lee Riddle’s vision of the Church wholly united in worship of God – here as we will be one day in Heaven

YouTube Lyric Video – Revelation Song – Kari Jobe – Passion 2013

YouTube Video – Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson

YouTube Video – Worthy Is the Lamb – Brooklyn Tabernacle

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

The Wrath of God Was Satisfied: Wondrous Love in the Awful Cross – Jon Bloom – Desiring God

Podcast – Easter and Hymns with Keith Getty – Rainer on Leadership

Holy Week Timeline Graphic

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

Photo Credit: Flickr

[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, and I am grateful.

My understanding of religion then was that it was Christianity only.

Years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I actually 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. Now being older, I understand the difference in religion and faith. – that there are many religions. However, who the Person of God, and who we are as followers, is more about relationship than religion.]

My first experience with Lent 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 about Lent – lessons 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.Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

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 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.

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily through Lent – 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 British writer 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, my resolve is to:

  • read A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer;
  • refer back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking;
  • reflect on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teaching
  • resist (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues;
  • repent of the sins of neglect and indifference;
  • remember 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…

Preparing for Easter – 50 Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis

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

Worship Wednesday – I Surrender All – Robin Mark

Photo Credit: SlideServe

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”Matthew 16:24-27

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
 – John 12:24

Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell face down and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Matthew 26:39

All in.

As Jesus prayed in the garden, just hours before He would give His life for us on the cross, He wrestled with the Father. He was willing; He was always willing. From the beginning of time…or before. He was all in.

Yet the weight of what He was about to accomplish must have pinned Him to the ground. Before He would be pinned to the cross.

All the sins of the world. All. The worst of it…my sins. He would take them all on His sinless self on the cross. To provide a path for us back to God. To restore us to holy God. For us “not His people” to become His people (1 Peter 2:10). God’s justice, love, and mercy revealed perfectly in Jesus.

This Sunday, at Movement Church, we sang that beautiful old hymn I Surrender All. I am so grateful that our worship leader, most Sundays, includes a hymn in the songs we sing. This time as we were singing, something happened to the computer/projector setup, and the lyrics vanished for a couple of verses.

A few of us kept singing without the lyrics in front of us (maybe because we knew the words from our own childhood). Growing up in an era of summer revivals and extended altar calls gave rise to knowing most songs from that section of the hymnal (often and thoroughly sung in revival services).

The words finally popped back up on the screen, but in the between time, my mind went back to those days in my youth of singing that song, over and over, at the end of a service.

Surrendering all is beyond our ability. We need the One who truly surrendered Himself fully to saving us. For this life and the next. My struggle in surrendering my life daily to Christ can be sullied by duty and self-interest. Worship leader Zac Hicks had this to say:

“The truth is that you and I are horrible surrender-ers. We don’t really surrender our lives to God with as much wholeheartedness, conviction, and forthrightness as we sometimes think. To make matters worse, when we find ourselves in a moment of “genuine” consecration and giving up of ourselves, we almost immediately and instinctively begin to feel good about ourselves and pat ourselves on the back. We are sick and diseased. Our only hope comes when we look to the Man who really did “surrender it all” to God, for us and for our salvation. He made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2).

If I’m honest, I can’t in good conscience say “I surrender all” to Jesus. What I can say, sing, even shout is, “Jesus surrendered all for me.” Not to us, not to us, but to Your name be the glory.”Zac Hicks [Read the whole piece here.]

I do believe that we can desire to surrender all…as we move through our lives. As, by His Holy Spirit, we are being renewed in our minds, in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, “daily daily” to the things of this world. Remembering, as Zac Hicks wrote, to ever remember and give glory to Jesus who did surrender all.

Robin Mark, a Christian singer songwriter from Northern Ireland sings I Surrender All. Mark wrote Days of Elijah. His “When It’s All Been Said and Done” is the background song on my Mom’s memorial page (if there was ever one in my life who was all in – as much as was humanly possible in her life – it was my mom).

Worship with me to this great old song – remembering what the Lord has done for us.

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at his feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that thou art mine.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to thee,
Fill me with thy love and power,
Let thy blessing fall on me.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!
(Refrain)*

*Lyrics and Story Behind the Song I Surrender All – Songwriter(s): Judson Van DeVenter and Winfield S. Weeden

YouTube Video – I Surrender All – CeCe Winans

YouTube Video – Revival in Belfast – Robin Mark