Category Archives: steadfast love

Worship Wednesday – Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Don Moen

Photo Credit: Bible Screen, Pinterest

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!  “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. – Deuteronomy 32:3-4

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

This is going to be a little random and ranging…but throughout this day, over and over, I was reminded of the faithfulness of God.

This morning, first thing, I routinely get up, quick stop in the bathroom, and make the bed. While making the bed, that amazing old hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness wafted through my thoughts… out of nowhere.

Soon, it’s out the door to pick up one of my grandsons for Play ‘n Pray at church where we gather, kids in tow, and pray while they play.

Do you ever have those times in the car that God seems to speak through something on the radio? That happened briefly this morning across two great songs on my favorite Christian radio station.

First, David Crowder‘s song Red Letters came on. Red Letters refers to the words recorded in Scripture that Jesus spoke. Crowder tells the story of how the Lord gives us freedom though we deserve death because of our sin. Then right after, Lincoln Brewster‘s jumping version of Everlasting God… If a car could rock with praise, mine was rocking! You know how you see some people at traffic lights with their arms raised, or drumming their steering wheel, or heads bobbing…that sort of car-rocking praise.

By the time, my grandson and I arrived at Play ‘n Pray, my heart was so full of the faithfulness of God.

While the kids played on the playground, we moms and grams sat, watching, talking, and finally praying. Between gummy bear snacks, sorting out rows between the kids, and rounding up the scattering crawlers. We prayed. God is faithful to draw near to us in all the chaos of mothering small ones.

I had to leave after our scheduled time was over, but one of the young moms lingered to continue talking to moms from the neighborhood who had joined us on the playground. It was the very thing we hope happens each week…connections, bridges, neighborly links to the very love of God.

On my way to the next thing, with a content little guy in his car-seat behind, an odd memory surfaced. Both sad and lovely. Something I hadn’t thought of in years…

It was a memory that goes back over 20 years to a church for internationals in Cairo, Egypt. Heliopolis Community Church. Living in Cairo in those days, we loved being in the English-speaking congregation of HCC. It was an oasis of sorts where we didn’t have to think or speak in Arabic and we all had in common that we were, most of us, foreigners and we loved Jesus.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Heliopolis Community Church, Cairo, Egypt

Rotating teams of laypeople led the worship part of the service each week. A young man from South Asia led our worship from time to time. Although I do not remember his name, but I’ve never forgotten him…or his story. He was originally of a different faith and had come to receive Jesus as his Savior gradually. First through dreams, then in chance meetings with Christians, in minority where he lived. Finally, he received a Bible and devoured it…especially the red lettered words of Jesus.

He told us that his conversion to Christianity was very hurtful for his parents. He was their only child. His father rejected him and would die still estranged from him. His mother also became fatally ill at some point. In her faith, if her son did not return to the faith of the family, it could create too great an impediment for her to be able to enter Heaven. I didn’t understand how that worked, but for his mother it was a terrible, horrifying belief. She begged him to give up his faith in Jesus…but he could not. She died with that bitter plea on her lips…and that painful dagger in his heart.

He closed out his story by giving witness to the great faithfulness of God in his life…to seek him out, to save him, to love him even when his parents could no longer.

We were all mesmerized by his story and his own faith in God.

He then led us in singing Don Moen‘s chorus Ascribe Greatness. It is a simple song, lyrics repeated (as the praise songs often were in those days – 1990) – taken from Deuteronomy 32:3-4.

Worship with me and consider the faithfulness of God to each of us – His children.

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He*

As I write, it’s the end of the day. Housework, cooking, community group and the hours passed by. My heart continues full…reflecting on the happenings of today…and the memories of others whose stories we know…stories of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God even in the most difficult of situations.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23

*Lyrics to Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Songwriter: Don Moen

New Mercies Every Morning – Dave Zuleger

Worship Wednesday – Wonder & Worship – “So Will I” – Hillsong Worship

Photo Credit: Cedar Ridge Community Church

This week I’ve had the privilege of speaking at a home-school conference. One of the topics was the role that we as parents have in modeling wonder and training worship. Our children are born with this huge sense of wonder, and then as the years go by, it can be dampened by the harder things (or people) in our lives. However, we, as adults, can model our own grown-up wonder. What follows as we remind our children the source of the wonder…is worship.

The conference was themed from the Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” In reading it again prior to the conference, I was reminded of the apostle Peter’s exclamation below. At one time in Jesus’ ministry on earth, some of his followers fell away. He then asked his closest followers if they would leave him (John 6:67-69):

“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

 Where would we go? There’s nowhere…no one…like the Lord. The Creator and Sustainer of this beautiful world…

“When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place— What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings; You crowned him with glory and honor.”Psalm 8:3-5

“Even the darkness is not dark to You, but the night shines like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.” Psalm 139:12-14

“So if you cannot do such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow: they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!”Luke 12:26-28

In thinking of how, as parents, we might protect and nurture our children’s sense of wonder, we rouse up our own sense of wonder.

Why We Must Protect and Nurture Our Children’s Sense of Wonder – Linda Akeson McGurk

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement…I should ask that [a] gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life. If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

What happens to our wonder? How do we pass it along, or keep it flourishing in our kiddos?

It’s helpful to spend a bit of time in reflection on some of what causes us to wonder:

  • Babies. Full-stop.
  • Cracking open a perfectly ripe watermelon – the color, how it smells, how it tastes.
  • Flowers coming from the tiniest of seeds (Dave has gardened in 4 different countries – pots on balconies when necessary).
  • The sky, night or day, and the vastness of space.
  • The water lines on the mountains of the Sinai Desert – no other way they could get there but a world-wide flood.
  • Forgiveness.
  • The wonder of sleep – lights out & alone with our thoughts & God; also sleep interrupted from anxiety but then the wonder of waking in the morning after miraculously falling back to sleep.
  • God’s answering Mom’s prayer – preferring for Him to be glorified in her cancer more than being healed from it, this side of Heaven.

To name just a few…

and, most importantly:

  • the wonder of God Himself and that we are heard, known, & understood…by Him.

If we aren’t careful we falter in our wonder because of the seeming weight of our responsibilities or the distraction of our differences one with another. God never meant it to be this way.

“In a world full of pragmatic ‘older brothers’ it is easy, even in church, to forget the love that wants to stream between us. Instead we allow our heads and backs to bend under the weight of all that needs to be put right.Teresa McCaffery

“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. –  C. S. Lewis

Our response to the wonder that surrounds us…the marvel of God Himself reflected in this world…and in His image-bearers? Gratefulness.

Photo Credit: Alan Chen, Good Free Photos

Gratefulness flows out of wonder and moves us to worship. We parents model wonder for our children & train them to turn their hearts in worship toward God.

Worship with me to Hillsong Worship‘s So Will I:

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind*

“Lord, what a world you’ve given us! Our senses are full of the wonder of Your creation. Even more than that, the wonder of You. How You love us is beyond our understanding or comprehension. Your provision for our lives…the people You have brought close to love and to be loved by. The work You have given us…we are so privileged. Life eternal and abundant that we have both here and in the Hereafter. We are amazed, Oh God. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

*Lyrics to So Will I – Songwriters: Joel Houston Benjamin Hastings & Michael Fatkin

5 Friday Faves – Fortnite Revisited on Classical Guitar, Spring Rain, Habits of Love, Andy Crouch on Shame, and Wonder – Deb Mills Writer

Worship Wednesday – Deep Disappointment – Lord, I Need You – with Matt Maher & Audrey Assad

Photo Credit: Donna L. Campbell, Salt & Light

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:16

In a couple of weeks, I’m speaking at a conference. The topic is “Dealing with Disappointment”.

In preparing for the talk, certain ones of my kids’ childhood disappointments came to mind. Our daughter struggled with all the goodbyes in our overseas life. Too many times “the new girl” she would retreat to mom, through tears, for comfort and to be reminded of her true value. Over time, she would rally…graduating with honors and a life-long friend. 

Our middle son would play street soccer with neighborhood kids and longed for the day he could play on a real team. That year finally came when we spent a year in the US. We were naive to how team sports worked back home. He missed the cut for the soccer team and grieved so hard it pierced the heart of his mom who could only pray over him, as words failed.

Over time, he also would rally…with basketball and music.

Our youngest son, always small, endured a long season of bullying. He was bullied as the littlest in his class…and just for meanness’ sake. Still he would, like his siblings, rally in his own gifting in music and cooking… He took courage  in his dad’s big love…and in the space his mom tried to give him…both in the kitchen and in finding his way in life (when she/I would much rather have held him close…too close).

So it goes – children grow up and no longer need their parents as they did before. However, we never outgrow our need for God.

Just today, working on the talk on disappointment, it happened to me. Not just in reminiscing old disappointments, but in a lightning quick heart-stopping raw experience of it. It was devastating. Details aren’t necessary. At first, I spiraled down into a dark place, but it didn’t last long. With God’s help, I picked myself up and shook off the deep disappointment. Clinging to God…I remembered, remembered, remembered who He is and what He is about with His children. This thing…this loss…I can do endure. God is here. He will work it all out. Even if He doesn’t in my preferred way, He will bring me through… and I will love Him for it…again.

Matt Maher, in telling the story behind the songLord, I Need You” talks about how C. S. Lewis describes “need-love”. It is very different from other loves.

 “Need-love cries to God from our poverty. Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God. Appreciative love says: “We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Need-love says “I cannot live without [him/]her.” – C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Need-love, as in the song “Lord, I Need You” comes from a heart that is aware of its lack and knows who can fill the emptiness. Need-love, on the flip side, moves us to respond to the good in our life, the joy and blessing, with gratefulness to God. With so much love.

Sometimes, we hear people in our culture express thanks and yet “the thanks” seem to float out into the air with no place to land. God is our place to land.

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”Blaise Pascal, French Physicist and Philosopher
 “I know that everyone is going to go to God in their darkest need and struggle. My hope is that at some point it isn’t just that you go to God in your need but that you are so overwhelmingly hit between the eyes with the love of God that you would go to Him in your joy. In your joy, you would still say, “Every hour I need You”, not just in your brokenness, in your darkest times. There is always a reason to have joy. As believers, we can show witness by leaning on God in times of hardship but also leaning on God in times of joy and celebrating.”Matt Maher

I grew up singing favorite hymns from hymnals, by page number  – #379. Annie Hawks’ “I Need Thee Every Hour” was one of those songs.

Matt Maher and a team of song-writers have brought us, His children, again to God, eager to share our need for Him and our joy in Him.

Worship with me:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You*
__________________________________________
…and You’re always there.

*Lyrics to Lord, I Need You – written by Matt Maher, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Jesse Reeves and Daniel Carson

Chords to Lord, I Need You

YouTube Video with Lyrics – Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher

YouTube Video – Matt Maher – Lord, I Need You (feat. Audrey Assad) – Acoustic 

Story Behind the Song – Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher

I Need Thee Every Hour by Annie S. Hawks, 1872

Singing From the Same Hymnal in a Post-Hymnal World

Matt Maher Music

Photo Credit: Pic of Nathan Mills with guitar – Duy Nguyen

Resurrection Sunday – Risen Indeed! Thank You, Jesus!

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Easter-Empty-Tomb.jpg

Photo 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!

5 Friday Faves – Holy Week, Gracious Forbearance, Notre Dame, Funerals, and Irises & Azaleas

Another weekend is here. This has been one of those “where did the week go?”. Now for a couple of days of gathering in…thoughts, family, and routines. Here are this week’s faves:

1) Holy Week – For many in the world, this is the holiest of weeks in the calendar year. It commemorates the last 7-8 days of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. They are/were stunningly remarkable days and, whatever one believes, should be noted for their historic and transformative significance. Thanks to great resources, I’ve written about each individual day. You’ll find them below:

Palm Sunday – Day 1 of Holy Week – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Monday, Day 2 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Restores the Temple to a House of Prayer – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy week – Tuesday, Day 3 – A Long Day Teaching & Countering Religious Opposition – Deb Mills

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

Jesus and Holy Week – Thursday, Day 5 – Passover Celebration & His Last Supper Before the Cross – Deb Mills

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

Jesus and Holy Week – Saturday, Day 7 – Black Saturday – the Silent Tomb – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 8 – He Is Risen! – Resurrection Sunday – Deb Mills

2) Gracious Forbearance – Professors and writers Marilyn McEntyre and Matt Towles have both written beautifully and expansively on forbearance and I quote them below. Forbearance is defined as “bearing with, suffering with, a refraining from the enforcement of something that is due (such as a debt, right, or obligation). It involves lenience and patience. It is NOT “putting up with” or “just tolerating”.

Photo Credit: Circus Kitchen

When it is true forbearing, it is gracious. We could use a lot of this in our social media presence as well as in our face-to-face with those we don’t necessarily choose but seem to be providentially chosen for us. Gracious forbearance is what we receive from God as his scruffy, willful followers and He expects us to be forbearing with each other. Whether you believe in God this way or not, thoughtfully considering being forbearing (especially with those you would rather put off or out of your life) is a beautiful thing.

“What unites us is God’s own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves.” – Marilyn McEntyre

“Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which “sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith”; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ’s body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don’t arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common.”Marilyn McEntyre

In Praise of Forbearance – Marilyn McEntyre

“The locus of our faith is in the resurrected Christ, but the evidence of our faith is found, quite often, in how we interact with one another. We should not wonder, then, that there may be times when the pain of someone else becomes the focus of our ministry for that hour, that day, or even that season. We serve a risen Christ whose body carried the horrors of the cross in addition to the horrors of humanity. It’s no wonder that we ourselves might recognize the pain that each of us carries. We know how to pray and to serve and to carry those burdens. I know my wife knows, because she has learned from the man acquainted with grief, Jesus himself.”Matt Towles

Gracious Forbearance – Matt Towles

“We don’t have a map, but we have a guide: “I am the way,” Jesus said, calling his followers not to a particular route, but to an enduring relationship. “Follow me” is always a somewhat disconcerting directive; we may well wonder, as the disciples did, “Where to?” Sometimes the answer to that might be into the quagmire or the cave or thicket or labyrinth. Sometimes it means into the meeting room where tepid coffee is being served and a lengthy agenda distributed among a group of elders deeply at odds. The promise that can make such a gathering an occasion of grace is presence: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ In light of that presence—in the divine light of that presence—we may find ourselves able, with grace and good humour and a measure of forbearance, to do far more than “put up with” one another: we may find ourselves, in the midst of deep differences, dwelling already in unity.” – Marilyn McEntyre

Thank you, Dr. McEntyre and Dr. Towles. I learned so much from you this week. I live each day in God’s gracious forbearance…and in that of so many He has generously placed in my life.

3) Notre Dame – The devastating fire in Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral earlier this week gave pause to many of us. A structure over 850 years old is still vulnerable… As the cause for the fire was investigated, we were reminded of the deliberate burnings of other churches in our own country. As news reports came in that many of the icons and artifacts were saved, including the stained glass windows remaining intact, we were astonished and relieved.

Then those of us who had visited this beautiful cathedral scrambled to find our pictures, and social media was jammed with those images. Ours were from a 25th anniversary trip to Paris.

Why is this a fave? The response of so many from around the world… and that so much was still spared. It will be rebuilt, no doubt.

4) Funerals – This may seem an odd choice for a Friday Fave, but all my life, I have been fascinated (and touched) by the rituals surrounding dying and death. From early childhood, my mom told me that I loved cemeteries, and I still do. My friend Marc Merlin has taken some beautiful pictures of one of my favorite cemeteries, Oakland Cemetery.Photo Credit: Marc Merlin, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

[Dad at his family cemetery (his mom and dad’s grave), May 3, 2010]

Our mom’s funeral – at graveside, November 2002

More than cemeteries though, I am enamored by the impact of a funeral reflecting the life of the one who died. Just this week, I went to the funeral of a tiny woman who had left a huge imprint on her community. The funeral was held in her small country church. Family and friends packed the church to give honor to this woman beloved by so many. I think she would have been pleased to see and hear all that went into her send-off.

When Dave’s dad died this year, one of his cousins (who lost his dad last year) pulled him aside and gave him good counsel. He said to give him a good funeral, one that was worthy of his dad.

It is so easy, in our grief and exhaustion, to just let the funeral be directed by others (the funeral director, for instance). We can do much of the planning way in advance of a loved one’s death. In fact, the little lady above planned all the details of her own funeral… except, of course, the spontaneous tributes given during the service. It was lovely.

Funerals can be so expensive, and that is the part I’d love to see curtailed. However, the best parts – the personal touches that help us grieve together and help us heal after – we can make happen.

Dave’s mom said his dad would have been embarrassed by all the kind words said about him…so, I guess, we did right by him.

6 Funeral Trends That Are Changing Death Rituals – Leanne Pott

“We’ve Mastered Weddings – But the Funeral Needs a Lot of Work”: Inside the New Death Industry – Vanessa Quirk

5) Irises & Azaleas – It’s that time of year here. The first irises blooming. The azalea bushes coming into full flower. Even the rain today couldn’t diminish the glory.

Happy weekend. Happy Easter! He is risen…He is risen indeed!

Bonuses:

The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything – Brad Stulberg

How to Improve Your Memory (Even if You Can’t Find Your Car Keys) – Adam Grant

A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence: Seneca on Balancing the Existential Calculus of Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted – Maria Popova

Pascha Basket for Easter

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 those 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.

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. 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

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

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

Holy Week Timeline Graphic

Worship Wednesday – God With us – MercyMe

Photo Credit: ASU Now

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.Psalm 96:11

“If I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones, and I become weary of holding it in, and I cannot prevail.” – the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:9

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”Luke 19:38-40

But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God. For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heart.”Acts 4:20

The Scripture speaks over and over again about how God is always present with us. Always present. How do we respond to such a phenomenal truth? The accounts in the Bible resonate our own experiences – we are moved to worship this amazing ever-present God and we are loosed in speaking of His greatness. We can’t but speak.

“He is here. Right now. Fully, completely. He is in you, around you, with you, over you, about you, for you, on time, in the middle of, surrounding you and the ones you love, in complete power, communicating as clearly as any time in history, doing perfectly to you, for you, by you, thinking about you every moment, walking directly into the middle of your worst day, your worst moment, your worst fear, your pain, your loneliness, your doubts, your insecurity, your sickness, your tragedy, your fragileness, your hope, your joy, your peace, your dreams, your relationships, your love, your longing to have your life count. He is here. He is champion and author of every beauty you find yourself longing for. He is the one who stands over you in the darkest hour. He is lifting you up, when you are too exhausted, too devastated, too hopeless, too failed, too compromised, too far gone. He is in this season.” – John Lynch

Immanuel by John Lynch – Mundane Faithfulness

In Genesis 37-50, we marvel at the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph – sold into slavery by his own brothers, wrongly imprisoned, and then… forgotten? No. Not forgotten. Not by God.

Joseph lived as a slave and a prisoner for a total of 13 years. Always faithful to a very present God. Then in a providential, “for such a time as this” moment, the Lord brought him out and he was placed in the highest position of authority under Pharoah. It would be another 9 years before he would see his brothers again, but when he did, he would be able to come to their aid, and that of all the peoples of that day.

We are moved by the God who is always present with us. We are riveted by what we find in the Scriptures about how He works in the smallest details to bring about our good and His glory (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Then we are taken to our knees when we see Him do the same in our lives today.

“God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”Jonathan Edwards

We can do nothing less than worship. It is our complete joy to do so. Out of that worship, we understand God and His purposes more, and we rejoice. It becomes a joy to walk with Him wherever He takes us…right?Photo Credit: Media Shout

[We all have times when we feel alone…that no one cares; that we are invisible. Truth is…that is not true no matter how real it feels. Hold on to the “each others” that God brings to you…hold onto Him.]

MercyMe with lead singer/songwriter Bart Millard has delivered two of my favorite contemporary worship songs: I Can Only Imagine and Even If. This song God With Us reminds us of His loving constancy in our lives. It also reveals how it is that we can’t help but lift our voices about Him and raise our hands because of Him. He is with us!

Worship with me.

Who are we
That You would be mindful of us
What do You see
That’s worth looking our way

We are free
In ways that we never should be
Sweet release
From the grip of these chains

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel . God with us

My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid these chains are gone
Emmanuel . God with us

Lord . You know
Our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show
A love we cannot afford

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay it at your feet

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay this at your feet

CHORUS

O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

     He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.                      –   Psalm 103:1-5, The Message

*Lyrics to God With Us – Songwriters: James Philip Bryson, Nathan Fay Cochran, Barry Earn Graul, Bart Marshall Millard, Michael John Scheuchzer, Robin Troy Shaffer

Story Behind the Song God With Us – Kevin Davis

The Place of Preaching in Worship – John Piper

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

Worship Wednesday – Oh God, You’re Near – Citizens

Blog - Romans 8 - Love of god - Franklin Rodriguez TwitterPhoto Credit: Franklin Rodriguez

[Adapted from the Archive]

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 8:37-39

“I don’t know how anyone can get through____________ without God.”

What fills that blank in your life right now?

A couple of years ago, a huge storm came through Richmond, Virginia, with thousands of us losing power for four days. That first night, when the lights went out, it was weirdly quiet. Then, one by one, generators clicked on throughout our neighborhood. For days, we had this post-apocalyptic buzzing sound all around us.

Finally we got power back, and it was quiet again. Beautiful ordinary quiet.

I’ve become more and more thankful how we can sense God’s presence both in the noise and in the quiet…

On Sunday, our worship team led us in singing the Citizens & Saints song, Oh God. It was a quieter version than the Citizens band does, but I recognized the deep heart-cry to God. Those lyrics resounded what we have experienced lately of the nearness of God.

These days are full of the graces and mercies of God. In that storm that took out our lights, in the journey to a cancer diagnosis and treatment, in the birth of new grandchildren, in the loss of old friends, and in the difficult journey of loved ones going through health issues, job loss, miscarriage or divorce…we have seen and experienced the nearness of God. How else could we go through?

“I don’t know how anyone can get through____________ without God.”

We don’t have to….

Worship this great and loving God with me – to this song by  Zach Bolen inspired by Romans 8:

In the valley, Oh God, You’re near
In the quiet, Oh God, You’re near
In the shadow, Oh God, You’re near
At my breaking, Oh God, You’re near
Oh God, You never leave my side
Your love will stand firm for all my life
In my searching, Oh God, You’re near
In my wandering, Oh God, You’re near
When I feel alone, Oh God, You’re near
At my lowest, Oh God, You’re near
Height nor depth nor anything else
Could pull us apart
We are joined as one by Your blood
Hope will rise as we become more
Than conquerors through
The One who loved the world
Oh God, You never leave my side
Your love will stand firm for all my life
Oh God, You never leave my side
Your love will stand firm for all my life
Oh God, You never leave my side
Your love will stand firm for all my life*
Blog - God will never leave you - bibleinspirationsPhoto Credit: Bible Inspirations
This morning, the Lord reminded me all over again of how no matter our situation, He is with us. It wasn’t much past the time of the picture below that my mom gave up on her first marriage. The stress and strain of my biological father’s neglect and the weight of responsibility on a young working mother pushed her to make the decision to finally leave him. My earliest memory was my big brother Robert (who couldn’t have been more than 9 or maybe 10) placing our infant brother on my lap in the backseat of the car. Our toddler brother was already beside me, and Robert finished helping mom pack the car. We drove away into the dark unknown.
It was not long, maybe a year, maybe less, that neighbors invited us to attend church with them…and we found the love of God in Jesus. We didn’t have words for it before then, but His love had kept us through those difficult early days…
…and has ever since.

Worship Wednesday – Hold On to Jesus – Steven Curtis Chapman

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“For I am the LORD your God, who holds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”  Isaiah 41:13

I follow close to You; Your right hand holds on to me. – Psalm 63:8

A recent episode of the ABC TV show The Good Doctor was striking in the portrayal of the doctors’ lives outside of work. The connect and disconnect of their relationships. In the last scene, the viewer was touched by the hopeful awkwardness of relationship, but more so the aloneness of the characters.  The final scene of this episode is poignant, both in the images of the various characters as well as the song chosen to highlight the background. British singer-songwriter Bishop Briggs‘ song Hold On caused me to hit rewind a few times.

There is a Gospel choir feel to the song itself…but no Gospel.

“We hold on together” is the message. If you are unfamiliar with the TV show, then you don’t know the various story lines knitted together in that final scene. It depicted a running theme of “holding on” – through complicated relationships, harrowing work situations, diseases and disorders, and grief and loneliness.

The question came to me: “What exactly are they holding onto… together?” Like most TV shows these days, the narrative is completely secular. The characters are beautiful and brilliant…it is just completely unclear what they are holding on…to…

Turning the TV off, my mind went to friends all over this city with their own challenging life situations…and family members in other states, the same. Much of life isn’t hard…but when it is, we pull ourselves together, and we hold on.

To each other, for sure. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of a community that surrounds those struggling. The church has its frailties, but when it operates as God intends, “holding on together” can be a true picture of the love Jesus called us to… “loving one another as He loves us” (John 13:34).

Our “holding on together” extends beyond our relationships with one another. We can’t always be there for each other, even when we wish we could…BUT we can hold onto God who holds onto us.

He holds on to us even when our grip slips.

Songwriter/singer Steven Curtis Chapman describes what I’m talking about way better:

On God giving him songs of worship after a time of terrible loss: “These songs have come out of my own journey, particularly of the last seven years of learning the life-giving power of hearing my own voice and the voice of other believers around me declare what is most true and most real,” he says. “What God says is true — even when pain, doubt, grief and confusion are very real as well. There’s an incredible power in agreeing with each other, and especially with God.

Worship with me to Chapman’s song “Hold On to Jesus“:

I have come to this ocean
And the waves of fear are starting to grow
The doubts and questions are rising with the tide
So I’m clinging to the one sure thing I know

I will hold on to the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus
I will hold on to Jesus for life

I’ve tried to hold many treasures
They just keep slipping through my fingers like sand
But there’s one treasure that means more than breath itself
So I’m clinging to it with everything I am

I will hold on to the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus
I will hold on to Jesus for life

Like a child holding on to a promise
I will cling to His word and believe
As I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me

I will hold on to the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus
I will hold on to Jesus for life

Hold on for life*

My older brother lived with our parents for a season, after a series of losses that could have crushed him. Mom, in her wisdom, had placed a painting by Alan Grant on his bedroom wall. It was this one:

Photo Credit: Alan Grant, Amazon

The God of the universe extends His hand to us. All we have to do is take hold. He then will never let us go. So we hold on…we hold on together.

*Lyrics to Hold On to Jesus – Steven Curtis Chapman

YouTube Video – Word of God Speak – Mercy Me

YouTube Video – Redeemed – Big Daddy Weave