Category Archives: 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

Worship Wednesday – If I Stand – Rich Mullins

Blog - Rich MullinsPhoto Credit: azquotes.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

In these turbulent days, we are called to take our stand with or against. No middle ground. Seemingly no choice in the matter but with or against. Our culture seeks to define our choices. As believers, we once experienced the drawing of the Holy Spirit in a choosing of a loving Lord. Now we choose every day to shut out the noise that draws us away from Him, and to listen to that still small voice to choose life…to choose love…to choose Him.

This morning I want to focus on those in our lives who reflect this great God to us. Those who’ve gone before and in our lives today. Influencers. Not the ones in our culture who seek to tear down and condemn…but those whose own loving and steadfast hearts remind us of Jesus.

We stand “on the shoulders of giants” (attributed to Isaac Newton, but not original to him, standing on giant shoulders as well). How thankful I am for praying women, Godly teachers, sincere encouragers, true friends, and kind strangers. Among these as well are musicians who wrote and sang about the God they knew.

Worshipping God is something I long to do better. He is worthy of so much more. Fortunately for us, He has given heartsongs to a faithful few songwriters who put words to how we know, or want to know, God. Keith Green was one of those influencers in my life. I actually remember where I was when he died – working on a construction site in Surigao City, Philippines, over 30 years ago.

Another such influencer is…was Rich Mullins. His songs always help me shake off self and soar to worship God. He also died young in 1997. His legacy to us is song after song of gut-honest worship and wonder. He struggled in his own personal brokenness and that of our world. Yet he turned that into praise to a God who created all the beauty of this world for us and lavished His love on us, no matter what. Listen to this worshipper speak truth to you himself:

“The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart…It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice — it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.”  ― Rich Mullins

“God did not give Joseph any special information about how to get from being the son of a nomad in Palestine to being Pharaoh’s right hand man in Egypt. What He did give Joseph were eleven jealous brothers, the attention of a very loose and vengeful woman, the ability to do the service of interpreting dreams and managing other people’s affairs and the grace to do that faithfully wherever he was.”Rich Mullins

“I had a professor one time… He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway’.”  ― Rich Mullins

“And then he [Job] went to God and wanted to know why the righteous suffer. And Beuchner points out, God never gave him an answer. That God merely gave him Himself. And when Job had encountered the Almighty, the questions lost their power over him. And I think that a lot of us are real interested in some easy answers, and some ‘Wow, if I can, if we can come up with some kind of an easy answer to make life comfortable…’ We’re much more interested in answers than we are in the Truth. And the Truth is always going to be a mystery. It will always be a paradox. It will always be a little beyond our grasp. And if we’re uncomfortable with that, that’s okay, because a little bit of discomfort will keep us moving.” — Rich Mullins

“Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t also cost you yours.”Rich Mullins

Worship this beautiful, loving, just and merciful God with me:

There’s more that rises in the morning
Than the sun
And more that shines in the night
Than just the moon
It’s more than just this fire here
That keeps me warm
In a shelter that is larger
Than this room

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the giver
Of all good things

CHORUS:
So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

There’s more that dances on the prairies
Than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean
Than the tide
There’s a love that is fiercer
Than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother’s
When her baby’s at her side

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the Giver
Of all good things

CHORUS(2x)

And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home.

“Like Thoreau, I love to suck the marrow out of the bones of life.  People want to know God’s will for them. In one of his most explicit statements on the subject, Christ said, ‘I come that you might have life and have it abundantly.’ One day it won’t make any difference how many albums I sold, but I will give account of my life to God. What I think He’ll be most pleased with is to see that we truly lived, that we were the person He created us to be.” Rich Mullins

Please share, in a comment below, someone who has influenced your experience of God because of how he/she knew Him. Thanks.

Blog - Rich Mullins 2Photo Credit: azquotes.com

Film- Ragamuffin – the True Story of Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins’ Biography – Wikipedia.com

*Rich Mullins’ Biography – ChristianMusic.com

YouTube Video – Interview with Sheila Walsh – 16:32 Rich Mullins talks about truth and comfort and then the extraordinary experience of the love of God. Don’t miss this vulnerable and personal look into the God who transformed his life…and music.

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…

5 Friday Faves – Growing Up with Pixar, Pursuing Unity, Bringing Hope, Agility in Today’s Realities, and Making Music Happen

Happy Weekend! With so many of us either working remotely or with otherwise altered work situations, some rhythms are shifted. One for me is writing. I miss it. Please bear with me…and stay with me…as I carve out time and temperament to write something worth the read. You give me courage.

1) Growing Up with Pixar – Classical guitarist Nathan Mills (of Beyond the Guitar) knows exactly how to take any film song he chooses and draw out every bit of emotion possible. Related to Pixar, he did that previously with medleys of both the happy theme songs and the sad ones. This week, Nathan arranged and performed the heart-wrenching Randy Newman song “When She Loved Me”. You will recognize this song from the film Toy Story 2. It’s the poignant story of Emily and her cowgirl toy Jessie. At first, little girl Emily adores her toy and Jessie feels so loved, through their tireless play. Then…Emily grows up. Jessie ends up in a cardboard box donated to a charity. Many of our children have grown up with Pixar and have had lessons on life reinforced – love, loyalty, friendship, and determination – through these films. Nathan’s sweet rendition of this song will take you back.

Also check out his latest podcast on The Truth About Going Viral.

2) Pursuing Unity – We live in a world torn by division. Whatever our political ideology or religious fervor, we don’t have to just sit by and watch it burn. I am reminded of one who prayed for unity for us. One who died the next day in a world divided.

“May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”Jesus, John 17:21-23

I want to align myself with those who choose unity…those who keep reasoning together, and refuse to hate, and who are determined to forgive and to find answers and to love no matter what.

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Flare

A veteran officer of the United States Marine Corps and a teaching pastor, Grant Castleberry, wrote exquisitely about pursuing unity. Here’s a bit of his article:

“The New Testament emphasis, over and over again, is that true Christian unity is only built on a right understanding of the gospel. No matter our national allegiance, economic background, political party, or ethnicity, the gospel unites believers in one faith, one ‘body’ (1 Cor 12:12, 17)…The family of God outstrips all our other allegiances and affiliations. This includes our allegiance to a political party or ethnicity. Identity, and therefore unity, in the New Testament is almost always linked to the fact that we have been united to Christ in faith through the gospel…we should be defined by a spirit of love and forgiveness…In our divided culture, unity in the Church will be only nurtured and maintained, using the methods and principles that Jesus and the Apostles have outlined for us in the New Testament…These bodies of believers, from diverse backgrounds and idealogies, will serve as beacons of unity in a divided world.”Grant Castleberry

3) Bringing Hope – What kinds of things have brought you hope in these days? I have experienced and observed so many acts of kindness – simple ones and costly ones. People being creative and hopeful themselves and lavishing it generously on others.

Actor writer John Krasinski is one of those persons. He created this little YouTube channel with the focus on Some Good News (in the face of all the bad). Only eight episodes in total but he celebrated so much in those eight weeks – health care and other essential workers, our beloved sports teams, and the big Spring events that have been disrupted (graduations, proms, weddings, etc) secondary to COVID-19.

John Krasinski Fights Back Tears During Emotional Some Good News Finale – Emily Belfiore

Column: What I’m Glad to Say Goodbye to John Krasinski’s ‘Some Good News’ – Mary McNamara

I guess John Krasinski has some projects coming up because he ended his broadcasts after the eighth episode. Or maybe with the opening up of our countries, we will be making even more good news. Like visits with beloved grandparents after three months of “social distancing”. Now that’s some good news!!!Photo Credit: Facebook, Eryn Cobb

Finally, the most hope-bringing message: “Jesus loves me/you; this I know!”

4) Agility in Today’s Realities – We often think of agility in terms of sports – that ability to change directions quickly, but it’s that and so much more. What does agility mean in life and work?Photo Credit: Gunther Verheyen, Scrum

We hear a lot these days about a “new normal” after we come out of the COVID-19 crisis. Maybe we are better off thinking not new but real – what is real now and how could it change or be changed?

Wisdom is taking what we are learning about this virus and maximize prevention and sound treatment while, at the same time, figure out how to still do life…work…all that matters to us.

Try things. Experiment. Think in teams. Acknowledge the fails. Try something different. Strengthen the successes. Broaden them.

I’m talking very simplistically here, but we have a lot of smart and innovative people out there. Let’s figure out how to be agile in our decision-making.Photo Credit: Facebook, TobyMac

5 Disruptive Leadership Trends that will Rule 2020 – Carey Nieuwhof

The Original 2020 Is History. 7 New Disruptive Church Trends Every Church Leader Should Watch – Carey Nieuwhof [insight beyond churches as well]

5) Making Music Happen – I had an opportunity years ago to direct a Christmas program in a tiny church in New Haven, Ct. It was a magical experience – for me for sure. Then years later, I had another opportunity to produce a fine arts program in a school in Casablanca, Morocco. Again, to bring singers and musicians together to make something beautiful was an incredible experience. Below are two videos of music that we might not have had except for COVID-19.

Also the following are now-famous songs from the film musical The Greatest Showman. They are “in the making” versions and bring us close to what it’s like for the singers to create something musical and joyful for us all. In the middle you’ll find another “virtual ensemble” bringing to life one of those great songs during the social distancing of today.

Bonuses:

Blue Bloods’ Reagan Family Dinner:

MercyMe’s Hurry Up  and Wait

Core Values List: 115 Values That I Filtered on Practicality – Darius Foroux

30 Days in the Shire – Adapted for Use in the Midst of Coronatide – Tea with Tolkien

“And people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And they rested
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened
More deeply
Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
The earth also began to heal
And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead
And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.”

The above poem was published on March 16, 2020, by writer Catherine O’Meara (aka Kitty O’Meara)

Photo Credit: Facebook, Elaine M. Lechanski

Photo Credit: Facebook; Wonders of Nature, Robert E. Saddler

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

5 Friday Faves – Spring Flowers, Beyond the Guitar Podcast, Wisdom of Vala Afshar, A Small Town with COVID-19, and Caring Communities

Happy weekend!

1) Spring Flowers – You know the old proverb “April showers bring May flowers”. Well, the April flowers here in the state of Virginia are pretty spectacular right now. Rhododendron, irises, roses, columbine, pinks, and begonias are dazzling with color in our backyard. More varieties will come in May, but these flowers have sure helped us thrive with the “stay at home” COVID-19 order. The rains have come, for sure, and the flowers keep coming. Glory!

2) Beyond the Guitar Podcast – So everyone who visits this page knows we’re huge fans (followers, supporters, whatever) of Nathan Mills (at Beyond the Guitar). The fact that he is our son could be how we “discovered” him, but not the reason we love his music. He is one of the hardest working, most creative, big-hearted musicians I know. When he plays classical guitar you can hear the emotion of the pieces – whether film or TV show themes, or video game music. There was a time when he livestreamed for awhile on an app called krue which is no longer with us but a lot of fun for its season. On his livestreams, he would even sing and talk awhile with us about the music we all loved. #NathanSings and #NathanTalks are rare these days. Well, until now!! Last week, Nathan, with close friend and fellow musician Jeremiah Dias, launched their podcast.  They talk about how it all began – both their friendship and their music careers. Who knows what all they will cover next time, so you’ll want to subscribe.

3) Wisdom from Vala AfsharMr. Afshar calls himself, on Twitter, the Chief Digital Evangelist @Salesforce. I don’t really know what that means, but I do know that he earns a followership because of the dense amount of great information he posts. All encouraging. All fascinating. A few days ago, he listed out 33 bits of wisdom as a thread on Twitter.

Some I’d heard before, but in that long list, I was reminded of how much we have in us (ability/opportunity) to change the course of our lives “as we get older”. Of the 33, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Networking is about giving.
  • If you are waiting for a title to lead, you are not ready to lead.
  • Imposter syndrome is real.
  • Love and cherish your parents by giving them your time.
  • Takers may end up with more, but givers sleep better at night.
  • Good listeners hear the unsaid.
  • Never ruin an apology with excuses.

Did any of these remind you of a favorite wisdom statement? Please comment below. Thanks.

4) A Small Town with COVID-19 – Albany, Georgia. I have a dear friend from that little town in South Georgia and a very large and favorite church calls Albany home.  Other than that, Albany, Georgia, was unknown to me until this Spring when COVID-19 swept through there. It apparently began when an older gentleman came to town in March to attend the funeral of a friend. He either came to town with the virus or contracted it while in Albany. After his death, several others from the funeral party also became ill with COVID-19. As the weeks went by with more and more cases, Albany became the fourth hardest hit town in the US.Photo Credit: Downtown Albany, Ga Facebook page

I have devoured all the news out of Albany over their response to COVID-19. Rural populations don’t have the medical resources available to larger towns and cities. These people must determine how to work together and how best to respond to the health crisis they (nor any of us) were prepared for. So thankful for their resilience.

The Black Pastor Watching the COVID-19 Virus Ravage His Town – David Dent

Rural America Needs Help To Face COVID-19 – Dr. Jennifer Olsen

5) Caring Communities – Of course, none of us prefer the mandates of self-distancing and staying at home. It’s one thing for us individually to take a break from people or to spend a few days in a staycation of our own choosing. To be given orders from our government is something we are not used to.

The isolation is itself difficult but the unknown is worse. Are we making a difference in holding off COVID-19? It is possible we could do less but we will never know (hopefully) how bad it could get if we weren’t self-distancing.

After so many weeks of self-isolating, and the clinical knowledge growing in the medical community, we are beginning to have mixed messages of what is necessary/appropriate.

YouTube Video – ER Physician Drops Multiple COVID-19 Bombshells – Viral

Getting cynical is not the answer. Nor is throwing off caution.

While we are sorting out next steps, what a blessing it is to be in caring communities – surrounded (six feet apart) by people who love one another and encourage and inspire each other.

These communities could be attached to our work or our neighborhood. Our church or civic group. Our family and friends. Photo Credit: Jared Burwell, Movement Church

People we can count on to reach out to us and serve us when we need them the most. People we can reach out to as well.

Community. Always, and especially in these days, we need to know we have it…even if, for now, it comes in the form of a video meeting.

5 favorite finds for this week…what are some of yours? Please respond in the Comments. Keep safe and be well. God is with us.

Bonuses:

A Therapist’s Simple Rule Transformed My Marriage – Jancee Dunn

Captive Thoughts – Sherwood Baptist Church

Country singer and songwriter Lauren Mascitti was, just until last week, a contestant on the TV show American Idol 2020 season. She is amazing. Lauren’s performances on this show, especially her original songs, were so big, full of heart. Her original song “God Made a Woman” is my favorite (minute 2:35 in above link). The lyric version is here.

A Side Effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic? Reading Got a Lot Harder – Emma Pettit

7 Ways to Make a Senior [Citizen]’s Day While Social Distancing

People Recreate Works of Art With Objects Found at Home During Self-Quarantine – Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine

Grandpa Remembers Back When We Were in the Time of Coronavirus

When God Makes Us Wait – Barbara Rainey

Photo Credit: Karen Garner

Worship Wednesday – Gratitude Flattens Fear – Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Photo Credit: Interrupting the Silence

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call.
This I know: God is for me. – Psalm 56: 3-4, 8-9

When I am afraid..when I am afraid…when I am afraid…I will trust in You, God…This I know: God is for me.

There’s a lot of fear in the air these days as the Coronavirus pandemic makes its way across our states and the world’s nations. We hear a lot about flattening the curve of the new cases and mortality rates. What we need to flatten as well is the strangling fear that rises up with the COVID case numbers.

Fear is an enemy to our health and to our hearts.

Fear may also look more like anger when people politicize the problem or rail at the why’s of this disease we are facing.

Blaming, fault-finding, nay-saying.

Both fear and anger have negative impact on our immune systems and sense of well-being – both of which are vital to staying healthy.

How about our faith? Is there a way we can flip fear as believers?

Absolutely. When we shake ourselves out of the “what-if’s” and into the “what-is”, our thinking clears. Our shoulders drop. We breathe. We remember.

Whatever the enemy…human foes or COVID-19…God is present with us and He is for us.

Psychologist Gregg Jantz Ph.D. reminds us that Gratitude Is an Antidote for Anger and Fear. In his article, he states,Gratitude is an antidote for fear. Fear focuses on all the things that could go wrong. Gratitude focuses on all the things that have gone right. When our gratitude is based upon the power and promises of God, we have an abundance of things that have gone right!”

This morning I came across the Reba McEntire 2017 song Back to God. Early in the video, she sits in an empty church.Photo Credit: GodTube

The story in the video begins in a cemetery and then moves to an empty church (which looks normal to us now with COVID). As Reba sings, we see individuals and small groups dealing with losses. There is sadness, isolation, anger, fear. Something like we are feeling in our current situation.

When we find ourselves, because of this pandemic, without work or school, facing ruined plans, or worse…unable to delay deaths of people we love…we are prone to default to fear.

Throughout Scripture, God calls us to remember. Remember who He is and how He has moved throughout history and in our own personal lives. To pull ourselves up out of fear and take a longer view of gratitude for a good and gracious Father God. He is for us. He stands with us, in whatever feels like it is overtaking us.

Reba’s song is an anthem for us who say we believe…to pray like we do…whatever it takes to turn our fear, anger, loss…and unbelief…to a loving God. We want to hold this life, our loves, our preferred “normal” tightly in our hands…but.

Because He is good, and we remember, we open our hands, and trust Him with what He gave us in the first place. Whatever comes, He is faithful in His love and at His word.

Worship with me with the help of this great old hymn and remember that God is ever and always faithful:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Refrain:
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. [Refrain]

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! [Refrain]*

At the end of Reba’s video, the church building goes from her alone to being filled with all those who had experienced anguish and loss… a church filled with worshipers. People praying and praising God. All together.

That’s who we are and who He calls us to be. We may, for a season, be physically distanced from each other, but we are still in this together, and Him always with us.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.Revelation 21:3-4

*Lyrics to Great Is Thy Faithfulness – Songwriters: Thomas O. Chisholm and William Runyan

Worship Wednesday – When Storms Come, We Still Have a Good, Good Father – Chris Tomlin & Pat Barrett

Worship Wednesday – No Matter What I Will Trust in You – Lauren Daigle

Saturday Short – Give This World Back to God – Reba McEntire – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Monday, Day 2 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Restores the Temple to a House of Prayer

[Adapted from the Archives]

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”Mark 11:12-14

When Jesus woke on Monday morning, after that glorious Sunday entering Jerusalem…I wonder what he thought. Did he know that, in just four days, he would be crucified? Whew…

Back to Monday:

During that week in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples spent the nights with friends in Bethany, two miles outside of the city. Each morning, they would walk into Jerusalem. On that Monday morning, just four days prior to his crucifixion, Jesus became hungry on the walk in. Seeing a leafy fig tree, he looked for fruit. With fig trees, where there are leaves, there should be figs. Since green figs are edible, and it wasn’t yet harvest season, there should still be some fruit on the tree.

When he found no figs, Jesus cursed the tree. This seems out of character for Jesus, until his action is put in the context of his culture and community. Throughout his public ministry, especially as he became more known and revered, the Jewish religious leaders held him in contempt. Jesus’ teaching of our dependence on God’s righteousness and not our own flew in the face of the Pharisaical teaching of the day – that of strict adherence to Jewish law as the only hope of finding favor with God. For Jesus, the leafy barren fig tree must have been a picture of religious Jews of that day, all flash and finery but no fruit of faith.

“Christ’s single miracle of Destruction, the withering of the fig-tree, has proved troublesome to some people, but I think its significance is plain enough. The miracle is an acted parable, a symbol of God’s sentence on all that is ‘fruitless’ and specially, no doubt, on the official Judaism of that age. That is its moral significance.”C. S. Lewis

Jesus was left still physically hungry. He remained spiritually hungry  as well – for this people of the Book to receive the good news that the Messiah had come.

Finally, arriving back in Jerusalem, Jesus was deeply troubled by what he found inside the Temple. The crowds of Passover pilgrims did not disturb him, but temple grounds turned marketplace did. In this sanctified place, meant only for worship, there were money-changers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, right in the Court of the Gentiles – in the only place where non-Jewish God-believers could worship. Photo Credit: Bible Universe

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”Matthew 21:12-13

Often in film depictions of Jesus cleansing the temple, he appears a crazed individual, flailing about, throwing tables and flinging pigeons into the air. I can’t even imagine him that way. We can’t know how it happened except that in Jesus’ anger, he did not sin. He would not sin. I know the Jesus Film is a director’s rendering of the Biblical account, but in this scene, Jesus showed considerable restraint. Disturbed at the buying and selling that actually kept believing Gentiles from worshiping, he moved to correct the situation. He was unafraid of the temple officials, burning with zeal for his Father to be truly worshiped in that place.

Zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.Psalm 69:9

Later in the week, he himself would be the one for sale – sold for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by one of his own disciples, to satisfy the wrath of the religious leaders. That story is for another day.

This Holy Monday, we are drawn again to this Messiah who teaches us that the way we live our lives matters but not more than the way we relate to God. He makes space for us…room for all of us to receive Him. He is holy, and in His righteousness, we stand…on solid ground.

Photo Credit: KLove, Experience Easter Series

Holy Week – Day 2: Monday Jesus Clears the Temple – Mary Fairchild

Holy Week Devotions – Mission Lakewood

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

YouTube Video with Lyrics of In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree – Sam Shamoun

Monday of Holy Week

How Can We Be Angry and Not Sin? – Jon Bloom

Cleansing the Court of the Gentiles – Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Jesus Film Media – website & app to watch videos

Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings From C. S. Lewis – C. S. Lewis

Palm Sunday – Day 1 of Holy Week – Jesus’ Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem on the Way to the Cross

[Adapted from the Archives]

For anyone who considers herself a critical thinker, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter our religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything we may think of God. The core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known as Christian, are illuminated here. In the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, we can see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.

[Sidebar: I taught a World Religions course some time ago in a Moroccan high school. In that course, we studied all the major religions. The students were challenged to think critically of each religion. They were to study each one in this way:

  • putting themselves in the perspective of one who believes (i.e., a true follower, using eye witness/historical accounts and Scriptures/holy writings when available), and then
  •  analyzing each belief/tenet of faith critically and its impact on their lives/culture.

Any of us can benefit thinking through Holy Week this way; none will not come away the same by examining the life of Jesus.]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.

Jesus knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.Matthew 16:21

As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,  and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” Matthew 20:17-19

I can’t even imagine what those disciples so close to Jesus as he predicted his own death. They loved him and had pledged their lives to him, even to death. They believed him to be the conquering king, sent by God, to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and to restore the nation of Israel. Although they had soaked up three years of his teaching, this “end of the story” was more than they could bear. Just a week later, they would gloriously understand that it would not be the end of the story of Jesus’ life…but the emotions of this Sunday, this week, must have been disorienting and overwhelming.

On this Sunday, before the Passover, Jesus would enter the great city of Jerusalem, teeming with crowds there to celebrate. He entered, riding a donkey*, as was foretold by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowds did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dusty road before him welcoming him:

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:8-10

“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who did know him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.

The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.

Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.

[Each day in this week, the posts will mark the journey of Jesus of Nazareth through the last week of his earthly life. Join me please. Because of the need for social distancing, the remembrance of this week may look very differently. Some churches are doing drive-by giving of palms for the children. For us, we just gathered some fronds for our gate…and will worship this Sunday in our home.]

*Matthew 21:1-11 & Commentary

**”Hosanna” means “God saves”.  YouTube lyric video of Hosanna – Hillsong

YouTube Video – Passion Song – The Story of Holy Week (Lyric Video) by @scartermusic – powerful.

5 Ways to Celebrate Palm Sunday at Home This Year – Meg Bucher

Holy Week Devotions – Mission Lakewood

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

Holy Week Timeline – From Palm Sunday to the Resurrection – Mary Fairfield

Look, the World Has Gone After Him: Prelude to Palm Sunday – Jon Bloom

The Significance of Palm Sunday in Relation to Passover

Kings Riding on Donkeys? What?

Photo Gallery: Egypt’s Coptic Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday – When our children were young, we lived in Cairo, and bought palm fronds to make some of these crafts along with our Egyptian friends.