Category Archives: Walk with God

Worship Wednesday – Spiritual Depression – It Is Well With My Soul – Kristene DiMarco, Wintley Phipps, & Guy Penrod

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.Psalm 42:5, 11

I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39

We all have those pivotal moments in life…seconds that turn us in a completely different direction…and the memories of those moments fixed in minds easily retrievable when remembering matters.

One of those moments for me was one night, lying in bed. I was in my 20s and living a life of double-mindedness. In church on Sundays, but dabbling in all sorts of worldliness the rest of the week.

It was a season when I bought into the lie that whatever good would come to my life I had to make happen. So deceived in my thinking, I didn’t even realize how complicit I was with Satan in derailing my walk with the Jesus and deposing Him as Lord.

The deceit of living a lie finally wore me out, and the Spirit of God Himself woke me to the futility of it all…leaving me fearful and lost inside.

Lying in bed, I prayed. In that darkness, it was as if my prayers reached the ceiling of the room and then fell shattered all around me. A Scripture verse came to mind from memory, learned long ago – back in the days of memorizing from the King James Version:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. – Psalm 66:18

A deep spiritual depression settled in me that would take some time to work its way out in repentance and restoration. Thankfully, the Lord always completes what He begins (Philippians 1:6).

Photo Credit: Quote Fancy

As I woke up to the darkening work of my own flesh and that of the Enemy, God began showing me where I had forgotten the great work of salvation He had done in my life. He reminded me of His love and His goodness. He opened my eyes to what I called a benign thing He called sin. Then He received me back to Himself as a mom receives her weary wayward child.

 Come and listen, all who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth, and praise was on my tongue. If I had been aware of malice [sin] in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. However, God has listened; he has paid attention to the sound of my prayer. Blessed be God! He has not turned away my prayer or turned his faithful love from me.Psalm 66:16-20

Our community group at Movement Church is beginning a study together on spiritual depression. One of our study aids will be the classic book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and its Cure by physician pastor David Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Do you ever struggle to get to sleep because of worrying about the “what if’s” of life? Does fear rise up as we listen to our own voices in our head and believe them true? Lloyd-Jones prescribes taking action to stop listening to ourselves and begin speaking the truth to ourselves. “Preaching [the Gospel] to ourselves”.

The Psalmist closed out his psalm over his troubled soul with, “put your hope in God”. Our hope has a sure place in the Lord. Our peace can be restored in Him. We “will still praise Him”.

Worship with me:

Grander earth has quaked before
Moved by the sound of His voice
Seas that are shaken and stirred
Can be calmed and broken for my regard

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
It is well with me

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see

And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name [repeat last line during 3rd run]
[x3]

It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
[repeat 3x]

It is well it is well with my soul [x3]
ahhhhhhh (softly)

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You Lord
Through it all, through it all
It is well with me.
[x2] *

 *Lyrics to It Is Well by Bethel

YouTube Video – It Is Well – Bethel – Lyric Video

YouTube Video – It Is Well – Kristene DiMarco

Story Behind the Song It Is Well by Bethel

Martyn Lloyd Jones Trust – Sermon Series on Spiritual Depression (these sermons comprise his classical book Spiritual Depression)

Deb Mills Writer – Worship Wednesday – Then Came the Morning and It Is Well With My Soul – Because He Lives – Guy Penrod

Deb Mills Writer – Through It All – It Is Well With My Soul – with Kristene DiMarco & Bethel Music

Worship Wednesday – He Will Hold Me Fast – Shane & Shane

Photo Credit: Pinimg

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. – Jude 24–25

I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. 2 Timothy 1:12

In a recent worship service, I heard a song for the first time. He Will Hold Me Fast. The lyrics were written in 1906 by the English hymn-writer Ada Ruth Habershon.

[She is most famous for her 1907 hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken? – here arranged and performed by Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar].

As the worship team led us in singing the song, I was feverishly writing down the lyrics. So mesmerized by the truth and power of the words, I didn’t want to take the chance I couldn’t find it later online.

In a moment of distraction, I noticed a friend of mine sitting nearby doing exactly the same thing. Our lives are so very different that the question came to me: How are these words touching us both the same?

You see, compared to her, my life is lived in relative comfort and safety. Most of the time, she spends her days in a much more difficult kind of work and situation.

A first responder of sorts. Surrounded by so much need. So much want.

As we both scrambled to write down the lyrics, I was reminded how God doesn’t weigh out our need for Him to determine who gets more of Him. He is completely generous with His love, His care, His provision.

Other friends of ours are in the midst of a life-or-death battle. Their son has been diagnosed with that horrific brain cancer, glioblastoma. We are all praying for him for healing and for his family, grace.

His father wrote this on his Facebook page:

“…The one thing we can be certain of is that He gives us His loving presence, strength, and He promises never to leave us nor forsake us. When we follow our Lord, we are always living in the assurance of an eternity in God’s glorious presence!! When Joshua in the Old Testament was leading Israel into battles which would determine Israel’s future in the Land God promised to them, God promised Joshua in chapter 1:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Again, in chapter 1:9, God says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
No, He does not zap us in order to punish, or chastise, or test us, but He does promise that whatever happens, if we are following Him, He will be with us in whatever we are going through. He will bring healing of mind, heart, will, or life. His healing sometimes is to deliver us from suffering and to take us home in eternity!. As Paul says in Philippians 4:12 “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” – Sam James, The Making of a Servant

Throughout Scripture, God calls us to remember…Him and how He moves in our circumstances. Our brother Sam is remembering by speaking the Gospel to his own heart and sharing it with all of us.

My friend and I both experienced God’s embrace in that old hymn – updated by songwriter Matthew Merker and performed by Christian duo Shane & Shane.

No matter what comes…He will hold us fast.

Worship with me:

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold, He must hold me fast

Chorus
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast

Precious in His holy sight, He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost, His Promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied, He will hold me fast
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight, when He comes at last

He began a work in me (x2); He’ll complete a work in me (x2)

Song by Shane & Shane

*Lyrics to He Will Hold Me Fast – Songwriters: Ada Habershon & Matthew Merker

YouTube Video – He Will Hold Me Fast – Story Behind the Song – Matt Merker

Jude 24, 25 – The Doxology, All Glory to God! – Dr. John Sparks

Worship Wednesday – Connect the Dots to Christmas – O Magnum Mysterium

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

“Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”). – Matthew 1:23

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” –  Galatians 4:4-7, ESV

Christmas. At this time of year, it is everywhere. The folding together of secular and sacred. The parties. The music. The food. Gift-buying, giving, and receiving.

Whatever our take on Christmas…whatever we believe…one thing is clear. No matter how hard some will try to blur the message…even Christians in our own small endeavors to insist on our observances…one thing is clear.

There would be no Christmas apart from the coming of Christ.

Our teaching pastor, Cliff Jordan, powerfully preached this message during our recent Advent service. After his welcome to the church, he railed for 5 minutes (to make the point) on the tangle of Christmas distractions. The stuff of Christmas that can make us anxious and fearful of not getting it right – for ourselves, our families, and God Himself.

[Here’s the link to the sermon podcast, and here’s the link to the service from Facebook Live.]

Then (hang in there, past that 5 minutes), and Pastor Cliff launches into a beautiful challenge of how we have the privilege of connecting the dots of how the Lord Jesus permeates all that is Christmas.

“What if we just acknowledge and see the joy that everything that happens during the Christmas season is literally a direct or indirect response to one person – the person of Jesus. He is literally the linchpin of all that we get right and all that we get wrong, whether people know it or not. Without Jesus, there is no Christmas. There is a ton of joy that we can, at least, just acknowledge…that all of this is literally connected back to Jesus.” – Cliff Jordan, Movement Church

He called us to connect the dots of how Jesus is celebrated in the  great lyrics of the Christmas hymns. Even in the holiday programs of schools today – we can take the secular and remember the sacred.

We connect the dots – from the cradle of Christ to the cross…and to the commission He has given us in the culture of our day. Not in weird “Christiany” ways, but lovingly leaning into others’ lives, as Jesus did. Inviting those in our circles into the story of Christ…the story of Christmas…connecting the dots.

Rather than offering a song of worship today, I’d love to suggest a few moments of quiet. Reflecting on the wondrous nature of this season…this world-transforming birth of Jesus. It doesn’t really matter when he was born…it matters that he separated himself from the eternity he has always known to become human, for our sakes. For our sakes.

American composer Morten Lauridsen‘s O Magnum Mysterium is one of my favorite Christmas sound experiences. It is not intrusive. The lyrics in Latin don’t distract. It can be a call to quieten our hearts and to breathe in the great gift of Jesus to a world so in need of him.

YouTube Video – O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen – Kings College

Connecting the Dots at Christmas – Ken Shigematsu

Photo Credit: Todd Carey, Facebook

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

[Adapted from the Archives]
We live in a “not so much”,  “couldn’t care less” world.
Our senses are bombarded with the material – the stuff we think adds value. The “too cool for school” attitude of self-importance pushes past high school into adulthood. We think highly of ourselves, and the coolest of us settle into tight tribes – actually cool or not, we find our people and tuck ourselves in.
Advent gives pause. Even for those who do not celebrate Christmas, the presence of a God-child, a baby like no other, must be grappled with…even for a transformative moment. For believers and non-believers alike, we can stop the show of our lives…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
Consider.
So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:

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

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

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

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

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

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

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

During the weeks of Advent this year, our praise team at Movement Church is leading us through this beautiful song, considering Jesus: Is He Worthy?

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

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

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

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus…You are worthy.

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

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

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

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

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

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

Worship Wednesday – Hills and Valleys – I Am Not Alone – Tauren Wells

Photo Credit: Heartlight

I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.
Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.

The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life.
The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever.Psalm 121

Hills and valleys. They are part of our lives.

A week ago, I sat silent in the car by this beautiful friend, her face blotched and shining with tears. It had been a low time for her, and, for the moment, she just needed to cry. We were together for her wedding day – the loveliest of high times. There have been other shared mountain-top experiences since…as well as valleys.

When we have those big positive experiences, the valleys are forgotten – that ache of loneliness or undoneness in the times of helplessness or disappointment. Still, we need people in both those experiences…More than that, we need God.

Several years ago, along with some friends, our family visited Mt. Sinai. Dave’s Mom and Dad also joined us, visiting from the US. It was an incredible time. We traveled up toward the summit on donkeys via a camel trail. The last 750 feet we climbed on foot. The view was spectacular. Just under 7500 ft. high, Mt. Sinai is a sentinel in Egypt’s eastern desert. Majestic, beautiful, changing in appearance with sun and shadow. Awe-inspiring.

Even more so, as we think this could be the place that Moses met with God, so many years ago. It is considered a holy mountain by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Looking out over the desert below, we got lost in our thoughts, reflecting on history and God and the privilege just to be there. It was more a solitary experience, although surrounded by loved ones and strangers. One group of tourists started singing “How Great Thou Art” in a language I couldn’t understand. We joined in, in English. It was truly an obvious mountain-top experience.

Then, the climb down. The camel trail would be slower, so we decided to take the faster route – the Steps of Repentance. Stones placed as stairs from the summit to the valley floor (legend goes that one monk placed them all as an act of repentance). 3750 stone steps. Uneven, rough-cut, some deeper or narrower than others. All requiring care in descending.

[Click on this blog for pics of Mt. Sinai’s summit and the valley below as well as a look at the Steps of Repentance – 3750 steps down to the valley.]

Plodding our way to the valley, step by step, wasn’t taxing at first, but that didn’t last long. As hundreds of steps took their toll on our knees, we started feeling shaky and unsure of our footing. Hoping not to fall or injure ourselves. It helped that we were in a group, in case we needed each other.

On that walk down, I got to see a tenderness in my husband that fit perfectly the situation. He saw his mom was struggling and came alongside her to get safely down to the valley. His dad was fine enough, as was I, although shaking from the pounding down descent. Being careful not to fall. It turned out to be harder than we thought.

Valleys are like that, in general. Ofttimes, harder than we think. We need each other and most importantly we need God. To bring us through the journey that takes us low. To give us the grace to deal with what is in front of us.

Our pastor Cliff Jordan preached on prayer a few Sundays back. Prayer and the postures of prayer. When we are experiencing a mountain-top moment or a downward spiral to a spiritual valley, we pray. As God’s children – for different reasons and with different postures. Remembering that we are not alone. Never. Not ever.Photo Credit: PixabayPhoto Credit: 163atkw.aug

Singer/songwriter Tauren Wells‘ has given us a song about this very thing. Hills and Valleys.

“When you’re on the mountaintops of life, learn to bow low. and when you’re in the valleys of life, learn to stand tall….No matter where we’re at, we’re standing in God’s grace, and that no matter what we have, His grace is enough.” Tauren Wells

Worship with me.

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven
From my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God, You give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

I’ve watched my dreams get broken
In You I hope again
No matter what I know
I’m safe inside Your hands

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain
Over it all
Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain
Over it all
On the mountains I will bow my life, yeah
In the valley I will lift my eyes
Ohhh, ohhhh

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
No, I’m not alone
I know, I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills
And I am not alone
God of the hills
The God of the valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone*

*Lyrics – Hills and Valleys – Songwriter: Tauren Wells

YouTube Video – Hills and Valleys (Story Behind the Song)

Hills and Valleys – Behind the Song – Kevin Davis

Worship Wednesday – We Are Blessed to Be a Blessing – Andy Flannagan

Photo Credit: Heartlight

[Adapted from the Archives]

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – God to Abraham –  Genesis 12:2

We are so blessed. It is not a cliche. It is truth. Even those who don’t believe that God is will still use the expression of being blessed.

I wonder, “by whom?”.

Earlier this week I wrote about silence as punishment…withholding our words, ourselves, from others. Today we focus on the opposite – blessing others, through our words and actions. Reaching out, drawing in. Speaking life and love. Listening close. Blessing.

We are blessed to be a blessing. From the beginning of time, when God instructed His first man and woman. Especially to childless Abraham who would receive that promise in faith…blessed to be a blessing.

Writer Tina Boesch has written a beautiful book on blessing: Given: the Forgotten Meaning and Practice of Blessing. The first page of the book begins with a Scottish blessing:Life be in my speech, sense in what I say…the love Christ Jesus gave  filling me for every one.” Boesch writes about how, no matter the situation or the persons in front of us, we can bless them, because He has so utterly blessed us.

Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Colossians 3:17

From a young British friend’s Facebook page sometime ago, I was introduced to songwriter Andy Flannagan and Reverend Kevin Lewis. They both love Jesus and sing and write about blessing…

They cheer us on to shake off the weight of self-interest and reach out to a broken world…that those desperate for love will find it in the same Savior we know…and show by our love – our words and deeds – that He loves them, also.

Worship Wednesday – Spirit Pour Out – Andy and Rachel Graham

And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it.Luke 19:41

Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. Psalm 127:1

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29:4-5, 7

The shining city we call home is Richmond, Virginia. It is a beautiful, gleaming mix of old and new.  A river runs east-west through it, and interstate highways divide it north-south. The divide goes much deeper than the highways cut through neighborhoods decades ago, but these transportation portals speak to that divide.

After the Civil War (during which Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America), the African-American community began to thrive here. In fact, Jackson Ward, a Richmond neighborhood still today, was once known as “Black Wall Street” and “the Harlem of the South”. Beautiful homes, large churches, successful businesses, and popular entertainment venues were all part of this thriving neighborhood.

Then “progress” happened. City and state officials determined the design of what is now our vast interstate system. This all-white group of officials made the decision of what would best serve the city and beyond. The highways would be laid down right through Jackson Ward. 1000 homes were lost through the city’s powers of eminent domain.

Roads to Nowhere: How Infrastructure Built Built on American Inequality – Johnny Miller

Recently I saw a TV show, All Rise, that featured an anquished young man, wrongly accused of a felony. While awaiting the jury’s verdict, his public defender sat with him. She asked about why he was studying urban planning. This was the powerful scene that speaks to what happened in our city and others:

“Every shining city is built on something pretty dark.”

The above statement from the scene isn’t always true (especially when I think of Heaven), BUT. God, in His Word, demonstrated both understanding of and love for cities.

The peoples of cities. Peoples like us, and others not like us but loved. Exquisitely, generously loved by God. We are meant to love as He loves. We are blessed to be a blessing to all peoples.

Not just transactional charity…where we give of our goods but not ourselves. Jesus did feed the thousands (transactional) but He also gave all of Himself to all people (transformational). He left that example for us…that transformational model of loving people.

Seek Your City’s Good – John Piper

This past Sunday, our worship team at Movement Church, led us in a song new to me. Spirit Pour Out. It was written by Andy and Rachel Graham out of a worship experience with Urban Doxology, a ministry based in Richmond. Members of Urban Doxology live, work, worship, and serve in the racially diverse (and divided) neighborhoods of Richmond. They bring a message and vision for reconciliation – with God and each other. See the Ted Talk about Urban Doxology here. The YouTube video below shows footage of our city, Richmond, Virginia. It is a call to prayer for cities – for ours and for all cities.

Worship with me.

Spirit pour out and flood this city
Heaven come down and shake the walls
Fill us Lord the world is waiting
Father let your kingdom come

Come restore generations of desolation
Bind up the poor and broken heart
Plant and sow, till and grow what time has ravaged
Break down the walls of race and war

Spirit pour out and flood this city
Heaven come down and shake the walls
Fill us Lord the world is waiting
Father let your kingdom come

God we seek the peace and welfare of our city
Prosper redeem her as your own
That all would see your glory here in greater measure
Through us your church your kingdom come

Spirit pour out and flood this city
Heaven come down and shake the walls
Fill us Lord the world is waiting
Father let your kingdom come

You are the God who builds
You are the one who saves
You are the God who prospers
Evil has no claim
You are the God builds
You are the one who saves
You are the God who prospers
Fervently we pray*

Peter says that Christians are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) and Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In fact, we will do most good for this world by keeping a steadfast freedom from its beguiling attractions. We will serve our city best by getting our values from “the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We will do our city most good by calling as many of its citizens as we can to be citizens of “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26).

So, let’s live — let’s do so much good (1 Peter 2:12) — that the natives will want to meet our King. – John Piper

*Lyrics to Spirit Pour Out – Songwriters: Andy & Rachel Graham

YouTube Video – Spirit Pour Out – Urban Doxology

Worship Wednesday – Reflecting on a Funeral – Worshiping God for His Gift of Friends – Michael W. Smith

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.Romans 12:10-11

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.1 Peter 4:10

This week has had its sober moments. A dear dear aunt is failing in health and hospice has been called in. Then this afternoon, we got word that a friend, who had struggled victoriously with cancer for years, has died. Both of these ladies are beautiful believers.

I’m just reminded once more at the great gift of the people God places in our lives… Losing such treasures stokes the fires of faith for me. I don’t understand how people can believe that life is over forever when this life ends… Heaven becomes more and more real as we say goodbyes to such vibrant friends and family who show us how to love like Jesus.

With permission, I want to share a tribute that Dave Lyle, a pastor friend of ours, shared on his Facebook page. His friend, Donnie Goodman, must have been bigger than life. I would have loved knowing him…one day in Heaven, it will happen.

Reflecting on a Funeral, Donnie Goodman, and Where My Life Is Heading

The last couple of days were spent hanging out with family and friends of Donnie. They’re an interesting bunch, often with not a lot in common except for that most important factor- all loved the man. And so we talked, cried, laughed, and hugged. It is just hard to believe he is gone. The funeral and graveside memorial were, like Donnie, strange and wonderful. The casket was embossed with the logo of the Alabama Crimson Tide. He had drumsticks in his hands, and a letter from dad. One of the songs involved a repeating theme about sitting back, reminiscing, and drinking a beer. And at the graveside, final tune, they played Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd– the shorter, 9-minute version. None of it screamed conventional. But for this guy it was OK. I was not a speaker at the service, probably could not if asked. But I had the honor to grieve. I say honor because usually I am too busy trying to help others, trying to give the deceased an appropriate sendoff. But this time I was able to sit back and let it hit me. And that it did, and hard. At the end of the day, I was so very tired. Grieving is not easy. I guess it cannot be. Unexpectedly, unfairly, I lost a great friend. In many ways Donnie was the man I am working to be- kind, smart, full of love, always making time for people, just the most earnest and real of a person. I think, in these and other ways, he reflected my Lord Jesus. I believe the common folks liked to be around Jesus. He had a twinkle in his eye and enjoyed life. My Lord was quick with a smile, and slow to condemn, and ready to forgive. That. too, was Donnie. Now the guy did not walk on water, didn’t even go to church like maybe he should. But he knew how to love people! And in my opinion, the outward sign of a man whose heart is right with God is this amazing characteristic, to love others.

Now I want to talk just a little bit about my response to all this. I will not be the same. Indeed, I do not want to be. For far too long, I have had absolutely too little to do with those amazing people in my life such as Donnie. God has gifted me with the finest of people. But, too often, I have been too busy and too self-focused. These people are precious, but like most things that are valuable on this side of eternity, they can slip from your grasp in the matter of unseen seconds. So it was with my dear friend, Donnie. And I just do not want it to happen again. So my intent is to quit thinking that I live too far away, stop waiting for the other guy to make the first move, stop worrying about rejection, and especially stop thinking I am too busy for anybody. This is because, in reality, life and friends are too special to allow myself to ever again think I am that busy. Of course, if I could talk to Donnie and try to explain, this guy would not let me wallow in pity. He wasn’t much of a philosopher, instead a man of action. He would say forget it, let’s go do something! So, such is what I will try to do- not live with regrets, but instead do something about it.

Likely I will never again hear Freebird or the Alabama Fight Song played at a funeral! Donnie was one of a kind. If someone makes you a better person, indeed he is special. It is your fortune, your honor, to know him. Thank you, Donnie, for being special, nice, easy-going, gifted, just a little weird, a Christian, and the finest of men. My friend.

Dave Lyle

This old song by Michael W. Smith came to mind as I read Dave’s tribute. If you don’t know it…you might enjoy listening, and remembering the great gift of friends in our lives. Thank You, God.

Roll Tide!

Worship Wednesday – Grace Got You – MercyMe featuring John Reuben

Photo Credit: Heartlight

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.Ephesians 1:7

It’s feeling like Fall around here. As I climbed into the car from an appointment, the temperature was upper 70s, low humidity, and breezy. Turning on the engine, this sweet MercyMe song was mid-play and immediately got me moving to the music. Drumming on the steering wheel. Singing like a rock star…well, like I didn’t care who was listening.

MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard said this about the song: “Grace Got You is just a song that makes me smile. The whole idea that once you realize that God’s grace has you…no matter what comes your way, you can live your life as if you’ve already read the last page of the book and know how the whole thing turns out. Our eternity is set! On your worst day, Christ is OK with you. He adores you. He’s pleased with you. How is that possible? No clue, but it is. That’s the most amazing news of all!”

How that’s possible is because of what Jesus did for us…what God the Father did in Him and through Him.

We talk a lot about grace. Years ago I learned this acronym for grace: God’s riches (or redemption) at Christ’s expense. Grace.

Behind the grace that Millard and MercyMe sing about is the mercy and justice of a righteous and holy God. We are sinful people and have no way to stand before God except that our sins are cancelled out. Only One without sin can pay for our sin. Jesus is that One.

We can’t truly bask in the great grace that comes to us through faith unless…until…we stare into the abyss of the sin that separates us from God. Apart from Christ.

Christ satisfied the justice and judgement of God. We are made clean through what Jesus did on the cross for us. Clean. Pure.

https://thebibleproject.com/explore/justice/

In this world we will still struggle with sin, but His grace helps us to reckon with it for what it is, and cling to Him and His promises that His sacrifice was enough. Enough.

That truth should fill us with such joy…we might dance in the streets…or at least in our cars.

As we celebrate and rejoice before God, as David and the Israelites did (2 Samuel 6), we pass on the inheritance of our faith to generations yet to come.

When our lives are touched by the love of God, His grace flows into this world through the channel of our love, healing it, straightening its twistedness, mending its brokenness, and enlightening its darkness. That is the celebration of the Christian life – to touch the lives of others and so invite them to experience the blessings of God.

Let us express God’s praise in every breath we take. Let us be a people who celebrate the goodness of God.

May God’s Spirit enable us to be free in our celebration of Him who saves us, and who dwells in our midst.”Ferdinand Funk

Photo Credit: YouTube

Worship with me.

Have you ever met those who
Keep humming when the song’s through?
It’s like
They’re living life to a whole different tune
And have you ever met those that
Keep hoping when it’s hopeless
It’s like
They figured out what the rest haven’t yet

The second when you realize
What you have inside
It’s only just a matter of time… ’til you

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you

So when you’re standing in the rain again
You might as well be dancing
Why? Cause there ain’t no storm that can change how this ends
So next time when you feel blue
Don’t let that smile leave you
Why? Cause you have every reason just to

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Grace got you

[John Reuben:]
Got away with something, bubbling inside of you
Spilling over cause your life is full, how incredible
Undeniable, monumental like the Eiffel
Uncontrollable, let the joy flow through – ha ha
Giddy oh but pretty pretty please
Let me see your hands in the air with you out your seats
Warm it up, let go, shout it out, celebrate
When you can’t articulate just say Amazing Grace

The second when you realize
What you have inside
It’s only just a matter of (only just a matter of)
It’s only just a matter of time… ’til you

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you*

*Lyrics to Grace Got You – Songwriters: MercyMe, David Garcia, John Reuben, Ben Glover, and Solomon Olds

YouTube Video – Grace Got You – Story Behind the Song

Remembering 9/11 – and the Day Before – a Story of God and a Girl

[From the Archives]

Today marks the eve of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings in the US. We all have our stories of where we were when we heard that terrible news. I heard the news as an elevator door opened in a hospital emergency room in Cairo, Egypt. The surgeon watching for us to deliver the patient walking into the elevator, saying, “I am so, so sorry.” I thought he was referring to the precious one on the stretcher beside me, so small and injured from a terrible bus accident the day before. It turns out he was talking about the news that traveled instantly from the States about the bombings. I’d like to go back to the day before. For us, it would help to go there, before I can ever process the grief of this day that we all share.

It was like any other Monday, that bright, warm September 10th in Cairo, Egypt…until the phone call. Janna was on the other end of the call, telling me that Genessa and April had been in a bus accident on the Sinai. April had called her and relayed their location, at a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh. These were girls in our Middle Eastern Studies Program, and they were finishing their time with us, taking a vacation together. They would re-trace some of their experiences in Bedouin villages across the Sinai and then enjoy a few days on the Red Sea. They were to return that Monday, traveling in on one of the over-night buses across the desert.

Details will have to wait for another time, but with this information, my husband, Dave, left immediately with Janna and a local Egyptian friend who was also one of our language coaches. He took these two women because of their relationship with each other and with all of us. He also understood that there were two injured friends hours away in a hospital who would need women to minister to their needs. I would be praying and on the phone the rest of the day with families, other friends, US Embassy people, and our other young people in the program. I can’t begin to describe the emotional nature of that day…not knowing, hoping, praying.

When Dave and our friends arrived at the hospital, he was directed to April. She had painful, serious injuries, but none life-threatening, praise God. Then he was escorted into the critical care area to see Genessa. To his horror, it wasn’t Genessa. It was another young woman, unconscious – an Italian tourist, who rode in the same ambulance with April. April, lucid and still able to communicate, had tried to comfort her on that long dark ride to the hospital. Personal belongings were all scrambled at the wreck site, and the authorities made the mistakened decision that because April was speaking to her, she was Genessa.

Then Dave went on the search for our dear one…somewhere else in the Sinai. He back-tracked toward the site of the accident, checking other hospitals where other injured were taken. At this point, he was also talking to US Embassy staff, as he drove through the desert. Just shortly before he arrived at the hospital where he would find Genessa, the staff person told him they confirmed her identification from a credit card she had in her pocket…in the morgue of that small village hospital.

Dave and Janna, that friend who received the first phone call, stood beside this precious girl’s body, to make the formal identification…to know for sure that this was Genessa. And it was…and yet not. She, the luminous, laughing, loving girl we knew, was gone. It was more than any of us who loved her could take in on that Monday evening in Cairo, Egypt…the day before 9/11.

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Genessa-with-team1.jpg

As they left the hospital to return to April, two more friends joined them from Cairo to help. For any of you who have been completely spent in every way by such a day, you can understand what it was for them to look up and see Matt and Richard getting out of a car. God in His great goodness alerted them, stirred their hearts to drive all those hours…and then to arrive…just when they were most needed. So many arrangements had to be made…and most importantly, at that moment, to get April back safely and quickly to Cairo for surgery.

She came into Cairo on a plane near the middle of the day of 9/11. By the time we got her from the airport in an ambulance to the specialty hospital to get the further care she needed, a series of horrific events had begun taking place in the US. We would hear of them from this caring Egyptian surgeon…who had no idea how numb we were from losing Genessa and how concerned we were that April got what she needed as soon as possible. We were already so drenched by grief, this unfathomable news about the bombings washed over us without understanding the scope of it…the pain of it…for all the rest of America.

Later in that day, with April receiving the best care possible, and me watching by her side, I could take in some of the loss coming at us on the small t.v. mounted in the hospital room. Egyptians were telling us how so, so sorry they were for us (as Americans). If they only knew, they were our mourners for our loss of Genessa, too. In the din of world-changing news, and a country brought together in grief…we grieved, too, a continent away…for the losses of 9/11 and the day before.

That was 18 years ago…April healed from her injuries (only she and God know what all that took on the inside), the other young people in our program have gone on to careers and families across the US and around the world. We have also gone on…back to the US for now, and to other work.

Two things have not changed…a beautiful girl, who fell asleep by the window of a bus in the Sinai night and woke up in Heaven… and the God who welcomed her Home. There is so much, much, more to this story, but I have to close with this. As her family back in the US were pulling the pieces of their lives back together, and going through Genessa’s things, they found a little cassette player on her bed…there left by her, two years before, as she left for Cairo. In it was a cassette where she’d made a tape of her singing one of her favorite songs, I Long for the Day, by singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan. If we look at Genessa’s life through the lens of some American dream, then we would think how tragic to die so young, so full of promise. Look through the lens of how much she loved God, and knowing Him was what mattered most to her…and all who knew her knew His love through her.

This God…and this girl.  Genessa

 I Long for the Day by Dennis Jernigan

I long for the day when the Lord comes and takes me away!

Whether by death or if You come for me on a horse so white

And anyway You come will be alright with me

I long to just hear You said, “Now is the time. Won’t you come away?”

And I’ll take Your hand, surrendering completely to You that day!

And no, I can’t contain the joy that day will bring!

Chorus:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment I’ll be celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

O Lord, while I wait, I will cling to each word that You say.

So speak to my heart; Your voice is life to me, be it night or day.

And anything You say will be alright with me.

You see my heart’s greatest need

You and me, walking intimately.

You’re my only love, and I am waiting patiently for Your call.

When You call me to Your side eternally.

(Chorus Repeat)

Lord, I celebrate You!

Forever with You! No crying there.

Forever with You! No burden; no more worldly cares.

My heart is anticipating eternally with you celebrating You!

Forever with You I long to be;

Forever worshipping, knowing You intimately!

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

I’ll spend forever just celebrating You.

I’ll see all my loved ones gone before

I’ll get to be with them, laugh with them, hold them once more

There’ll be no more separating! [No separating]

Together we will be celebrating You!

Together we’ll worship You and sing.

Forever praising Lord Jesus, our Savior and King.

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

Enter your rest, and start celebrating, too.

Forever Lord, I’ll be celebrating You.

Chorus Repeat:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment of celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

Dennis Jernigan, from the album I Belong to Jesus (Volume 2)