Category Archives: Faithfulness

Worship Wednesday – Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Don Moen

Photo Credit: Bible Screen, Pinterest

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!  “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. – Deuteronomy 32:3-4

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

This is going to be a little random and ranging…but throughout this day, over and over, I was reminded of the faithfulness of God.

This morning, first thing, I routinely get up, quick stop in the bathroom, and make the bed. While making the bed, that amazing old hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness wafted through my thoughts… out of nowhere.

Soon, it’s out the door to pick up one of my grandsons for Play ‘n Pray at church where we gather, kids in tow, and pray while they play.

Do you ever have those times in the car that God seems to speak through something on the radio? That happened briefly this morning across two great songs on my favorite Christian radio station.

First, David Crowder‘s song Red Letters came on. Red Letters refers to the words recorded in Scripture that Jesus spoke. Crowder tells the story of how the Lord gives us freedom though we deserve death because of our sin. Then right after, Lincoln Brewster‘s jumping version of Everlasting God… If a car could rock with praise, mine was rocking! You know how you see some people at traffic lights with their arms raised, or drumming their steering wheel, or heads bobbing…that sort of car-rocking praise.

By the time, my grandson and I arrived at Play ‘n Pray, my heart was so full of the faithfulness of God.

While the kids played on the playground, we moms and grams sat, watching, talking, and finally praying. Between gummy bear snacks, sorting out rows between the kids, and rounding up the scattering crawlers. We prayed. God is faithful to draw near to us in all the chaos of mothering small ones.

I had to leave after our scheduled time was over, but one of the young moms lingered to continue talking to moms from the neighborhood who had joined us on the playground. It was the very thing we hope happens each week…connections, bridges, neighborly links to the very love of God.

On my way to the next thing, with a content little guy in his car-seat behind, an odd memory surfaced. Both sad and lovely. Something I hadn’t thought of in years…

It was a memory that goes back over 20 years to a church for internationals in Cairo, Egypt. Heliopolis Community Church. Living in Cairo in those days, we loved being in the English-speaking congregation of HCC. It was an oasis of sorts where we didn’t have to think or speak in Arabic and we all had in common that we were, most of us, foreigners and we loved Jesus.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Heliopolis Community Church, Cairo, Egypt

Rotating teams of laypeople led the worship part of the service each week. A young man from South Asia led our worship from time to time. Although I do not remember his name, but I’ve never forgotten him…or his story. He was originally of a different faith and had come to receive Jesus as his Savior gradually. First through dreams, then in chance meetings with Christians, in minority where he lived. Finally, he received a Bible and devoured it…especially the red lettered words of Jesus.

He told us that his conversion to Christianity was very hurtful for his parents. He was their only child. His father rejected him and would die still estranged from him. His mother also became fatally ill at some point. In her faith, if her son did not return to the faith of the family, it could create too great an impediment for her to be able to enter Heaven. I didn’t understand how that worked, but for his mother it was a terrible, horrifying belief. She begged him to give up his faith in Jesus…but he could not. She died with that bitter plea on her lips…and that painful dagger in his heart.

He closed out his story by giving witness to the great faithfulness of God in his life…to seek him out, to save him, to love him even when his parents could no longer.

We were all mesmerized by his story and his own faith in God.

He then led us in singing Don Moen‘s chorus Ascribe Greatness. It is a simple song, lyrics repeated (as the praise songs often were in those days – 1990) – taken from Deuteronomy 32:3-4.

Worship with me and consider the faithfulness of God to each of us – His children.

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He*

As I write, it’s the end of the day. Housework, cooking, community group and the hours passed by. My heart continues full…reflecting on the happenings of today…and the memories of others whose stories we know…stories of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God even in the most difficult of situations.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23

*Lyrics to Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Songwriter: Don Moen

New Mercies Every Morning – Dave Zuleger

Wednesday Worship – Place In This World – Michael W. Smith

Photo Credit: Slideplayer

God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.  And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable.  And those parts of the body that we consider less honorable, we clothe these with greater honorGod has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable,  so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other.  So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:18-23a, 24-27

Have you ever felt out of place? Awkwardly fitting in your family or workplace or church? 1 Corinthians 12 gives us a beautiful picture of how God intended for each of us to have a place. Within the Body of Christ. Where we belong, where we are known, and where we should magnificently fit.

A dear friend of ours, Dave Lyle, is a storyteller. He was our dad’s pastor, and he treated Dad as a good friend. When Dad wasn’t able to attend church anymore, Pastor Dave would still visit and catch him up on news and pray with him and for him. Dad never had to wonder if he had a place in this world, even in his 90s, when his pastor came around.

With his permission, you will read a story Pastor Dave recently shared on his Facebook page. It says a lot about how important it is to communicate to people that they matter…just as they are.

***HE’S NOT YOUR TYPICAL GUEST AT CHURCH, BUT HE’S WELCOME ANYTIME***

Roger came to worship with us, again, at church last night. He’s our friend and happens to be homeless. He looks the part and acts the part, although not dangerous at all. He’s actually a very sweet guy, and smart. Of course, there are reasons he is homeless, and we are not going to change it by analyzing, or preaching. And he won’t take money. I don’t think he needs it- he seems to always have a new project going, and the ability to fund it. Anyhow, I’ve stopped trying to explain Roger to other guests who show up at the same time. I talk with him as a friend, shake his hand, hug him if he will let me. It seems that Roger thinks he is normal, and the rest of us are maybe a bit strange but he loves us anyhow. And he keeps coming back. One time I set out to find his home place, searched far and wide and finally found him living in a dilapidated van behind a warehouse. He was proud to show me the dwellings- his bed, how he cooked and stored things. As he understood it, he was the security for all the businesses in the vicinity. I guess it was a nice gig?

I am learning more with every passing day that, foremost, you are to love people. Yes, change them if you can, lead them to Lord if you can. But before and beyond all the heavy stuff, consider him or her to be a person of value who is worth the time and effort to just hang out with and to get to know. And so, Roger fascinates me. He puzzles me and frustrates me, and I like him.

When worship was over and it was time to leave, he walked by a table at the front of the sanctuary and saw some baby bottles. I told him they were being used to raise money for a local medical clinic for expectant mothers. He made some catty statement about how they waste the money, rambled on with incoherency for about 30 seconds- typical Roger stuff. And then he pulled out a crumpled ten dollar bill and stuffed it in the bottle. You just gotta like the guy! – Pastor Dave Lyle

Now Pastor Dave is probably never going to lead a megachurch or write a bestseller (although he could!)…BUT! He has shown himself a the best sort of servant of God in loving people as they are, seeing their value in the Lord’s eyes. He makes a place for them in the church and points them to Jesus.

Worship with me to an old 1991 Michael W. Smith song Place in this World:

The wind is moving
But I am standing still
A life of pages
Waiting to be filled
A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need Your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

If there are millions
Down on their knees
Among the many
Can you still hear me?
Hear me asking
Where do I belong?
Is there a vision
That I can call my own?
Show me I’m

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need Your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need Your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world*

I’m thankful for all those through my life who, led by the Holy Spirit, made a place for me. Often, our first glimpse of God is through the love of another – a parent, a teacher, a pastor, a friend.

Tauren Wells‘ song “Known” gives us another look at what it’s like to belong…truly belong…and to be fully known and loved by God.

Songwriters: Ethan Hulse, Tauren Wells, Jordan Sapp

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”  Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Fully Known and Fully Loved – Jill Tracey

“Lord, love through us. Give us an appreciation for every member of the Body of Christ…as we have seen in the friendships of our brother Dave…with Roger…and our Dad. Then, God, help us remember how You gave each of us a place in Your Kingdom. Show us how to give space to others…those that You bring into our lives…to love them and see them as You do…fully known and fully loved.”

*Lyrics to Place in this World – Songwriters: Wayne Kirkpatrick, Michael W. Smith and Amy Lee Grant

Michael W. Smith Reflects on the Power of a Song – 35 #1 Hits Later – Pam Windsor

Worship Wednesday – Deep Disappointment – Lord, I Need You – with Matt Maher & Audrey Assad

Photo Credit: Donna L. Campbell, Salt & Light

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:16

In a couple of weeks, I’m speaking at a conference. The topic is “Dealing with Disappointment”.

In preparing for the talk, certain ones of my kids’ childhood disappointments came to mind. Our daughter struggled with all the goodbyes in our overseas life. Too many times “the new girl” she would retreat to mom, through tears, for comfort and to be reminded of her true value. Over time, she would rally…graduating with honors and a life-long friend. 

Our middle son would play street soccer with neighborhood kids and longed for the day he could play on a real team. That year finally came when we spent a year in the US. We were naive to how team sports worked back home. He missed the cut for the soccer team and grieved so hard it pierced the heart of his mom who could only pray over him, as words failed.

Over time, he also would rally…with basketball and music.

Our youngest son, always small, endured a long season of bullying. He was bullied as the littlest in his class…and just for meanness’ sake. Still he would, like his siblings, rally in his own gifting in music and cooking… He took courage  in his dad’s big love…and in the space his mom tried to give him…both in the kitchen and in finding his way in life (when she/I would much rather have held him close…too close).

So it goes – children grow up and no longer need their parents as they did before. However, we never outgrow our need for God.

Just today, working on the talk on disappointment, it happened to me. Not just in reminiscing old disappointments, but in a lightning quick heart-stopping raw experience of it. It was devastating. Details aren’t necessary. At first, I spiraled down into a dark place, but it didn’t last long. With God’s help, I picked myself up and shook off the deep disappointment. Clinging to God…I remembered, remembered, remembered who He is and what He is about with His children. This thing…this loss…I can do endure. God is here. He will work it all out. Even if He doesn’t in my preferred way, He will bring me through… and I will love Him for it…again.

Matt Maher, in telling the story behind the songLord, I Need You” talks about how C. S. Lewis describes “need-love”. It is very different from other loves.

 “Need-love cries to God from our poverty. Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God. Appreciative love says: “We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Need-love says “I cannot live without [him/]her.” – C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Need-love, as in the song “Lord, I Need You” comes from a heart that is aware of its lack and knows who can fill the emptiness. Need-love, on the flip side, moves us to respond to the good in our life, the joy and blessing, with gratefulness to God. With so much love.

Sometimes, we hear people in our culture express thanks and yet “the thanks” seem to float out into the air with no place to land. God is our place to land.

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”Blaise Pascal, French Physicist and Philosopher
 “I know that everyone is going to go to God in their darkest need and struggle. My hope is that at some point it isn’t just that you go to God in your need but that you are so overwhelmingly hit between the eyes with the love of God that you would go to Him in your joy. In your joy, you would still say, “Every hour I need You”, not just in your brokenness, in your darkest times. There is always a reason to have joy. As believers, we can show witness by leaning on God in times of hardship but also leaning on God in times of joy and celebrating.”Matt Maher

I grew up singing favorite hymns from hymnals, by page number  – #379. Annie Hawks’ “I Need Thee Every Hour” was one of those songs.

Matt Maher and a team of song-writers have brought us, His children, again to God, eager to share our need for Him and our joy in Him.

Worship with me:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You*
__________________________________________
…and You’re always there.

*Lyrics to Lord, I Need You – written by Matt Maher, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Jesse Reeves and Daniel Carson

Chords to Lord, I Need You

YouTube Video with Lyrics – Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher

YouTube Video – Matt Maher – Lord, I Need You (feat. Audrey Assad) – Acoustic 

Story Behind the Song – Lord, I Need You – Matt Maher

I Need Thee Every Hour by Annie S. Hawks, 1872

Singing From the Same Hymnal in a Post-Hymnal World

Matt Maher Music

Photo Credit: Pic of Nathan Mills with guitar – Duy Nguyen

Resurrection Sunday – 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 because of 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 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)

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

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

5 Friday Faves – Holy Week, Gracious Forbearance, Notre Dame, Funerals, and Irises & Azaleas

Another weekend is here. This has been one of those “where did the week go?”. Now for a couple of days of gathering in…thoughts, family, and routines. Here are this week’s faves:

1) Holy Week – For many in the world, this is the holiest of weeks in the calendar year. It commemorates the last 7-8 days of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. They are/were stunningly remarkable days and, whatever one believes, should be noted for their historic and transformative significance. Thanks to great resources, I’ve written about each individual day. You’ll find them below:

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

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

Jesus and Holy week – Tuesday, Day 3 – A Long Day Teaching & Countering Religious Opposition – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Jesus & Holy Week – Day 4 – A Day of Quiet Before the Storm…and We Worship – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Thursday, Day 5 – Passover Celebration & His Last Supper Before the Cross – Deb Mills

Jesus & Holy Week – Day 6 – Good Friday – His Trial, Crucifixion, & Burial – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Saturday, Day 7 – Black Saturday – the Silent Tomb – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Day 8 – He Is Risen! – Resurrection Sunday – Deb Mills

2) Gracious Forbearance – Professors and writers Marilyn McEntyre and Matt Towles have both written beautifully and expansively on forbearance and I quote them below. Forbearance is defined as “bearing with, suffering with, a refraining from the enforcement of something that is due (such as a debt, right, or obligation). It involves lenience and patience. It is NOT “putting up with” or “just tolerating”.

Photo Credit: Circus Kitchen

When it is true forbearing, it is gracious. We could use a lot of this in our social media presence as well as in our face-to-face with those we don’t necessarily choose but seem to be providentially chosen for us. Gracious forbearance is what we receive from God as his scruffy, willful followers and He expects us to be forbearing with each other. Whether you believe in God this way or not, thoughtfully considering being forbearing (especially with those you would rather put off or out of your life) is a beautiful thing.

“What unites us is God’s own infinitely merciful will. What divides us are digressions and misunderstandings, competing alliances, and political and theological arguments that can be resolved rightly only by a generous, patient, humble, wise, deliberative commitment to continue living with the quarrelsome, myopic lot who are our brothers and sisters, and among whom we must count ourselves.” – Marilyn McEntyre

“Forbearance requires and teaches humility; it fosters authentic hope rather than self-interested expectations; in practicing it we develop discernment, which “sees disagreement not as a problem to be solved but as an opportunity for maturation in the faith”; it encourages faithfulness not primarily to tenets or doctrinal specifics but to the pilgrim path we travel in relationship to those members of Christ’s body among whom we happen to find ourselves. In that body—the beloved community we know as church—we find friendships that don’t arise solely from our predilections and affections, but from deep recognition of what we hold closest and dearest, and in common.”Marilyn McEntyre

In Praise of Forbearance – Marilyn McEntyre

“The locus of our faith is in the resurrected Christ, but the evidence of our faith is found, quite often, in how we interact with one another. We should not wonder, then, that there may be times when the pain of someone else becomes the focus of our ministry for that hour, that day, or even that season. We serve a risen Christ whose body carried the horrors of the cross in addition to the horrors of humanity. It’s no wonder that we ourselves might recognize the pain that each of us carries. We know how to pray and to serve and to carry those burdens. I know my wife knows, because she has learned from the man acquainted with grief, Jesus himself.”Matt Towles

Gracious Forbearance – Matt Towles

“We don’t have a map, but we have a guide: “I am the way,” Jesus said, calling his followers not to a particular route, but to an enduring relationship. “Follow me” is always a somewhat disconcerting directive; we may well wonder, as the disciples did, “Where to?” Sometimes the answer to that might be into the quagmire or the cave or thicket or labyrinth. Sometimes it means into the meeting room where tepid coffee is being served and a lengthy agenda distributed among a group of elders deeply at odds. The promise that can make such a gathering an occasion of grace is presence: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ In light of that presence—in the divine light of that presence—we may find ourselves able, with grace and good humour and a measure of forbearance, to do far more than “put up with” one another: we may find ourselves, in the midst of deep differences, dwelling already in unity.” – Marilyn McEntyre

Thank you, Dr. McEntyre and Dr. Towles. I learned so much from you this week. I live each day in God’s gracious forbearance…and in that of so many He has generously placed in my life.

3) Notre Dame – The devastating fire in Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral earlier this week gave pause to many of us. A structure over 850 years old is still vulnerable… As the cause for the fire was investigated, we were reminded of the deliberate burnings of other churches in our own country. As news reports came in that many of the icons and artifacts were saved, including the stained glass windows remaining intact, we were astonished and relieved.

Then those of us who had visited this beautiful cathedral scrambled to find our pictures, and social media was jammed with those images. Ours were from a 25th anniversary trip to Paris.

Why is this a fave? The response of so many from around the world… and that so much was still spared. It will be rebuilt, no doubt.

4) Funerals – This may seem an odd choice for a Friday Fave, but all my life, I have been fascinated (and touched) by the rituals surrounding dying and death. From early childhood, my mom told me that I loved cemeteries, and I still do. My friend Marc Merlin has taken some beautiful pictures of one of my favorite cemeteries, Oakland Cemetery.Photo Credit: Marc Merlin, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

[Dad at his family cemetery (his mom and dad’s grave), May 3, 2010]

Our mom’s funeral – at graveside, November 2002

More than cemeteries though, I am enamored by the impact of a funeral reflecting the life of the one who died. Just this week, I went to the funeral of a tiny woman who had left a huge imprint on her community. The funeral was held in her small country church. Family and friends packed the church to give honor to this woman beloved by so many. I think she would have been pleased to see and hear all that went into her send-off.

When Dave’s dad died this year, one of his cousins (who lost his dad last year) pulled him aside and gave him good counsel. He said to give him a good funeral, one that was worthy of his dad.

It is so easy, in our grief and exhaustion, to just let the funeral be directed by others (the funeral director, for instance). We can do much of the planning way in advance of a loved one’s death. In fact, the little lady above planned all the details of her own funeral… except, of course, the spontaneous tributes given during the service. It was lovely.

Funerals can be so expensive, and that is the part I’d love to see curtailed. However, the best parts – the personal touches that help us grieve together and help us heal after – we can make happen.

Dave’s mom said his dad would have been embarrassed by all the kind words said about him…so, I guess, we did right by him.

6 Funeral Trends That Are Changing Death Rituals – Leanne Pott

“We’ve Mastered Weddings – But the Funeral Needs a Lot of Work”: Inside the New Death Industry – Vanessa Quirk

5) Irises & Azaleas – It’s that time of year here. The first irises blooming. The azalea bushes coming into full flower. Even the rain today couldn’t diminish the glory.

Happy weekend. Happy Easter! He is risen…He is risen indeed!

Bonuses:

The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything – Brad Stulberg

How to Improve Your Memory (Even if You Can’t Find Your Car Keys) – Adam Grant

A Stoic’s Key to Living with Presence: Seneca on Balancing the Existential Calculus of Time Spent, Saved, and Wasted – Maria Popova

Pascha Basket for Easter

Worship Wednesday – Jesus & Holy Week – Day 4 – a Day of Quiet Before the Storm…and We Worship

[Adapted from the Archives – search blog under Holy Week for the description of those remaining days.]

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels…fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.Revelation 7:9-11

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”  – Revelation 5:12

There appears to be nothing recorded in Scripture of events surrounding Jesus on the Wednesday before his crucifixion. Nothing. After two difficult days dealing with his enemies and accusers, it is quite possible that he took a rest. A Sabbath rest. Given the terrible nature of what was ahead of him, starting just the next day, he could surely use a day to rest and reflect. To remember how the Father had sustained him through all the strains of his public life. To refresh himself in prayer and in the company of those on earth who loved him most – his disciples, his friends, possibly his family. We know no details of that day.

Since we also know what is coming for Jesus…and all for our sakes…we pause today, as well, to worship. He is the perfect lamb, without blemish, perfectly fit to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins. God provided a ram for Abraham to take his son’s place in that strange and amazing sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:1-14). This was a foreshadowing of our own need for a savior. We also can be saved by the blood of “the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus was not killed on that Friday, two days hence. His life was not taken. Not by the Jewish or Roman authorities. He gave his life…for us…there are no words adequate to respond…worship is all we have.

Worship with me:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Holy holy is He
Sing a new song to Him who sits on
Heaven’s mercy seat

Holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come
With all creation I sing praise to the King of kings
You are my everything and I will adore You

Clothed in rainbows of living color
Flashes of lighting rolls of thunder
Blessing and honor strength and glory and power be
To You the only One for me

Filled with wonder awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your name
Jesus Your name is power breath and living water
Such a marvelous mystery.*

*Lyrics to Revelation Song written by Jennie Lee Riddle

Story Behind Revelation Song – Jennie Lee Riddle’s vision of the Church wholly united in worship of God – here as we will be one day in Heaven

YouTube Lyric Video – Revelation Song – Kari Jobe – Passion 2013

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

Podcast – Easter and Hymns with Keith Getty – Rainer on Leadership

Holy Week Timeline Graphic

Worship Wednesday – Surrendering What’s Precious in Exchange for the Doubtless…the Supernatural Movement of God

Photo Credit: Berea Project, Joshua Batchelor

He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
 – Psalm 126:6, King James 2000 Bible

Two Sundays ago, I was visiting family in Georgia. We didn’t go to church that day but we watched Jentezen Franklin on TV. He is my brother and sister-in-law’s pastor. His sermon was entitled The Power of the Precious. Its impact still continues on my heart.Photo Credit: Jentezen Franklin

Power of the Precious – Blog – Jentezen Franklin

Listening to sermons by mega-church pastors is not my usual…but I’m so glad I heard this sermon.

What Pastor Franklin focused his teaching on that morning was what happens when we surrender our “precious” to Him. “Doubtless” (in the King James version of the Bible) we will have a fruitful harvest by sowing precious seed.

When we give God what we consider most precious, He will do what only He can do in our lives.

The Scripture gives so many accounts of such surrender:

  • Abraham was willing to give his son, Isaac, in obedience to God and God provided a ram instead (Genesis 22).
  • Jacob gave his precious son, Benjamin, into the hands of his other sons for the sake of the family (Genesis 43:12-14), and God takes care of them through 5 more years of famine. Besides that, He restored Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, to him again.
  • When God gave barren Hannah her son, Samuel, she remembered her promise to God, and gave Samuel back to Him to serve Him (1 Samuel 1:9-28)…and God used Samuel mightily to bring in the Davidic Kingdom. God did not forget Hannah either – giving her 5 more children (1 Samuel 2:21).
  • Stories abound in the Bible and in history since the writing of Scripture about of the supernatural return on our giving to God what is most precious.
  • He did the same for us…giving His only Son that all of us who believed in Him would be saved (John 3:16)…restored to our Heavenly Father through this sinless Savior. Jesus was given to us and gave Himself to us (Philippians 2:5-8).

What is precious to each of us? We all have that precious person or persons that we struggle even to say their names out loud if it means we surrender them to God.

Or maybe it’s our health or our career or our dreams or our hope of purpose or influence. Whatever it is, God is trustworthy, and He will do so much more, so much more beautifully, with that which we call precious, than we ever could.

Take a moment, in worship, as I did two Sundays ago, to again place that which is most precious to me, into the loving and capable care of a good God. I say “again”, because we have all had opportunity to do that with every good gift God has given us… Still, it’s important to revisit that which is precious to us to make sure we aren’t clutching it to our own selves but giving it to God…every day, in every way. So much better for them, for us, and for the glory of God.

There’s an account in Exodus where God was calling Moses to speak for Him as part of a divine plan for the Israelites to be set free from their Egyptian bondage. In Exodus 4, Moses questions his ability to do such a thing. God then uses Moses’ grasp of his most precious possession, his shepherd’s staff, as an object lesson. A lesson on what He can do in and through us when we surrender that which is most precious to us…to Him.

Singer/songwriter Ken Medema has put this story to music. It is one of my most favorite pieces of music. The lyrics come out of Exodus 4 with a heart-stopping challenge at the end. Listen to it all. 6 minutes into this beautiful and powerful song/story of Moses’ encounter with God, you will hear the lyrics below.

“Do you know what it means, Moses?
Do you know what I’m trying to say, Moses?
The rod of Moses became the rod of God!
With the rod of God, strike the rock and the water will come;

With the rod of God, part the waters of the sea;
With the rod of God, you can strike old Pharaoh dead;

With the rod of God, you can set the people free.”

What do you hold in your hand today?
To what or to whom are you bound?
Are you willing to give it to God right now?
Give it up, Give it up, let it go, let it go,
Throw it down.*

YouTube Video – “Moses” – Ken Medema in concert at Azusa Pacific University 3/18/13

*Lyrics to Moses by Ken Medema

Worship Wednesday – It Is Not Good To Be Alone – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe

Blog - I am Not Alone - Kari Jobe FacebookPhoto Credit: Kari Jobe, Facebook

[Adapted from the Archives]

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.”Genesis 2:18

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the LORD your God.” Isaiah 43:1-3

In all the good that God had accomplished in creating this world (Genesis 1), He Himself points out the one “not good” thing. “It is not good for the man to be alone.

Pastor Cliff is preaching a series on Genesis, and this was where we landed this past Sunday. He talked about that aloneness as being something we experience apart from intimacy with God and His human provision for us. Not just marriage, but family, close friendships, and genuine community.

What Does Genesis 2:18 Mean?

Our hardest battles are the private ones…the ones in which we feel alone. We could be surrounded by coworkers, family members, friends, yet we can’t really bring to words the terror in our hearts…the questions…the sense of isolation, of aloneness. We are not usually overcome by such things; it’s not who we are. Yet, there are days when it seems, seems, that we are alone. Everyone else is rocking with the latest turn in life…but me. It seems I am somehow alone in this.

First…if we could speak it out loud, we would find others with questions and wondering. We are not alone. Especially in the deepest places. Then, remembering again: we have great and many promises that God is with us through all of where He takes us. Most importantly, He sometimes orchestrates these places of weakness for us to remember His strength. It is for us to learn afresh to trust Him. His desire is for us to see and manifest His glory meant for our good and for those around us. This sometimes comes through those dark, desperate times of seeming aloneness. We. Are. Not. Alone.

Several years ago, I heard a seminary professor, Chuck Lawless, teach on spiritual warfare. He reminded us, through passage after passage from God’s Word, that our battles belong to God. He will fight for us. We are not alone.

“We turn to Job when our own life hits the wall. Job 1:20 – Job worshipped. I hope if I lost everything, I would still worship God. In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Spiritual warfare – It’s not escaping from the battle; it’s worshipping God in the battle.  Job is in a battle he can’t win. He trusts the Lord anyway. And we must as well.

It is in our weakness that we find victory. When the noose is around our neck. When we can come to a place where we’re content with the worst…then Satan can’t affect us. We lean on God in our weakness – we lean on God. We can say, “I’m o.k. with this.” We don’t like spiritual warfare because we want to hang on to our stuff – our dreams, our idea of ourselves, our position – whatever it is. Hang on to God. Alone.”

When our job is on the line or we are facing an uphill battle in our work, when we face a devastating diagnosis or diminishing health in our elder years, when our marriage is in a hard place or there seems no hope for marriage for us…whatever our situation. We are not alone.

As I listened to Dr. Lawless back then and to Pastor Cliff on Sunday, I looked around the room and my heart filled with love for those people God had placed in our lives. We may be unaware of the struggle…but we know a God who knows and joins us together with Himself and each other…in our struggles.

We have this amazing spiritual privilege, a divine work: to take each other to God in prayer…preemptively. Proactively not just reactively. The more we do this, the more quickly we will remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. [2 Chronicles 20:14-18] Satan would have us divided against each other, feeling on the outside of whatever is the preferred inside, stuck in thinking we are missing whatever is the better part. Not true! God loves us and He fights for each of us. Remember the Truth; cling to Him. We can pray confidently, knowing that we are not alone. Ever.

“The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You.”Kari Jobe

Worship with me to Kari Jobe‘s beautiful, full-of-truth song I Am Not Alone:

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul.*

13 Truths About Spiritual Warfare for Leaders [or any of us] – Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless on Spiritual Warfare – Website

God is Always with Us

Kari Jobe Explains Story Behind ‘I Am Not Alone’; ‘God Fights for You…You Need Only to be Still’

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Live)

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Lyric Video/Live)  – walk through a forest

YouTube Video – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe – Worship Video with Lyrics

YouTube Video – Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone) [Live at Linger Conference] People & Songs ft Josh Sherman

*Lyrics to I Am Not Alone – KLove – Songwriters: Kari Jobe, Marty Sampson, Mia Fieldes, Ben Davis, Grant Pittman, Dustin Sauder, and Austin Davis

Worship Wednesday – Kara Tippetts – Suffering as an Instrument of Love and Worship

Photo Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-7

Kara Tippetts is one of the loveliest women I’ve never met. She died of cancer four years ago this month. Although cancer sharpened her experience of life, it did not define her life. She was a Christ-follower, pastor’s wife, mom of 4, writer, and amazing sister and friend. How I know her is through the cancer she battled, through her faith, and through her writing…this is how I know her and how I love her (from my earlier blog on her life).

On March 22, the documentary The Long Goodbye is released. Directed by Jay Lyons, it is an intimate story of Kara’s last months of life here on earth. It is a story of deep love, crazy humor, hard yet sweet moments, and forever faith. [See trailer here.]Photo Credit: Hallels

Some of my friends here in Richmond are joining with me for a premier party to watch the documentary together. I am excited to introduce them to Kara. It will be sad but also funny and supremely victorious.

Premiere THE LONG GOODBYE with your Friends! — Limited Time Offer

Over the course of Kara’s cancer, she wrote three books (with the help of friend Jill Lynn Buteyn). I remember the blog she wrote about signing contracts for the two last books just weeks before she died. Her determination to leave this legacy was buoyed by a husband, family, and friends who helped her keep living the life she loved until the end. These books are so beautiful. I spent a couple of decades doing cancer nursing and those experiences forged an understanding of the rare and beautiful gifts found in suffering. Walking through it with God. Kara has captured so much of that and shares it with us in these sweet, sometimes hard stories.

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard – Kara Tippetts

Just Show Up: the Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together – Kara Tippetts & Jill Lynn Buteyn

And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye – Kara Tippetts

By the way, there is way more joy than sorrow in her story. Her love for her family and friends. Her joy in the beauty that surrounded her. Her confidence in the God who loved her. It’s all there.

In her last book, And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-bye, she writes a brief letter to the cancer:

“…So here we are. The truth is that now you are in my bones, my bone marrow, my blood-making place. I did not want you there. I asked you not to go there. But you did it anyway. But here’s something. You will never separate me from the Holy Spirit. He’s watching you, every single cell of you. He’s the One giving me all this peace that confounds you. You won’t take my joy, cancer. You won’t keep me from living as close as I can to my people. And I know you think you are killing me with all your fast-growing cell business, but you are not the boss. The day I breathe my last is exactly numbered. You don’t have a say in that, sorry. And when that day comes, and it will come, my people will be kept safe in God’s beautiful arms…I do hate you, and I’m still here.”Kara

Photo Credit: Deb Mills Writer from Mundane Faithfulness

This year during Lent, I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s 40-Day Journey. He writes beautifully about what it is to be a true disciple of Jesus. Here is one excerpt:

Luther translates the Greek word for what is blessed with “to bear suffering.” The important part is the bearing. The community of disciples does not shake off suffering, as if they had nothing to do with it. Instead they bear it. In doing so, they give witness to their connection with the people around them. At the same time this indicates that they do not arbitrarily seek suffering, that they do not withdraw into willful contempt for the world. Instead, they bear what is laid upon them and what happens to them in discipleship for the sake of Jesus Christ. Finally, disciples will not be weakened by suffering, worn down, and embittered until they are broken. Instead, they bear suffering, by the power of him who supports them. The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the Crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. Psalm 30:11-12

Kara, in your living and your dying, you taught me so much about being a disciple of Jesus. You knew/know Him so well. Thank you. Photo Credit: Life News

My Other Blogs on Kara – Here, Here, Here & Here

**Memorial – Mundane Faithfulness – read Kara’s blog – her story and her God will change your life.

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – the 40-day Lenten Road to Easter

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

[Adapted from the Archives]

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”Henri Nouwen  (From A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Orbis)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church even came on my radar as a thing. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a different life of meager means and lavish love. It was in those days that we responded to an invitation to church from neighbors. A weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would be a survey course on Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism.]

My first experience with Lent, for instance, was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust – Preparing for Ash Wednesday – Pastor Kirk Thorson

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to (or if I should) incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking has changed. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God, and our corporate and personal need for Him, more clearly, then I want to integrate some measure of Lenten practice into my life.

Month-long fasting (one part of Lent) has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of our Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

As I write this, my penitent friend with the ash smeared on her forehead comes to mind again. Decades later, on this day, I’m sure, wherever she is, she has a new ashen cross applied. Reminding her of the sin in her own life that Christ paid for Himself with His death on the Cross.

[We like our foreheads clean, don’t we? Being reminded of the dark and dirty smudge of sin in our lives is not something we want to carry around with us publicly. Especially in this post-Christian world of ours. Even with the message of the Cross as the only response to that sin…it’s just too public, too culturally “in your face” so to speak.]

Many may see Lent as extra-Biblical and therefore unnecessary to add to our countdown to commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For me, at least, it gives a bit narrower road to walk for forty days – examining our own frailty, our sin, and the brevity of life alongside the magnificent perfection of the life and love of a wholly surrendered Christ.

Ash Wednesday and Lent as Means of Grace – Ryan J. Pelton

Bible Gateway extends a free invitation to receive devotionals daily until Lent from A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’ll be going through that as part of my reading these 40 days until Easter.

Also for the past several years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was a gift from a good friend during our years living overseas. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle with prayer and fasting. This is a power unleashed in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

May the days of Lent roll on naturally into the rest of our days…

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort – Deb Mills Writer

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Forever Marred by School Shooting – One Mom Reaches Out to Comfort

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax