Category Archives: Jesus

Worship Wednesday – Christmas in October – Peace on Earth – Casting Crowns

Photo Credit: Casting Crowns, YouTube

Adapted from the Archives

[Our family begins singing/listening to Christmas carols in October. Too many beautiful, God-glorifying songs to fit in one month. So…Christmas in October starts tomorrow…and we sure need it …Him.]

“See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.

You have said, “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Armies?  So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.”

At that time those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. The Lord took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before him for those who feared the Lord and had high regard for his name.  “They will be mine,” says the Lord of Armies, “my own possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. Malachi 3:1, 14-17

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:10-11, 13-14

In December, 1863, American poet and scholar Henry W. Longfellow received his wounded son home from battle. It was Christmas time, and the U.S. Civil War raged on. Having already lost his wife years earlier, Longfellow nursed his son, Charley, back to health. His own thoughts, in turmoil over all that was happening around him, he poured out in the poem “Christmas Bells”.

Longfellow clearly took comfort from God as he wrote, ending the poem with this stanza:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*

I Heard the Bells is a Christmas carol, not a worship anthem. Yet, given continuing wars and current hardships, we must tend the fires of our hope. God is the “lifter of our heads” (Psalm 3:3). He is the One who gives strength to our “weak hands and shaking knees” (Isaiah 35:3). He will do as He’s promised. He is faithful.

We desperately need those bells of Christmas ringing over our cities and countrysides.In fact, wouldn’t it be a lovely concert to hear church bells ringing together over the din of divisiveness right now.

We, in our fleshing out the love of Christ, are the Christmas bells in our culture. May we never be the noisy gong or clanging cymbal of those without love! May we, like Longfellow, nurse those we love, wounded in this world’s battles, back to wholeness and a living hope in Christ.

When you hear the bells ring where you are, take heart in that. We will continue to pray for His peace on earth…and in our own hearts.  We can be vessels of His good-will toward our neighbors, both very near…and far away.

Worship with me…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Lyric video)

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they’re ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men*

* Lyrics to I Heard the Bells – Casting Crowns – Writers: Mark Hall, Dale Oliver, and Bernhard Herms

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns performing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall On Christmas (Teaching Vignettes)

Christmas Carol Soldier – Story of Charley Appleton Longfellow & the occasion for H. W. Longfellow’s writing of the poem/lyric

The Story Behind I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day – Tom Stewart

*Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells

Worship Wednesday – Let Revival Come (Revive Me) – People & Songs

Photo Credit: Facebook, Let Revival Come

Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Our perfect God loves His children perfectly. We, on the other hand, are far from perfect. Between our own sin nature, living in a fallen world, with an adversary in the Devil…life can be a challenge.

Yet we are never alone. God gives grace…glorious, complete, specific to our needs.

Our family needed particular grace this week. A surprising altercation (my experience). A hard decision. A week of long days. An unexpected ailment.

Then smack dab in the middle of it all, God’s grace poured down.

A dear acquaintance of ours, Rev. Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church and founder of the Refresh Conference was a part of that grace. To begin this year’s Refresh [Online] Conference (always focusing on revival), he invited Rev. Tom Elliff to speak twice this past Sunday at Sherwood.

Tom Elliff is a close friend…many would say that about him because he brings the fragrance of Christ into every conversation and relationship. So loving, joyful, encouraging. Rock solid in his faith in God and in the work God means to finish in His children.

[Husband Dave & Tom Elliff]

On the morning after the hardest night, I found one of Tom’s Refresh sermons online. It was Fresh Surrender (starts at minute 29:28 on this video). In this sermon, he focuses on the Scripture passage 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. It is the Apostle Paul’s testimony of his “thorn in the flesh”. He had prayed for God to remove it, but He didn’t. Then Paul gloriously testifies how God assured that His grace was sufficient for the thorn in Paul’s life. So moved by that experience of God’s love, Paul declared, “I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

[Watch Tom’s Refresh sermons here and here…whatever you’re going through, you will be encouraged.]

Hardships come into all our lives. When they happen, we are tempted to rail at the pain, to question God, and to seek to remove ourselves from that particular hard.

God calls us to surrender our will to Him…our pain, our problems, our preferences…He gives grace to us, and we give glory to Him…when we surrender ourselves to Him afresh.

This can be where revival starts in our own hearts…and in the church.

A song I never heard before was in the mix of worship songs at this year’s Refresh Conference. It is from the worship collaborative of People and Songs“Let Revival Come” is the cry of our hearts…for our own lives and that of our country right now.

Worship with me (it’s 21:30 minutes into this Sherwood Baptist worship service). Also the People and Songs lyric video is here.

Heavenly Father, I come
Don’t have much to offer,
Holy One
I’m humbled by all that you have done

Even though I walk through the valley,
I don’t have to fear, No-
You have called me from my sorrow to gladness, I have you
What more could I want?

CHORUS:
(So) Raise my faith
a little higher
Set my spirit on fire
Lord, we’re asking You to move

Cause You’re the God of Restoration
The One who gives salvation
Lord, Let revival come, Let revival come

VERSE 2:
You are the God who calms the sea
The same God who healeth me
You are the One who makes me strong

BRIDGE: x4
Revive me
Revive me with the
Joy that You bring
Joy that You bring

CHORUS 2:
(So I) Raise my hands a little higher
Now my spirit’s on fire
Lord, we’re asking You to move

‘Cause You’re the God of Restoration
The One who gives salvation
Lord, Let revival come, Let revival come*

*Lyrics to Let Revival Come – Songwriters: Kevin Jones, Joshua Sherman, Jonathan Frazier, The Emerging Sound Publishers

Let Revival Come – Song Story – Kevin Jones

Sunday Reflection on a Very Present God and the Faith to Believe

Photo Credit: Flickr

[Adapted from the Archives]

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8

For the first twenty years of my professional life, my great privilege was to have close encounters with people in deep crisis and five life-changing realities. It was a season of caring for cancer patients and their families – when their diseases were raging and in the final days of life. These experiences galvanized my faith in God and how his image is embedded in us – his creation. These realities are:

  1. Courage in exceedingly hard places
  2. Deep enduring love across a harsh illness and when time is fleeting
  3. Hope mingled with humor
  4. Death isn’t final…our spirits go somewhere (for sure, they leave the body)
  5. Faith to believe

Caring for patients receiving chemotherapy and other treatments for life-threatening complications can prompt an intimate caring relationship. To watch patients (and families) deal with such hard and to be in a position to help them through it gave me a window to extend love and honor to dear ones in crisis.

Was there always courage? Was love always expressed between us all? Was humor or hope or faith a constant?

No…but remarkably, more often than not, this was what I observed… especially in those sustained by a relationship with God.

In the last couple of years, I have personally experienced a cancer diagnosis and a couple of respiratory emergencies that brought those same realities into my life. In such times, much in life gets clarity…a sharper focus, a deeper understanding.

Breathe has been a theme in my life for over a year now…put that together with the title of a film starring Andrew Garfield…and it caused me to NOT “skip the ad” on YouTube.Photo Credit: Breathe, YouTube

The film Breathe tells the story of Robin Cavendish. He was a Brit who developed polio at the young age of 28. He was paralyzed from the neck down and required a ventilator to breathe. In those days (1958), he would have been confined in a hospital for the remainder of his days. However, he nor his wife, Diana, would hear of it. After a year in hospital, he went home and adjusted to this very different life, as only Robin would. They had a child and he would be able to see him grow up (in fact, son Jonathan Cavendish produced this film). Robin was a pioneer in advocating for the disabled, especially those like him needing more extreme measures to live a more normal life. He died at 64.

[Since my years in graduate studies in rehab and cancer nursing…the courage I saw in so many patients and families…courage in struggle…has never ceased to inspire me.]

“Based on a true story” films are intriguing. Reading up on Robin Cavendish’s story, my heart soared and then sank…fullstop at the short statement below:

Cavendish was an atheist.Wikipedia

I have never understood atheism. Even during spiritually flat and confusing times in my life, the existence of God put me to puzzling but ever so briefly. In a matter of moments of reflection, the fact of His presence blew past the questions.

Especially watching beloved believing patients at the moment of death…their faces relaxing and their bodies emptying of who they really were. We don’t just stop existing…life here stops and starts at exactly the same moment…There.

Now that I know Robin Cavendish, he has my admiration and respect at how he took back his life and helped others do the same. I wonder if, before his life was done…he had the faith to believe. One line in his obituary reads:

It is a strange irony that, though professing to be an unbeliever himself, he had a capacity for making other people feel closer to God.*

*Obituary – Robin Cavendish – Alice and Tim Renton

What a great gift is faith to believe. We don’t conjure it up. God Himself presents us the faith to believe…it is ours to reject or receive.

Worship with me. Below you will find two songs – Faith to Believe by Shane & Shane and Jesus Is Better by Austin Stone. Choose either or both in celebrating the God who gives us the faith to believe. [Then scroll down to the prayer at the end.]

YouTube Video – Shane & Shane – Faith to Believe – (with lyrics)

Give me the faith to believe You
When I’m stuck here in my fear
Give me the strength to trust You
When my vision’s blurred by tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the strength to believe

Even when I cannot see You
You’re still shining, You’re still shining
Even when I cannot hear You
You’re still calling out my name
Even when I cannot see You
Your arms are open
Always holding on to me
Give me the faith to believe

You say You’ll never leave me
Your love will conquer fear
You say Your day is coming
When You’ll wipe away my tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the faith to believe

Give me the faith to see the invisible
Give me the faith to believe the impossible
Give me the faith to receive the incredible
Oh give me the faith to believe it**

There is no other so sure and steady, my hope is held in your hand
When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand
Upon this rock I will stand

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Your kindly rule has shattered and broken the curse of sin’s tyranny
My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me
Your crimson flood covers me

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all***

Photo Credit: Flickr

Maybe this is the first step for atheists, too (it was for me)…so thankful for the faith to believe…to see the truth and beauty of Scripture. The Word of God walks us right up the staircase to be with Him – now and forever.

Thank You, God, for the faith to believe. With my whole being, I’m sure you daily, moment by moment, extend grace to all of humanity to know You, through one witness of Yourself or another. Help us to receive this grace. God, give us all this faith to believe.

**Lyrics to Faith to Believe – written by Shane Everett & Phil Wickham

***Lyrics to Jesus Is Better – written by Aaron Ivey & Brett Land

Worship Wednesday – A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – Eugene H. Peterson

Photo Credit: Eugene H. Peterson, Quotes.pub

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – Jesus – John 14:15

We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.2 Corinthians 10:5

This is love: that we walk according to his commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: that you walk in love.2 John 1:6

With four grandchildren, five years old and under, learning obedience is a part of their every day life. It’s a blessing to an older mom to watch adult children guide their little ones toward the wisdom of obeying and acting on what is right.

Jesus, in his great goodness and mercy, lived and taught obedience. So often we are drawn to act out of our emotions or in reaction to the actions of another (or a whole tribe of others). God calls us to a more even and measured walk in life. He calls us to choose obedience in Him. He calls us to trust Him with the outcomes of our obedience.

Writer and theologian Eugene H. Peterson may be best known for his rendering of the Bible in contemporary English. It is entitled The Message. It made the Scriptures understandable and beloved by many. Those many includes Irish singer/songwriter Bono (the friendship between him and Peterson – and their faith – has been highlighted in the documentary The Psalms.

Blog - Psalms & Bono & Eugene Peterson

Among Peterson’s many other published works is the 1980 book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.

I have not read the book yet and, in fact, did not know about it until recently. Last week, a notice popped up on my Twitter feed about a set of articles by writer Barnabas Piper. He posted 52 of his favorite quotes from Peterson’s classic book.

The Best Quotes From “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” – Part 1 – Barnabas Piper

The Best Quotes From “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” – Part 2 – Barnabas Piper

Out of Piper’s 52 quotes, I have pulled 14, listed below. Dear Dr. Peterson died in 2018. What a blessing he has been and continues to be to the Church, individual Christ-followers, and the Kingdom of God.

  1. On truth – “The moment the word God is uttered, the world’s towering falsehood is exposed—we see the truth. The truth about me is that God made and loves me. The truth about those sitting beside me is that God made and loves them, and each one is therefore my neighbor. The truth about the world is that God rules and provides for it. The truth about what is wrong with the world is that I and the neighbor sitting beside me have sinned to refusing to let God be for us, over us, and in us. The truth about what is at the center of our lives and of our history is that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for our sins and raised from the tomb for our salvation and that we can participate in new life as we believe in him, accept his mercy, respond to his love, attend to his commands.”
  2. On repentance – “Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision . . . Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.”
  3. On faith – “Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God, who keeps evil from getting inside us, who guards our life, who guards us when we leave and when we return, who guards us now, who guards us always.”
  4. On the Gospel – “The reason many of us do not ardently believe in the gospel is that we have never given it a rigorous testing, thrown our hard questions at it, faced it with our most prickly doubts.”
  5. On the content of our lives – “We speak our words of praise in a world that is hellish; we sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy; we live our joy among people who neither understand nor encourage us. But the content of our lives is God, not humanity.”
  6. On discipleship – “Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.”
  7. On sowing the seeds of the Gospel – “The hard work of sowing seed in what looks like perfectly empty earth has, as every farmer knows, a time of harvest. All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: sow it in God and he will, finally, bring a crop of joy from it.”
  8. On the rightness of work – “Our work goes wrong when we lose touch with the God who works ‘his salvation in the midst of the earth.’ It goes wrong both when we work anxiously and when we don’t work at all, when we become frantic and compulsive in our work (Babel) and when we become indolent and lethargic in our work (Thessalonica). The foundational truth is that work is good. If God does it, it must be all right. Work has dignity: there can be nothing degrading about work if God works. Work has purpose: there can be nothing futile about work if God works.”
  9. On the fear of the Lord – “To guard against all such blasphemous chumminess with the Almighty, the Bible talks of the fear of the Lord—not to scare us but to bring us to awesome attention before the overwhelming grandeur of God, to shut up our whining and chattering and stop our running and fidgeting so that we can really see him as he is and listen to him as he speaks his merciful, life-changing words of forgiveness.”
  10. On hope – “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulation, of scurrying and worrying.”
  11. On temptation and trials – “When an ancient temptation or trial becomes a feature in the culture, a way of life that is expected and encouraged, Christians have a stumbling block put before them that is hard to recognize for what it is, for it has been made into a monument, gilded with bronze and bathed in decorative lights.”
  12. On the past and the future – “If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly. We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth; we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and goal. And they must be connected. There must be an organic unity between them.”
  13. On the God who sees and knows – “Everything we learn about God through Scripture and in Christ tells us that he knows what it is like to change a diaper for the thirteenth time in the day, to see a report over which we have worked so long and carefully gather dust on somebody’s desk for weeks and weeks, to find our teaching treated with scorn and indifference by children and youth, to discover that the integrity and excellence of our work has been overlooked and the shoddy duplicity of another’s rewarded with a promotion.”
  14. On the connection of our bodies and hearts – “You can lift up your hands regardless of how you feel; It is a simple motor movement. You may not be able to command your heart, but you can command your arms. Lift your arms in blessing; just maybe your heart will get the message and be lifted up also in praise. We are psychosomatic beings; body and spirit are intricately interrelated. Go through the motion of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the cue and follow along.”

Today we worship with the words from our older brother who long followed the Lord, in obedience.

[Postscript: Usually our Worship Wednesday time together includes a song to enjoy together. With so many beautiful words posted above, basking in them before the Lord is today’s worship. For our “worship in song” lovers, below you will see linked three songs – the first from my childhood in revival services with long calls to the altar, the second from my youth inspired by Keith Green, and the third a more contemporary standard from Chris Tomlin. Do you have a favorite song on obedience? Please post in Comments.]

YouTube Video – When We Walk With the Lord (Trust and Obey) w/ lyrics

YouTube Video – To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice – Keith Green

YouTube Video – I Will Follow – Chris Tomlin – w/ lyrics

How Eugene Peterson Has Blessed Christianity – and 20 of His Most Powerful Quotes – Debbie McDaniel

Jesus Gives Us Reasons to Obey – Steve Fuller – Desiring God

Photo Credit: Eugene H. Peterson

Worship Wednesday – For Such a Time As This – John G. Elliott

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

The Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, penned the instructions above in part of a letter to the Philippian church. He was encouraging the church to deal with a presumed conflict between two of the believers, and then he went on to compel the church to be gentle with each other. Also, he called them not to be anxious but to remember, in everything, to pray with thanksgiving…with the fruit of the glorious peace of God. The “Finally, Brothers….” bit of counsel followed powerfully.

Paul could have been talking to the American church today, in the throes of a contentious political campaign. We as believers agree, for the most part, on Christ and who He is; we do not agree on all things political.

It can get nasty…which is a shame as the world looks on.

Just a couple of days ago, I was drawn into a Facebook conversation with two believer friends, both of whom I know to be gentle, God-fearing people. As more people joined the conversation, it got ugly (you’ve seen and lamented this yourselves, I’m sure). We would never have talked so frankly and harshly in real life.

I pulled out of the conversation….

Not so ironically Philippians 4:8 was our community group’s memory verse for this week.

Pastor writer Scott Sauls, author of A Gentle Answer, addresses the subject of opposing Christian voices in the video below. He states the following: “Three things we all have to have to live in community together are humility, empathy, and putting our life where our mouth is.”

“There’s blood on the hands” of both our parties. Dr. Sauls goes on to talk about how Christians (together, no matter our political party) can come together and “be better at loving the world better than we [government] does” because we put our trust in almighty God and we stand together on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the born and unborn.

Be encouraged. Press into unity. Pray against division. Forgive one another. Join together to use our collective power (under the authority of Jesus Christ) to make a difference in this troubled world.

John G. Elliott‘s song For Such a Time As This is part of his 1988 album Let All the Thirsty Come. This came to mind as God stirred my heart.

Worship with me if you would:

Each of us was born to hear the holy call

To find our place in God’s unfolding plan

When His voice is heard, it’s glorious to obey

And bear His light and truth to every man

We’re called to be the generation that turns the tide within our nation,

But who will go and who will stand…?

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will send some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this

Each of us was born to know the heart of God

His deep desire to love and to forgive

He does not delight in judgment or in wrath

But calls to all to turn to Him and live.

The words that bring a true repentance

That turn away God’s judgment sentence

Are words that only we can give

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will send some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will find Himself some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this (x3)

In closing,when we read some of the passages (particularly in the Old Testament) which relate to a rebellious people and God’s shaking judgment of His own, they sound strangely familiar to what’s happening now.

…”Fear the Lord your God, and he will rescue you from all your enemies.” However, these nations would not listen but continued observing their former practices. They feared the Lord but also served their idols. Still today, their children and grandchildren continue doing as their ancestors did.2 Kings 17:39-41 (read the whole chapter for excruciating context)

As we see the chaos around us and wonder if a peaceful presidential election is even possible, we must only remember that God has promised He will never leave His people. Even in judgment, He decides what is enough and who executes that judgment. We do not look for saviors in politicians…they are all imperfect. In an odd way, we may be choosing/voting (without the privilege of God’s eyes to see what will come in the future) our “preferred” judgment.

Whatever happens…we must return to the words of our elder brother Paul. We know what we must do – be gentle, don’t be anxious, pray with thanksgiving, rejoice in His peace, and think on what is good…because God is good.

Let’s close on the glorious goodness of God – He is the Overcomer!!

The Saviour: Story of God’s Passion for His People (1994) (majestic choral work – you can find it here in its entirety beginning at minute 9:45 (pick it up at 14:30 with God (powerfully sung by Wintley Phipps) creating Adam.

Take heart, ye children of the Promise
For God will not be mocked
For the Lord will repay,
and His Kingdom remains

Blessed are His children.
Blessed are His covenants
Blessed is His mighty Kingdom
And blessed is the Name of the Lord

Blessed the name of Lord
Blessed the name of Lord
In power, in glory His Kingdom, His Kingdom will come!
His Promise is now and forever and ever Amen! – Kings of the Earth

Let All the Thirsty Come album – John G. Elliott

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

Worship at Movement Church
[Adapted from the Archives – here and here]
We live in a culture of disruption right now – where grace does not seem to abound and only what divides, destroys, and deceives seems celebrated (at least in our city streets and in our media). Through the noise, we must continue to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
We must remind ourselves of what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, admirable and excellent (Philippians 4:8). We say NO in answer to God’s question of “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23).
The Prophet Isaiah warned (and gave comfort) that God does and will intervene. He will make right; He will save. May we be with Him in this…praying, standing for righteousness, leaning into those who are hurting, serving the suffering, and forgiving those who would do evil (God will judge; we are to pray and to love in word and deed).
 Indeed, the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save,

and his ear is not too deaf to hear.
But your iniquities are separating you from your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen.
For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers, with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongues mutter injustice.
No one makes claims justly; no one pleads honestly. They trust in empty and worthless words; they conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity.

6 Their works are sinful works, and violent acts are in their hands.
Their feet run after evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are sinful thoughts; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths.

They have not known the path of peace, and there is no justice in their ways. They have made their roads crooked; no one who walks on them will know peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.

11 We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions have multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us…

14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far off.
For truth has stumbled in the public square, and honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is missing, and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice, and he was offended.

16 He saw that there was no man
he was amazed that there was no one interceding; so his own arm brought salvation, and his own righteousness supported him.

17 He put on righteousness as body armor, and a helmet of salvation on his head; … 18 So he will repay according to their deeds: fury to his enemies, retribution to his foes, and he will repay the coasts and islands. 19 They will fear the name of the Lord in the west
and his glory in the east; for he will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,
and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of your children’s children, from now on and forever,” says the Lord. – Isaiah 59

___________________________________________________________________________

For believers and non-believers alike, we can still the madness surrounding us…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
Consider.
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. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:

“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.

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

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

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/is 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 sin 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.

Singer/songwriterAndrew Peterson wrote the song Is He Worthy? for a congregation to participate responsively with the worship leaders. The reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to…but appreciate.

“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!*

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

YouTube Video – Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

*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

YouTube Video – Is He Worthy? – Chris Tomlin

Monday Morning Moment – Chadwick Boseman’s Legacy and Ours

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Shock waves shot around our country and the world at the news of actor and Black Panther superhero Chadwick Boseman‘s death Friday. He was/is a bigger-than-life figure in our culture. [Boseman still “is”. I struggle in using the word “was”.] As we all know now, he had late-stage colon cancer since 2016. That we didn’t know isn’t a surprise given Boseman’s private nature and also the incredible production of 10 of his films from 2016 until now (one of them Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom still to be released). As he fought his battle with cancer at the same time, what grace, focus, and courage he displayed through all the making of those films!

Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ Star, Dies at 43

Boseman died on Jackie Robinson Day – August 28, 2020 – at the age of 43.

This weekend, violence raged on in our cities as we grieve not only the senseless deaths and woundings of recent weeks…but now the loss of Chadwick Boseman. I spent my free time this weekend studying his life through his films, interviews, and the words of others who knew him well.

‘Black Panther’ Director Ryan Coogler Pens Emotional, Beautiful Tribute to Chadwick Boseman – Ryan Parker, Borys Kit

Boseman was very commited to raising the opportunity and quality of life for fellow black people. I couldn’t find where he supported the riots that our country is enduring right now, but what I did find was illustrative of his character. He used his work to reflect the dignity of humankind. He showed his own respect for others not only in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther but in all his films. Several of which were biopics – two of my favorites being Marshall (on the life of Justice Thurgood Marshall) and “42” (on the life of baseball player Jackie Robinson). Both movies are timeless in their handling of justice for blacks in America.Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

After seeing the incredible film Black Panther some time ago, I was reminded of the relatively small part Boseman also played in Draft Day. Two very different films, but both where he played one who took his platform to champion others. This seemed to be true of Boseman’s public and private life.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

After a weekend of trying to get hold of the life and character of this man from Anderson, South Carolina…this man who became a Christ follower as a boy and served in his church’s choir and youth group…I couldn’t get to sleep last night.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

What Boseman accomplished in his relatively short life as a public figure will last as long as we watch the movies.

What can a regular non-celebrity do in our world gone mad? What really can this older white woman in the suburbs of a small city? What can you do?

Last night, in the dark trying not to wake my husband, I grabbed my phone and wrote the following list. It came quickly. Hopefully it is understandable.

  • Listen hard with ears, mind and heart open.
  • Seek to understand.
  • Ask the question: “What are we hearing?”
  • Ask the question: “What are we not hearing?”
  • Ask the next layer of question without judging: “What sounds true? What sounds like deception motivated by something else? How can we know?
  • What is the source of what we are hearing? [Sidebar: Where we get our news is often where we get our attitudes. If we take in news at all, we need a mix of views or we won’t critically be able to sift for what is true…or hopefully true.]
  • Then…
  • Speak up on behalf of one another.
  • Stand up against evil and for the truth.
  • Act up? NO. Act in love.
  • Mobilize our resources, relationships, and influence to actually make a true, lasting difference for those most vulnerable in our country.
  • Who has the courage to say “Enough” to what is hurting more than healing, to what is destroying more than building up, to what is not really for change for those who most need the change?

Boseman once said: “The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people.”

Therapist Kalee Vandergrift-Blackwell wrote a beautiful piece (below) on “a brown, immigrant, refugee, colonized Jesus”.

Did You Know Jesus Is Brown? – Kalee Vandergrift

He died at the hands of the political and religious leaders of the day, but…He did not die a victim. He gave his life in all its beauty, courage, and truth – for our sakes…and He gave his life for the political and religious leaders of the day.

I can’t even imagine Jesus burning and looting, hurting people and neighborhoods. Even when He called out the wrong motives of religious leaders and turned over the tables of opportunists, everything He did, He did in love. He calls us, His followers, to do the same.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors…and even to love our enemies. Not a soft celebrity life, oh no. We aren’t allowed to just take sides…we are to full-bore, wide open love people – to recognize, respect, and validate in all we do the worth, dignity, and God-breathed humanity of all.

This is our legacy…this is what I want to have the courage and the depth of love to leave when my life is over.

Not complacency. Not comfort. Not smugness. Not arrogance. Not blaming another party or one president over another (if there’s blame it extends much farther…). Not violence. Not isolation.

So…that is the burn I got this weekend after taking in and grieving over the loss of Chadwick Boseman.

One last quote from Boseman that is especially poignant and inspiring right now is this: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.”

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Chadwick Boseman – AZ Quotes

10 Inspiring Quotes From Chadwick Boseman That Could Change Your Life – A. R. Shaw

YouTube Video – Chadwick Boseman Tribute – Marvel

Monday Morning Moment – Offense, Being Offended, and Taking Up Offense

Photo Credit: Quote Fancy, Bryant Mcgill

Processing thoughts on the difficult subject of offending and being offended, a song drifts into my hearing. Dave is riding his bike (on a trainer) to a playlist that matches his ride (slow/fast/slow). This particular song pounding into my head is rock band The EaglesGet Over It. [Dave will also pull that song up on the occasion he recognizes he’s having a pity party.]

I’ve had some great friends in my life who have spoken reason to me in times when something said or done to me (or to someone I cared about) offended. “Get over it!” It was actually a helpful “slap” into reality for me. Reminds me of that old commercial, “Thanks! I needed that.”

The motivation for this piece is walking alongside people I love who have been deeply offended and don’t see a way to get past it. Offenses are hard, especially if they seem intentional.

We still have a choice. We can choose not to be offended…whether it felt the seeming offense was directed toward us or we are tempted to take up offense for another.

Author Desirée M. Mondesir writes a “slap to the face” piece on our culture’s move to looking for and taking up offense. It’s especially fascinating to me because she refers to a student revolt at Yale University. Having taught there years ago, I can see this gradual evolution from reason to riot. It’s a stunning change in society and we are none immune to it.

A Sign of the Last Days – Offense – Desirée M. Mondesir

Mondesir refers to this cultural shift as being a sign of end times.

“And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” – Jesus – Matthew 24:10-13

Sure sounds like today’s culture, in the US anyway.

Writer and counselor John Bevere has written a fascinating book on offense entitled The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. The title put me off at first but in reading it, the whole issue of offense was highlighted as something that turns us inward and keeps us from healthy relationships with one another and with God. When you think about it, Eve, in the first pages of the Torah/Old Testament [Genesis 3:2-7], was the first of humankind to act in offense. In her conversation with the Serpent tempter, she reacted to the Serpent’s suggestion, questioning the instruction of God. To me, it demonstrates her taking offense that she would be drawn into Satan’s ruse. Even acting in rebellion, presuming God didn’t mean good toward her. She decided for herself to eat from the tree (the one tree God had forbidden), and the consequences of her choosing continue to today.

What could Eve have done differently? She could have trusted God’s heart toward her. If she fell into doubt (through Satan’s cunning argument), she could have sought out the Creator first before she acted on a lie.

When Eve acted in this way, and took the bait, we can see how we, too, can be drawn in – becoming disoriented by someone’s words or deeds, and forgetting what is really the truth of the matter. Our emotions fly away with us, and we bind ourselves in the chains of offense.

Joe Levi puts it this way:

“Someone else cannot “offend” youhowever, you can choose whether or not to take offense at something someone says or does.

Someone else cannot make you mad, happy, sad, or offended – you, and you alone can control how you react to the world around you.

Learn and apply that one relatively simple lesson, and you’ll be much happier in life.”

We may not be able to choose our immediate emotion over a word or action perceived as against us, but we can develop a habit or discipline to determine NOT to take offense.

I watched the Democratic National Convention last week, and this week I’m watching the Republican National Convention. The news media is having a hey-day with sound-bytes and interviews hand-picked to incite offense.

We can choose not to take the bait.

As for personal situations, people who offend do not always mean to offend. [I don’t say this lightly. Of course, there are those who do. I also am not talking about abuse here. That is a whole other topic, but the principles still apply.] No one knows truly what’s inside us that gives us struggle, not even ourselves. Like the Mcgill quote states, it’s only in our response that we discover the which that is still unresolved. Reacting in self-defense or in counter-attack mode brings more hurt. “Hurt people hurt people.” With practice, I can determine not to carry hurt away from a conversation or interaction.

In situations between two people, we can choose not to be offended, but how do we deal with the offense?

Advisor Charles H. Green describes the offender and the offended. He gives excellent counsel in his article Being Offensive vs. Being Offended – and Trust:

  • The offender communicates disrespect. A social violation occurs. Two people are involved and the resolution of that interaction requires input from both of them. When the one offended determines to engage in good faith, trying to seek understanding and rebuild trust, s/he may actually discover the intent of the offending person. A misunderstanding or an action following a perceived threat on the part of the offender may be the issue rather than an intent to hurt.
  • On the side of the one offended, this is not a social situation. It is deeply personal. Only the one offended knows the extent of the offending words/actions. For this reason, the offended person can refuse to think ill of the offender…and not take offense. Then take steps toward reconciliation or, if that’s not possible, make a personal decision not to be hurt by that person. This is not easy…especially at first in training one’s responses.
  • “The answer is a little paradoxical: We should strive not to offend or disrespect others. At the same time, we should also strive to not feel offended, or disrespected, for long. In other words, we should strive to be kind socially, and to feel free psychologically.”
  • Forgiveness opens the door wide to reconciliation. Forgiveness can defuse the hurt. Boundaries may come into play, but if the boundaries are built out of fear, dread, anger, or hatred, we are still not free from offense.

Thoughts?

Being Offensive vs. Being Offended – and Trust – Charles H. Green

What Is the Difference of Being Offended and Harmed? – Robert Enright

Stop Being Offended Today: 3 Cures for Everything That Irritates You – Bill Apablasa

Forgiving in Two Dimensions – Peace Pursuit

Worship Wednesday – On Unity – With One Voice – Steven Curtis Chapman

Photo Credit: Mosaic Church

“I pray not only for these [His disciples], but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” – Jesus – John 17:20-23

Most everyone around the world probably knows the US is embroiled this year in a severe battle for the Presidency.

The various news networks and social media sources broadcast our biases. One candidate or the other is blamed for the condition of our country – whether the sitting president or the party or person of the candidate making his bid for the office.

We align ourselves as the Church in America. On one side of the argument or the other. Some will take the less gnarly position of a third candidate or just not vote this year.

Here’s the insight God gave me this week. When people I deeply love and respect pull for a candidate that I can’t abide or when they hear me out on my decision so different from theirs, we find ourselves at an impasse.

I will not influence them nor will they me. Our reasoning is human, and neither of us can know for sure we are right or we are wrong.

What matters more? That we continue in the unity of love together.

The last night Jesus spent on earth, before His crucifixion, He prayed the exquisite prayer we find in John 17.  It was an intimate discourse with His Father, and thankfully we are privy to it thanks to the Holy Spirit-inspired Gospel of the Apostle John. In His prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself; He prayed for his disciples, and He prayed for all believers.

Jesus prayed that we would be one as He is one with His Father. One in the unity of love. That He prayed this before His death for us demonstrated how much it mattered to Him.

How much this unity must matter to us!

In David Guzik‘s commentary on John 17, he states: “The unity Jesus prayed for among His people has a pattern. Even as the Father and the Son are one yet are not the same, we do not expect that genuine Christian unity will mean uniformity or unity of structure. It will mean unity of spirit, unity of heart, unity of purpose, and unity of destiny.”

Guzik also quotes Charles Spurgeon on unity as different from uniformity: “Beloved, those in whom Christ lives are not uniform, but one. Uniformity may be found in death, but this unity is life. Those who are quite uniform may yet have no love to each other, while those who differ widely may still be truly and intensely one. Our children are not uniform, but they make one family.”

Some will say the issue of who Christians can morally choose as our US President requires some order of uniformity…and so it does. However, the division between us in this matter should sound an alarm in our spirits.

This is not what Jesus wanted for us.

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

We may differ on how we see “compromise”. That is its own struggle, but we cannot enjoin that struggle with whether we can love one another.

We love each other, because we are His. No matter our political party. No matter the outcome of this election.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – Jesus John 13:35

Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman published a song many years ago entitled With One Voice. This is our highest call.

Let’s worship together.

We come together with a holy purpose
We come together for the highest cause
We speak one language from a heart of worship
Gathered to bring a song to the world
For Your glory

With one voice we will sing
Every tribe and every tongue
Brings a harmony
With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing to our King
With one voice

Oceans divide us
But we sing together
Now what defines us is our love of You
From every nation and across all borders
Gathered to bring a song to the world
For Your glory

With one voice we will sing
Every tribe and every tongue
Brings a harmony
With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing to our King
With one voice

Come on come on and join the song
Our God our God is on the throne
Come on come on and join the song
Hallelujah hallelujah

Come on come on and join the song
Our God our God is on the throne
Come on come on and join the song
Hallelujah

Hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice

With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing, sing to our King
With one voice
With one voice

Hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice
Sing hallelujah
Sing His praise
Let us all rejoice

Sing hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice
Sing hallelujah
Sing His praise
Let us all rejoice*

In closing, one of my other favorite passages in the Gospel of John is John 6:68. Jesus was weary with the struggle of public ministry, dealing with the contempt of the religious leaders of the day and the fickleness of followers who came and went. In a moment of weakness (human but without sin), Jesus turned to His twelve disciples and asked if they wanted to leave also.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” – John 6:68

We know as believers, no matter our politics or our preferences, we are transfixed by the person of Jesus Christ. To know His life, His teaching, and His love…no one else…no place else would satisfy.

Our days and destinies are linked with Him and with each other. Our hearts are knit together. Everything else will fall away in the end. We are His. He is ours. We are meant to live in that reality…even (especially) in this season.

*Lyrics to With One Voice – Songwriters Steven Curtis Chapman & Matt Redman

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song With One Voice

John 17 – Jesus’ Great Prayer – David Guzik

Unity in Christ – Charles Spurgeon

Worship Wednesday – Keep Me in the Moment – Jeremy Camp

Photo Credit: Ramstein AF

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”Romans 12:1-5

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”Ephesians 2:10

“…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”Philippians 3:9-10

The Scriptures give us a clear look at the large life God intends for us. He has set us apart from the world; He has prepared good works for us; He embeds us with His righteousness to faithfully endure whatever confronts us.

Then comes COVID.

Nothing in the character or purposes of God have altered. His children are still called to live in the present in His strength and to extend His love out to those around us.

[Writer Emma Grey Ellis has posted a fascinating article on the lethargy and depression that plagues us in the isolation of COVID. I can’t help but think there is also a spiritual component at work in this disease and in its prevention.]

This Sunday, our pastor Cliff Jordan of Movement Church finished teaching a series on God’s Kingdom Culture – focusing, this time, on the culture of displacement (listen here).

Displacement for us is that we’re not Home yet (Philippians 3:20). Cliff recalled his years playing high school basketball. It was a very high and privileged experience to be part of the Home team (playing in your own town and your own gym). When he was part of the Away team, it was a very different experience – no special treatment, and the team that most folks in the gym hoped would lose.

The church, here in this moment, is the Away team.

Basketball is a great picture of where we are as believers doing life, dealing with COVID.

When our children were in high school, the two oldest played basketball. At that time, our school was often the newcomer and underdog. What we lacked in experience and status, we made up for in enthusiasm, determination, and perseverance.[Seniors on the team of the 2007 boys’ basketball season of George Washington Academy, Casablanca, Morocco. Nathan “Beyond the Guitar” Mills is on the far right.]

We didn’t have a gym, so we were always the Away team.

As in life, especially in COVID life, we didn’t have to bring our “A” game. We had lots of opportunities to excuse ourselves from being all in. Between being “at-risk” or furloughed or parents all of a sudden juggling work and helping children school at home. The above-mentioned fatigue dampens our enthusiasm and stamina. Being truly “in the moment” as believers has become a challenge unlike any we’ve known previously.

It would be easy, again with the basketball analogy, to just wait out COVID and hope for better days, like the Away team might when the score starts mounting on the Home team’s board. Our enthusiasm wanes and our pace slows. We begin to give up before the game is over. And the bench!! What might have been “Put me in, Coach!” turns into thinking being #OfftheBench might not be a great idea. Our minds wander off the Word of God and onto anything else.

I love the tension of the pic below. The tension in those faces. Absorbed in the action on the court. Focused. Leaning forward. Ready at any moment to launch off the bench.Photo Credit: Needpix

Whether we feel benched by COVID or we’re very much in the game, the fact that we are the Away team doesn’t change anything about how God calls us to be engaged with Him and those around us.

Sure, we have to be creative at how to socially distance (for the sake of others and, at times, our own sakes)…but we don’t have to fall for being socially distanced from God’s glorious will for our lives.

Singer songwriter Jeremy Camp song “Keep Me in the Moment” could have been written for this season. The official video points to the beautiful, pulsating tension of lives lived well as God leads us through every situation. Redeeming the time.

Worship with me.
I’ve been thinking ’bout time and where does it go
How can I stop my life from passing me by, I don’t know
I’ve been thinking ’bout family and how it’s going so fast
Will I wake up one morning just wishing that I could go back?
I’ve been thinking ’bout lately, maybe
I can make a change and let you change me
So, with all of my heart this is my prayer
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (oh)
When I wake up in the morning
Lord, search my heart
Don’t let me stray
I just wanna stay where you are
All I got is one shot, one try
One go around in this beautiful life
Nothing is wasted when everything’s placed in your hands
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Lord keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
I’ve been thinking about heaven
And the promise you hold
So, it’s all eyes on you
Until the day you call me home
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
(I don’t wanna miss, I don’t wanna miss)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after (oh)
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (yeah)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Oh, keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)*
By the way…that Away team analogy is only for a few years. Home is also our experience. Home is where we celebrate with our forever Victor…together.

8 Ways to Be Present – Tom Stuart

Why God Wants You to Live in the Moment – Drew Smith