Category Archives: Culture & Religion

Worship Wednesday – Build My Life – Holy, There Is No One Like You – Housefires

Photo Credit: Heartlight

There is none like You, O LORD. You are great, and Your name is mighty in power. Who would not fear You, O King of nations? This is Your due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. – Jeremiah 10:6-7

Lord, there is no one like you among the gods, and there are no works like yours. – Psalm 86:8

Earlier this evening, a small group of friends were gathered. Our hosts were refugees from a war-torn country which they fled over a year ago. We were celebrating a late Christmas/New Year’s together… One Christian friend was describing the “why” of giving gifts at Christmas. Crossing cultures and languages, the conversation was peppered with polite exchanges of where our beliefs were similar and where they were not. It happens…close friends who all consider themselves believers, but in very different experiences of faith.

I was reminded of a letter I wrote after a difficult conversation with a dear friend who wanted me to believe in God as she believed…just as I wanted the same for her…to believe as I did.

[As you read the letter, remember I’m writing to someone I loved very much and didn’t want to offend by my words. So keep that context in mind. To this day, she is as dear as ever. Precious to me. Still loving me as I love her…still two people who love God from different faiths.

Dearest Friend,

You’ve asked me why can’t I follow your way…the way you believe.  I know you spoke that from your heart, and you know I love you for it.  You also know how much I love you as you love me.  Since our conversation, your question has weighed heavily on my mind, and I want to try to give that question the answer you deserve.  Thank you for loving me enough to risk asking that question. Now, I hope you will hear my love through this answer.  We think very differently on these things, but I don’t think I will be telling you anything that we haven’t already talked about. Also, I want you to clarify anything for me that I’m in error on regarding your religion. I commit to you the same in our talks about what I believe. So what I write below is the answer to your question, “Why?”  And it’s written with all my love.

  1. First, I already see myself as one “submitted to God”, in the deepest sense of the word you’ve defined for me. My greatest desire is to know God and to surrender to Him in all areas of my life.  It’s been the imperfect but deeply personal pursuit of my life. My hope is to follow Him as He reveals Himself to me, both through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.
  2. As I understand your question, to follow your way would require me to leave the way I now follow.  That would be impossible for me.  I wasn’t born Christian.  I became a believer as I understood His revelation of Himself (through the Bible, the witness of others, and the stirring of my heart by the Holy Spirit). This is a relationship with God that I would never or could never sever.  To remove a portion of Who I believe He’s expressed Himself to be, both to and for His creation, would be unforgivable.  He has come near to us, and I am thankful to know Him, as One both Holy and Humble.  I would be sad to believe in a God whose holiness and judgment distance Him far from His people.  Am I wrong in my understanding of your experience of God?
  3. To have to face the burden of a life of sin would be more than I could bear.  I believe, by His Word, that He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, as I confess my sins, repent of them, and live for Him.  I can’t imagine life where I was responsible to do good works and more good works in hopes to cancel some of my sins and hopefully to win His mercy.  My understanding of what is required in your faith may not be altogether correct on this point, but it’s what I see practiced.  Help me with this, if I am wrong.
  4. To live not knowing whether I would spend eternity with God or in Hell would be very painful…unimaginable, to be honest. Such terrible uncertainty! His Word tells me that I can know – not because of my good works but because of His good work for my sake.  I take great comfort in knowing that I will be in the presence of God forever.  It is also a great comfort to know I will see my Mom and Dad again, my brother and others who have gone before me, confident in God’s promises to them through His Word.
  5. To have to deny the sinless life of the Messiah, to deny His death on the cross, and to deny His resurrection would be the greatest dishonor to God that I could ever commit in life.  I would never be willing to deny this, and if this is required to be a good believer in your faith, then I am helpless to go that way.
  6. I could not require my children to follow any religion.  I do prefer for them to be believers in God by way of the Messiah, and I would be heart-broken if they denied God in their lives.  However, to be in a religion that requires them at birth to be identified with that religion seems beyond my right as a parent.  It is up to God how He moves in a person’s life.  I cannot demand it, no matter how much I would wish it a certain way.
  7. There are tenets of faith in your religion that I agree with wholeheartedly.  I think it’s a very good thing to have calls to prayer.  I actually also prayed, (when we lived in the same country), when I heard the calls to prayer, so in that we are alike.  I also agree with giving money to the place of prayer (for me, the church) for its service to the community.   I also think the intention of a month of fasting is a good thing.  To sacrifice food, drink, cigarettes, etc. to understand better what it’s like to be poor, and then to give that money to those less fortunate is a reasonable service for believers.  I think pilgrimages are also good opportunities to draw closer to God.  I do struggle with a pilgrimage that is not really accessible to every believer. 
  8. Like you, I believe that God is One…but I cannot ascribe to a faith that places a messenger of God in a preeminent position. You say that is what I do with Jesus, even to the point of making him equal, or a partner to God. This is where we differ greatly, and I know it divides us which makes me the saddest. We have books we believe to be holy which speak very differently about Jesus, even though Jesus is called Messiah in both. He is also said to be without sin in both. This is not a small thing.
  9. I don’t understand the concept of a holy war.  I do understand dying for one’s faith, and my hope is that if I have to die for my faith in God, that I will do it courageously and for His glory.  That part I understand.  To kill others, even infidels, and martyring oneself in doing so, seems morally wrong.  God doesn’t need my help to deal with infidels.  I know there are examples in the Torah of God calling His people to battle with those who stand against His people, and He shows His glory by miraculously giving them victory.  I don’t see God when people take matters into their own hands.  I don’t believe God would give me greater rewards for killing people rather than to try to reason with them to become true believers.
  10. Last, but not least, is that to follow your way, I would have to give up parts of the Bible to believe everything in the book you hold sacred.  I can’t do that.  It would be great sin for me to deny any part of God’s Word.  I believe every word is true.  I know you think I am deceived.  All I know, is that there was a time in my life that I wasn’t a Christian, and it was a dark time for me.  God revealed Himself to me through His Word, through the example of others whose lives had been changed by God, and through the movement of His Holy Spirit in my life.  Now, I know the experience of a changed life.  I am free, because His Truth has set me free.  It would be impossible for me to leave His guide for my life.  This person that you know and love is that person, only because I am walking in the Light of His Word.  We all struggle with the presence of sin, but we can have victory through His Word and by His Power.  Since I believe what He says about His own Word, I cannot leave His Word, any more than I can stop breathing.

As I write this, my heart aches, because, of course, I would love for us to be on the Way together.  I have answered your question.  Maybe, you’ll answer the same question for me sometime.  No matter what, if you let me, I will love you all the days of my life.  You are my friend, my sister, and my daughter.  You are one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me, and I am so grateful.  Sometimes His gifts require a price.  He gave Himself for us, that we may be with Him forever.  My hope is that our friendship won’t require a price.  I never want us to be apart…although we’re not exactly traveling on the same path.  My prayer will always be that we reach Home together….and I know you pray the same for me.  Only God can answer both our prayers.

That letter was written years ago…to a friend who is even more dear to me today than decades ago. My faith remains unchanged…because God has not changed. He is worthy of our praise…He is worthy of our very lives. The song “Build My Life/Holy, There Is No One Like You” (by Housefires) speaks my heart today.

Worship with me:

[Verse 1] Worthy of every song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

[Verse 2] Jesus, the Name above every other name
Jesus, the only One who could ever save
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
Oh, we live for You

[Chorus] (Holy)
Holy, there is no one like You
There is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder
And show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

[Verse 1] Worthy of every song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
Oh, we live for You
Jesus

[Verse 2] Jesus, the Name above every other name
Jesus, the only One who could ever save
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
Oh, we live for You

[Chorus] And holy, there is no one like You
There is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder
And show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me
Holy
Holy, there is no one like You
There is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder
And show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me*

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Blog-Isaiah-45-4-6-none-beside-me.jpg

Photo Credit: Heartlight

*Lyrics to “Build My Life/Holy, There Is No One Like You” – Songwriters: Pat Barrett, Brett Steve Younker, Karl Martin, Matt Redman, Kirby Elizabeth Kaple

Worship Wednesday – How Many Kings – For me? Just One.

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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 my many favorite December solitary 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 greetings 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 many beautiful ones – both standards and new. 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 still pops this one up often during the Christmas season. The lyrics allude to a visitation by 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…to make a path for us back to Him.

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 loving because of His love… Glory!

Photo 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.

The Band Downhere

Photo 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 – Beyond the Guitar – Magic on a Cheap Guitar, the Most Repeated Command in the Bible, the Evercrisp Apple, (Dis)Comfort Zone, and Old Friends

Friday Faves – coming in hot! Days later. Life races on, doesn’t it?!

1) Beyond the Guitar – Magic on a Cheap Guitar Sweet original composition by classical guitarist Nathan Mills at Beyond the Guitar. Showcasing two very different guitars…or rather what the difference – pretty much, it’s the guitarist, not the guitar. [Not to say the beautiful David J. Pace guitar isn’t his go-to instrument for all his guitar work/performances…but to emphasize it is the one playing it, whatever the guitar is, that makes the music.] Photo Credit: Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – Beyond the Guitar – #100 Mini Guitar vs. $10,000 Guitar

Beyond the Guitar – Fingerstyle Journey – 90 Days to Beautiful Playing

2) The Most Repeated Command in the Bible –  Even more than “Love the Lord your God” or “Love your neighbor as yourself. The most repeated command is  “Do not be afraid”.

Something to think about because we are surrounded to fearsome situations…yet, we are not to fear. How do we keep from it?

By practicing remembering. Remembering the provision of God in times past. Remembering the goodness of God in all we have in life right now – people who love us, work and other resources, health and/or helps toward restoring health, time, meaning, forgiveness, and beauty surrounding us.

Photo Credit: Heartlight 

We have circumstances that tempt us to fear, but we also have God’s promises to bring us through those circumstances. Fear itself robs us from sound thinking. Photo Credit: Flickr

The tricky thing about fear is that we can’t necessarily stop it from happening. It comes over us. However, we can keep it from overwhelming us…determining to live in the freedom and light of what is true, instead of what could happen. God is there for that as well.

When fear messes with our relationships or makes us timid to enter new ones, we can take courage in the command “Do not be afraid”. This week in our church, in The Art of Neighboring, we studied about fear in neighboring relationships1 Peter 3:14 (quoting from Isaiah 8:12) Do we allow fear of rejection or fear of our differences keep us from leaning into each other? What if we leave fear out of the equation in caring for one another? That’s the better path.

“Do not be afraid.”

The Art of Neighboring

Photo Credit: Heartlight

3) The Evercrisp Apple – One of the best parts of this time of year is the Fall apple harvest. Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Cosmic Crisp apples have been our favorite in recent years…until this Fall, when we discovered the Evercrisp apple. Wow!

We discovered this apple on a recent trip across Virginia toward the Appalachian Mountains. The Apple Shed delivers on several types of apples and introduced us to this one.

Once back in Richmond, we were thrilled to find it sold locally from the Saunders Brothers Orchards. Woohoo!!

A small delight in life but, for this season, a huge one. What’s your favorite apple?

4) (Dis)Comfort Zone – Is the phrase “comfort zone” a first world experience? I don’t think so. It is a universal idea – a place where we feel safe and soothed. A bad thing? Not necessarily except for how it insulates us from the rest of life. What if developing our capacity for discomfort helps us to live more fully, more in community?

Jason Seib, a health and selfcare coach, has actually built his whole platform on embracing a (dis)comfort zone. He teaches how we can maneuver around our uncomfortable moments in healthy ways.

If you go to his website, his home page currently seems all about his workshop (which I haven’t taken although it is reasonable cost-wise). However, hang in there. He also extends solid content to non-subscribers through his podcasts and social media pages. I think that speaks to his integrity as someone who actually cares about people wherever we are in our comfort zones.

The main message for us in his coaching is that we reach for food, alcohol, or other addictive substances or activities when faced with discomfort. Our temptation is to do whatever we can to restore comfort. Jason Seib points to developing skills in sharpening our awareness of discomfort when it happens and respond in ways that don’t harm us.

Jason Seib Facebook

Jason Seib Podcasts

Jason Seib reminds me of counselor Brad Hambrick whose webinar on “Growing in Negative Emotion Tolerance” was extremely helpful for me. Seib and Hambrick both talk about the importance of us recognizing that negative emotions are not necessarily bad [they are actually informative] but how we respond to them matters.

Photo Credit: SermonLab, Brad Hambrick

Counselor Brad Hambrick

5) Old Friends – This week has been one of celebrating old friends – visits both here and states away with people who have stayed the course with me through years and years.

I don’t know about you, but loneliness is a real time experience for me. So many moves and changes for us. A different season – children grown with their own lives, me now in retirement sorta kinda, and most of my closest friends living far from where we now live.

It gives pause to reflect on friendship and revisiting the kind of friend I am and hope to be. A key to having old friends in our every day life is continuing to reach out and nurture those relationships. I’m working on it…and trying to show up for these friends who have shown up for me. They, and others like them, point the way.

Old friends, even while not on the daily or even the regular, have the rare quality of history. Memory. Understanding. Loving anyway, through seasons of neglect, distraction, and loss. Old friends remain.

So grateful for forever friends – people who know us well and love us anyway. Singer, songwriter Michael W. Smith‘s song says it all:

Bonuses:

I Raised 2 Successful CEOs and a Doctor. Here’s the ‘Unpopular’ Parenting Rule I Always Used on My Kids – Esther Wojcicki

Photo Credit: Facebook

Photo Credit: Mark Allan – Mark’s Musings: God, the Proud Father

The Many Paths to Better Mental Health – a List of Excellent Resources

Shame vs. Guilt Infographic

Photo Credit: nicabm

Photo Credit: TobyMac, Facebook

“Come deeper. The waves won’t knock you down back here!”

Deeper in the Word
Deeper in Prayer
Deeper in Worship
Deeper in love with Jesus

Yes, the waves will still come, regular and strong.
But in the deep…
We will have peace,
We will be comforted,
We will have healing,
We will have restoration,
We will have joy,
Because we will be moving with The One who controls the winds and waves.

Go on, my sweet friends…go deeper.
HE is waiting. – Kristin Crawford Kerley, Facebook

Monday Morning Moment – Reformation Day – A Halloween that Changed the World

blog-martin-luther-reformation-day-prae-huPhoto Credit: Prae.hu

[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, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

On October 31, 1517, Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed a document known as his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. In this public stand against the Catholic practices of that day, he would divide Christianity into at least two camps – that of Protestants (the Reformers) and the Catholics.

Today marks the 505th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. October 31 is known as Reformation Day…and, of course, Halloween.

October 31, for most in the US for sure, is a huge family/community cultural event (very different from the historical Halloween). Parties, dress-up, spooky decorations, and sweet treats.blog-halloween-2016

For those of us who are Christian, identifying more Protestant than Catholic, we wouldn’t want to miss the historic significance of this day as well.

Justin Holcomb‘s piece on the five solas lists the fundamental elements of the Christian faith (as put forth by the Reformers) and the substantiating Scriptures. Below are the five (see article for commentary and Bible verses):

  1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.*

[See links below for articles/resources on the full relevance of this day for us personally, for our families, and for culture, in general.]

In all you might savor in this day, this 31st day of October, consider how Martin Luther changed a world, by taking a stand… Some of our children will choose to dress-up in super-hero costumes – taking on larger than life personas for the good of those around them. They are more like Martin Luther, in that, than they may know.

blog-halloween-martin-luther-costumeblog-martin-luther-legos-pinterestPhoto Credit: Pinterest; Pinterest

*5 Points From the Past That Should Matter to You – Justin Holcomb

5 Bible Verses to Read on Reformation Day – Andy Rau

October 31 – Halloween Dress-up and Reformation Day Stand-up – DebMillsWriter

Reformation Day: Resources to Help Us Remember – Desiring God

Man Between God and the Devil: Martin Luther and the Reclamation of Halloween – William E. Flippin, Jr.

Worship Wednesday – Thanks Giver – Crowder Music

Photo Credit: Facebook, Frances Moon

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It’s Fall, Y’all! My favorite season (here in the US). Now…as for holidays: my favorite holiday is Christmas followed by Thanksgiving, as a close second.

Family, family, family. That’s what it’s about for me. Those two holidays bring families together for all that comes with family gathering…the lovely, the crazy, and the memory-savoring and making.

Yet what brings us all together is the reason for those holidays: 1) celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior, and 2) thanks giving for all the good in our lives, Him being at the top of the list.

Most of us have an order to these celebrations – first Thanksgiving (US Thanksgiving) in November followed by Christmas in December. I try to keep that order, except for one thing.

Christmas music starts around here in October. Sacred and secular. There is just a wealth of music from so many years past and right up to latest releases this month. If you love the nostalgia of Christmas music and the richness of the lyrics of many of those songs, then you may be one of us (tuning to it much earlier than most).

Speaking of new releases (the topic of this blog today) is David Crowder‘s Milk & Cookies: A Merry Crowder Christmas.

Photo Credit: Nevin Martell, Open Table

This album has something for everyone. Quirky new songs about elves and Mrs. C. (which when you hear the song could also refer to Mrs. Crowder and not Mrs. Claus). Then you’ll hear some beautiful standards as only Crowder and friends can do them. Finally, included in the album, are original songs glorifying Christ and pointing us to all we have in Him. Powerful!

Photo Credit: K-LOVE, Pinterest

The album is unique in its production having an ethereal feel of a vinyl record, including some brief narration sounding like it could have come from a film like It’s a Wonderful Life.

So the track above is the first track on the album, but the one below fits the blending of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s early, I get it…but don’t miss this album, and don’t miss the sweet messages of the song “Thanks Giver”.

Worship with me:

It’s getting cold
I’m driving home
On interstate 3-0

It’s getting cold
I’m driving home
On interstate 3-0

It’s getting cold
I’m driving home
On interstate 3-0

It’s getting cold
I’m driving home
On interstate 3-0
Mama’s calling, “Where you at?”
The turkey’s almost done
I hang up the phone, tear in my eye
Moments like these I realize
God You’re so good to me

You make joy out of simple and ordinary things
You fill life up with stories I’d never think to dream
So this holiday
I wanna praise
The One who’s making a saint
Out of this sinner
The One who’s turned me into this thanks giver

Just took the pumpkins off the porch
The wreath is on my door
There’s something sacred ’bout the time
Of year when You were born
The Street’s alive, it’s Christmas again
But moments like these, hope I don’t forget
God You’re so good to me

You make joy out of simple and ordinary things
You fill life up with stories I’d never think to dream
So this holiday
I wanna praise
The One who’s making a saint
Out of this sinner
The One who’s turned me into this thanks giver

Thank You for this life and all the joy that’s in this heart
For when I get to hug my dad and punch my brother in the arm
Thank You for the grace I know I’ll never have to earn
All because You chose to come down here and save this crazy world

You make joy out of simple and ordinary things
You fill life up with stories I’d never think to dream
So this holiday
I wanna praise
The One who’s making a saint
Out of this sinner
The One who’s turned me into this thanks giver

You’re the reason
You’re the reason
Why I’m a thanks giver

Photo Credit: Pinterest, Sonoma

You’re the reason
You’re the reason
Why I’m a thanks giver*

*Lyrics to Thanks Giver

Crowder Announces Holiday Album Milk and Cookies Out Oct. 21 – Abby Young

Crowder Releases ‘Milk & Cookies: A Merry Crowder Christmas’ – Ross Cluver

Monday Morning Moment – a Parable of Lost Sons and Their Father

Photo Credit: Rembrandt, Wikipedia

Whatever your faith base is or even if you have none to speak of, the parables of Jesus are magnificent stories that call us to deep thinking about life…and the choices we make.

The parable reflected in Rembrandt’s extraordinary painting above is one such story. In brief, you see a father and his older son (both in red robes) and a younger prodigal son, returning home, repentant.

The Return of the Prodigal Son – Rembrandt – Wikipedia [read the short and powerful article – a beautiful synopsis of the work.]

“The Parable of the Lost Son” is found in only one of the Gospels – Luke 15:11-32 (the whole of his story is found in the link, within the larger context of Luke 15 – read that here). Jesus was responding to the questioning and contempt of the religious leaders of his day. Their problem with Jesus was the two opposing facts that he was a religious authority himself and yet he took company with sinners.

In Jesus’ response to them, he spoke of loss and our reaction. We go after what is lost, and we rejoice when it is found.

His story tells how a younger son wants his freedom and asks his father for his inheritance. He wanted something that would not normally come to him until his father’s death, but he demanded it still. The father then divided his estate between his two sons. The one left home to spend his wealth on folly, and the other, the older son, stayed, out of duty or love (we don’t really know).

The younger son’s foolishness quickly leads to a wasted, impoverished life. He longs for the life he once knew in his father’s house. He finally “came to his senses”, remembering his good father and how well even the hired workers in his household lived. He determined to return home and ask his father’s forgiveness – not to be restored as his son but in hopes of becoming one of those workers.

Jesus’ story goes on to show the father’s deep and loving character – seeing the son approaching from a distance, he ran to him. Receiving him back to himself, in joyous celebration.

This was part 1 of Jesus’ parable of the lost sons. Part 2 begins here with the older brother. He had been working out in the fields as always, and, returning at day’s end, he hears the noise of a party. When he asked a servant what was going on, he was told the younger brother had returned home and their father had ordered a celebration. Here, we find the other lost son’s response…

…he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him.
But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.
But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
” ‘Son,’ [the father] said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” – Luke 15:28-32
Again, we capture the beauty of the father’s character. He loved both sons. He was generous with them both, and he invited both into his merciful love.
Jesus shared this story (as well as the story of the lost coin and lost sheep) with religious leaders who questioned his care for sinners. In a way, these religious ones were much like the older son.
Do you identify with one of these sons? One is reckless and searching – allowing his self-indulgent longings to take him far from home. The other is dutiful and obedient. Accepting the responsibilities of life to shape his character…and his subsequent lack of care for both his father and brother.
[My husband preached a sermon on this story years ago and I am often reminded of his reflection on it – how the elder brother must have thought he was pleasing his father because he stayed at the plow. What if that older brother would have come to the father and said, “Hey, Dad, would it be all right if I go and look for my brother?” If he truly knew the heart of his father, he would have left home, at some point, to search for that lost brother and bring him back to their dad.]
The father in this story is reflective of God. He is home. Whether that is your belief or not, we are place-oriented as humans. What (or who) we regard as home has a huge impact on how we do life.
I take heart in both of these brothers…my life has taken me far from home in both these ways. Wanting popularity and the stuff of this world as well as longing to do what is right and the influence that comes with that. Neither extreme brings us the joy we can have in being known and loved for who we are…and loving others the same.
Henri Nouwen‘s book The Return of the Prodigal Son is a short, winsome engaging of these three men in Jesus’ story.

Here are a few of Nouwen’s observations on Jesus’ story:

“Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home.”
“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”
“…the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
“There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.”
“The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. ..Isn’t it good to be obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, and self-sacrificing? And still it seems that my resentments and complaints are mysteriously tied to such praiseworthy attitudes… It seems that wherever my virtuous self is, there also is the resentful complainer.”
“In all three of the parables which Jesus tells to explain why he eats with sinners, God rejoices and invites others to rejoice with him. “Rejoice with me,” the shepherd says, “I have found my sheep that was lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the woman says, “I have found the drachma I lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the father says, “this son of mine was lost and is found.” All these voices are the voices of God.”
In closing, I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section of this blog. What struggle do you have in coming home? Or thinking of yourself as never having left, do you still feel alienated even at home? The best part of this story is that whether we feel more like the older brother or the younger brother, Jesus communicated that we can come home. A loving father is watching for us.
[Below are two sermons that got me thinking again about this great story – one of many Jesus told to those with “ears to hear”.]

YouTube Video – Parable of the Lost Sons – Part 1 – Sermon by Khiry Cooper – Movement Church RVA – September 18, 2022

YouTube Video – Parable of the Lost Sons – Part 2 – Sermon by Cliff Jordan – Movement Church RVA – September 25, 2022

Worship Wednesday – Community – People Need People – Cain

Photo Credit: Gainesville Times, Small Group Movie

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

“Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25

This week our church launched our new small groups for this school year. It is an exciting time to meet new people in the church and to dig in, both in our relationship with God and with each other. “Life on life” community. Not a simple thing but definitely a beautiful thing as we lean in to one another and set our minds to NOT “grow weary in well doing” (Galatians 6:9).

A friend recommended a film to me, one I’d not heard of. “Small Group – the Movie”. This is not a documentary although it proposes the idea of a documentary for the audience. It tracks a young filmmaker who was hired to do an exposé on the diminishing relevance of Christianity. He and his family embed themselves in a small group of an evangelical church in Georgia. 5 couples who become friends and encouragers to each other in a Christian context. It has a striking mix of comedic and dramatic themes. Fascinating.

“Small Group” is rated PG-13 for brief gang violence and drug/alcohol references. It came at a perfect time for me as we were preparing to join a new group ourselves, not knowing at all what it would be like.

I have been in various kinds of church-affiliated small groups pretty much all my life. Maybe you as well. The dialogue in this film was familiar in ways but also stretching. It reminded me that community is not just having coffee together, retreat weekends, or surface talk before ducking out of group and heading home. Checking small group off our list for the week.

It’s so much more. In fact, I’m revisiting this even after having written about it recently. We have a deep need for true friendship. Not to replace intimacy with God but rather a both/and walk with Him.

Jesus declared, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40

Gathering this week with people we don’t know well, or at all, we could feel the joy and anticipation of the Holy Spirit of God sensing His “Well pleased” with this little group of His own. Are we nervous? Sure…but our hope is to be people who love well and stay in the room with these other brothers and sisters. To enjoy that experience of knowing them, growing and serving with them, and being truly known by them.

Worship with me to Cain‘s People Need Peoplereleased during the COVID pandemic.

You can go and build a mighty mansion
But with no family, all that house just goes to waste
You can fix a feast to feed an army
But with no friends, there’s no need to celebrate
Back in the beginning there were two in the garden
No, we were never made to be alone
God knows

People need people, need people, need people
To the Father there’s nothing better
Than when the kids all comе together
Peoplе need people, need people, need people
When there’s nothing, but love between us
We can finally start to see what God knows

People need people, need people, need people
People need people, need people, need people

‘Cause You know love is just like water (Water)
It’s no secret we all need it to survive (Woah, woah, woah) (Woah)
It won’t last long without your brother (Yeah)
‘Cause when you fall, he’ll lift you up every time
(Oh) God knows

People need people, need people, need people
To the Father there’s nothing better
Than when the kids all come together (Come together)
People need people, need people, need people
When there’s nothing, but love between us
We can finally start to see what God knows

People need people, need people, need people

People need people, need people, need people

The weak need the strong
The strong need the weak
We’ve all got something missing
And we’re all the missing piece (We’re all the missing piece)
The strong need the weak (Oh)
The weak need the strong
We’re all searching for an answer
That’s been here all along
People
People need people, need people, need people
Oh

People need people, need people, need people
To the Father there’s nothing better (There’s nothing better)
Than when the kids all come together (Oh)
People need people, need people, need people
When there’s nothing but love between us
We can finally start to see what God knows (What God knows)

People need people, need people, need people (Woah-woah)
People need people, need people, need people*

Monday Morning Moment – You’re Stronger Than You Think – Really? – A Truer Truth

Photo Credit: Quotir, Winnie the Pooh

OK…who hasn’t heard this encouragement? “You’re stronger than you think.” I have never cared for it. Why? Because it pushes the weary soul, doing all we can to stay afloat already, to “just keep swimming”.

Not that any of us wants to quit whatever we’re about…but…is there a truer truth?

The “stronger than you think” quote has been attributed to A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Written by  and published in the 1920s. This was a time post-World War I and prior to The Great Depression and World War II. The expression of “pull yourself up by your boot straps” and the mentality of self-reliance was fueled in those days, in literature and culture. It continues today.

[Now, you should know Milne did NOT write that expression. A writer at Disney must have. It is a quote from the animated film (1997) “Pooh’s Grand Adventure: the Search for Christopher Robin”. Pooh’s dear friend Christopher Robin is going away to boarding school and is trying to give Pooh, and himself, the courage for them to be apart. That message is there but not in so many words as in the Disney film.]

So…after that bubble burst, let’s return to the oft-quoted “stronger than you think” encouragement we find everywhere. It seems to speak to our culture…across generations.

Self-reliance. Work harder. Work smarter. We can do better. Sigh…

When we are told by a friend or family member, or even a social media stranger, that we’re stronger than we think, we are not being encouraged to lean on community…or God. We are given the message that somewhere inside ourselves, alone, without others, we can tap into more strength than we are feeling at the moment.

Is that really encouragement? I know we mean well…but do we really want to offer up Disney verbiage to a real struggle?

When I’ve gone about as far as I can go, can I slog out more, just with my own “main strength and awkwardness”? Maybe. At what cost and to what gain?

I got a phone call earlier today from a mom needing an understanding ear on a hard struggle involving her young son. She’s a terrific mom. Yet…she’d come to the end of her rope on this one. She sounded on Empty. Did it help that we talked? I think so…and definitely it helped to pray afterwards. She will find the way to help her son. She has a way forward even if she doesn’t see it clearly yet. Through her own resolve and experience. Through deep community. Through an enduring faith in a wise and loving God.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

The Apostle Paul speaks so eloquently and practically on this issue of our weakness and God’s strength. In fact, when we come to the end of ourselves, we find God’s strength perfect in our weakness. It’s both a hard truth and great comfort. We don’t like the experience of coming to the end of ourselves. Nor do we like to see our friends and family moving so close to that reality. For this reason, we encourage those we love to dig deeper.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

You know I love words…and I squeeze as much good out of them as I can. The Pooh video clip above and its messages of the richness of relationship do have meaning for us. Part of that meaning is how sustaining relationships can be even with we are apart from each other. However, the best part of relationships and how much stronger they make us comes from the moment-by-moment reach of them in the present. When we are there for each other (and pray for each other) we become stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.

When we seek to encourage with words like “You’re stronger than you think”, your heart will be heard. Lean in with those words…and pray for that one in the struggle.

Why I Believe ‘You Are Stronger Than You Think’ Is Not Always True – Arlene Pellicane

Monday Morning Moment – That Thing Does Doesn’t Need to Be Said – and If It Does – Deb Mills [Remember the quote from the Disney film Bambi? “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That is actually part of my family’s lexicon – so Disney does have wisdom sayings in its film library. 🙂

[Mandisa sings about how hard things make us stronger BUT she says that in the face of God being right there with us – holding us through whatever comes. We can rest in Him…and each other.]

11 Reasons Why You’re Stronger Than You Think – Coaching-Online – this is actually a good article on the argument of “you’re stronger than you think”…but, there is a truer truth.

If you can’t get enough of Pooh – this is a sweet film:

Monday Morning Moment – “The Chosen” – Jesus and Generation Z

Screenshot from “Unfiltered: Gen-Z Reacts to The Chosen”

The Chosen is an online TV series created and directed by Dallas Jenkins. The statement of faith posted by Jenkins includes the following: “The Chosen is a narrative show, which means it’s not a documentary…it’s absolutely not a replacement for Scripture. It is not focused on religious tradition, but on Jesus. It’s a show…but it’s a high calling for me.”

Dallas Jenkins and “The Chosen” production team developed a film project entitled “Unfiltered: Gen-Z Reacts to The Chosen”. It is a documentary where 9 strangers of Gen Z age were brought together to binge-watch “The Chosen” Season 1. They did not know what they would be watching. The documentary was just posted this week. It is below (starting 32 minutes in). You will love it!!

The Gen Z’ers (young people born after 1995) were really lovely. Different religious backgrounds. Very different social and family situations. More trauma and isolation than I would have imagined. Hard. Yet here they are grown, bright, their own people.

Screenshot from “Unfiltered: Gen-Z Reacts to The Chosen”

Binge-watching “The Chosen”. Their perspectives were fascinating – starting out, watching, and then processing afterward.

A little bit about “The Chosen” (from a previous blog I wrote):

I love the stories. They are reflective of Jesus and those closest to Him. They are plausible given what we know of Jesus in Scripture and what we know of the whole counsel of God in the Bible.

I have so many favorite scenes in this production (Season 1 and Season 2 also, and coming soon Season 3). One of the scenes is when Jesus calls Matthew as a disciple. Matthew…a Jewish tax collector – under the protection of the Romans – hated by his fellow Jews for the hardships he brings on them. In this treatment of this real person, Matthew is shown as one who could be on the Autism spectrum…brilliant and different. Watch the scene here.

Jesus’ line, “Get used to different”, although extra-Biblical, is so in character with the person of Christ. Winsome, loving, and right.

Merch from The Chosen Gifts

Worship Wednesday – Trouble – From The Chosen – Deb Mills

So what happens when a group of young people, very different from each other, watch this TV series?

Screenshots from “Unfiltered: Gen-Z Reacts to The Chosen”

I appreciated their take on “The Chosen”. Thoughtful, analytical, emotional, and open. No arrogance or judging. They considered the stories and the message. Did they all convert to people who follow Jesus? I don’t think so and it isn’t fully disclosed in the documentary …and…that certainly did not seem like the producers’ ploy.

What did happen for these Gen Z’ers is that they saw Jesus differently. Hopefully more accurately… They left the room changed.Screenshot from “Unfiltered: Gen-Z Reacts to The Chosen”

This documentary was just really good. I wish I could say to each one, thanks for being willing to risk being a part of that project. Their vulnerability was something we could all benefit from.

I wonder if they watched Season 2 of The Chosen on their own. I’m certainly looking forward to Season 3. In a world as cynical and jaded as ours, to be immersed in the place and community of Jesus is a great refreshing of the soul. Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, is an actor, of course…but his portrayal of Jesus is brilliant and true to the heart of Christ.

If you haven’t seen The Chosen yet, it is free to you, on YouTube and the app. Catch up…you’ll be glad you did.

Monday Morning Moment – 10 Lies of Contemporary Culture – Dr. Peter Kreeft

Photo Credit: Catholic Speakers

Who remembers commencement speeches? I’ve remembered a few over the years. Just a few. Still at the time, in all the emotion of a graduation day, whether we remember or not, maybe those words implant deeply in the brains of both the graduate and the audience… whether they recall them or not.

I hope Dr. Peter Kreeft‘s speech has that effect.

He gave the commencement speech in May this year at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. At 85 years old, he was funny and bold and unflinching as he punched holes into much of what our post-Christian culture holds as sacred. From all I gleaned online and the students’ warm and welcoming responses, he is much loved and his thoughtful handling of uncomfortable topics was surprising. His brief speech (just under 20 minutes) was clear and pointed.

He covered what he considered The 10 Lies of Contemporary Culture. I wish I could have found a transcript but could not so took verbatim notes myself. Take the time to watch or, if you aren’t convinced, scan my notes below…and then watch.

Here are his “10 lies” in brief:

  1. You can be whatever you want to be.
  2. The most important person in the whole wide world is you.
  3. The world needs you. You can save the world.
  4. You need education in creative thinking. [the ability to create “a new reality, a new world. You are the creator of truth.”]
  5. You also need education in critical thinking. [“not the search for any positive truth but a negative skepticism towards anything that claims to be truth except that truth which you yourself have created.”]
  6. The superiority of spiritual passivism. [“All peace is good including peace with the world, the flesh, and the devil….We must be tolerant of everything except intolerance…If all peace is good, then all war is bad.”]
  7. Peace and justice. If you want peace, then seek justice. [“Demand justice and nothing more. If you can’t deny the very existence of your enemies then at least don’t forgive them.”]
  8. Exaltation of openness, welcoming, and tolerance as the supreme good.
  9. All you need is love, sweet love. [“If all you need is love then you don’t need truth.”]
  10. The exaltation of freedom as an end rather than a means.

Well, he is a professor of philosophy after all. So much to think about in these 10 points.

He closed with the following:

“Love cannot stop warring against hate. Light cannot stop warring against darkness…No matter how smoky, stinky, and slimy the darkness is, it cannot endure the light. However successful the darkness may be for however long a time and however it may increase and however many more times we continue to lose every battle in the culture war: yet the light is imperishable. All lies die. Truth alone remains.

Just go forth and preach the truth, the good news, by both word and deed, and then let the chips fall where they may. And please remember Mother Teresa’s words: ‘God did not put you in this world to be successful; He put you in this world to be faithful.’Dr. Peter Kreeft

Photo Credit: The Catholic Rose, Pinterest

Dr. Kreeft is a prolific writer and fascinating speaker. Some of his quotes are linked below. I’m not Catholic nor was he originally. Maybe it’s one of the reasons he is so passionate about the truth and doing what he can to bring his Catholic and Protestant brothers toward unity. As for those who do not follow the teachings of Christ, he still has a word of wisdom…delivered with humor, honesty, and humility.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

Peter Kreeft Website

Peter Kreeft Quotes

Peter Kreeft Quotes – GoodReads