Category Archives: Reconciliation/Forgiveness

Worship Wednesday – No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus – Steffany Gretzinger

Photo Credit: The Cove

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:14-19

For almost 60 years, Rev. Billy Graham preached to huge throngs of people. Thousands of people would gather nightly in stadiums and convention centers to hear him preach and George Beverly Shea sing. Cliff Barrows would prepare choirs from local churches and lead the singing for the meetings. The whole experience was awe-inspiring – between the powerful preaching of Dr. Graham, the grand musical specials, and the glorious responses of many in attendance every single night.

I grew up with Billy Graham preaching on TV.  Those great meetings were televised from all around the world. Mom and Dad would suspend whatever their plans were when they had the opportunity to watch Dr. Graham preach. Early in our marriage, Dave and I participated in one of these meetings in Hartford, Connecticut.

George Beverly Shea singing “No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus” was my first time hearing of that anthem. I sat mesmerized at his voice, for sure, but more at the truth of the lyrics.

No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus was written in 1932 by evangelist Charlie Weigle after his wife told him she was leaving (story and song here).

I haven’t thought of this song in years, until I saw on social media a notice about a song by the same title. It immediately drew me in.

No…it wasn’t the same song actually but one written this year…published in the midst of COVID-19 isolation. Sung by one of its writers, Steffany Gretzinger, this song has so deeply touched my “socially-distancing” heart.

In these troubling days, she reminds us, in this song, that Jesus and His love for us is unchanged. We can rise above whatever circumstances we find ourselves and hold fast to a love that never lets us go. Never. Ever. Lets. Us. Go.

Billy Graham ever faithfully preached about Jesus and His love. Cliff Barrows drew us all into worship as he pulled together choir after choir together – all with one heart, one song. George Beverly Shea sang the sermon before Dr. Graham preached. “No one ever cared for me like Jesus.”

They are all gone now. All with Him. All having their steadfast faith turned to glorious sight. They see Jesus who cared for them like no other.

Beautiful Jesus who pierces through every hatred and every hurt we’ve ever know.

We don’t have the opportunity to hear that old song much any more, but we can bask in the hope and love of this new song…and place our life and love in Him…whatever this strange year 2020 brings.

Worship with me:

If my heart could tell a story
If my life would sing a song
If I have a testimony
If I have anything at all

No one ever cared for me like Jesus
His faithful hand has held me all this way
And when I’m old and gray and all my days
Are numbered on the Earth
Let it be known, in You alone
My joy was found
Oh my joy, my joy

Let my children tell their children
Let this be their memory
That all my treasure was in heaven
And You were everything to me

No one ever cared for me like Jesus
His faithful hand has held me all this way
And when I’m old and gray and all my days
Are numbered on the Earth
Let it be known, in You alone
My joy was found
I found my joy

I’m still in love
You’re still enough for me
Still all I want
You’re still my everything
I’m still in love
You’re still enough for me
Still all I want
You’re still my everything

No one ever cared for me like Jesus
His faithful hand has held me all this way
And when I’m old and gray and all my days
Are numbered on the Earth
Let it be known, in You alone
My joy was found*

Photo Credit: Facebook, Elisabeth Panrucker

*Lyrics – No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus – Songwriter(s): Jason Ingram, Steffany Gretzinger, Dante Bowe, Chandler Moore

Jesus’ Love – Bible Reasons

Photo Credit: Jeremy Hunt, Douglass Leadership Institute

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

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

Photo Credit: Dunk, Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the but:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic Racism Explained – Ryan Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be encouraged.

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

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

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

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

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

George, Breonna, Ahmaud
All beloved of God

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

Worship Wednesday – You Will Never Stop Fighting For Me – Riley Clemmons

Photo Credit: Mazur, Flickr

“For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” – Deuteronomy 20:4

“Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” – Deuteronomy 3:22

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I have struggled to find voice in recent days. We are bombarded, in recent weeks, by images of violence and hatred, of grief and bewilderment. Unbelievable the unrest in our country right now.

To what ends? Clearly something must happen to prevent further wrongful deaths…we have to figure out how to prompt change without destroying our neighborhoods. Fear is palpable. Fear and anger. Confusion and chaos.

As the church we are called to stand with each other, to show love without bias, to right wrongs, and to reflect the personhood of a holy and just God.

In our current situation, how to do this is not so clear. Even as clear as Scripture is. As clear as the life of Jesus is for us to follow.

Today, though, I have found some words. Hope has stirred. While the rioters burn, loot, vandalize and criticize, real transformative conversations are happening all around…beyond the noise of agitators. The church is listening.

A 60-minute Conversation on Race in America – SBC Executive Committee – Facebook

Our greatest hope comes from this: even though we might have thought being “color-blind” was a way to show love, even though we came late to understand something of the pain that others feel in this country, even though we rejected that we were racist or had “privilege”…God is showing us the way through to a reconciliation with Him and with each other. We may not outright hate people, beautifully made in His image, but indifference and closing our eyes to the pain of others is its own sin for which we need repentance. (Romans 12:3-5, 9-18)

God is faithful. He loves us. He stands up for us. He gives grace when our strength is gone. He forgives. He is for us, and He fights for us.

As we look to Him, we will see each other as He sees us…and we can love and stand with each other, as He does the same with us.

Worship with me to Riley Clemmons‘ anthem of praise to the God who fights for us and stands with us:

I need the kinda love
That can outlast the night
I need the kinda love
That is willing to fight

When the going gets tough
And my strengths not enough
I see You showing up like never before
This battle for my heart
You took on from the start
You are the peace when my mind’s at war
And oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me

In the perfect timing
You make all things right
You paint a silver lining
In this heart of mine

When the going gets tough
And my strength’s not enough
I see You showing up like never before
This battle for my heart
You took on from the start
You are the peace when my mind’s at war
And oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me

Your love
Is winning me over
Your heart
Is pulling me closer
Your love
Is winning me over
Your heart
Is pulling me closer

You will never stop fighting for me
Fighting for me
Every word is a promise You keep, oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me*

Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance–and this is from God. Philippians 1:27-28

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus John 13:35

*Story Behind the Song Fighting for Me – NewReleaseToday – Kevin Davis

YouTube Video – Riley Clemmons – Fighting For Me – Piano Version

When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders That “The Lord Fights For You” – Debbie McDaniel

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

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

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

The Pastoral Staff of Brooklyn Tabernacle

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

Worship together:

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

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

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship Wednesday – 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

Worship Wednesday – Revive Us Again – Phil Wickham

Photo Credit: His Inscriptions, Deborah Perkins

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring.”Isaiah 44:3

Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not appealed to what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. –  Psalm 24:3-5

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14

Late last night a friend sent a video to me vai Facebook Messenger. It was rare for her to do this, and when I woke this morning, I watched it first thing.

It was a story told during a sermon by Dr. Clarence Sexton. He spoke in loving awe of the movement of God which resulted in an astonishing revival. We call it today the Hebrides Revival, in Scotland, 1949-1952.

The Hebrides Revival (1949-1952) – Some Observations by R. T. Kendall

As Dr. Sexton tells the story, he links generations (to the present day). Two Scottish sisters in their 80s were key to this movement of God as they came under terrible conviction of the need for revival. They began praying for hours at a time, and after a time, several joined them in prayer. In a tiny village on the Scottish island of Lewis.

Revival on the Island of Lewis: 1949-1952

The generations linked are from these old aunts to a niece who immigrated, in her late teens, to the US. then she met and married an American man. They had four children – one of whom is the  45th President of the United States.

Desperate Prayers by Trump’s Great Aunts in ‘Sanctuary’ Cottage said to Spark Hebrides Revival in Scotland

Sometime during this president’s childhood, the old Scottish aunts sent their niece a Bible. This particular Bible had significant meaning during their prayer vituals leading up to the Hebrides Revival. At some point, this niece gave this Bible to her son.

Dr. Sexton says this Bible is now in the Oval Office of the White House. One Bible given to this President by his mother was used as part of the swearing in ceremony. Whether it was the Revival Bible or another Bible given by his mother…it is unclear from what I could find. Either way, one of our current President’s Bibles, the one used in the Inauguration, is now in the Museum of the Bible, in Washington, DC.

So we don’t really know (at least I don’t) if this treasured old Bible is in the Oval Office –  this revered text, prayed through and around by a small group of believers in Scotland in the mid-20th century. That’s not really what this story is about.

We do know that great-aunts of the President of the United States sought and saw the miraculous movement of God over their town, their island, and beyond.

That connection stoked the fire in my heart of the possibilities – not just in this President’s life, but in the lives of all of us who can follow in the steps of those Godly old ones.

What if we prayed instead of complained? Prayed instead of reviled? Prayed instead of bemoaning a current situation?

Oh God, help us. We believe; help our unbelief (Mark 9:24).

Let’s worship together to Phil Wickham‘s song “Revive Us Again“. Let’s pray for our President and all who lead in our country and pray revival for our own hearts and for this nation.

When You move, hearts awaken
Broken lives will be redeemed
Here and now, as in Heaven
Let revival be released

Hear our cry
Heal our land
Oh God, we pray for revival
What You’ve done before
You can do again
Oh God, we pray for revival

God of grace, God of salvation
We are desperate on our knees
You can save this generation
Let revival be released

Hear our cry
Heal our land
Oh God, we pray for revival
What You’ve done before
You can do again
Oh God, we pray for revival

Oh God, we pray for revival

Like a river running through the barren land
Let mercy flow, revive us again
Move in power, save us by Your mighty hand
Let mercy flow, revive us again
Like a river running through the barren land
Let mercy flow, revive us again
Move in power, save us by Your mighty hand
Let mercy flow, revive us again
Revive us again

Hear our cry
Heal our land
Oh God, we pray for revival
What You’ve done before
You can do again
Oh God, we pray for revival

Oh God, we pray for revival
Oh God, revive us again*

I would like to close with this prayer from author Deborah Perkins who senses a great urgency in God moving us toward revival:

“Father, please show me what You are doing right now on the earth and what I can do to partner with You. Let Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it already is in heaven!

“Jesus, please open my mind to understand the times and seasons in which I live. Interpret and explain everything to me concerning YOU and how you move in the Scriptures! Inscribe your laws in my mind and on my heart so that I obey You perfectly. Forgive me for anything that stands in the way of Your glory manifesting in my life.

Holy Spirit, show me how to pray according to the will of God. Please show me what I need to do right now to get ready for the incoming harvest. What do I have in my house (natural or spiritual) that you can use? Who do you want me to reach today? How will I do that, practically? Thank you for working with me personally to produce the fruits of repentance: righteousness, peace, and joy!”

*Lyrics to Revive Us Again – Songwriters: Jonathan Smith, Phil Wickham

‘God Seemed to Be Everywhere’ on Island Trump’s Mother Called Home – Rev. Gareth Burke

YouTube Video – Phil Wickham – Revive Us Again: Song Session

Revive Us Again! – Deborah Perkins

Resurrection Sunday of Holy Week – Day 8 – Risen Indeed! Thank You, Jesus!

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Easter-Empty-Tomb.jpg

Photo Credit: TurnbacktoGod.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1 

Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. John 20:18

On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. Those who loved Jesus most came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walked with them, ate with them, taught them again…as he promised.

“He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.

With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!

The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!”* – Trevin Wax

[Read the rest of Wax’s poem here.]

Oh the joy…the indescribable joy of that reality. He died and yet he lives. We were dead in our sins, and because of him, we have life.

Take the time to read this amazing story yourself. The Gospel writers all have given detailed accounts of the risen Christ ( Matthew 28:1-13, Mark 16:1-14, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29). The Apostle Paul also wrote about Jesus’ resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57

Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed.  This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.

I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and by his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.

For the past 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”John 20:19

“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

Holy Week – Day 8: Resurrection Sunday! – Thank you, Mary Fairfield for writing so well, so thoughtfully, and so thoroughly for Christianity.About.com.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

5 Reasons to Believe That Jesus Rose From the Dead – Adam4d

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

**The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People (1994) by Adrian Plass

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

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

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God Above – sung by Selah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

YouTube Video – Easter Song (Live) – Keith Green – (song starts 2 minutes in)

YouTube Video – Easter Song  (1974) – The 2nd Chapter of Acts

YouTube Video – He’s Alive – Don Francisco

YouTube Video – Then Came the Morning – Guy Penrod

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

عيد القيامة يسوع المسيح مبارك وكلّ عام وانت واعئلتك بالف خير! المسيح فام! حقّاً قام!

Photo Credit: Christian Books