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.
Reading this passage recently, 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. A year ago, we were 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.
This time last year, a group of friends and I went through a Bible study together which turned out to be incredibly timely. We couldn’t be together so we met over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kinds 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.
“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.
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
The past. We are never rid of it, nor would we wish to be. Our roots are there. The foundation of our lives. Our first and formative relationships are there. Both life and death, pain and promise.
Memories are born in the past. Experiences and emotions attached to them that feel exquisitely personal…yet are shared. Others close to us may have our exact same experiences, but have very different feelings and memories attached to them.
Family is complicated and always has been (remember Cain and Abel?). Throughout the history of humankind, family was meant to be a nurturing and stabilizing influence in our lives. It doesn’t always work out that way, but wisdom is to lean in whenever possible and learn both from the brokenness and the beauty available to us.
So how do we deal with the past? Do we ruminate on the wrongs of our past? Do they loom larger than the good? Do we see ourselves in the right in each point of conflict? Or the victim? Is our memory of family colored in ways that make us pull away?
There is a way forward, and I believe it is revisiting the past with the aim of healing…not just for ourselves but for the family as a whole.
[I love alliteration – words with the same beginning letters used in phrases or headings. So it was a personal thrill for me that this came together with alliteration.]
5 R’s of Handling and Healing Our Past
1) Remember – We trust our memories, don’t we? Well, until age shakes that up a bit. Still, our memories can be altered by the power of our emotions and by further experiences that call the past to mind. Then our emotions, deepened by memory, can “resolve” to see things more our way, whatever is happening in the moment. Memories can be reinforced, and not always in helpful ways. We need to take into account that we, family members or friends, can remember something very differently, based on what was going on emotionally for each person at the time. That’s why we must handle memories gently with each other. Love the person her/himself more than what they might remember. Determine not to be put off by memories where we don’t come off in a positive light. Remembering is done best in community. It’s richer and more reliable that way. Of course, this requires tons of trust, transparency, and humility. It may not feel safe in some situations to remember in community. It’s also never helpful to insist our memories are the only ones that are true. Right? Again, it is experience plus emotion. Love covers. Love helps heal when we remember, with care for the other.
2) Reminisce – As we remember, we reminisce. This calls to mind the sweet memories of the past. Even as painful memories rush in, what happy times come to mind? How might these memories weave together? Was it all bad? All good? Reminiscing taps into the positives, and even opens the mind to what the memories of the other might be in the same experience. Are we projecting motive or intent into our experience? As we reminisce, might we look at how an experience was different for the other. Reminiscing done in community is, again, eye-opening. It can be threatening if our side of the memory is on the line, but when we enlarge on what was going on in our past, we gain deeper understanding. A softening of our attitudes can come.
3) Reflect – When we reflect on a particular situation or relationship in the past, we treat it with as much grace as we can muster. We take the past and turn it over and examine it from different angles, considering what we can learn from it. How is it affecting our present – both life experience and relationships? What can we do to glean something positive from a painful past? What is to be gained by holding onto the past? If we choose healing, what is then possible for us and the others involved? What kind of faith would be required? What kind of work? Are we willing?
4) Repent and Reconcile when possible(instead of forever Regret ) – Here’s the big leap! Owning our part and doing something about it. This is huge!
Let’s say, our past includes painful memories from our early childhood. What can a child own from situations out of their control? We can own our attitudes today as adults. For instance, it took me a long time to tender my memories of a neglectful biological father. I only have a few memories of him, none great. One memory stands out. Mom had left him, and we were living in a tiny house, supported by her income alone. One night we were awakened by shouting. I don’t remember a lot, but my estranged father, Mom, and an uncle of ours were in some sort of argument. We four children were huddled together on a bottom bunk. I remember blood and our father’s hand wrapped in a handkerchief. Was there a knife? I don’t remember. We were terrified. After that…he was pretty much absent from our lives. I don’t remember asking Mom what all happened. It just took me a long time to feel anything for that dad. Yet, I know he had to have known pain, isolation, and maybe even some regret at the dregs of his relationship with Mom and us. As an adult, I have chosen some compassion for him. Not much but some.
Why did I share that story? It is how as children, when we have trauma (or what we perceive as trauma when maybe it had little to do with us), we process it differently than we might as adults. Revisiting, with humble hearts, can make a difference in how we think about the past as adults.
When our past pushes into our present, and conflicts are revisited, we are tempted to try the offending party in the court of our emotions (re-try them, actually). We resurrect the past and all its emotions, and bring all that trauma to bear on whatever the present misunderstanding is. We are then not able to just deal with the present. All that past comes down on us, that past that may have been once forgiven, and unloads. Making it virtually impossible to deal with whatever is happening at the moment.
This is where we repent. We refuse to nurse old wounds. We deal with the current conflict as it is, without all the past. The current conflict is enough. We deal with it as adults. We repent of our part. I can tell you, if we don’t, there is collateral damage to those who love us. “Friendly fire” is not friendly, and these struggles, heightened by our past, become the past of those around us. Our children. Our grandchildren.
Repentance may take more the form of forgiveness. We refuse to remember (one place where we refuse to remember) the offense of another. We choose to forgive in the most expansive way we can.
I know we sometimes say we forgive that one who offends us, who offended in the past, and continues to do so. We forgive but commit and feel justified to have nothing to do with them ever again. I get that. I get the pain behind such a decision. It’s heart-breaking. Just to reflect: Who does that punish? As wide a circle as our relationship together makes. We are all punished…that is most probably not meant to be the intent.
Repent and reconcile whenever possible. There will be cheering by everyone who loves us both. I know; I’ve experienced it from both sides. The repenting side and the relieved and thankful other side.
[This is often excruciating and not always satisfying. Even if the outcomes are not what we hope. We benefit from trying…as do the generations that follow. Who knows? The situation – and relationship – can still change in that possible future.]
5) Rejoice – Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel the rise and fall of your breath? Be grateful. Rejoice in the present. We didn’t die from our past. We still have a chance to put things right. Maybe imperfectly…but it’s possible.
A wonderful scene of this possibility is found in the 1970 film “Scrooge”. “I’ll Begin Again”.
The past doesn’t have to be forever. You have a present. There may be a future…one not framed by the hurting past but built on a healed past. We have that possibility…in our present. We can do our part… it’s the only thing we have in our control. Is it complicated? Of course, but it will always be worth the effort.
*Special thanks to my writer friend, Angela at Living Well Journal, who talked and prayed through this with me…on a neighborhood walk, in the cool of a Spring morning.
A note I found just this week flipping through an old Bible. Mom would leave love notes around whenever she came to visit, and we did the same after her pattern…and taught our children to do the same.
1) Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind – We think of beauty more in what we experience visually, but there is a powerful connection between music and the mind. Beautiful music soothes the soul and lifts our hearts. Moves us. Often it is because of nostalgia attached to the music, but even without that emotional connection, music can bring our minds to a better place.
Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, has that way about his craft. Moving our hearts with the beauty of his arrangements and performance. I don’t know any of the pieces in his medley of 4 Underrated (but Beautiful) Video Game Themes, but something happens when I listen. Shoulders drop; breathing slows; wonder sets in. Beauty has its way with our ears and our minds.
2) Mental Health Awareness – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme message for 2021 is “You Are Not Alone”. Our need for connection is bigger than ever, having gone through so much COVID isolation. Whether mental health issues are our own personal struggle or we are family, friends, caregivers of those who struggle, helps abound. We just must be aware and utilize them.
Suicide and death by drug overdose have increased during COVID. They are shocking for us and real losses, either for us or for friends. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from each other. Finding ways to help is imperative.
3) Antidote for Self-Deceit – Self-deceit (or self-deception) is “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception”.
I’ve allowed myself to be deceived (either with the help of outside influences or from sheer will and desire, wanting something to be so, or not be so). It’s not pretty. One of my strongest memories was sitting in a circle of friends who essentially did an loving intervention with me. I was in a self-destructive (but non-abusive) relationship, and they had the courage to point me to the changes in my life and thinking. I will never forget it. The life I have now is much impacted by their willingness to go to that place with me. Forever grateful.
Regarding deceit, it is way too easy to get into our own heads and assess life with a self-tuned receiver. I wrote about this before (the practice of noticing). A somewhat dated video (with a still fresh message) speaks to this so well.
During the particular season of self-deception (described above), I got to the place that lying in my bed at night, when I would usually pray, it got impossible to pray. That was terrifying. It’s like all the desires and my rationalizations for them had crowded out any space for God. Especially for a holy God. Like I said, terrifying. No matter how loving God is, I couldn’t justify praying when my own desires trumped His for me.
As the video illuminates, as we get out of our own heads, and start seeing other people around us, we find the antidote. Caring more for others than ourselves, we can actually clear our heads some. Self-deception causes us to “circle the wagons” and keep others at a distance. As we determine to get close to people again, especially to genuinely listen and serve, our own deceit can be more readily understood/recognized. Of course, our neglected relationship with God will take its own time and action on our part. He is ready, when we are.
4) Showing Up…or Not – Showing up is a good thing. For all of us. Keeping commitments. Being present. Choosing to lean in. Listening.
So much is said about listening and its positive impact. To listen requires proximity.
On the East Coast, this week, we had a gas shortage (or a perceived gas shortage…not sure which is more accurate). Everyone was making decisions about filling their tanks and sorting out needful car trips vs. those that can be jettisoned for another time.
I was a part of a couple of meetings where some folks didn’t show up. Without a phone call, text, or email message. Was it the gas shortage? Or did it display something else? Honestly, I also wondered how often I’ve done this same thing myself.
We are in a culture right now when a RSVP yes can turn to no without a word. I’m showing my age…but does this matter?
Below you’ll find quotes from three different authors on this and what it can mean. The showing up…or not. After you read their observations, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the Comments.
“Standing someone up is a personal attack. You are saying that you have no respect at all for this person’s time, energy or feelings. This person set aside time from his or her day to hang out with YOU.
And maybe he or she didn’t feel like showing up. But no, this person had enough respect for you to feel as though he or she couldn’t bail on you. Then how did you repay the favor? You didn’t show up. With no warning.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that if this person cared about you enough to make and honor plans with you, odds are that he or she would probably be WORRIED about you when you don’t send a message. Because falling off the face of the Earth is a little alarming….You get the picture here.” – Candice Jalili
“There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?
“The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.
So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:
It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility (for a failed commitment), but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor.” – Kenneth Vogt
[The two writers above have very different tones to their pieces. Both worthy of note. I especially appreciated Vogt’s distinction of honoring a commitment (whether you’re able to keep it or not). Honoring the person by communicating your inability to keep the commitment…as well as the honoring that goes on by making the effort to keep the commitment whether easy or not. We don’t really know what goes on for another who does the work of keeping a commitment or the one who just can’t. What we do know is what it is like for us to keep or not keep a commitment; to honor or dishonor a person in the commitment. So much more understanding and care come out of the smallest communications. Something to think about.]
Below Rachel Macy Stafford posted an image and (in the link) a Facebook story about sitting in a line for gas this week, and an elderly man, just ahead of her, deliberately nodding her way (as he chose not to completely fill his tank, doing what he could to “leave” some for her). No RSVP’ed commitment. No relationship. But a deeply kind gesture to her that she was seen. We all need that…that being seen.
It’s…“a deliberate decision to look out for the person behind (you)…It’s not about us. Even though it’s hard not to think only of our own needs, there is someone behind us…and someone behind that person…with their own set of struggles. If you can…will you look out for them? A wave will do, just so they know they are seen…it’s the kind of gesture that takes people farther than a full tank of gas.” – Rachel Macy Stafford
5) Unmasking – Get ready for another new culture shock thanks to the Coronavirus: unmasking!!! I am so excited myself.Photo Credit: Pexels, Gustavo Fring
Based on this week’s CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or physically distance anymore (except in rare defined situations). This, of course, is still only a recommendation and each state must give direction at a local level. Our governor just announced that we will align with the CDC recommendations.
Now, no one is going to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is to be wise in dealing with the viral world. Those not vaccinated will probably forego masks as well. The freedom feels intoxicating, honestly, but possibly fearful to some, even some who are fully vaccinated.
I hope we can leave fear behind us. COVID is still rampant in some parts of the world and that is tragic. As we in the US and other countries get past our own experiences with this virus, hopefully we can be a help to those still battling the disease.
The culture shock part is real. I will have my mask with me, and see what the signs say on the doors of each business, store, school, or community space.
The Chosen is an online TV series created and directed by Dallas Jenkins. The statement of faith posted by Jenkins includes the following: “The Chosen is a narrative show, which means it’s not a documentary…it’s absolutely not a replacement for Scripture. It is not focused on religious tradition, but on Jesus. It’s a show…but it’s a high calling for me.”
The content of this series is faithful to the Bible. There are details, context, and cultural nuance which are adding nothing to Scripture but flesh out stories that we love. Again, not adding to the Bible but giving us an opportunity to understand more deeply the life of Jesus and what He experienced and the impact He had in His life in that time.
We know the impact He has had on our lives. In the show, Mary Magdalene has a line we all can understand: “I was one way, and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him.”
I love the stories. They are reflective of Jesus and those closest to Him. They are plausible given what we know of Jesus in Scripture and what we know of the whole counsel of God in the Bible.
I have so many favorite scenes in this production (Season 1 and now Season 2 also). One of them is when Jesus calls Matthew as a disciple. Matthew…a Jewish tax collector – under the protection of the Romans – hated by his fellow Jews for the hardships he brings on them. In this treatment of this real person, he is shown as one who could be on the Autism spectrum…brilliant and different. Watch the scene here.
Jesus’ line, “Get used to different”, although extra-Biblical, is so in character with the person of Christ. So winsome, loving, and right.
We watch a lot on screens…all across the world. We have sampled some excellent Christian programming. Lots of renditions of Jesus. This is now one of my favorites. Maybe my favorite. The Chosen is available without any subscription. It is available on the app for free. It doesn’t promote any religious tradition. It is about the person of Jesus Christ. Every episode I’ve seen reverences Him and is honoring to what I know of Him, personally and Scripturally.
In the finale episode (8) of Season 1 of The Chosen, Jesus is shown talking with a Samaritan woman. He showed care for her and talked to her as no one else ever had. “He told me everything I ever did”, she would declare to everyone in her village. He also revealed to her that He was the Christ. At the end of this scene, we hear an upbeat, pounding snippet of a song entitled Trouble. It’s a crazy finish to this first season of The Chosen, and a powerful introduction to Jesus’ public ministry. Yet, there he is just walking down a hill with his disciples, a straw in his mouth. In the moment. Unaffected by what all this could mean. Just as it might have been with our Savior Jesus.
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:4-5, 8
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,and give no opportunity to the devil. – Ephesians 4:26-27
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighborand hate your enemy.But I tell you, love your enemiesand pray for those whopersecute you,so that you may bechildren of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Matthew 5:43-45
Watch his very different, almost politically incorrect, 3-minute acceptance speech below. [Full transcript here.]
An excerpt follows:
“My mother taught me to refuse hate. She taught me to refuse blanket judgment. And in this time and with all of the internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way—the 24-hour news cycle—it is my hope that all of us will teach our kids—and not only to remember—just refuse hate. Don’t hate anybody.
I refuse to hate someone because they’re Mexican or because they are Black or white, or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they’re a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate.
So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment and to help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you, too. God bless you and thank you Academy, I appreciate it.” – Tyler Perry
As followers of Christ, we cannot join the throngs of people who hate. We may want to block or cancel the words or actions of others. Yet, we are confronted ourselves by the truth that we were all once the enemies of God…and He forgave us. Do we presume that our indignation is more righteous than His? Do we consider our being wronged as more needful of judgment than His own? God have mercy!
What is the response of the believer toward those we are tempted to feel hate?
Only love. Spoken and acted out in kindness and mercy.
Do we stomp and kick the dust at that calling and command? Do we hold tighter to our stones? Do we give lip service to “forgiving” but everything in our actions and attitudes tells a different story?
How thankful we can be to a God who is all-wise and all-loving! He understands us completely. He walked among us, in the sandals of the incarnate Christ. He experienced hatred and persecution, even to His last breath on this earth. Yet…He forgave, He loved, He administered the greatest kindness possible – His life for ours.
In His loving mercy, He has taught us how to live in this life.
We are to love. We are to forgive. We are to keep our own hearts from sinning against another. We are to remember that we and our neighbor (enemy or friend) are both made in the image of God. We are not to forget our own bent toward sin…the very sin that caused Jesus to take the cross upon Himself…for us. Not just for another.
God calls us to remember whose we are. He is at work in our hearts, in that of our neighbors (and enemies), and in the nations.
We can join Him…through revolutionary acts of kindness.
I’ve just recently discovered the writing of Lois Tverberg. She teaches the Scripture in context, meaning within the culture of the world in which it was written. We might think Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies is hard. Yet, if we recall our own struggle with sin and how neighbors and enemies are not so different from us, we can access the grace of God to love…and show kindness.
Instead of striving to be right…what if we strove to be kind – loving, serving, and praying for those our flesh cries out to hate? This is the way of Jesus.
Josh Wilson (with a team of other songwriters) gave us the song “Revolutionary” in October 2019, having no idea what 2020 or 2021 would hold. It was a prophetic call to the church to love…all.
“It seems natural, almost effortless, to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities. Drawing attention to those differences keeps us glued to the news and social media because of the moral outrage we feel towards the “other.” I think there’s a better way though, and that’s the way of empathy and understanding, the way of kindness….No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, deep down I know that we are not as different as we are led to believe. There is peace to be made, there are names to be learned, meals to be had, chasms to be crossed, and it all starts with kindness.” – Josh Wilson
I’m turning the TV down
Drowning their voices out
‘Cause I believe that you and me
Can find some common ground
See maybe I’m not like you
But I’ll walk a mile in your shoes
If it means I might see
The world the way you do
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
“‘Revolutionary’ is all about kindness,” shares Josh Wilson. “I believe that kindness matters. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity we see in the world and on the news, and this song is a reminder that we are called to more than that. We’re called to love as Christ has loved us. I am so encouraged by the acts of kindness I’ve seen recently, even amidst a worldwide pandemic, even in an election year. In many ways, our struggles are actually bringing us together. We’re learning that we all have a lot more in common than we thought, and it’s beautiful to see the ways people are serving each other. The lyrics are a prayer for God, through us, to start a revolution of kindness. Will you join us?” – Josh Wilson
Josh Wilson also wrote “Dream Small” which I covered here. He capturing how God has wrapped all commands into two – for our good and to the glory of our magnificent God:
“Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. – Romans 12:9-10
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.– 1 John 3:16
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”– John 13:34-35
Our world is so full of words…so many voices. Too many are divisive and blaming. Too many propose solutions that seem beyond our capability or capacity. Beyond our understanding even.
Especially in the issue of racial inequality, racial reconciliation, and racial healing. When we look at the proposals made by politicians and even some educators, we are stunned and bewildered.
What will it really take for things to get better? What actions can bridge the racial divide? The words blasting through our news outlets seem more hurtful than healing. We as the church are wrestling with what to say…what to do. I have found that so puzzling given how the Lord has told us how to live and how to love…but we seem challenged especially in this dark dilemma of our times.
He deals with the politicizing of the racial unrest in our country, and he calls us as Christians to love people…really love people. Wow! Why “Wow!”? Because we know what is the truth and yet we don’t do it. We talk about it, we react when others tell us what we should do, but…We already know what Jesus tells us to do…and He has shown us how by His own beautiful life.
Reverend Haney writes: “Genuine change only happens when we can change hearts, and only the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. The community is begging for someone to step up and make things better.
What I hear the world really asking is this:
Dear Christian Church,
As I look at the racial pain all around and the way it is portrayed in the national media, it saddens me. The tone is so negative, and it is feeding into the darkness that is already out there in our sin-sick world. I don’t expect the world to have real solutions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Dear Church, especially the Black Church, just as you answered the call in the Civil Rights Movement, you have a pivotal role to play. You have the Light. You know the only real Love. The world is lost without your voice. Without your direction. It is time to stand and lead. Now is the time to speak out.”
Then Reverend Haney further encouraged us: “…We are living in a broken world, and the racial issues only serve as a stark reminder of our need for a Savior, a healer, a reconciler.
There is a spiritual reason behind this racial rift. Church leaders you have the power to change things. Our Lord and Savior armed you with the spiritual weapons of God. Battle Satan’s lies the way Jesus did with the truth of the Scripture. All people have value because we are created by the same One True God. We all begin our journey at the foot of the cross and end our trip at the grave.”
We have a beautiful Savior who showed us how to really love each other. Not, as Senator Scott read from his devotional, “just pretend to love others”. We can state our beliefs about racial divides and racism. We can voice commitments as the church on where we stand. Words only (just talking about issues or doling out our opinions) do not take us to the cross…or to the grave.
Our Savior held nothing back. Maybe we don’t know what that means for us in specifics, given the problems we face as a nation, as a world today…but we know where to start.
We start with receiving the love Christ has given us, every one of us. We receive from His hands. Then we become His hands for one another. He loves…we love. He serves…we serve.
I don’t have sweeping answers but, after today, I am less confused… and less distracted by all the negative talk and virtue signaling. We don’t have to be led to answers, especially by people who have no interest in what Jesus says and does about injustices. He has given us a way forward…ours is to take that path.
Worship with me…to this song by Twila Paris on the beauty of Christ and the beauty of His church – How Beautiful –
How Beautiful the hands that served
The Wine and the Bread and the sons of the earth
How beautiful the feet that walked
The long dusty roads and the hill to the cross
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ
How Beautiful the heart that bled That took all my sin and bore it instead How beautiful the tender eyes That choose to forgive and never despise How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the body of Christ
And as He lay down His life
We offer this sacrifice
That we will live just as He died
Willing to pay the price
Willing to pay the price
How Beautiful the radiant bride
Who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes How Beautiful when humble hearts give The fruit of pure lives so that others may live How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the Body of Christ
How beautiful the feet that bring
The sound of good news and the love of the King
How Beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread and the sons of the Earth
How Beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful is the Body of Christ*
It was a day like no other day in history. For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. While the few of us passed this week in reflection and wonder, it was, of course, just another week for most of our friends and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but Good Friday where we lived was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus, and all who have experienced life through his teaching, example, and sacrifice, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.
Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary, with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people. In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, who was hiding nearby…in his own painful moment.
The outcome of all the wrangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash off his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.
Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the resolve of His Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him. That we, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21) is a miracle of grace.
Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.
Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross. Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words have been recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.
Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!
There is so much more to say about this day and the people present. Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return the money and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he could no longer. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him. John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.
So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*
2) Easter Reading – Every year, sometime early in Lent, I pull out the books below to read in anticipation of Easter. Rich and inspiring.
This year, I added Timothy Keller‘s new book Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Wow! It is taking time to read because every page is full of meaning…requiring savoring and reflecting. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City (since 1989). Since 2017 he oversees the work of Redeemer City to City – teaching, mentoring, and writing. The book Hope in Times of Fear was written during the year of COVID-19 (2020) which is also the year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Hopefully God will give him, and us, many more brilliant and beautiful books. For now, this is my new favorite. Thanks, Dr. Keller.
Just here you will find one of the stunning passages in this book:
“The claims of Jesus Christ, if they are truly heard for what they are, never evoke moderate response. Jesus claimed to be the Lord God of the universe, who had come to earth to give himself for us so that we could live for him. That is a call for total allegiance. You will have to either run away screaming in anger and fear or run toward him with joy and love and fall down at his feet and say, ‘I am yours.’ Nothing in the middle makes any sense. Unless you are running away from him or running toward him, you actually don’t really know who he is. Peter has done both. Because of the instruction that he has received from the risen Jesus, Peter now knows enough about the gospel of grace to realize he has nothing to fear from Jesus’s divine presence. But there is a great deal of unfinished business between Peter and His Savior.” – Tim Keller, p. 98, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter
3) Forgiveness – I don’t have a lot to say right here. To me, it’s so clear. We are wise if we forgive. We are wise if we ask forgiveness.
This past week, I listened to this old Eagles song“Heart of the Matter”. It’s a sad song…about regret. The focus was the need to forgive…before it’s too late.
It reminded me of a blog I wrote some time ago (I’ve written many about forgiveness or the lack of it). Singer songwriter Matthew West wrote a really beautiful song titled Forgiveness, out of a story of terrible loss and extravagant forgiveness.
I just want to leave the lyrics right here:
It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…
It flies in the face of all your pride It moves away the mad inside It’s always anger’s own worst enemy Even when the jury and the judge Say you gotta right to hold a grudge It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’
Forgiveness, Forgiveness Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Show me how to love the unlovable Show me how to reach the unreachable Help me now to do the impossible
Help me now to do the impossible Forgiveness
It’ll clear the bitterness away It can even set a prisoner free There is no end to what it’s power can do So, let it go and be amazed By what you see through eyes of grace The prisoner that it really frees is you
Forgiveness, Forgiveness Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Show me how to love the unlovable Show me how to reach the unreachable Help me now to do the impossible Forgiveness
I want to finally set it free So show me how to see what Your mercy sees Help me now to give what You gave to me Forgiveness, Forgiveness.*
4) On Death and Dying – Having been a cancer nurse, I am familiar with this topic more than most maybe. However, it is never an easy one, given we don’t want to lose people we love nor do we want to leave people we love.
It is important for us to talk about death and preparations for dying, even if it is uncomfortable. It is a loving thing to do. My husband’s sweet dad, John, prior to having surgery some years ago, executed an advance life directive spelling out his wishes for end-of-life. He did great through that surgery and lived many healthy years afterward. Julia, his wonderful wife, didn’t think about it again. Then after years of poor health with Parkinson’s, he had a massive stroke. We were so grateful that the medical staff were able to retrieve a forgotten document that made decisions regarding his care so much easier for us. John had made decisions in his love for his family… years before. Because of this, we got to bring him home, with hospice support, and be with him, caring for him, until he died a week later.
With COVID, and now even with vaccines, we have had to take a clear-eyed look at death. When my neighbor, who is a bit older but as healthy as me, told me she and her husband had met with the funeral home to do their planning, I was a bit stunned. Yet, it is important and such a loving thing to do for a family.
Julia, my precious mom-in-law, and I, on a visit last year, had challenged each other to complete our own advanced care (or end-of-life) directive. We haven’t done it yet. Either one of us. So I pulled it up again…and hope to finish it this weekend.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of President Biden’s medical advisors on COVID, has been very public in his desire not to live past 75. Of course, he is only 63, this year. 75 may not seem as young to him as it might in a few more years. He talks about the diminishing returns of getting older, and that it its own loss, for the person and for those who would care.
I don’t care for Dr. Emanuel’s take on this, but I do very much agree with the following:
Think seriously about your beliefs in God and what happens in the after-life.
Get right with God and reconcile with those you are at odds with…especially family members. For them, if not for yourself.
Decide what your wishes are about end-of-life. Write it down. Tell your children or medical representative.
Make whatever arrangements you can while you still have your health.
Be sure your will is clear and understandable to those for whom it will matter most.
Then live your life in all its beauty. When dying begins, it can have its own meaning and purpose. I think of Kara Tippetts and so many others who died as they had lived.
What else should be added to these points? Please comment below.
5) Music in the Family – Wow! Don’t know how I missed the Kanneh-Mason siblings until recently. They have been playing, both together and as soloists, since at least 2017. Ranging in age from 11 to 24, these seven are incredibly talented and hard working in their craft – playing either cello, violin, or piano. When the COVID pandemic hit, they were all home together, in Great Britain, and made even more music together. The video below of them playing Redemption Song is how I first heard them. Wow!
We are a musical family as well. Not world-class maybe (yet…who knows?!). However, we do know what it is like to hear music all the time and to always have an audience or somebody who plays alongside. The Kanneh-Mason siblings have really benefited from growing up together with supportive parents. Read this great piece to find out Everything You Need to Know About the Kanneh-Mason Family.
My children didn’t grow up in the South. They are TCK’s (third culture kids) spending most of their childhood in other countries. They/we were minorities in those countries, so they understand some of what that means. A big difference is that we were still privileged minorities. We had the blue American passport. We could be forbidden entrance to those countries in the future but, once in, we would most probably always be allowed to peacefully live in and peacefully leave from those countries.
These children of ours have all now spent their college years and early adult years back in the US. Their understanding of racial differences has been impacted, having lived as “different” in other places.
Their parents, that would be Dave and me, taught them from a color-blind Biblical ideology. That’s how our parents taught us and I’m thankful for that kind of worldview. God loves everyone; we are to love everyone. Never based on what they look like, including skin color, an immutable characteristic. This is always a bent that moves people toward each other. We had been sheltered in life from the hardships and challenges of what it was for some to grow up black in the US. We didn’t know. We should have. Now we know more. What we may not know is what it is to love and experience love across differences (be it race or social status).
Our kids, since returning to the US, have found themselves in a culture of outrage, blaming, and unforgiveness. The push for academics and work environments to include Critical Race Theory and anti-racism is much more divisive than healing. Do not hear in anything I say below in support of such teaching.
What is the answer? What can we do? When a hardship or marginalization falls along racial lines? The Richmond Forum took us many steps forward by hosting Bryan Stevenson as speaker this weekend.
Stevenson is an American attorney who founded and directs the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. He advocates for those who did not receive fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row. He also fights the situation where children are tried and imprisoned as adults…when it is not necessary for the sake of society, at the detriment of the child.
He talked and we listened. Stevenson, without judgment or contempt, talked about what it would take to move forward. He listed four actions we could all, no matter our race or privilege, do.
Find ways to get proximate to people who are suffering. – Stevenson focuses intently on proximity. We can’t presume to know what it is like to be poor, marginalized, abused, or excluded. We have to come near. Find meaningful ways to do so. True innovation is only possible when we develop real understanding of those who feel the burn of racial, societal, or socioeconomic difference. Stevenson encourages us to “wrap your arms around the excluded and affirm their humanity and dignity”. We know we live in a culture where “if you’re rich and guilty, you’re treated better than if you’re poor and innocent”. This isn’t a victimizing statement. It is simply true. Do you disagree?
Assess and change our narratives if they keep us indifferent to people. What is our belief, our story, about race in our country? Is there bias in that story? Does our story disbelieve racial injustice? Is our narrative meant to protect us from feeling any sense of responsibility, or even compassion, for today’s racial tensions? “A narrative of racial difference made us indifferent and comfortable with slavery. We had to create a false narrative to justify slavery. That narrative gave rise to white supremacy.” White supremacy is such an emotionally charged phrase in these days. Stevenson gives a space for us all to consider how that had impact in the past, and what lingers today in people’s narratives. What do we fear? What makes us angry? He asked the question, do any of us have“a presumption of dangerousness and guilt regarding blacks”? This may be what law enforcement officers wrestle with in their work in parts of our cities. Have we taken it on as part of our beliefs? To get to truth and justice, and that narrative, we must create space for truth-telling. Stevenson spoke of how other countries have very publicly dealt with their own unjust treatment of fellow countrymen. South Africa, Germany, Rwanda. In recent years, he and others established the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In hopes that America one day can heal in this painful part of our past.
Stay hopeful. Stevenson talked about hope being our super-power. If we become calloused and cynical, we help no one. Least of all our children. For they will have someone’s narrative thrust on them – either through education systems or news media. Better for us to confront what is true about racial bias by listening and learning from those most affected. Listening and learning from each other, then incorporating that into our own narrative, life, and work. [I have a writer friend, an intelligent articulate young man, wise beyond his years, who happens to be black and who strongly insists the listening and learning must be in both directions. He actually gives me the most hope for what is possible in this American situation.]
Be willing to do what is uncomfortable and inconvenient. “There are no shortcuts…Truth-telling is the first priority. Healing is a possibility.” We can move forward with the smallest of steps that will grow larger as we persevere. One option is to get involved with the Equal Justice Initiative, from wherever we are. We can find out what agencies in our towns are working toward healthy communities and learn from them. Plugging in where we can. Embrace Communities is one of those agencies in our state. Also, as my parents taught me, we can be kind, lean in, vote for what’s right, and serve others…all others, for we all need each other.
Stevenson said so much more than I covered here. To hear this brilliant, thoughtful, hopeful black man speak on this painful and divisive issue was thrilling and captivating for us. If you’ve ever had one of those awakening experiences [not “woke” – that word has darkened the conversation politically for many of us] – like a black friend telling how he has been pulled over by the police on multiple occasions, having done nothing wrong; or reading Stevenson’s book Just Mercy (or seeing the film of the same name), or visiting someone desperately poor, or watching the documentary 13th, or what? You say…what are we allowing to gentle and mature our own narratives, reckoning with “the implicit and unconscious biases” of our lives?
I’d like to close with some of Bryan Stevenson’s remarks from an interview almost a decade ago. His honoring wisdom was not an outcome of the terrible summer of 2020. He’s been beating this drum for all his adult life. We are wise to listen and learn.
What is justice? I think justice is a constant struggle. That’s as good a definition as I can come up with. I think that injustice is evident when people are not struggling to protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community — for fairness, equality and balance. – Bryan Stevenson
When I talk about race and poverty, I’m not talking about doing things for African-Americans. I’m talking about doing things for the entire community. – Bryan Stevenson
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28b-31
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” – Jesus – John 13:34-35
“I pray not only for these [Jesus’ disciples], but also for those who believe in me through their word.May they all be one,as you, Father, are in me and I am in you.May they also bein us, so that the world may believe you sent me.I have given them the gloryyou 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 lovedthem as you have loved me.” – Jesus – John 17:20-23
“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” – the Apostle Paul, Ephesians 4:1-6
Unity in diversity. Not uniform but unified.
When the Lord speaks in Scripture, or when one of His faithful followers speaks in Scripture, we are meant to pay close attention.
Also when Jesus prays – speaking to the Father, borne up by the Spirit of God – we know He prays in the will of God. He will answer.
John 17 is the prayer of benediction over Jesus’ disciples and for all of us who would become His followers through the ages. They had finished their last supper together, and just hours later Jesus would be taken to be crucified the next day. This prayer speaks to the very heart of God for both His glory and for His people.
How do we glorify God in our lives? In our love for and obedience to Him in both word and deed.
Today’s social media can be both a platform for a witness of our experience of God or a public square for an exposé of others who violate our Christian sensibilities. Both Twitter and Facebook can be brutal in the treatment of both believers and unbelievers.
I’m so thankful for some of the great lights that penetrate the dark side of social media. Michael Catt and Jackie Hill Perry are just two. Here are three tweets from them this week that encouraged me (even in the harder one by Perry – it points to Truth and reminds us how to live).
I’m a follower of Jesus, as you know. And Baptist by doctrine. And Southern Baptist by church affiliation. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has come under fire of late for its origins prior to the American Civil War and subsequent race issues, its supposed political leanings, and the moral failures of some of its pastors. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the US. It has a voice, not always positive, and when notable members criticize it or even more dissociate from it, there is a public ripple effect.
I’ve never felt the need to leave Southern Baptists because I love that we love God and His Word (imperfectly but its foundational to belonging to these churches). I love that we try to be unified in purpose and mission. Again, not always peacefully but resolutely.
No Christian church or organization will be as it should be this side of Heaven because it is made up of saved sinners, still grappling with sin, and personal preferences and sensibilities. My husband sometimes quotes his childhood pastor, Richard Bailey who quoted Charles Spurgeon, when he says,
“The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.”
Today’s blog is not a defense of an organization…or a particular church. It is also not meant to be a dig at anyone else’s struggle to align with such an organization.
Today I just want to point to a God who loves us and who calls us to a unity, a unity in diversity. A unity that requires us to love across all sorts of philosophical and political lines. A unity that must be fought for in such a time as this – as Jackie Hill Perry’s tweet implores quoting from Paul’s letter to Timothy.
God, help us not to always be looking for the wrongs of others rather than Your rightness. Help us not to be so easily offended thus enabling ourselves to forget our own offenses. God, help us to see others as You see us all. In love. Forgiven through the substitutional death of Christ on the cross. Help us to rise to a newness of life that empowers love, gentleness, honor, long-suffering, and forgiveness. You, O Lord, are doing a great work in Your church. Thank You, Father, for not giving up on us. Help us never to give up on each other. For Your glory and for the sake of each other, and for those who don’t yet know. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.
Jesus prayed for us to be united. Why? So that the world would believe that Jesus was sent by God, and so that the world would know that God loves us. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus believed the unity of His church would communicate all of this to the world? – Francis Chan, Multiply, p. 69
I’d like to just close with Maverick City Music‘s “Hymn Medley”, featuring Chandler Moore. The medley includes “Great Is Thy Faithfulness“, “‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus“, and “It Is Well“. Just spend this 16 minutes (sometime today) basking in the love of God who calls us to Himself and to be one with Him and with each other.