Category Archives: Jesus

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

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[From the Archives]

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Behind the Song How Many Kings

Downhere Band Website

Bethlehem Skyline – album including How Many Kings

5 Friday Faves – Red Dead Redemption 2, National Day of Mourning, More Christmas Adverts, Holiday Musical Evenings, and Family Gatherings

Here we go! My 5 favorite finds of this week:

1) Red Dead Redemption 2 – A Western-themed video game, Red Dead Redemption 2, debuted this Fall. The score written by Woody Jackson has a classic feel to it – reminiscent of old western films some of us grew up with. Beyond the Guitar, Nathan Mills‘ classical guitar arrangement of the video game themes does justice to the romance of the Old West featured in the score. Have a listen:

2) National Day of Mourning – For one day, the ugly partisanship in our country fell silent in the shadow of a gracious leader’s life. The 41st US president, George H. W. Bush, died this week. On Wednesday, December 5, 2018, a national day of mourning was called for us to remember him. A two-time vice-president under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush would only serve one term as President himself. How he will be remembered in history, only time will tell. I remember him as gracious, always gracious. The eulogy for him by his son, 43rd US President George W. Bush, was beautiful and gave the reflection we all needed of a “kinder gentler” man and time in America. May it be so again…Thank you, President Bush.

YouTube Video – Alan Simpson  Eulogy for Preside George H. W. Bush

Bret Baier – George H. W. Bush – a Letter to Live By

3) More Christmas Adverts – I couldn’t resist pointing to a few more Christmas adverts. So sweet and fun. Take time to watch. They will lift your day if you’re having a hard one.

This Hallmark Crown keepsake ornament commercial made me cry:

4) Holiday Musical Evenings – There is nothing like little children, in angel or shepherd garb, singing Christmas songs. We are all proud of them, whether they belong to us or not.Photo Credit: Weldbham, South City Theater

This week marked an annual musical tradition for our family – the VCU Holiday Gala. This evening of rich sacred and secular Christmas songs performed by most all of the current musical groups at VCU is a feast for the ears…and eyes. The students and faculty fancy up nicely. http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Blog-VCU-Holiday-Gala-John-Patykula-2.jpg

I would love to share video of the VCU Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, under the direction of Dr. Terry Austin – best performance ever. Since that’s not possible, you just have to come. For the moment enjoy the versions by the United States Marine Corps Orchestra and André Rieu ‘s Johann Strauss Orchestra. Mark it on your calendar, if you’re local, for next year!

Also if you’re local…there’s still time for more. Here’s one not to miss:

Annual Advent Lessons and Carols – Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Any of your favorites? Please give a shout-out in the Comments.

5) Family Gatherings – My growing-up family had its times – good and not so good. We have always had strong beliefs, and sometimes even stronger opinions…and we were not shy about them. As the years have gone by, we have gentled the opinions for the sake of relationship. We have lost some precious family members, too, which has made us more conscious of the fragile nature of life and the gracious gift of family. We’re none perfect but we belong together. That’s why we block out time on the calendar, buy the plane tickets, and soak up family in all its craziness. The young adults we’re so proud of, the sweet new babies, the siblings and spouses.

We don’t always get to see everyone (so we will buy more plane tickets)…nor do we get to see all the friends…but the hope of “next time” is something we build on.

Along with the family time is the Christmas festiveness alongside. My sister-in-law goes all out for us, and we welcome her welcome.

How about you? Home for the holidays?

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That’s my five (plus the quick bonuses below). Any of your own you want to share? My hope for you this month is you savor the good in your life and let go of what are lesser things. We can’t get it all done. So…no matter. We can be gentle with ourselves…and each other.

Bonuses:

Henrico Christmas Mother – my favorite local community outreach:

The Birth of Jesus in the New Testament – One Event, Four Narratives – Dr. Corne J. Bekker

Eating Cheese and Butter Every Day Linked to Living Longer – Kashmira Gander

This Holiday Season, $16 Billion Will Be Wasted on Unwanted Gifts – It’s Time for a New Approach – Joshua Becker

Raising Children Near Their Grandparents Is One of the Most Valuable Gifts You Could Ever Give Them – [We didn’t raise our children near their grandparents; so thankful for siblings & siblings-in-law who did. What a blessing for both grandparents and the kids/grandkids.]Photo Credit: Elisabeth Elliot, Facebook

How to Declutter Your Home to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Jimmy Stewart’s Beautiful Short Film on the Nativity (a comment on the YouTube video: “From IMDB: James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, “I’ve got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one.” After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, “Did you get it?” “I hope so,” was the reply, “because I was crying.””)

 

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

Photo Credit: The Apologetics Group, Eric Holmberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with me:

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

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

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

BRIDGE
Lover of my soul

I want to live for You*

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

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

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

Creche, Cross, and Crown – Eric Holmberg

Cradle, Cross, Crown – Liz Giertz

5 Friday Faves – December Song, Christmas Adverts, Food Insecurity, God’s Purposes, and Giving

This week and the month of November has come to a chilly close. December brings in the the season of Advent and the countdown to Christmas. I will do everything possible to slow down time, to savor the month ahead, and to remember, as Thanksgiving already prompted us, all the reasons we have to be grateful. Here are this week’s favorite finds (also revisiting some old precious ones):

1) December Song – This time in 2016, singer Peter Hollens introduced an original Christmas song. It is now one of my favorite songs of the season. How he introduced it was quite creative. He orchestrated a contest for people to do covers for the song and he had the entrants juried by a small hand-picked group of judges. Nathan (Beyond the Guitar) submitted an arrangement, and in the hundreds of contestants, he came in 16th in the hundreds of contestants. Here is the beautiful December Song and Nathan’s arrangement as well.

2) Christmas Adverts – Remember the Hallmark Christmas commercials of years past? Like this one. I am a sucker for sappy Christmas adverts. Tear up like clockwork. Many of the very best commercials come from Europe and other parts of the world. Here are some faves from this year and years past:

[The one below was produced with a pittance of $65 cost. Brilliant.]

3) Food Insecurity – This is the social dilemma of not having adequate access to fresh, healthy food. When marked by geography, the phrase food deserts is also used.Photo Credit: Mary Lide Parker

A simple Facebook post by a friend generated a thought-provoking, rich conversation on this topic.

Photo Credit: Alee Swanner, Facebook

I share the links from that conversation below.

The Root of the Problem – an Interview with Lindsey Haynes-Maslow – Mary Lide Parker

The Role of Local Food Availability in Explaining Obesity Risk Among Young School-aged Children – Helen Lee

School and Residential Neighborhood Food Environment and Diet Among California Youth – Ruopeng An & Roland Sturm

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity – Gina Kolata

Should the Concept of a Food Desert By Deserted? – Layla Eplett

Always being aware of those who may need food is important. This time of the year, we are more likely to give to food banks, church food pantries, and other outreach ministries. This is just a beginning place…but it is a beginning. The family below introduced “canstruction” to us, and we do it every Christmas because of them.Photo Credit: Brenda McEwan, Facebook

4) God’s PurposesWisdom Hunters writer Shana Schutte has posted a fascinating list of 12 ideas on the purposes of God. Please take the time to read them. Comment below which ones were the most meaningful to you at this time. Mine were #1, #11, and #12. [For those of you who rarely click on my links – you know who you are – this one is not to miss.]

Photo Credit: Shana Schutte

Look Up, Child – [Speaking to Culture’s Preference to Youthful Leadership – Samuel D. James

To Survive Our High-Speed Society, Cultivate ‘Temporal Bandwidth’ – Alan Jacobs

5) Giving- On a trip to Walmart this week, I heard the Salvation Army bell ringing for the first time this year. Looking for the ringer, I saw the kettle but not the person. Finally saw him. He was an older black man standing away from the kettle, beyond the shadows of the building, to be able to soak up the warmer rays of the afternoon sun. He was very thin, “breath and britches” my mom-in-law would say. Ringing that bell for the sake of others less fortunate. Sure inspired me to give.

This is the season. I love the video below because we are not always open to give of ourselves…sometimes we need a nudge. Thankful for the nudges and the nudgers.

10 Overlooked People You Should Give Gifts to This Christmas

Baptist Global Response – Gift Catalog

That’s it for this week. Have a lovely weekend – this month fills quickly with all sorts of activities and adventures. Choose wisely and leave space for the unexpected. Maybe even a Christmas miracle.

Bonuses

Eight Blue Zone Lessons for Slowing Down – [Disclaimer: One of the 8 is “Do Happy Hour” – I don’t drink (lots of alcoholism among people I love and have loved – figure I’m vulnerable). So for those like me, I’m thinking any sort of afternoon break in the day – teatime, Happy Hour sans alcohol – would also work.]

FAQA – Frequently Asked Questions by Atheists – Six Day Science

Snowman Memories – This pic reminds me of a wonderful Christmas memory when our kids were small and we lived in Tennessee. Our Delaware family would arrive sometime over Christmas Day. Uncle Mark and Aunt Stacie didn’t make it until the evening because of a Christmas snow that blew in and complicated their travel. Almost immediately after they arrived, they took the kids outside and built a huge snowman out of the fresh and sticky snow. The kids named him “Oatmeal”. By morning, with the temperatures rising, he was quickly diminished but that sweet memory remains.Photo Credit: Beth Taylor, Facebook

…and the seed catalogs arrive:

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

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus…You are worthy.

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

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

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

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

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

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

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 3 – Constancy

[Today’s blog is Part 3 of 3 – excerpts from a talk given at an ISBC Women’s Ministry Holiday Dinner with the theme: Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart. See Part 1 – Capacityhere; Part 2 – Caringhere.]

We’re talking about matters of the heart – the kind of character our Godly mothers, grandmothers, and great-aunts demonstrated…that we learned and want to pass onto to our children and grandchildren.

…which takes us to the last character trait to consider…for us in this generation, and for generations forward (when we will be considered vintage…but God isn’t).

Constancy

No matter how old we are, we have people in our lives who are constant. They are those we count on; those who always show up. No. Matter. What. They are faithful to God and faithful to us. Let’s just take a moment to think, even looking around us, at some of those dear women in our lives. Let’s remember those who aren’t with us anymore but who taught us how to be constant in our love and in our lives.

When we lived overseas, we were daily reminded of how only God could work the miracles that must be worked for people to receive the truth of the Gospel. Our neighbors were steeped in a very different worldview. They saw Jesus as a good man but the Saviour. The fact that we desperately need Him to restore us to a holy God was foreign to them.

Every day…every single day…God called us to show up with His love and His word…in those places and for those people. That constancy was tested every day because it would have been so easy just to stop showing up.

One of the verses from God’s Word that kept us going was Galatians 6:9 where Paul encouraged believers, saying, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap a harvest if we do not lose heart.”Photo Credit: Pinterest

God has already promised us that His purposes are not thwarted; He will complete His work; He will finish what He started in us.

God calls us to keep showing up…following His example in our own lives.

This is how we get to “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). By showing up, time after time, with whatever gifts we have. We don’t have to be rockstars of any kind…we have a God who equips us to be exactly what is needed in any situation. Our constancy radiates His greatness. We can count on Him.

A few years back, I discovered a Christian sister, by the name of Kara Tippetts. We never met but she wrote in her blog in such a way it was like receiving a letter from a dear friend. She wrote about her walk with God through a relentless cancer. Over the course of her diagnosis and treatment, she adjusted to a very different life. However, she continued to show up. For her family. For her friends. For all of us who watched for every report of her life and how God met her each step of the way. She modeled showing up…and emboldened those in her life to show up for her…in all that hard.

Photo Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

Just shy of her 40th birthday, she finished her race and went to be with the Lord. Leaving behind 4 sweet children and an adoring husband.

It was both terribly sad and gloriously beautiful.

In the last months of her life, she managed to write three books…three books!!! The last one was a dialog between her and her friend, Jill. By that time, it was all Kara could do to show up, the disease had so done its ill.

This is what she had to say about constancy…even in the hardest of situations…

“If God asks us to do something, then He’s also going to show up to carry us through it. And when we walk in community with one another, we will be kept.”

Photo Credit: Just Show Up, Kara Tippetts & Jill Lynn Buteyn

Completely cared for by God Himself.

He is faithful. His infinite capacity fills our small hearts; His perfect love magnifies the care we offer to others, His steadfastness gives us what we need to be constant.

In His strength and love, we become the women of that adage: “When her feet hit the floor, the Devil says ‘Oh no, she’s up!’” The evil one battles with us to fail…but we will not, with our eyes on God.

From Genesis through the whole of Scripture, we see the word “shield” and that God is our shield. Against any evil. When we take God seriously and put our lives wholly in His hands we become a force to reckon with – whether we’re 14 or 50 or 82. We will experience attacks from the evil one – he doesn’t want us to be successful as Christ’s image-bearers. We may even take friendly fire from other believers. It happens, and sometimes the enemy is us…but God take what was meant for evil and make it for good in our lives. We have His promise.

Photo Credit: FBC Mt. Pleasant

Hear the Word the Lord: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full of armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.Ephesians 6:10-11

 

Brent Curtis, a Biblical counselor and author of a favorite book of mine The Sacred Romance, wrote about how God demonstrates His own constancy when we show up for someone:

“God graciously showed me this several years ago while I was in the midst of an intense, three-year spiritual battle on behalf of a client.

One night, David (not his real name) called me on the phone at three in the morning, in the midst of painful spiritual torment.  We talked and prayed and I began to read from the Psalms.  Finally, I could hear by his deep breathing that he had fallen asleep.  As I lay on my dining room floor…something wonderful and strange took place.

In my heart, I heard a voice say, “Brent, forget about the battle.  You’re here with me now.  Rest.”  I looked up, actually expecting to see God in some way, or perhaps an angel.  What I did see was the light in the room change.  I find myself wanting to say it grew more distinct, almost more personal.  I only know I discovered that my hand was raised in the air in worship.  I didn’t decide to raise it.  I am not, by any means, an expressive person in the charismatic sense of the word.  It was simply as if there was no other appropriate response and my hand acted accordingly.  For several minutes I basked in what I can only describe now as God’s warmth and love toward me.  The epiphany ended with me reading the Twenty-third Psalm and others it seemed the Lord had chosen to assure me that I was not alone in the battle.”

When we live with capacity for Him, caring for others, and constancy in being there, we may, at times, come under attack, but we will never be alone.

The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah reminds us of this: “The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in His love. He will delight in you with singing.”

No matter what your situation…even when you feel God has been “too quiet” in His love…or you have been waiting such a long time for something…God’s love is constant, trust in that, and God is in the waiting, with us, Dear Ones.

[Special thanks for the ISBC Women’s Ministry and the opportunity extended to me to speak at their holiday dinner. The sweet beauty of the Vintage Christmas displays was surpassed by the faces and hearts of the women present. They would make their grandmothers proud. I was unable to get images of all the women so will leave you with a few more images of just some of the tables. Blessings.]

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 2 – Caring

[Today’s blog is Part 2 of 3 – excerpts from a talk given at an ISBC Women’s Ministry Holiday Dinner with the theme: Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart. See Part 1 – Capacityhere and Part 3 – Constancyhere.]

We’re talking about matters of the heart – the kind of character our Godly mothers, grandmothers, and great-aunts demonstrated…that we learned and want to pass onto next generations.

From building capacity, we can move to that character trait of genuine caring. Caring that comes from a heart full of love. We all love…it’s part of our nature. This kind of caring isn’t the love that we in our human effort alone can make happen. This is a love that comes from Jesus to us…and then through us to others.

Every morning, I wake up to this view – my bedside table and the wall beyond it. A framed print hangs right where I see it first thing – a little cherub nestled in an open heart with the words inscribed: “Heart full of love”. A dear friend gave this to me before we went overseas. Like other keepsakes from so many of our friends and loved ones, it reminds me of their caring, and inspires me to be and do likewise.

The Bible is full of calls to love. God is perfect in His own love for us and He then commands us to care for one another. Through every season of our lives. The earliest God-fearers mentioned in the Old Testament were taught to 1) love God and 2) love each other as they would themselves. Jesus also taught these two very same greatest commandments.

The night before He was crucified, in a room with his closest friends and followers, Jesus took that commandment up a notch: “A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another just as I have loved you; you also are to love one another.”

Without Jesus filling us with such love, we could never even fathom how to love others like He loves us. Laying down our lives for one another as He laid his life down for us.

It is obvious how we all benefit from such great love received by Him and lavished on others. During that last supper together, Jesus and those dear to Him, He went on to give one more incentive to love – one more world-shaking incentive. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Photo Credit: The Fellowship Site

As we love God, and receive His love, we are moved to keep our eyes on Him and allow Him a place in our lives to display His love in all kinds of ways…we can care for others as He cares for us.

“We love because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

In all the seasons of our lives, we deal with people not like us, people we consider haters or spoilers. People who hate us so we are tempted to hate them right back. There are also those people who are just plain indifferent to us or to those we love. Lastly, there are those who are stranger to us. We don’t know them; we don’t need to know them, we think. Whether we believe we are this way or not… how we act toward others is telling.

We were living overseas when 9/11 happened. We came home a year later, and we discovered an America that had suffered so much loss. It was like we as a people had circled our wagons. Even in the South, people didn’t make eye contact, or chat with store clerks or strangers on the street, or generally engage people they didn’t know. It seemed just easier, less risky, to be home with just a few people. Us four and no more, right?

Jesus calls us to care for those closest to us, those easy to love, those who care for us. It’s a joy to love them. His call goes much farther, though…for our own sake and that of all we encounter.

God calls us to care…to love…as He does.

This is the largest sincerity check of our lives. The life of the Christ-follower is a life of love…of deep caring…of caring beyond comfort.

We have all heard the response “Well, it’s not about you.” In our flesh, we totally want it to be about us…but…

When we make the substance of our lives about ourselves, our lives get very small. They seem big to us because of all the responsibilities we carry; all the cool stuff we get to be about. However…what could our lives be like if we cared, truly cared, about others…any others, all others?

“To fill up on God, you begin to have more than enough love for others and yourself because the God Who IS love is operating on the inside of you.”Cassia Glass

Photo Credit: Jill E. McCormick

We can be the people through whom the world sees Jesus. Because of our love, our care, for each other.

This kind of caring is costly. It cost Jesus everything. Whatever the cost is to each of us, young or old, we gain so much more than we give. A 19th century missionary, Amy Carmichael, spent her whole life serving orphans in India, cast-off little girls who would come to know God’s love…through Amy. She had this to say about what caring costs and what we gain in caring:

“Let us not be surprised when we have to face difficulties. When the wind blows hard on a tree, the roots stretch and grow the stronger, let it be so with us. Let us not be weaklings, yielding to every wind that blows, but strong in spirit to resist.”

Photo Credit: AZQuotes

I want to just stop right here a moment. You…you women right here have shown yourselves to be this kind of Christ-follower. You have built capacity for God to show up through you. You love through all kinds of hard. You know from God’s Word that our battle is not against one another…the Evil One wants to break us and divide us and tarnish what the world sees of God in us. You stay strong, Dear Ones…and keep tending the embers of love, in the midst of this hard place. God will keep showing up.

Photo Credit: QuoteFancy, John Groberg

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 1 – Capacity

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at a women’s holiday event in Kingsport, Tennessee. 150 women gathered to bring in a vintage Christmas together. Photo Credit: ISBC Women’s Ministry, Facebook

The food was delicious, the company was old friend-comfortable, and the memories wrapped around us like a Tennessee quilt.

The Festival of Tables was amazing – designed by the women hostessing. Just a few of the table toppers shown below:

[Today’s blog and the next two – Part 2 and Part 3] are taken from the talk I gave that evening on “Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart”. The following are excerpts of the talk because some who couldn’t come wanted me to post. Though written for Christian women, there is much to apply to any of our lives.]

“Vintage” can mean something very different to each one of us, depending on our ages and life experiences.

Vintage…one day our grandchildren and great-grands will look way back to our Christmases and call them vintage. They will look back on us as the women of old in their lives – the grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) of their faith.

What do we see when we look back? What will they see when they look back?

When I look back to my growing up years, it’s my Mom and women like her who come to mind. Godly women – tirelessly serving their families, church and community and pointing us to Jesus.

In thinking about Vintage Christmases and matters of the heart, God has placed three character traits on my mind. Three qualities we probably saw in our Godly grandmothers and great-aunts.

Strong and steely traits that we can develop across a lifetime walking with God. These traits are all matters of the heart. We see them in the life and character of Jesus. As we wrestle with them in each season of our lives, we can hope to carry them forward to future generations.

The first is capacity defined as the maximum that something can contain or produce.

In every season of our lives, we have those moments or days of coming to the end of ourselves. We feel like we just can’t do one more thing. We are DONE. When I talk about capacity, it’s not about adding more stuff to lives that are over-packed or over-scheduled lives. God doesn’t call us to be Energizer Bunnies…until we burn out, or dry up, or give in to the busy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Capacity isn’t just about getting a lot done. Nor is it, on the flip side, about shaking up those of us in seasons of life that have been downsized –  intentionally or unintentionally. Unless God is speaking into that…which He sure did with me.

Building capacity means to look to God to order our days and to watch for Him to show up in our schedules and “chance” encounters.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come through both a cancer diagnosis and a couple of cardiac emergencies that could have taken my life. Having half a lung removed diminished my physical capacity for awhile. Then moving into retirement diminished my other capacities even further. I felt old. In our previous work circles and in our church, whatever purpose or identity I had before seemed to fade with time and age. It wasn’t pretty.

Maybe you have experienced this sort of thing, whatever your age is. A situation where you have passion or desire to be a part of something but the doors seem to all be closed. When it seemed there was no way forward, I just settled into a slowed-down, lesser life.

In the middle of all this, the Lord in His great kindness, pretty much asked me, out right, “Is that it? You’re done?” I sure didn’t want to be done. With age and what seemed to be dwindling opportunity, life had become small for me.

Or did I do it to myself? Was I looking to people for opportunities to serve…or to God?

Now those of you with heavy academic loads, small children or big responsibilities in your work may not even be able to imagine this…but think with me a minute. Is our capacity such that God could show up and do as He wills in us…or are we pretty much maxed-out or turned-in?

Does God have our hearts? Or is our capacity dulled because He is more a tenant in our hearts rather than the Lord?

Is there space in our hearts He would fill if we didn’t already have them packed with other stuff?

Now, we all have responsibilities in life. For some, papers have to be written, babies must be fed, and payrolls managed…fill in the blank in your thoughts of where you have to show up every day…

What happens when we show up with our eyes on Jesus and the possibility of what He might do in and through us?

That realization from the Lord that “if I wasn’t done, then what?” started a spiritual journey for me… Last December, as part of a New Year’s resolution, and in response to our pastor’s challenge, I determined to make God’s voice the first voice of my every day. I’m a morning person, so quiet times before dawn may come easier for me than for some. Still for God’s to be the first voice does require me NOT to pick up the cell phone, or sit down at my computer, or turn on the TV news. In my season of life, there are no children to feed or to get schooled, so you with children have different challenges of making God’s voice first.

Whatever our challenges, it doesn’t change our great need of hearing Him speak truth and love into our hearts. Early. Every day.

When God did get first voice, He began helping me to clear out the clutter in my heart which changed the contents of my conversations and my calendar…Bit by bit, God added space to my life. Space to hear Him speak and to “interrupt” the rhythms of my day.

The discovery that I seemingly had more time wasn’t magic…it was God.

The visual below is so perfect of Christ flooding our heart with His love and all the good things God has for us, and in turn our hearts are cleansed, cleared of all the junk that distances us from Him, and then the contents of our hearts pour into others. Jesus talked to the religious leaders of his day about this very thing: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”Photo Credit: HolyTrinityPTC

Another way to look at this is related to what we hold in our lives as treasure. Jesus taught us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Photo Credit: Heather C. King

You can guide your heart with your treasure. Wherever you put your treasure or whomever you make your treasure, your heart will follow. Your treasure leads your heart.

This was so helpful for me because I had stored up quite a bit of self-absorbed treasure in recent years – my own significance being one part of that. Even wanting to be useful to God somehow had become an idol. That sort of thing just happens when we take our eyes off Him and onto ourselves. Right?

Days turned to weeks of God being the first voice each day in my life. I started doing life more in present tense with Him, listening for His voice through the day. Like a real conversation. Sometimes it would be a prayer; sometimes a complaint; just being in His presence. The barriers keeping life small seemed to start coming down. Such that, even when life was small, I was becoming more content. We keep our eyes on God, and He guides…sounds too simple, I know…but it has given the most mundane day or situation a sense of the divine.

The prophet Isaiah captures this so well when he says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. [Isaiah 30:21] Of course, we may not hear God speak audibly, but He will lead us just that clearly as we tune our hearts to His voice. We’ve all experienced that. To walk daily like this builds capacity…

Photo Credit: Francis of Assisi, Brainy Quote

We start by doing what’s necessary…this is sometimes where we stop…short.  If…we keep our hearts on the Lord, the necessary can open up to being a part of something only possible with God in it…and then…the impossible.

 If we are faithful to make a capacity for Jesus…He will fill that capacity with Himself.  “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent!” – Catherine of Siena

Photo Credit: Heartlight, Quotemeal

[Part 2 on Caring and Part 3 on Constancy]

Worship Wednesday – Only Jesus – Casting Crowns

Photo Credit: Casting Crowns, YouTube

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11

Lost for words today.

The precious daughter of some dear friends left this world way too soon. She was grown with a daughter of her own. I know few details but in recent days, life just got too hard…

We want to cry out against the evil of this world and the Evil One. Darkness perpetrated against us can be so thick, so heavy. We struggle against it…

A world of hard takes its toll.

Again, words fail, but when this song Only Jesus  came on the radio today, it soothed my confusion and gave me peace…in that very moment.

Whatever this world has to offer is nothing compared to Jesus. Even in our darkest moments, when we can’t see any way forward, nothing diminishes who we are in Him.

We all leave legacies of some shape or form. Maybe they are worth building…worth remembering. For sure the good we do in the work of our lives has value…the positive impact it makes on those around us.

The best we can leave to those we love is a life that points to Jesus. A life that gives hope that we will see each other again. A life that , even when cut short here, will continue There…because of Jesus. Only Jesus.

Worship with me please to Casting CrownsOnly Jesus:

Make it count, leave a mark, build a name for yourself
Dream your dreams, chase your heart, above all else
Make a name the world remembers
But all an empty world can sell is empty dreams
I got lost in the light when it was up to me
To make a name the world remembers
But Jesus is the only name to remember

CHORUS
And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus
And I, I’ve only got one life to live
I’ll let every second point to Him
Only Jesus

All the kingdoms built, all the trophies won
Will crumble into dust when it’s said and done
But all that really matters
Did I live the truth to the ones I love
Was my life the proof that there is only One
Whose name will last forever

REPEAT CHORUS

Jesus is the only name
Jesus is the only name
Jesus is the only name to remember
Jesus is the only name
Jesus is the only name
Jesus is the only name to remember

REPEAT CHORUS

I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus*

*Lyrics to Only Jesus

Worship Wednesday – Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco

Photo Credit: Primo Bible Verses

“I lift my eyes to you,
the one enthroned in heaven.
Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand,
like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand,
so our eyes are on the Lord our God
until he shows us favor.

Show us favor, Lord, show us favor,
for we’ve had more than enough contempt.
We’ve had more than enough
scorn from the arrogant
and contempt from the proud.” – Psalm 123:1-4

God’s Word is so rich…so real. It is, after all, God’s very word to each one of us. Even as the psalmist is speaking to the Lord, pouring out his heart to Him. His anguish. His fed-up-ness. God is already whispering the answers to the psalm-writer’s laments right into his weary dejected heart.

If you find yourself in a day where you are just done…remember that God isn’t.

Pull those beautiful eyes of yours up…away from the circumstances you find yourself in, away from those indifferent to your struggle, away from the burden weighing you down. Pull your eyes up to the Lord whose eyes are set on you.

Don’t let your peace be riddled with the holes of human arrows… sometimes even friendly fire. Remember His promise that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

No matter how great the enemy or how insignificant we feel today, God has prepared armor for us that will withstand any attack.

We stand, we keep our eyes on Him. The battle belongs to the Lord.

The Lord Himself fights for us (Exodus 14:14).

In the confusion and chaos of battle, or the silence and longing of standing on the sidelines…we sometimes reel fainthearted in our anxious thoughts. Then as the Spirit speaks truth to our hearts, clarity is restored. We take a breath. We lift our eyes back up to Him…as a servant looks to his good master for favor.

We wait…“He’s in the waiting…He’s never failing.” Stand, breathe, re-frame your thoughts toward Him… No matter what the world says, the truth is that He will finish all He has begun (Philippians 1:6)…in you and through you.

Worship with me to Take Courage by Bethel Music (Kristene DiMarco):

Slow down, take time
Breathe in He said
He’d reveal what’s to come
The thoughts in His mind
Always higher than mine
He’ll reveal all to come

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Sing praise my soul
Find strength in joy
Let His Words lead you on
Do not forget
His great faithfulness
He’ll finish all He’s begun

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

And You who hold the stars
Who call them each by name
Will surely keep, Your promise to me
That I will rise, in Your victory
And You who hold the stars
Who call them each by name
Will surely keep, Your promise to me
That I will rise, in Your victory!

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
And hold onto your hope
Watch your triumph unfold
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
And hold onto your hope
Watch your triumph unfold
He’s never failing
He’s never failing!

He’s in the waiting…*

[Extended version of this beautiful song in video below]

*Lyrics to Take Courage – AZ Lyrics

Take Courage – Lyrics and Chords – Songwriters: Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor 

Story Behind the Song – Take Courage – Kevin Davis

Psalm 123:1-4 – a Matter of Where You Look – Philip W. McLarty