Category Archives: Spiritual Warfare

Wednesday Worship – What Are We Defending in Anger – Who Is Your Defender? – Francesca Battistelli & Steffany Gretzinger

Photo Credit: Wendell Berry, QuoteFancy

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.James 1:19

The LORD will fight for you, and you must be quiet (stay still/hold your peace).”Exodus 14:14

Have you been angry lately? You find an internal burn firing up over an offense? An injustice. A false accusation. A public rebuke. A mean comment. A certain look or tone.

Your anger rises, and you feel justified – to react, to strike back, to level…that person or persons “at fault”.

Anger in itself is not a sin. What we do with it keeps it righteous or turns it into something damaging. God has shown us what righteous anger looks like. He also warns us about anger turned sinfully toward ourselves or others. Or even toward Him.

He will take our anger…because He loves us and won’t stop loving us.

This week, I listened to Bible teacher Jennie Allen‘s podcast on Anger. It was a great launch into a deeper look at anger. In her podcast, Allen referred to a sermon by Pastor Tim Keller.

YouTube Video – The Healing of Anger – Tim Keller (12 minutes in, for sure, but all of it is important so take the time)

In this podcast, Keller tells of how just waiting on his food order in a restaurant, he found himself getting angry at the wait. The question came to him, “What are you defending?”

“Anger is defending something you love.”

When we get angry, we may be defending our own (or someone else’s) rights or entitlement to something. It could be our reputation, our ego, our sense of importance. What do we love? We will defend it.

“What is it that you love so much?…I’m afraid of how I’m going to look, I’m afraid that it’s going to come out…I’m defending my ego. I’m defending me…There’s a place in Jeremiah where God says, ‘Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.’ [Jeremiah 45:5]…We are ordering our love…Disordered love [leads to] disordered anger…”Tim Keller

If God’s love is not more important than any other love, we will be at the whim of disordered anger.

“When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol’, something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.” – Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

In his sermon, Keller talked about three ways we deal with anger. We either stow (stuff) anger, blow anger, or slow anger. Neither of the first two types are good for us or for anyone else.

God calls us to be slow to anger. He knows our frame. He loves us and He loves those who “make” us angry or whom our anger targets.

If we die to our rights/entitlements as God calls us to do, then our love for Him and for others becomes ordered in such a way we are less prone to striking out in anger.

Defending ourselves using anger is exhausting and can leave relationships broken or destroyed. When the situation is someone else angry with us, Keller gives us a way (the way) to deal with the disordered anger: A surgical strike on disordered anger from another without losing the relationship:

  1. Come in close.
  2. Insist on the truth (staying with what you and he/she know is true – not just how you/they feel.
  3. Absorb the pain of their disordered rage without paying back.

This is huge.

This is what Jesus did for us, in his life and death. This is our great Defender.

Francesca Battistelli with songwriter Steffany Gretzinger gives us a beautiful anthem in praise of our “Defender”.

Let’s worship together.

You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
You come back with the head of my enemy
You come back and You call it my victory, oh-ooh

You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
Your love becomes my greatest defense
It leads me from the dry wilderness

And all I did was praise
All I did was worship
All I did was bow down, oh
All I did was stay still

Hallelujah, You have saved me
So much better Your way
Hallelujah, great Defender
So much better Your way

You know before I do
Where my heart can seek to find Your truth
Your mercy is the shade I’m living in
And You restore my faith and hope again

And all I did was praise, ohhh, oh-ooh
All I did was worship
All I did was bow down, oh
All I did was stay still, stay still

Hallelujah, You have saved me
So much better Your way
Hallelujah, great Defender
So much better Your way

When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart
When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart
When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart

Hallelujah, You have saved me
So much better this way
Hallelujah, great Defender
So much better Your way
So much better Your way (I know it’s so much better)
So much better Your way (I know it, I know it)

And all I did was praise
All I need to do is worship
Lord, I will just bow down
I’m just gonna stay still*

*Lyrics to Defender – Songwriters: Steffany Gretzinger with Rita Springer and John-Paul Gentile

Story Behind the Francesca Battistelli’s New Song “Defender” – Mornings with Rebecca and Burns

100 Bible Verses about God As Our Defender

YouTube Video – Heartsong Cedarville University – A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

Monday Morning Moment – Lies – and What Makes Us Think We Can Sort Them Out?

Photo Credit: Ask Ideas, Facebook, Enchanting Minds

Freedom of speech is a precious right that deserves our protection.

We are free in this country to speak. We can choose to treat truth as a lie or lies as truth. Without penalty in some cases. Even the Supreme Court has protected the right to lie in one instance (maybe others). The justices’ in-court conversation is fascinating and telling of the sanctity of free speech in our country.

As a nation, our values have included the adage “with rights come responsibilities”. Unfortunately, in the political arena, we may need to ask the question: has lying become an accepted “means to an end”?

For this first (maybe final) term of the Trump presidency, he has been accused of lying on a daily basis, by the Democrats and the main-stream media, among others. Now we are in the last days of a presidential election. Vice-President Biden, the Democratic candidate for President, is also under fire for lying. Even his own Vice-President candidate, Senator Harris, not many months ago, accused him of the same.

Let’s just say, for a moment, that telling the truth is not an American value in 2020. It seems it still is, if we base that assessment on the varied and verbose outcries, on each side of the political aisle. However, how is it that we, the American people, believe our particular candidate is always telling the truth and the other is not?

Here’s what I think? Take it for what it’s worth to you. I don’t think any of us can know who is lying and who is telling the truth.

We live in a political era of spliced sound-bytes, seamless film editing, brilliant speech writing, and high-dollar coaches and advisors. Our party and policy preferences are gathered from our social media posts and internet searches. What we want to hear and see is well-researched and incorporated into political campaigns. Then we have the tech giants and news media fueling what we believe about our preferred candidates…or the other catastrophic choices. This is where we are…in the political arena.

Many of us are disappointed in the amount of pandering politicians do. But that pandering is more a symptom of our high unadjusted expectations and abstract consumerism than it is of flaws of political characters. You can’t compete for the presidency these days without pandering, including meta-pandering — pandering about pandering, saying “You’re good honest folk. You don’t want pandering. You only want straight talk and that’s all you’ll ever get from me.” – Jeremy E. Sherman

The quote above speaks to the jaded nature of politics. “Pandering” is essentially saying what we think others want to hear to get what we want out of the transaction – a political win, in this case. Sad.

The win is what matters. Lie if you have to, to end up on top. Lying, and not getting caught in the lie, is even better. So what if you get caught? Then you lean on your allies to whitewash the lie or create doubt, especially, when possible, by casting doubt on the veracity of the one who exposed the lie. Round and round and round we go.

There’s so much more I’d like to say on this topic, but will stop here. In the US, a huge election is days away, and we are weighing our candidates by what we believe about them. Who has our best interests at heart? Some say they are voting for the “lesser of two evils”. Some are very relieved at their option. Still others believe the whole future of this country is at stake.

What is true here, and what are the lies? What makes us think we can sort them out?

Here’s how? We look past our party affiliation. We start the clock wondering:  how is it that this friend, colleague, family member, educator, legislator, celebrity, thought leader, media talking head…thinks differently from me? Be willing to ask the question, “Could it be possible that I’m the one who believes the lies? Could it be I have drunk the proverbial KoolAid?”

The sleek advertising notwithstanding, lies abound right now. Freedom of speech protects a certain level of lying. The end justifies the means…or so it seems. What we hope is that when the smoke clears on this election, and a winner is finally declared, that we as a people haven’t sold our souls to the Devil…the Father of lies.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3

Here is the positive, the hope. We can be those who don’t need our ears tickled. We can, no matter the outcome of this election, choose to look for truth (not in the use of the word as in “my truth” or “your truth”) and stand there…together. When we dig down through all the political pandering and propaganda, we can hopefully find bedrock… if not in today’s popular culture…then elsewhere.

Peace.

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

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

Monday Morning Moment – Forgive Me

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman, Flickr

Twitter has actually been a help to me. I follow (and therefore learn from) people of influence, excellent thinkers, and soldiers in the battle for good. At times, our values are not in lock-step. At times, especially in today’s culture wars, even these voices point to other voices way more stern or biting than their own.

I fell into this myself this weekend, and for that I’m sorry.

Someone I follow re-tweeted another who had really strong emotions about something that happened this weekend. It related to the death of President Trump’s brother and how some were treating his death in a hurtful, political way.

How far our culture has fallen!

I hit the “like” button because I agreed with the wrongness of such actions. The writer closed his tweet with something like, “Jesus, help them.”

When Dave saw the “liked” tweet, he gently reproved me based on the content of the whole tweet. I had totally read “over” the f-word planted angrily in the body of message.

That four-letter word that turns a movie rating from PG to R. That four-letter word we would never use in polite company. That four-letter word that intends anger, hatred, contempt.

Yipes!

Have I grown insensitive to that word? Seeing it written in graffiti all over our city. On posters in riots. Chanted loudly on video in news reports.

Have I grown cold to it?

NO!!! Yet, it is possible in that moment I had become blind and for that I ask forgiveness. To any who might have seen my “liked” tweet from another. To any more near who might experience blindness in me.

Forgive me.

Years and years ago, I used to listen to Steve Brown on the radio. Doing chores at home or on the many errands peopled by small ones. He encouraged me. He said something one time that has stuck with me. Not verbatim, but something like this: “If you’re moving away from God, He will grease the tracks. Same, if you’re moving toward Him.” Both those experiences have been mine over time.

May our worldly culture never have to be used of God to open our eyes to depravity…especially creeping into our own hearts.

Help us to always have eyes to see.

Truth matters. Foulness mixed in may not taint what is true, but it distracts from what is true. It can change the truth-bearers and truth-hearers. I never want to be a partner in that.

Forgive me. I will be more watchful in the future.

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

Monday Morning Moment – Searching Out the Truth in All the Voices

Photo Credit: Dunk, Flickr

I was talking to a friend recently about longing to be in dialogue where I can actually sort out what is true in all the public outcry.

She said, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” It went right to my heart. I would find out later that this quote is credited to social activist Maggie Kuhn.

My shaky voice has kept me from writing, and even speaking on some of the issues we are facing today. Yet, the voices all around us are getting louder and louder.

We are in a season (I’m determined it is a season and not a new normal) where voices on the streets, messages on signs, even on facial masks are persuasive and divisive.

I’m committed to listening and searching out the truth of what people are saying…but.

Here’s the but:

As long as I’m still free to choose, I can’t support an organization or movement that seems to stir up hatred as part of its strategy. That might not be the intent, but…hatred bubbles up. Hatred for those seen as enemy, as culprit, as guilty with no presumption of innocence.

In the last month, my understanding of our society has grown enormously. Too many times, I’ve had to acknowledge: “I didn’t know.”

Watching the documentary 13th was riveting. This feature-length film exposes how after the passing of the 13th amendment on the abolishing of slavery, and then, decade after decade, the governmental and cultural undermining that decision right through to today. [If you aren’t inclined to watch “13th”, then take 10 minutes and watch Ryan DavisThis Is America.]

I have started realizing that the truth is although I wasn’t consciously racist, somehow culturally and spiritually, I have enjoyed privilege and have been indifferent to many in our country who are hurting.

This broke my heart. Even after years of working in a large public hospital in Atlanta, years working in community development, and years of what could be called Christian service. I lacked the compassion and critical thinking that, ironically, should have been clear and obvious in a life of following Jesus.

So where does that leave me…us? Have you struggled with the cultural messages you are hearing…about yourself, in particular, if you’re white? Have you wholeheartedly agreed with the messages? That we are at fault for all the terrible suffering we are seeing now (if we didn’t see it before), and we have to make it right? I don’t have an answer here…only more questions.

Systemic Racism Explained – Ryan Davis

I am so ready for an advancement of good in our country.

Dialogue. Civil discourse. Reasoning together. Searching for solutions…sustainable, dignifying solutions.

Here’s where I am right now. Listening to friends. Asking questions. Watching news reports and reading commentary. Looking for people who are speaking on the problems in our country, without power or profit agendas. People who seem to care, truly care, for the hurting, but who refuse to go the way of hatred.

An example of what helped to clear confusion for me was discovering the operating strategy of cultural Marxism.

“A collectivist application of Marxist class warfare along a far broader spectrum of identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to solely along class lines; intersectionality.
First, Marxism only spoke to the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but now men oppress women, whites oppress blacks, heterosexuals oppress homosexuals, the able-bodied oppress the disabled, & cisgendered folk oppress trans folk; WHO you are is irrelevant, all that matters now is WHAT you are, which groups you are a member of, your personhood reduced to your arbitrary characteristics, to that of an object; this is Cultural Marxism. –  Urban Dictionary

That is what I’m seeing in the loud and angry voices in the public arena right now. Class warfare. One group against another group. This is not the disruption that will enlarge any of us as Americans. We are all objectified by this kind of identification/definition. No justice in this. Only destruction and disunity.

The video below by theologian educator Dr. Voddie Baucham was enormously helpful for me to understand cultural Marxism. [I will warn you: he takes issue with the politics of a very popular US president.] His teaching actually gave me hope. Truth sets us free.

Be encouraged.

We can be a part of a redemptive work. Even with shaky voices and shaky knees. Our only recourse is NOT what the loudest voices call for…but we do need to listen to those who genuinely represent the hurting. And, most urgently, the hurting themselves.

Before closing, here are some of the voices that have encouraged and emboldened me in recent days. They are not all alike in their message, but they speak reason, love, and hope.

Rayshawn Graves. Bryan Stevenson. Scott Sauls. Anthony Bradley. Rolland Slade. Glenn Loury. Bevelyn Beatty. Senator Tim Scott. Darrell B. Harrison. Virgil Walker. Karen Swallow Prior. David Lyle. Jackie Hill Perry. Coleman Hughes. Jared Burwell. Tim Keller. Shelby Steele. Michael Catt. Keith Smith. John McWhorter. Voddie Baucham. Just to name a few.

I’d love to close with a few of the lyrics of Andrew Peterson‘s A White Man’s Lament for God’s Beloved:

“…the mercies of the Lord
Will be the chords to every song…
…it begins as I repent
And bow my head as I lament this broken world
‘Cause every victim, every villain
Was a precious little boy or little girl
This is me and this is you
This is the truth, if you believe it or not
You have always been beloved
They have always been beloved

George, Breonna, Ahmaud
All beloved of God

5 Ways Christians Are Getting Swept Into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment – Natasha Crain

Worship Wednesday – Taking Heart in the God of Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Photo Credit: a worship service in Richmond, during recent protests Jared Burwell, Facebook

I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.
I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard [him] and saved him from all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.Psalm 34:1-9
Our city has been rocked with shock and grief in recent weeks. The resulting waves of protests, vandalism, and looting have turned everyone’s attention to the brokenness here and elsewhere.
Some say the church has finally found its voice in this conversation. The church is finally showing up where it should have long ago.
We struggle. All of us. With understanding and a willingness to lean in where there is pain. Whoever caused the pain or was complicit in ignoring pain, we as believers come under the lordship of a God who leans in.
I am still without words (you who read my blogs, thank you. You noticed and I am grateful). Fortunately many more articulate people are writing and speaking about what is going on in our country and how we can respond…as Americans for some, as believers for others.
I want to respond as a believer, and I am listening.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir‘s Psalm 34 really touched my heart this week, and I wanted to share it with you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfW2mkkMTAg&feature=youtu.be
Our church is not very diverse in its congregation, but we have (or maybe want is a better word) a heart for loving all peoples. I am thankful for our leadership for nurturing that. Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, has been multi-cultural for many years…as is its leadership.

The Pastoral Staff of Brooklyn Tabernacle

I think it’s safe to say that right now the church is trying to figure out how to show up for those hurting in our country and around the world. What that will mean in the days ahead…in the years ahead…is yet to be seen. How it turns out will be impacted by how we walk with the God of Psalm 34.

Worship together:

I sought the Lord
And He answered me
And delivered me
From every fear
Those who look on Him
Are radiant
They’ll never be ashamed
They’ll never be ashamed
This poor man cried
And the Lord heard me
And saved me from
My enemies
The Son of God
Surrounds His saints
He will deliver them
He will deliver them
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Oh taste and see
That the Lord is good
Oh blessed is he
Who hides in Him
Oh fear the Lord
Oh all you saints
He’ll give you everything
He’ll give you everything
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever…

Worship Wednesday – The Forgiven Forgive – David Crowder & Matthew West

Photo Credit: FBC Yorktown, NY

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”Matthew 6:12

Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he preached out on a hillside to a great throng of people. This Sermon on the Mount set in motion the public teaching of Christ. In it, he focused on the hearts of men and women rather than on the religious law.

Toward the end of this sermon, he taught those in hearing how to pray. Within this beautiful prayer is the verse above:

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

In this short verse, we hear both our need for God’s forgiveness as well as our need to forgive others.

All my life, I have heard how important it is to forgive:

  • “Keep short accounts.” – my mama
  • “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
  • “Don’t retry people in the court of your emotions.” – Tom Elliff
  • “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.” – Isabelle Holland

The verse from the Lord’s Prayer calls us to ask God’s forgiveness for the debt of sin we owe and are unable to pay (thus needing Jesus as Savior). We ask God’s forgiveness as we forgive others – even if we are determined they owe us something (thus the word debts/debtors).

Seeking forgiveness for ourselves and forgiving others have high priority to God. They both relate to keeping our hearts pure before the Lord, keeping us from having a seared conscience, and acting for the sake of our brother/sister, restoring our fellowship with him/her (unity).

It is urgent that we ask for forgiveness and take action to forgive. Right away.

If we have sinned against another, leave our gift and go ask forgiveness.Matthew 5:23-24, also Mark 11:25

Leave Your Gift and Go – Life Action

As soon as we sense, or hear, or are made aware that we have sinned against someone, we need to move to make it right. Quickly. There is much at stake: our right relationship with that person, and guarding our own hearts from apathy, justifying ourselves, or shifting blame. In other words, sin heaped upon sin. When we remember how much God has forgiven us, we are tuned into the destructive nature of sin on ourselves and others.

Then, on the flip side, if someone has sinned against us, go to him and seek peace…be reconciled. – from Matthew 18:15-17

In my 20s, I had this great friend and roommate. She required very little from me. In fact, we got into a routine of her taking out the garbage and me letting her. It just seemed she preferred doing it, or so I wrongly thought. It may seem a small thing, but it grew big as sin does when it is left uncorrected. After some time, it became a point of contention, and she confronted me with my lack of care for her in this. I was truly sorry and asked her forgiveness.

She wasn’t ready to just let me off with my “I’m sorry.” We were both pretty serious Christ followers at that time, and I blurted out:  “You HAVE to forgive me.” We knew what the Scripture said on unforgiveness.

She forgave me, and that conversation was a turning point in our friendship. I am forever thankful for her courage in confronting my sin and forgiving me. We are still friends, many years later.

What To Do If Someone Sins Against You: the Teaching of Jesus – Mark D. Roberts

When Jesus told his disciples to pray for forgiveness as they forgive others did he not, then, mean that I should pray something like this: “Father, forgive me for my failure today to forgive [Dave]. I was irritable and wrapped up in myself and when he said what he said I flew off the handle at him and held a grudge all day, savoring in my mind how I might show him up, and keeping count of all the times he wronged me. My conscience smote me this afternoon when you reminded me of your constant mercy toward me. So I went to him and apologized (Mark 11:25). I do not desire to hold the grudge any longer. You have rid me of my selfish indignation and so I pray you will forgive my failure to forgive [Dave] earlier today and let me not fall into that temptation again.” Forgiveness is not a work by which we earn God’s forgiveness. It flows from a heart satisfied with the mercy of God and rejoicing in the cancellation of our own ten million dollar debt (Matthew 18:24). With man it is impossible, but not with God. – John Piper

Forgive Us Our What? Three Ways to Say the Lord’s Prayer – Jon Bloom

If I Fail to Forgive Others, Will God Not Forgive Me? – John Piper

It is not easy to forgive always. Some wounds are deep and reopened often. God gives grace. We cling to Him and to the amazing grace we have because of His forgiveness. Our emotions may lag behind and may take time, but we can forgive in an instant. Mark it down and remember it to God, ourselves, and (when necessary) the Evil One who accuses. We can forgive in an instant, and healing will begin.

Two songs come to mind in thinking about our hearts toward forgiveness. David Crowder’s Forgiven and Matthew West’s Forgiveness. They both take us to the very teaching of Christ – how much our sin separated us from God – and how we who are forgiven from our burden of sin will never want hold onto the sin of unforgiveness. The forgiven forgive.

Worship with me with the help of these two songs pointing us to a heart of forgiveness, a heart bent toward God. A heart He tenders toward those who need forgiveness, too.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this pattern of prayer that Jesus taught. Give me a gentle spirit and help me to be quick to forgive all those who have hurt or abused me… knowing that for Christ’s sake I have been forgiven of so much. I pray that I may maintain close fellowship with You, and be swift to forgive those who sin against me – in Jesus name, AMEN.” – Daily Verse

Precept Austin – Exhaustive study of Matthew 6:11-12

Forgiven to Forgive – Allen Webster

Forgiveness – First Presbyterian Church, Yorktown, NY