Category Archives: Walk with God

Sunday Blessing – The Church Segregated – Black & White – Erskin

Photo Credit: Church Leadership

[From the Archives, 2017. Today we are going through a raw and painful season, hopefully that will lead to real change in how we extend love to one another and how we work to heal the hurt in our society. I made very few adjustments in the text…because it is as true today as it was then.]

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
 – Galatians 3:28

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.Ephesians 2:14

Racial segregation in the church must break the very heart of God. How is it that we, who love Jesus and want to live as He modeled and taught us, continue to live and worship apart from one another racially?

We live in a racially complex city. Richmond, Virginia, was once the capital of the Confederacy. Even now, the racial divide is shamefully wide. The church, both black and white congregations, has Christ’s mandate to come together. To be reconciled. To live at peace with one another. To enjoy community together.

My family is part of a church that has a vision to reach Richmond. Our city is ethnically diverse. To reach Richmond includes figuring out how to not just be another white church in the neighborhood.

Erskin Anavitarte is a Christian songwriter. On his website, he also identifies as a diversity spokesman and adoption advocate. He is a Kingdom builder and a reconciler. This is a man who calls us to enlarge our lives and our churches to include one another.Photo Credit: Erskin Music

He wrote a little song Black & White which really touched my heart this week. Simple and yet profound lyrics.

“One song may not make much difference, but my prayer is that we remember that God made us all and perhaps bridging the gap begins by focusing our eyes on Jesus. That’s the message of this song.”Erskin Anavitarte

After our country’s last election, I was burdened afresh how racially polarized we are as a nation, and even in the church. This can’t be the case, in daily life, for Christ followers. Not in daily life. Not in corporate worship. How do we come together?

As we worship the Lord today, we ask Him for wisdom and for opportunity. We ask for compassion and understanding. We determine to “love beyond the limits of our prejudices…to speak love and embody love” (Rev. Michael Walrond, Jr.).

Today, God loves both the black church and our essentially white church, both in the same neighborhood. Oh God, help us – to join together with each other – with those who love God also…and who love this city in a way that can stretch our own love…Maybe it could go beyond the reach of either of us. Just maybe.

[Let’s close in worship now. Check out the super helpful links below, later.]

Worship with Erskin and me, would you?

The most segregated time in our country

Is Sunday morning 11 o’clock

Black churches, white churches

Right next door

They’re on the same block.

Both with hands raised high for Jesus

Still a million miles between us

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

We all want to walk with Jesus

We all want to be about His will

How do we break down the unseen walls

Where bridges need to be built

This song may not change your mind

Jesus won’t let me keep it inside.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Maybe it all begins

By not focusing on ourselves

Fixing our eyes on Him

Living our lives as friends.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal.

Photo Credit: James Estrin, The New York Times

YouTube Video – Erskin – Black & White – Official Lyric Video

A Shift in Demographics at a Church in Harlem – Samuel G. Freedman

YouTube Video – Global Spirituality: Pastor Michael Walrond at TEDxHarlem

They’re Playing Our Song – The Secret Multiracial Churches Know About Music – Michael O. Emerson

7 Key Characteristics of Diversity-Oriented Churches – Brian Leander

Racial Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia? – Wendy McCaig

[Links below showcase Christian comedians who help us with some of the things that unnecessarily make us uncomfortable with each other’s church cultures…although I couldn’t find one that caricatured white church worship for blacks. Could someone help me?]

YouTube Video – Gary Owen – My First Time at a Black Church

YouTube Video – Unwritten Black Church Rules – KevOnStage

YouTube Video – Black Church Phrases Explained – KevOnStage

Sunday Blessing – The Lord Bless You & Keep You – He Is the Waymaker

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”  – Numbers 6:24-26

This wall art (in English and Arabic) hangs beside the door we use most often, receiving and sending out friends and neighbors. It reminds us of the goodness and faithfulness of God and how He means for us to also be His blessing on others.

In this season of listening and learning from God and many voices crying out over our nation in its time of crisis, I got a notification which moved me to post this. It was a Jesus March in the Bronx, New York. It was an event organized by At the Well Ministries, founded by Bevelyn Beatty and Edmee Chavannes. As we listen and learn, we are not going to agree on all points. It matters that we hear the heart.

These two women are Christ followers. They are publicly and sacrificially pro-life. They are all about saving the lives of black babies and loving on the women (and men) who find themselves in the rock-and-hard-place of seeking abortion.

This is not what today’s march was about. Today they marched for the police in the Bronx. They marched to raise the name of Jesus over their city and over those in law enforcement there and all around our country.

Watch minutes 25:35 – 35:25 for their prayer for the Bronx police and others…and their praise of a way-making God. [At the very end of that segment you will see Bevelyn and Edmee – beautiful sisters.]

If you would like to sing in prayer and praise, below is a lyrics video of these two beautiful songs – The Blessing and Way Maker:

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Verse]
The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going

In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

Whatever our politics, whatever our opinions…they don’t matter today. What matters is that we reflect the glory of God in our lives – to extravagantly love those who are hurting all around us. In particular, right now, our black neighbors and our law enforcement officers. May we see God work to bring healing. His purposes are not thwarted.

5 Friday Faves – The Grounding Nature of Music, Finding Our Voice, Ignorance Remedied, Performative Allyship, and Friends in the Fray

Welcome back, y’all. Let’s jump right in. Oh, and there are a couple of lengthy faves, so be aware and choose with care. [The words helped me; I hope they help you.]

1) The Grounding Nature of Music – No matter our preferences, there’s something both soothing and settling about music. Whether a college fight song, a rally call, or national anthem, we are drawn together by a common loyalty…a community, no matter how diverse, that agrees on some one thing.

Nathan Mills (of Beyond the Guitar) makes a commitment to his Patreon supporters of two arrangements a month. He has made good on that for a long time now. I think about his community sometimes – those 200+ patrons that help to support the music Nathan posts on various music platforms. Benefiting the thousands who listen and watch.

Whatever social significance his music has in this chaotic world of ours, Nathan brings some of us together to enjoy, reminisce, take heart. A quietening in our thoughts. A respite in a troubled time.

I would never have thought arrangements of TV, film, and video game themes rendered on the classical guitar could have such an impact. Thanks, Nathan. Keep making it happen…music for our souls.

His most recent:

Uncharted 4 – “Nate’s Theme”

The Last of Us

2) Finding our voice – I haven’t been able to write much lately. So many voices already out there…so necessary just to listen, sift, and determine action. A friend on Facebook pointed to this post, and with permission, I’m sharing it here:

Struggling to write lately.
Most days now I just feel myself wondering if my heart and soul belong in this world anymore? Every shocking post I read or attack on others or news story.. hurts. I start to see people with a lens I never would have before. It hurts to see friends called out as racists when I know their hearts and that just can’t be. It’s hard to see calls to abolish police, especially by such young people who just really don’t have a concept yet of the world they are creating. It’s hard to see those who want to pretend racism doesn’t exist when it clearly does. It’s damn hard to also see the rise in hatred for our military. What scares me the most is the realization that we are actually creating a world that is MORE black and white. We paint people with such a wide brush. We all seem to find ourselves suddenly on one side, or the other, of a line drawn in the sand. There is no room to question or to grow or to change. You either stand with something 100% or you are wrong.. no room in the middle. Not just about race or police. But politics, faith, love, quarantines, borders, you name it! We have just become a nation drowning in the extremes. In the drowning, many of us feel like we are begging to be thrown a life preserver but somehow feel we have to prove our hearts deserve to be rescued from the water.. and we can’t. Because we don’t fit on either side of the line. Not the black, not the white. The “gray” among us are drowning. Because we stumble and we don’t always know what we feel fully. We, the gray, are learning and listening and trying and praying and pausing to learn and hear truth. How do you prove that? Prove that you cry for the police who are being hunted down for the uniforms they wear, regardless of the heart that beats beneath it — even as you weep reading story after story of racism, and the inequity that is costing the lives of black Americans at an astonishing rate. The narrative will tell you that if you don’t scream for the hatred of all police and hold up the banner of defunding them, then you are, by default, part of the problem. Same for gun control. Or politics. Or borders. Vaccines. State government. Violence in sports. Parenting. Public school or homeschool. Pharmaceuticals or Homeopathic. You can’t be unsure or pause to understand…choose a side or you are just, well, wrong. (Being called wrong would be the most gentle thing you will be called.)
I’m tired. I’m scared for the nation of extremism we are watching form right in front of us. I’m scared for the hearts, like mine, that take it all in too easily and become too quickly overwhelmed. I worry about how my future grandchildren can possibly grow up into healthy adults who learn, who form opinions, who love people, just as they are? For future generations, this Nation of Labels, will have presorted every human they meet as “friend” or “foe” before a conversation is had or a relationship started. I am scared at the amazing level of hate and disrespect our young adults have right now and spout so freely. I’m scared these younger generations have learned it is easier to swim with the current — so they won’t be labeled “wrong” — and their raging opinions are not formed from any solid foundation of truth or life experience.
For so many years the cries for “love everyone” and demands for acceptance of.. ourselves, our fellow citizens, people of other faiths or backgrounds, people for who they really are and not a presumption.. have rung out across this land. This is no longer what I hear.
Hate and more hate seems to be creating a deafening roar that is shaking the very foundation of this country. I’m not doing well within the shaking. I don’t think I am the only one.
We are creating a vortex of hate that seems to be growing stronger as it pulls in the gathering darkness.
We will reap what we sow.
That truth should terrify us.
What you sow, you will reap in time.
That should terrify the future generations.
I want to believe in better days and hope for the future. I still cling to God’s promises because I know feelings lie. But it is so hard.

3) Ignorance Remedied – It’s definitely a work in progress.

Over the last few weeks, I have had to confront my own ignorance on hugely important matters. Relating to racial bias in our country and its detrimental fallout to a minority people in our population. Blacks, African-Americans.

I had the privilege of a great education. Scholarships (on need more than merit) and post-graduate opportunities. On topics of race and racism, I’m weary of having to process the reality of “I just didn’t know.”

Here’s one example (I posted earlier on Facebook):

#Juneteenth – I grew up in the South. My high school was integrated in the late 60s. I don’t know what I was thinking in those days, but it never seemed to occur to me that white and black children going to different schools might be wrong. My mom grew up very poor. She went into labor with my older brother while picking cotton – delivered him in a cotton shed in the field. She raised us to be color-blind, thinking that was the most loving way to deal with the racial hatred she had seen as a child. She was the most Godly woman in my life growing up. She didn’t know that being color-blind somehow would make us look past people…somehow.

It took me 5 sittings to get through the Netflix documentary “13th“. Now I’m very suspect of revisionist history, so considering those things taught in school, I try to get as many takes on it as possible…to find what might have really happened; what might have been true. As gripping as this film was and as much as it gave me, I had to pray through it for God to separate out the truth from the political twists.

“13th” taught me things (which I have since researched) I was never taught in school – even all those years ago. About slavery, about laws biased against blacks, about private industries who profit off of those incarcerated, about how people who can’t afford bail and refuse to “take a plea”end up in jail for months (years?) without a trial. People who may be innocent but remain jailed…because they are poor.

I learned again how costly a felony is. Don’t get me wrong, if a person commits a crime at the level of a felony, he should get a punishment that fits that crime. Just when is the payment finished? When he has done his time in prison? Paid for his crime as required by the court? No. A felony conviction lasts forever in most states. “Collateral civil consequences” are many, including the right to vote.

I am still learning. My Bible has seen much more wear in the passages on justice, mercy, and love. I think of the parable Jesus told about a Good Samaritan who cared for a man robbed and left on the side of the road. That man would have left him untended if tables had been turned…they were enemies. This is the kind of love Jesus taught and modeled for us.

This is the kind of love I want to have for people not like me. Jesus had that love for the sinner I am.

How I came so late to the understanding growing in me now is a puzzle. I am about as conservative politically as a person can get without becoming a person you might find loathsome. Some of you anyway. For those who, like me, might have grown up, just somehow not figuring out that we were missing hurting people on the side of the road because we turned aside (those others who passed, not like the Good Samaritan)… there is still hope for all of us.

And I’m pretty positive the Good Samaritan wouldn’t have identified with our favored political party…whichever it is. Jesus made sure to describe him in a way that he had nothing to gain.

There is everything to gain, however, in seeking God’s face in this painful place we find ourselves. My city (Richmond, Virginia) is a mess right now. We have policemen friends who are excellent people. We have black and brown friends who are hurting. We have seen the deep wounds in our city cut by “bad apples” and inciters, haters, and criminals.

God calls us to love all people, even our enemies. Not in just word but in humble and wholehearted deed.

This is #Juneteenth – never knew what it was until this week… https://calendar.eji.org/racial-injustice/jun/19…

If you judge me…God knows my heart. If we judge each other, we come under the same judgment. We have to figure out how to listen and learn from each other and stand with those who hurt, without supporting those who still want to hurt (even when their “righteous” double-speak sounds more like hatred). They need Jesus, too…

Photo Credit: Facebook

3 Things Schools Should Teach About America’s History of White Supremacy – Noelle Hurd

4) Performative Allyship – What a phrase, right? A good one to understand, and activist writer Holiday Phillips brings it to light.

“To understand performative allyship, let’s first look at what real allyship is. An ally is someone from a nonmarginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group. They transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it. Performative allyship, on the other hand, is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group. Performative allyship usually involves the “ally” receiving some kind of reward — on social media, it’s that virtual pat on the back for being a “good person” or “on the right side.””

Performative Allyship Is Deadly – Here’s What To Do Instead – Holiday Phillips

Phillips spurs her readers on – how to avoid just reacting but rather to act in ways that are sustainable and increasingly impactful. She does emphasize that any allyship is better than none.

She gave me hope.

[Phillips talks about BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – I didn’t know that acronym so if you’re like me, I saved you a step in looking it up.]

Photo Credit: Flickr, John Englart

Outrage Isn’t Allyship – Common Traps in the Quest for Racial Justice and What To do Instead – Holiday Phillips – So helpful!

5) Friends in the Fray – These last two weeks have been heavy. I wish it was a Friday where we could talk about summer thunderstorms, or family visits, or just plain excellent news. We fortunately do have some of that, but to get through the heavy, I am thankful for friends in the fray. Those who stand with us with gentleness and understanding, without judging, and bring us along in areas where we are struggling.

Who are your friends in the fray?

Local pastors Jared Burwell and Rayshawn Graves have been those sorts of friends in these days, posting often on their social media pages – here and here, for example. In the video below, and Rayshawn encourages and equips us to lean in rather than pull back.

Photo Credit: Rayshawn Graves, Facebook

 

Friends in the Fray – Jennifer Benson Shultd

Granted – Adam Grant – also recommends resources in this post

Tim Keller’s 8 Qualities of a Healthy and Prosperous City and Community – Brian Dodd

Stevenson: “”We Have to Find Ways to Create More Equality, More Opportunity, More Justice” – Harvard Law Today

That’s it! If you read this far, you are my hero. Thank you. Until the next time, blessings!

Bonuses:

Monuments all over our country are being vandalized or brought on. Here’s one in South Carolina that might have been well-intended but speaks to the strange nature of our country’s civil war:

Photo Credit: Angela Sanders, Facebook, Ft. Mill, South Carolina

How Poverty Changes the Brain – Tara Garcia Mathewson

Frances Frei: How To Build And Rebuild Trust

What Can You Do When You Are Flattened by Depressions? – Plan for It – Daryl Chen

200+ Highly Recommended Black-Owned Businesses To Support

The Blessing

 

Photo Credit: Frank Sonnenberg

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 – Standing Firm, Side by Side, Not Afraid – in God’s Strength and His Salvation

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. – the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church Philippians 1:27-28

God’s Word is powerful and freeing. We are emboldened and sustained by it – for life, for love, for forgiveness, for endurance.

When I read this passage again a few days ago, a charge from these words sizzled through me like electricity. Goosebumps and all.

Another translation of Paul’s writing introduced the above Scripture passage with the phrase “Just one thing”. We are living in confusing and shaky times, but God is unchanged. His truth is as riveting and reliable as when first written for us.

For months now, we have been kept apart by the social distancing of COVID-19. Since last week, we have been brought together by the terrible loss of George Floyd. Brought together and at the same time torn apart. Protests and a pandemic. Racial unrest and a radical disease.

A group of friends and I are going through a Bible study together which has turned out to be incredibly timely. We can’t be together so we meet over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kind of thoughts that spiral downward taking us with them. The text she takes her readers through is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He was in prison and yet wrote this short life-transforming letter to encourage the church experiencing its own hardship.

In confusing and chaotic times, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. We juggle the “what if’s” until they become more than we can manage. We question what’s right, what’s true, what’s our place in all of it…what’s God’s place. We become suspicious of others’ motives, and even sometimes our own. We grow weary of sorting it all out. We can withdraw…making six feet apart way too easy.

Jennie Allen reminds us that we have a choice; we can flip the downward spiral. We can make our aim, in all things,God’s glory and His headship. Keeping our focus on God, we then seek peace, do justice, love even our enemies, and trust God with our lives (whether the threat is COVID and or violence in the streets).

“As theologian and emeritus professor D. A. Carson has observed, People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”Jennie Allen
So how do we avoid that drift Dr. Carson talked about above?
In community. Standing firm, side by side, not afraid – in God’s strength and His salvation – Philippians 1:27-28.
However, even if community is shaky, God never is. We remind ourselves and each other that He is our refuge and we never have to be shaken...no matter the situation.

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

For the choir director; according to Jeduthan. A psalm of David

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken.

How long will you threaten a man?
Will all of you attack
as if he were a leaning wall
or a tottering fence?
They only plan to bring him down
from his high position.
They take pleasure in lying;
they bless with their mouths,
but they curse inwardly. Selah

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge. Selah

Common people are only a vapor;
important people, an illusion.
Together on a scale,
they weigh less than a vapor.
Place no trust in oppression
or false hope in robbery.
If wealth increases,
don’t set your heart on it.

God has spoken once;
I have heard this twice:
Strength belongs to God,
and faithful love belongs to You, Lord.
For You repay each according to his works.Psalm 62

Worship Wednesday – On Being Kind – and the Goodness of God

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

The LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.  Isaiah 30:18

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:10

Photo Credit: Knowing-Jesus

You can spend hours reading all the passages in the Scriptures on kindness, graciousness, compassion, and love. Just soaking up the goodness of God and how He calls us to this same life of kindness to one another. Even, as the Romans 12 passage says above, outdoing each other in showing honor.

Last night I went out to help Dave with a chore in the driveway. Walking back into the garage, I found this sweet plant beside the door. It was a gift given without a name, “[Co]rona Make You Smile.” It did make me smile.

A sweet gesture for which I can’t even thank the person personally. So I will thank you here. You went out of your way to bless my life. Whoever you are…I felt the love of Jesus in this act of kindness. I felt your love whoever you are. Thank you. Thank God for you.

Kindness is so appreciated…so needed…in these socially distanced days. We can be kind to strangers, friends, and family alike. It becomes a way of life. For some, you beautiful, creative, generous souls, it seems completely natural…we learn from you who show kindness to all (or pretty much all), not just to those closest to you.

Do we only do kindness to those who deserve kindness?

Showing honor to only those who are clearly honorable?

No.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

On this Worship Wednesday piece, I want to take and give opportunity to post shout-outs to those many acts of kindness we are receiving during this COVID-19 season. In so doing, we worship God as the source of the goodness we reflect and see reflected in others. We bear His image most radiantly as we lay down our own lives – our agendas, our preferences, our very selves – for others… in the name of Jesus.

  • Gifts of food (both receiving, participating in, and watching others blessing with food)
  • Human contact (phone and video calls, cards/letters, drive-bys, and 6 ft. apart visits in driveways, at doorways or windows)
  • Surprise gifts/special events (we have sweet and creative neighbors who major on this sort of expression of love – they are hard to keep up with but we all feel the energy of that challenge)
  • Providing service in creative ways
  • Using social media to encourage and empower (including video) – be bold; we welcome it.
  • Prayer

[Please use the Comments section below and post your shout-outs for kindnesses done to you or those done to others that inspired or uplifted you as well.]

Image may contain: Karen Walker, outdoor[A friend chalked a Bible verse on our driveway.]

Our married kids have socially distanced themselves for our sakes and so we can still see them and the grandchildren. Priceless. They are working at home so that helps, of course. Our youngest is considered an essential worker and has kept his distance from us, out of love. We miss him and do our own drive-bys talking together from the car as he visits from his yard. His kind of sacrificial love is also amazing.

These many weeks, with our schedules so altered, I’ve been keeping a journal of occasions of folks being kind. Sometimes it was my taking the opportunity, but more I have known the kindness of others. Never want to forget this brighter side of our pandemic experience. We could all use that God-infused kindness more than ever right now…both in reaching out and receiving.

I’ll close with this bit of a poem from many years ago but so resonates with this season.

Perhaps some future day, Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to the place
Where I must stand utterly alone;
Alone, Oh gracious Lover, but for Thee.

I shall be satisfied if I can see Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plan for years to come.
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home: sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now.
Lead on no matter where, no matter how,
I trust in Thee. by Elisabeth Elliot, in her college years

5 Surprising Truths About Biblical Kindness – Davis Wetherell

6 Acts of Kindness During the Coronavirus Outbreak That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity – Kelsey Hurwitz

Worship Wednesday – Something So Much Bigger Than Our Fear – Your Presence, Lord – Francesca Battistelli

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Where does fear come from? That fear that tears at our insides and causes our thoughts to scatter and light on the dreaded “what if’s”. That fear that draws us away from the promise of God’s constant care to the wrong thinking that we are left alone…to fend for ourselves and those we love.

It doesn’t come from God. I’ve written several times on one of my favorite and most fear-busting Bible verses, 2 Timothy 1:7. The Apostle Paul reassures us that God isn’t the One who causes us to fear. On the contrary, He actually gives us “power, love, and self-control/sound thinking”.

When we are tempted to fear, the struggle is against three “enemies of the soul” – the world, the evil one (Satan), and/or our own flesh (humanness).

We are presently hemmed in by a pandemic. COVID-19 has many of us on a sort of house arrest. It would be so easy to give into fear. Fear of the disease…fear of one another…fear of our own death or giving the virus to someone else.

Listen to what a pastor friend of mine says about how our core values as Christ-followers can be shaken as we are torn between living “safe” and living obedient to God.

“It is NOT NORMAL to view other humans (or ourselves) as potential carriers of death who must be avoided. To live and maneuver as if there was something so intrinsically deadly about people that we must constantly protect ourselves? This isn’t how human interactions and relationships are supposed to be! Make no mistake, this covid-19 stuff is causing relational trauma and teaching us things we will have to un-learn.

We are going to need time to readjust our thinking and prepare our hearts to be with people again. To allow ourselves to be (at least to a degree) unguarded and open. To look people in the eyes and communicate welcome and warmth, to mirror one another’s body language. To allow ourselves to be soothed by relationship, not threatened by it. To remember that God plans to use people in our lives for good.

We are not designed to adjust to a “new normal” that doesn’t allow for human connection. True, connection might look different for awhile. But we aren’t just biological cells prone to viruses; we are humans – image bearers – who are meant for relationship. Let’s not forget this!”Jared Corrie Burwell, Facebook

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

A couple of days ago, I finally got some needed dental work postponed for two months because of the social distancing. It was a chipped molar requiring a crown.

I am afraid of dental work. Afraid the pain will rip through the anesthetic. Afraid I can’t endure a long procedure. Afraid I could contract a deadly virus. You name it, I could fear it related to dentists.

Does that exhibit “power, love, or sound thinking?” Well, no. God knows this struggle and He keeps his promises. I am the frail one; not Him.

So I prayed…

During that longish time in the chair, I was supposed to be calmed by the repeat video on the screen in front of me. Beach, waves, blue sky. If fear is your foe, that scene can make you want to scream after awhile. Then the playlist…it was actually relaxing. Standard rock music of the 70s and 80s. Oddly, early in the “drilling” part of that experience, a familiar refrain, not from that era, penetrated my focused-elsewhere hearing.

“Your presence, Lord.” From a song I had heard often since it debuted in 2014.

Worship with me today, as I worshiped that day in the dentist chair:

There’s nothing worth more that will ever come close
Nothing can compare, You’re our living hope
Your presence, Lord

I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

I’ve tasted and seen, of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone
By Your presence, Lord

Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness*

God is so kind to His children.

Whatever is causing us to fear at the moment – be it a dentist chair, an alarming symptom for which we await a doctor’s appointment, a complicated marriage, our sense of inadequacy with our children, or the visitation of COVID-19 itself on us or someone we love.

The world is full of stuff to fear, but God is with His. His presence ever with us. He will take us through whatever comes. He will rescue us.

I wish dentists would tell you, “We’re about halfway through…we have about 10 minutes and then you’ll be done.” “Almost over.” That didn’t happen at this visit. Just about the time I was about to ask for “a moment”…to stretch my back, calm my rising panic, and let my mouth relax from all the stretching…one more refrain broke through the 70s-80s songs.

It was the words “I will rescue you.” From singer songwriter Lauren Daigle‘s song “Rescue”.

And then, it was over. Oh, the dental visit lasted a bit longer, but I was calm again.

Some who read this may think I’m such a baby. In light of the huge threat in our world from this pandemic.

Maybe I am a baby…but, thank God, I’m His baby. These baby steps through small pains, small threats, small fears prepare me/us for the larger ones. Remembering that He is with us and He will rescue us… one way or another. Hallelujah!

He will never be shaken.
The righteous one will be remembered forever.
He will not fear bad news;
his heart is confident, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is assured; he will not fear.
In the end he will look in triumph on his foes.Psalm 112:6-8

Photo Credit: Roy T. Bennett, Twitter

Do you struggle with fear? How are you handling it? [Comment below.] Believe me, I’m aware of the struggle. Praise God, He is present with us.

*Lyrics to Holy Spirit [Your Presence, Lord] – Songwriters: Bryan Torwalt, Katie Torwalt

Worship Wednesday – My Fear Doesn’t Stand a Chance When I Stand in Your Love – Bethel Music – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – You Say – Lauren Daigle – Deb Mills

Mother’s Day – On Mothering and Grandmothering – a Life of Love, Launching, and Lifting to God

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Mom-pictures-for-website-0122.jpg

[Adapted from the Archives]

“She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31: 27-30

 My Mom was a treasure – a lavishing of God’s grace on four undeserving children. She was my best friend, and I miss her every day. She taught me the most important lessons of life – the value of hard work, loving and serving others no matter what, and a life of following God. I have written, not well enough, about her (here, here, and here, etc.). She was my hero, and, though she is in Heaven now, she still informs much of how I live life.

Whether we are mothers or not, we all have/had mothers. I hope yours was/is lovely, and Godly, and inspiring. Whichever is your situation, we have an opportunity to honor those who mother well and we have other opportunities to love and forgive those who didn’t so well. My children are grown, but “mothering” them still flows out at times. Now that their childhood is over, I miss those years (we forget the hard days, right?). Still, like my mom, I encourage and pray and marvel at how God moves in their lives. Grand-parenting is a sweet dividend to mothering – a season of pouring into those little hearts – wonder, love, and grace.

Today, I share a bit out of Ruth Bell Graham’s lovely book Prayers from a Mother’s Heart. Wife of Billy Graham, with the Lord now, Mrs. Graham compiled some of her own poetry, her daughter’s, and that of other Godly moms. She touches on all seasons of growing up and mothering. May your seasons, mothers and mothered, be touched by God’s deepest wisdom and dearest kindnesses.http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Blog-Mothers-Day.jpg

Prayers for Our Little Ones

“Lord, as I stand beside this crib, watching this little boy fall asleep…

his blond curls sticking to his small, damp forehead, his chubby fingers wrapped tightly around his blanket,

my heart is filled with emotion, wonder, and awe. I have so many dreams and ambitions for him.

Please help me to remember that he is first of all Yours, and that the most important thing of all is that he grow to love You and follow You. So, Lord, tonight I put aside any and all prayers that could have their roots in selfish motherly desires, and pray these words for him,

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/IMG_0022.jpg

Beloved child, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Because, Lord, if this prayer is answered, then one day I will be able to say with John that my greatest joy is knowing that my children are walking in the truth.”Gigi Graham

“Lord, remind me often that parents are intended to be a mooring post, a safe place to stay, a sure place to cast anchor come wind or weather. It is not the time for me to worry about the storms beyond the bay, for now we have the gift of a little time called childhood; tethered to love, the little boat bobs and weaves about the post – happy and secure!”Jill Briscoe

A Prayer for Hurting Mothers“Be tender, Lord, we pray with one whose child lies dead today.

Be tender, Lord, we plead for those with runaways for whom moms bleed.

But be tenderest of all with each whose child no longer cares…is out of reach.”Ruth Bell Graham

Turning Children’s Cares Over to God

“Lord, I think it is harder to turn the worries and cares of my children over to You than my own. For, through the years, as I have grown in faith, I have learned that You are merciful and kind.

Not one time have You failed me, Lord – why do I fear You will fail mine?” –  Ruth Bell Graham, Prayers from a Mother’s Heart

Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Ones. May this day not just be about flowers, cards, or dinners not made by our hands. May this be a day that’s full of encouragement for moms “to go deep into their gifts, to focus on their Maker or to see how we’re made and who we’re made to be. …to live out faith in daring, dangerous ways…to know God better.” (Caryn Rivadeneira)

Love You Forever.

Dedicated to my mom-in-love, Julia – who loves us with bold devotion and fierce determination – giving us an example to do the same…http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/MomMom-Nathan-Daniel-2015.jpg

and to my fellow moms-in-law with whom I get to share a sisterhood in love.

Prayers from a Mother’s Heart compiled by Ruth Bell Graham

Mother’s Day Sermons…Ugh

Surprised by Motherhood – Lisa-Jo Baker’s Must-Read for All Women and the Bravest of Men

Mother’s Day 2015 – Top Favorite Quotes, Bible Verses, and Holiday History

A Long Motherhood – A Poem for Mother’s Day by John Piper

My Mom – Mildred Byrd McAdams – Memorial

Celebrating the Faith and Work of Our Mothers

A Prayer for Young Moms of Little Ones – my archives

The Season of Small Ones – Mother, God, and Gandalf – archives

Mothering Through the Seasons – Eyes on God and His on Me – archives

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch & Sheila McGraw

Blog - Mother's Day - Love You Forever

“I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.”

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

Worship Wednesday – Proximity to God and the Marginalized – Nearness – Nearer to God

Photo Credit: Heartlight

But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:13

On the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we marvel at our first responders and health care workers. Running toward danger. Staying on the frontlines. For the sake of others.

We have a Savior who came close to us…who made a way for us to be reconciled to holy God. We could not redeem our sinful selves. We cannot, in our sinful conditions, draw near to the God of this universe. Except for a sinless savior who drew near to us, who bridged the distance, who made a way for us to be restored to God.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!2 Corinthians 9:15

Earlier this week I watched the documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality. In this film, he uses the word “proximity” in a way that immediately reminded me of the life of Jesus…and the life to which he calls us.

Bryan Stevenson is an American attorney who works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. Predominately, he advocates for those who may not have received (did not receive) fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row.

Bryan Stevenson at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 – March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson – WikipediaRead some of what he says about “proximity”:

“We’ve got to find ways to get proximate to the poor and the vulnerable…There is power in proximity….I am the product of someone’s choice to get proximate.” – Bryan Stevenson, Fortune’s CEO Initiative

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”  – Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
“The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.” –  Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality – 2019 HBO Documentary

Just Mercy – 2019 Warner Brothers film

In our current situation with COVID-19, proximity is not something we can as easily pursue as before now. Still, the kind of proximity that Mr. Stevenson urges has never been easy. It cost Jesus everything.

For the love of Christ and in obedience to him (for the sake of those around us), we seek creative ways to be proximate. Our proximity to others, especially to those suffering, must be grounded in and infused by our proximity to a loving and empowering God.

We are called to worship. Two songs come to mind: Bethel Music’s Jenn Johnson’s Nearness and Sarah F. Adams’ Nearer, My God, to Thee. Both videos below include the lyrics to these worship songs. Take one of these options to soak into your soul today as we draw near to the God who draws near to us. He calls us to proximity to Him, to His people, and to those not yet His people.

11 Contemporary Christian Songs That Are Perfect For When You Are Crying Out to God – Beverly Gard

Near to God – Song Resources

Just Mercy Quotes – Good Reads

“Do Some Uncomfortable and Inconvenient Things”: A Civil Rights Champion’s Call to Action for CEOs – Matthew Heimer (watch the video at start of the article)

TED Talk – We Need to Talk About Injustice – Bryan Stevenson