Category Archives: Church

Worship Wednesday – A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – Eugene H. Peterson

Photo Credit: Eugene H. Peterson, Quotes.pub

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – Jesus – John 14:15

We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.2 Corinthians 10:5

This is love: that we walk according to his commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: that you walk in love.2 John 1:6

With four grandchildren, five years old and under, learning obedience is a part of their every day life. It’s a blessing to an older mom to watch adult children guide their little ones toward the wisdom of obeying and acting on what is right.

Jesus, in his great goodness and mercy, lived and taught obedience. So often we are drawn to act out of our emotions or in reaction to the actions of another (or a whole tribe of others). God calls us to a more even and measured walk in life. He calls us to choose obedience in Him. He calls us to trust Him with the outcomes of our obedience.

Writer and theologian Eugene H. Peterson may be best known for his rendering of the Bible in contemporary English. It is entitled The Message. It made the Scriptures understandable and beloved by many. Those many includes Irish singer/songwriter Bono (the friendship between him and Peterson – and their faith – has been highlighted in the documentary The Psalms.

Blog - Psalms & Bono & Eugene Peterson

Among Peterson’s many other published works is the 1980 book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.

I have not read the book yet and, in fact, did not know about it until recently. Last week, a notice popped up on my Twitter feed about a set of articles by writer Barnabas Piper. He posted 52 of his favorite quotes from Peterson’s classic book.

The Best Quotes From “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” – Part 1 – Barnabas Piper

The Best Quotes From “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” – Part 2 – Barnabas Piper

Out of Piper’s 52 quotes, I have pulled 14, listed below. Dear Dr. Peterson died in 2018. What a blessing he has been and continues to be to the Church, individual Christ-followers, and the Kingdom of God.

  1. On truth – “The moment the word God is uttered, the world’s towering falsehood is exposed—we see the truth. The truth about me is that God made and loves me. The truth about those sitting beside me is that God made and loves them, and each one is therefore my neighbor. The truth about the world is that God rules and provides for it. The truth about what is wrong with the world is that I and the neighbor sitting beside me have sinned to refusing to let God be for us, over us, and in us. The truth about what is at the center of our lives and of our history is that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for our sins and raised from the tomb for our salvation and that we can participate in new life as we believe in him, accept his mercy, respond to his love, attend to his commands.”
  2. On repentance – “Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision . . . Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.”
  3. On faith – “Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God, who keeps evil from getting inside us, who guards our life, who guards us when we leave and when we return, who guards us now, who guards us always.”
  4. On the Gospel – “The reason many of us do not ardently believe in the gospel is that we have never given it a rigorous testing, thrown our hard questions at it, faced it with our most prickly doubts.”
  5. On the content of our lives – “We speak our words of praise in a world that is hellish; we sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy; we live our joy among people who neither understand nor encourage us. But the content of our lives is God, not humanity.”
  6. On discipleship – “Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.”
  7. On sowing the seeds of the Gospel – “The hard work of sowing seed in what looks like perfectly empty earth has, as every farmer knows, a time of harvest. All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: sow it in God and he will, finally, bring a crop of joy from it.”
  8. On the rightness of work – “Our work goes wrong when we lose touch with the God who works ‘his salvation in the midst of the earth.’ It goes wrong both when we work anxiously and when we don’t work at all, when we become frantic and compulsive in our work (Babel) and when we become indolent and lethargic in our work (Thessalonica). The foundational truth is that work is good. If God does it, it must be all right. Work has dignity: there can be nothing degrading about work if God works. Work has purpose: there can be nothing futile about work if God works.”
  9. On the fear of the Lord – “To guard against all such blasphemous chumminess with the Almighty, the Bible talks of the fear of the Lord—not to scare us but to bring us to awesome attention before the overwhelming grandeur of God, to shut up our whining and chattering and stop our running and fidgeting so that we can really see him as he is and listen to him as he speaks his merciful, life-changing words of forgiveness.”
  10. On hope – “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulation, of scurrying and worrying.”
  11. On temptation and trials – “When an ancient temptation or trial becomes a feature in the culture, a way of life that is expected and encouraged, Christians have a stumbling block put before them that is hard to recognize for what it is, for it has been made into a monument, gilded with bronze and bathed in decorative lights.”
  12. On the past and the future – “If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly. We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth; we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and goal. And they must be connected. There must be an organic unity between them.”
  13. On the God who sees and knows – “Everything we learn about God through Scripture and in Christ tells us that he knows what it is like to change a diaper for the thirteenth time in the day, to see a report over which we have worked so long and carefully gather dust on somebody’s desk for weeks and weeks, to find our teaching treated with scorn and indifference by children and youth, to discover that the integrity and excellence of our work has been overlooked and the shoddy duplicity of another’s rewarded with a promotion.”
  14. On the connection of our bodies and hearts – “You can lift up your hands regardless of how you feel; It is a simple motor movement. You may not be able to command your heart, but you can command your arms. Lift your arms in blessing; just maybe your heart will get the message and be lifted up also in praise. We are psychosomatic beings; body and spirit are intricately interrelated. Go through the motion of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the cue and follow along.”

Today we worship with the words from our older brother who long followed the Lord, in obedience.

[Postscript: Usually our Worship Wednesday time together includes a song to enjoy together. With so many beautiful words posted above, basking in them before the Lord is today’s worship. For our “worship in song” lovers, below you will see linked three songs – the first from my childhood in revival services with long calls to the altar, the second from my youth inspired by Keith Green, and the third a more contemporary standard from Chris Tomlin. Do you have a favorite song on obedience? Please post in Comments.]

YouTube Video – When We Walk With the Lord (Trust and Obey) w/ lyrics

YouTube Video – To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice – Keith Green

YouTube Video – I Will Follow – Chris Tomlin – w/ lyrics

How Eugene Peterson Has Blessed Christianity – and 20 of His Most Powerful Quotes – Debbie McDaniel

Jesus Gives Us Reasons to Obey – Steve Fuller – Desiring God

Photo Credit: Eugene H. Peterson

Worship Wednesday – For Such a Time As This – John G. Elliott

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

The Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, penned the instructions above in part of a letter to the Philippian church. He was encouraging the church to deal with a presumed conflict between two of the believers, and then he went on to compel the church to be gentle with each other. Also, he called them not to be anxious but to remember, in everything, to pray with thanksgiving…with the fruit of the glorious peace of God. The “Finally, Brothers….” bit of counsel followed powerfully.

Paul could have been talking to the American church today, in the throes of a contentious political campaign. We as believers agree, for the most part, on Christ and who He is; we do not agree on all things political.

It can get nasty…which is a shame as the world looks on.

Just a couple of days ago, I was drawn into a Facebook conversation with two believer friends, both of whom I know to be gentle, God-fearing people. As more people joined the conversation, it got ugly (you’ve seen and lamented this yourselves, I’m sure). We would never have talked so frankly and harshly in real life.

I pulled out of the conversation….

Not so ironically Philippians 4:8 was our community group’s memory verse for this week.

Pastor writer Scott Sauls, author of A Gentle Answer, addresses the subject of opposing Christian voices in the video below. He states the following: “Three things we all have to have to live in community together are humility, empathy, and putting our life where our mouth is.”

“There’s blood on the hands” of both our parties. Dr. Sauls goes on to talk about how Christians (together, no matter our political party) can come together and “be better at loving the world better than we [government] does” because we put our trust in almighty God and we stand together on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the born and unborn.

Be encouraged. Press into unity. Pray against division. Forgive one another. Join together to use our collective power (under the authority of Jesus Christ) to make a difference in this troubled world.

John G. Elliott‘s song For Such a Time As This is part of his 1988 album Let All the Thirsty Come. This came to mind as God stirred my heart.

Worship with me if you would:

Each of us was born to hear the holy call

To find our place in God’s unfolding plan

When His voice is heard, it’s glorious to obey

And bear His light and truth to every man

We’re called to be the generation that turns the tide within our nation,

But who will go and who will stand…?

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will send some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this

Each of us was born to know the heart of God

His deep desire to love and to forgive

He does not delight in judgment or in wrath

But calls to all to turn to Him and live.

The words that bring a true repentance

That turn away God’s judgment sentence

Are words that only we can give

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will send some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this

For such a time as this we were born to speak the truth

Anointed words that move the hearts of men

If we are silent now, the Lord will find Himself some other men

Faithful men whose hearts are wholly His

For such a time as this (x3)

In closing,when we read some of the passages (particularly in the Old Testament) which relate to a rebellious people and God’s shaking judgment of His own, they sound strangely familiar to what’s happening now.

…”Fear the Lord your God, and he will rescue you from all your enemies.” However, these nations would not listen but continued observing their former practices. They feared the Lord but also served their idols. Still today, their children and grandchildren continue doing as their ancestors did.2 Kings 17:39-41 (read the whole chapter for excruciating context)

As we see the chaos around us and wonder if a peaceful presidential election is even possible, we must only remember that God has promised He will never leave His people. Even in judgment, He decides what is enough and who executes that judgment. We do not look for saviors in politicians…they are all imperfect. In an odd way, we may be choosing/voting (without the privilege of God’s eyes to see what will come in the future) our “preferred” judgment.

Whatever happens…we must return to the words of our elder brother Paul. We know what we must do – be gentle, don’t be anxious, pray with thanksgiving, rejoice in His peace, and think on what is good…because God is good.

Let’s close on the glorious goodness of God – He is the Overcomer!!

The Saviour: Story of God’s Passion for His People (1994) (majestic choral work – you can find it here in its entirety beginning at minute 9:45 (pick it up at 14:30 with God (powerfully sung by Wintley Phipps) creating Adam.

Take heart, ye children of the Promise
For God will not be mocked
For the Lord will repay,
and His Kingdom remains

Blessed are His children.
Blessed are His covenants
Blessed is His mighty Kingdom
And blessed is the Name of the Lord

Blessed the name of Lord
Blessed the name of Lord
In power, in glory His Kingdom, His Kingdom will come!
His Promise is now and forever and ever Amen! – Kings of the Earth

Let All the Thirsty Come album – John G. Elliott

Worship Wednesday – Truth – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

Worship at Movement Church
[Adapted from the Archives – here and here]
We live in a culture of disruption right now – where grace does not seem to abound and only what divides, destroys, and deceives seems celebrated (at least in our city streets and in our media). Through the noise, we must continue to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
We must remind ourselves of what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, admirable and excellent (Philippians 4:8). We say NO in answer to God’s question of “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23).
The Prophet Isaiah warned (and gave comfort) that God does and will intervene. He will make right; He will save. May we be with Him in this…praying, standing for righteousness, leaning into those who are hurting, serving the suffering, and forgiving those who would do evil (God will judge; we are to pray and to love in word and deed).
 Indeed, the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save,

and his ear is not too deaf to hear.
But your iniquities are separating you from your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen.
For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers, with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongues mutter injustice.
No one makes claims justly; no one pleads honestly. They trust in empty and worthless words; they conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity.

6 Their works are sinful works, and violent acts are in their hands.
Their feet run after evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are sinful thoughts; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths.

They have not known the path of peace, and there is no justice in their ways. They have made their roads crooked; no one who walks on them will know peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.

11 We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions have multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us…

14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far off.
For truth has stumbled in the public square, and honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is missing, and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice, and he was offended.

16 He saw that there was no man
he was amazed that there was no one interceding; so his own arm brought salvation, and his own righteousness supported him.

17 He put on righteousness as body armor, and a helmet of salvation on his head; … 18 So he will repay according to their deeds: fury to his enemies, retribution to his foes, and he will repay the coasts and islands. 19 They will fear the name of the Lord in the west
and his glory in the east; for he will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,
and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of your children’s children, from now on and forever,” says the Lord. – Isaiah 59

___________________________________________________________________________

For believers and non-believers alike, we can still the madness surrounding us…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
Consider.
So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people
for God by your blood from every tribe and language
and people and nation.Revelation 5:1-9

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was/is worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our sin debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

Singer/songwriterAndrew Peterson wrote the song Is He Worthy? for a congregation to participate responsively with the worship leaders. The reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to…but appreciate.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people
for God by your blood from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

YouTube Video – Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

YouTube Video – Is He Worthy? – Chris Tomlin

Worship Wednesday – On Unity – With One Voice – Steven Curtis Chapman

Photo Credit: Mosaic Church

“I pray not only for these [His disciples], but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” – Jesus – John 17:20-23

Most everyone around the world probably knows the US is embroiled this year in a severe battle for the Presidency.

The various news networks and social media sources broadcast our biases. One candidate or the other is blamed for the condition of our country – whether the sitting president or the party or person of the candidate making his bid for the office.

We align ourselves as the Church in America. On one side of the argument or the other. Some will take the less gnarly position of a third candidate or just not vote this year.

Here’s the insight God gave me this week. When people I deeply love and respect pull for a candidate that I can’t abide or when they hear me out on my decision so different from theirs, we find ourselves at an impasse.

I will not influence them nor will they me. Our reasoning is human, and neither of us can know for sure we are right or we are wrong.

What matters more? That we continue in the unity of love together.

The last night Jesus spent on earth, before His crucifixion, He prayed the exquisite prayer we find in John 17.  It was an intimate discourse with His Father, and thankfully we are privy to it thanks to the Holy Spirit-inspired Gospel of the Apostle John. In His prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself; He prayed for his disciples, and He prayed for all believers.

Jesus prayed that we would be one as He is one with His Father. One in the unity of love. That He prayed this before His death for us demonstrated how much it mattered to Him.

How much this unity must matter to us!

In David Guzik‘s commentary on John 17, he states: “The unity Jesus prayed for among His people has a pattern. Even as the Father and the Son are one yet are not the same, we do not expect that genuine Christian unity will mean uniformity or unity of structure. It will mean unity of spirit, unity of heart, unity of purpose, and unity of destiny.”

Guzik also quotes Charles Spurgeon on unity as different from uniformity: “Beloved, those in whom Christ lives are not uniform, but one. Uniformity may be found in death, but this unity is life. Those who are quite uniform may yet have no love to each other, while those who differ widely may still be truly and intensely one. Our children are not uniform, but they make one family.”

Some will say the issue of who Christians can morally choose as our US President requires some order of uniformity…and so it does. However, the division between us in this matter should sound an alarm in our spirits.

This is not what Jesus wanted for us.

“It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father.Francis Schaeffer

We may differ on how we see “compromise”. That is its own struggle, but we cannot enjoin that struggle with whether we can love one another.

We love each other, because we are His. No matter our political party. No matter the outcome of this election.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – Jesus John 13:35

Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman published a song many years ago entitled With One Voice. This is our highest call.

Let’s worship together.

We come together with a holy purpose
We come together for the highest cause
We speak one language from a heart of worship
Gathered to bring a song to the world
For Your glory

With one voice we will sing
Every tribe and every tongue
Brings a harmony
With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing to our King
With one voice

Oceans divide us
But we sing together
Now what defines us is our love of You
From every nation and across all borders
Gathered to bring a song to the world
For Your glory

With one voice we will sing
Every tribe and every tongue
Brings a harmony
With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing to our King
With one voice

Come on come on and join the song
Our God our God is on the throne
Come on come on and join the song
Hallelujah hallelujah

Come on come on and join the song
Our God our God is on the throne
Come on come on and join the song
Hallelujah

Hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice

With one voice we will bring
Heaven’s beautiful melody down to this earth
As we sing, sing to our King
With one voice
With one voice

Hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice
Sing hallelujah
Sing His praise
Let us all rejoice

Sing hallelujah, our God reigns
Let us all rejoice
Sing hallelujah
Sing His praise
Let us all rejoice*

In closing, one of my other favorite passages in the Gospel of John is John 6:68. Jesus was weary with the struggle of public ministry, dealing with the contempt of the religious leaders of the day and the fickleness of followers who came and went. In a moment of weakness (human but without sin), Jesus turned to His twelve disciples and asked if they wanted to leave also.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” – John 6:68

We know as believers, no matter our politics or our preferences, we are transfixed by the person of Jesus Christ. To know His life, His teaching, and His love…no one else…no place else would satisfy.

Our days and destinies are linked with Him and with each other. Our hearts are knit together. Everything else will fall away in the end. We are His. He is ours. We are meant to live in that reality…even (especially) in this season.

*Lyrics to With One Voice – Songwriters Steven Curtis Chapman & Matt Redman

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song With One Voice

John 17 – Jesus’ Great Prayer – David Guzik

Unity in Christ – Charles Spurgeon

5 Friday Faves – Food Anthropology, The Punisher on Classical Guitar, Pastimes, “Life Has Purpose”, and Community

Weekend! Go….five favorite finds for this week:

1) Food Anthropology – Anthropology is the study of cultures and peoples – their behaviors, values, etc. The TEDx talk below was a walk down the lane of pleasurable food memories for me. Syrian-American food writer Tony Tahhan talked on What Syrian Cuisine Can Teach Us About Humanity. In his talk, Tahhan gives sweet details about growing up in a Syrian home in Venezuela (?!). Then they immigrated to the US, blending more cultures. His stories of Syria itself center on food and culture.

Our first experience of Syrian food culture was when we lived in Cairo, Egypt, for a few years. Our friend Amal, a Syrian-American, often hosted us in her home. She and her husband reflected their culture of gathering and generous hosting of friends and family. Egyptians also have that wonderful hospitality as well..and their own yummy food. Still, being in Amal’s home and at her table was unique. So much food! So much preparation…chopping, blending, baking. Distinct flavors. Beautiful colors. Healthy and satisfying. Dessert, too…not healthy always (unless it was the huge bowl of fruit) but incredibly memory-making. Can you say baklava?

I took lots of food pictures in those days but couldn’t find them for this blog. The image below will have to do. This gives a good idea about Amal’s table. Beautiful and bountiful. Full of love.Photo Credit: Flickr

There is much we can learn from peoples and cultures through their food. Syria has been so traumatized by war. Still, I’m completely positive, that if anyone had an opportunity to sit at a Syrian table, whatever their hosts had would be presented sumptuously for the guest. That’s a lesson for us all.

Thank you, Amal, for the food and the friendship.

Syrian Cooking

The 9 Most Important Things I Learned in Cooking School – Jesse Szewczyk

2) The Punisher on Classical GuitarNathan Mills arranges another beautifully haunting piece – the theme Frank’s Choice from the TV show The Punisher. In the show (which I’ve never seen – too violent for me), Frank Castle has the horrific experience of watching his family be murdered. He then becomes a vigilante, hunting down those responsible. Then he seems not to be able to escape that life, going after other evil criminal types. Nathan (Beyond the Guitar) takes composer Tyler Bates‘ tortured theme (pointing to the “dead man walking” Frank Castle character) to a different place. A quieter, sad longing of a place. Beautiful.

3) Pastimes – The stuff of life outside of work. Hobbies, shopping, classes, volunteering, family/friend time, and desultory activities – being lost in the moment, wanderings.

With social distancing thanks to COVID, our pastimes may be altered somewhat. Before March, I spent a lot of time gone from the house. Now, not so much. Dave also presently works from home.

So when work is done, what do we do? What do you do?

We’re slow adopters. The Mandalorian, the web series on Disney+, wasn’t on our watch-list although we’re huge Star Wars fans. In fact, we didn’t know much about it except for the hype. Oh, and the piece  Nathan arranged and performed, of the show theme.

This week we signed up for Disney+ and are “bingeing” The Mandalorian. It’s a first, the whole binge thing. Such is some of the strangeness that COVID has brought to our socially distanced lives.

Now, watching movies is definitely a favorite pastime. This past week (including the weekend), we saw three “small” films (small in that they weren’t huge boxoffice hits).

I loved them all and recommend them. Lots of heart in these films. Heart and humor.

A few weeks back, I watched the 2020 Netflix documentary 13th (about the abolition of slavery) and I hope to watch  another 2020 documentary Uncle Tom soon. Anybody seen either of these?

During COVID, Dave and I have taken up playing Bananagrams after supper. It’s a quick game – he wins usually.

Just being outside in the back yard with a book, my camera, or a friend is also even more special with the press of COVID.

One favorite verse of mine in the Bible is: “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.Romans 12:10 It’s not about competing with one another for God’s favor (He loves His children purely and freely). It’s just an encouragement to be as generous as we can loving and showing honor to each other. out of the love we already enjoy from God. This “outdoing” a pastime worthy of making a skill/habit.

A dear friend dropped off some of her summer bounty for us this week…so for days, we enjoyed that sweet gift.

Then another friend dropped off a card from her little girl to our little granddaughter (these little ones are missing their friends, too). So special.

Finally, I got to be on the dessert delivery list of this amazing baker friend. She just drove pieces of cake around to different fortunate ones of us. Lemon pound cake. Yum! Right?

On the flip side – another friend has a birthday this week but was also heading to the beach…so no opportunity to gather. She is amazing at reaching out to people, always and also during COVID. For one time, I got a jump on her with some beach reading. Happy birthday, Karen!

What pastimes do you enjoy lately? Especially those that lift your heart or others.

4) Life Has Purpose – A friend of mine introduced Ryan and Bethany Bomberger to me via her Facebook post. They are pro-life adoptive parents. They are Christians. Give them a listen whatever your worldview…you’ll be drawn in to their hearts. They are not mush-minded (as some think of those with descriptions like this). Rock-solid people. Their podcast is Life Has Purpose.Photo Credit: Life Has Purpose

They are authors, and Ryan is a songwriter. He wrote Meant to Be as a tribute to his birth mother who conceived him in rape. He was adopted by parents who would adopt 9 other multi-ethnic kiddos.

Photo Credit: The Radiance Foundation

Part of what make finds favorites is that often there’s a beautiful ripple effect – finding favorites of the finds. Neil and Christina Shenvi came along with “Life Has Purpose”. Check them out. Fascinating.

5) Community – This comes up in my Faves from time to time, because it continues to just boggle the mind how essential it is and how deep it can be…even with COVID. [Our community group – so dear]

However…and there is a big HOWEVER here…social distancing can really do a number on community. When we think of how it has affected us as adults, we need to think also how it can affect our children (littles and bigs).

Earlier this week, this short film by 15-year-old Liv McNeil came to my attention and it surprised me with emotion – what it can be like for teens who are isolated by the COVID experience.

We must watch out for each other.

Shared Hope: Friendships Are Life-Saving Medicine – Jane Jayroe Gamble

That’s it for this week. Hope you get some rest and get some time with folks you love and who love you!

Bonuses:

SummerPhoto Credit: Kathryn Visneski

How to Declutter Your Closet with a Single Box – Olivia Muenter

YouTube Video – TEDx Talk – Everyone Has Hardships – John Guyon

The Real Secret to Aging Well & How to Feel the Luckiest About Growing Older Into a Deeply Meaningful Life – Ann Voskamp

Here’s the Science That Explains Why Drinking Diet Soda Makes You Gain Weight – Minda Zetlin

Negative Effects of Sugar-Free Carbonated Drinks – Erica Kannall

Thirty Minutes with the Perry’s – Podcast – Preston Perry & Jackie Hill Perry

These Four Phrases Will Make Life Easier for Teachers and Parents This Fall – Laura Milligan

This Dad and Pastor  Has Advice and Calming Words for Overwhelmed Parents – Erika Sanzi

The Nonconformist – Thomas Sowell on Race, Poverty, and Culture – Coleman Hughes

Two of my heroes at Southwood Community Resource Center:

Worship Wednesday – #Woke – What It Means to This Believer – Amazing Grace

Photo Credit: Statement on Social Justice

[Adapted from the Archives]

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice: blessed are all those who wait for Him.Isaiah 30:18

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.Job 1:22

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.
 – Matthew 9:36

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”Micah 6:8

In today’s context, “woke” is a word  that I may never understand or fully embrace. However, it is concept that compelled me to research it and consider it.

Being “woke” has some strong, politically and sociologically polarizing applications, but the simplest definitions are captured below. It means “being aware of what is going on in the community; being aware of the social and political environments regarding all socio-economic standings”.Photo Credit: Slideshare, Mike Maccarone

I’d like to tell you a quick story. Then I will hop off anything political and onto the place I’ve landed as a believer.

Last summer, we traveled to a conference in Oklahoma. During the time there, I had the opportunity for a road trip across the Eastern part of the state. It was my first experience of the Native American nations in Oklahoma. Part of my “woke” journey now has this experience folded in. Except for the links below on tribal history and The Indian Removal Act, this topic will be for another day…but it speaks to “wokeness” as well.

We flew back to Richmond, with those experiences still very fresh in my mind.

Walking to baggage claim from our gate, we were surrounded by other travelers from the Atlanta flight. Either visitors to our city or, like us, residents returning home. In front of me for much of the walk was a youngish Black man. He was sharply dressed in khaki pants and a dazzling white t-shirt, and he had all the paraphernalia of someone who travels a lot. A professional appearing man who could easily put on a sport-coat over his white t-shirt and show up for work in some executive suite.

Photo Credit: Augusta Native

It is telling of this man’s experience of his country, this society, and the politics of the day. The slogan first caught my eye (with its particular spelling of America), then the hangman’s noose, and then the list of losses…

[Hard to read because I am grateful to be American. Its history, like so many countries, has dark terrible times in it. I don’t want to forget that…but how to respond to it…]

On his right forearm, this man had a large tattoo in bold capital letters: #BLM (Black Lives Matter).

He was a walking billboard for “wokeness” as a Black person with a loud cry against the injustice he lays on his country.

I don’t think that fellow traveler and I would ever have a conversation. For sure, it felt unwanted that day – an intrusion from a stranger…but I do want those conversations. For now, it begins with my response to him…and others.

In praying through these recent experiences, here are four points of action in this being “woke” as a follower of Christ:

  1. Listen. I’ve been learning to make it a practice to listen with intentionality to people who feel marginalized – for whatever reasons. To hear them, we have to come within hearing. It can be uncomfortable as you know. That’s why we want to avoid it or rationalize or downplay it.
  2. Consider. In nursing school, we learned that Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he/she says it does” (McCaffery). The same can apply to what we hear of people’s pain – whether in their present experience or a past horror either theirs or others (with whom they feel a kinship). Again, reacting in a way that rationalizes or shifts blame only pushes away. Consider humbly what they are saying.
  3. Separate political from spiritual. When injustice occurs, we are called by God, as believers, to respond. Even better, we are to stand alongside the marginalized, when possible, doing what we can to lessen injustice. Lots could be said about this, but for today, just a check in our thinking. Our government may or may not act in definitive ways. We as the church have a very different call…and loving action is always a part of that call.
  4. Act. Again, so much could be said here, but today a brief take on it. For sure, we know that the Lord doesn’t require us to cover for the sins of others. Nor does He allow us to put our heads in the sand and ignore the suffering of those around us. To move forward we must leave the terrible wrongs of the past to the righteous justice of the Lord. He calls us to act today on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized…in front of us, all around us. Jesus acted on our behalf; we are to act on theirs.

To be “woke” as a believer is to see the world with God’s eyes and His heart and to engage and respond, in the power of His Holy Spirit. Previously I wrote the following about finishing strong in this life:

An imperative key to our finishing strong is humbling ourselves before God and in relationship to those He places in our lives.

An example of this humility worked out in relationship is the friendship between John Newton and William Wilberforce. Newton, a British slave ship captain until his conversion to Christ, would become a spiritual mentor to Wilberforce, who strongly influenced the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Wilberforce was able to use his governmental authority to aid in abolishing slavery, but he was also a man of prayer and action in his personal life as well. Blog - Finishing strong - historicalmoviesPhoto Credit: Historical Movies

Jonathan Aitken, author of the biography John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, writes about the relationship between Newton and Wilberforce:

“Humanity will forever be in Newton’s debt for mentoring Wilberforce…their relationship was of pivotal importance for both historical and spiritual reasons.”

Jesus mentored us, His followers, so well. Who are we mentoring in this “wokeness”? Who are we ourselves learning from today?

Worship with me today through this beautiful old hymn, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton. His lyrics speak to being “woke”: I once was lost, but now I’m found; Was blind, but now I see. Consider watching the 2006 film Amazing Grace with your family or friends (who somehow missed it the first time around).

How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine.

Worship Wednesday – Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Deb Mills

What’s Wrong With Woke? – Tom Ascol

Slavery, by the Numbers – Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“This Is All Stolen Land”: Native Americans Want More Than California’s Apology – Sam Levin

Half the Land in Oklahoma Could Be Returned to native Americans. It Should Be. – Rebecca Nagle

Worship Wednesday – Lay Down Your Burdens – Come As You Are – Crowder

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens Crowder
[The piece below is adapted from the Archives. Last night, during an online concert thanks to American Awakening, I heard David Crowder sing “Come As You Are”. It was a much-needed reminder that although the world is crying shame and blame, Jesus calls us to come to Him “as we are”. No shame. No blame. He knows we are frail. That sin darkens our hearts, but we can be free of that and walk in the light of His forgiveness and love.
Today…rest a moment. Let us lay down our burdens and rest in Him. Remembering who He is. The battle is His. He calls us to stand in the battle and to love Him and all around us with His love. We stand with the Mightiest; we stand for His truth. We stand for each other. As the concert organizers for last night’s concert promoted: “We are Better Together.” In Him.]
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”Matthew 11:28-29

The decade of my 20s is littered with the debris of a searching, self-centered life. Even as a follower of Christ, the world drew me like a powerful magnet. I was lured by the arguments of those critical of God, the church, and Christianity. After years of standing one foot in the world and one foot in the church, thanks to God never giving up on us, my thinking finally cleared.

The world’s promises of belonging, significance, and security shattered, but not without sending shards of painful memories and regret deep into my heart. The arguments against God turned hollow, emptied of their logic. Those very arguments denied our own personal responsibility for many of the world’s woes. For a season, believing man over God, my course in life was spiraling away from the very redemptive purposes of God. Even to this day, it can still be a challenge to look away, to believe that God can’t use me for the sake of another. Or He just wouldn’t.

Crowder’s song Come As You Are ministers to my heart at every listening. There is nothing so wonderful in life as God and His love and forgiveness. I can’t look back at that prodigal decade without remorse. Yet, because of God, and the truth of His Word, I can lay all that down (again). There is a verse, recorded by the Old Testament prophet Joel, that always encourages me: [God speaking]: “I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). He has kept that promise in my life, and I am grateful.

How God restored me to Himself was through a couple of friends: one, an older believer, and the other, a close friend, who had survived a similar wilderness wandering, breaking out of it ahead of me. They always come to mind in remembering how God worked in my life back then. David Crowder speaks so clearly about his own journey of restoration:

“As it goes with hypocrisy, judgement, dogmatism, and all the rest of it that Jesus put to death, it’s hard to see in yourself what you readily see in others. And into my cynicism and anger my friend began to dream aloud, “What if church really was like family. What if we pretended the, ‘brother and sister, son and daughter,’ stuff was real. What if relationships were thought to be rare and valuable things. What if it was just a bunch of people that loved each other and were simply trying their best to follow this Jesus we read of in scripture. What if we pretended, the ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ thing was a better way to live…What if we pretended we are all sinners. What if we pretended grace is real. What if the word ‘pretend’ felt less powerful than the word ‘believe’ because we did actually believe. What if…”David Crowder

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 8 - bpnews.net

Rioters throw bricks and bottles at the police on Clarence Road in the Hackney area of London.

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 4 - bpnews.net

MEXICO CITYÕS HOMELESS Ð IMB missionaries and national believers serving among the masses of Mexico City regularly encounter homelessness, prostitution and substance abuse on city streets. Mexico CityÕs parks and city squares are often scattered with homeless men and women sleeping on sidewalks and park benches. (IMB) PHOTO

The meta-narrative of scripture is about innocence lost, it is about displacement, about things not being right and a search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life, what it means to be alive. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. The story sold is rarely that…What if we started believing?”David Crowder

There are those in the world who look at followers of Christ as pretenders. Honestly, there are “church folks” that do more to distract than draw others to God. Then there are those whose lives have truly been transformed. True Christ-followers know how far He has brought them from their broken, burdened selves. This world of ours needs that voice of hope – real hope that comes close, as God came close to us through Jesus. In this global wilderness of ours, He calls us to live small and love large, to extend His love as far as He extended it to us. This is the purpose of God’s church – to love Him and to reflect His glory in a true hands-on witness of His love for all around us.

Worship with me:

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, Oh sinner come kneel

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal

So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame
All who are broken, lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home, You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
Come as you are

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That Heaven can’t cure

Come as you are
Fall in His arms, come as you are

There’s joy for the morning, Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.

– Written by David Crowder, Matt Maher, & Ben Glover (Lyrics)

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 9 - bpnews.net

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 7 - bpnews.net

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Lyric Video)

YouTube Video – Come As You Are by Crowder Lyric Video

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Music Video)

YouTube Video – Crowder – Come As You Are (Behind the Scenes)

David Crowder Website – Read the Family History – Riveting and Real

Photo Credits: Crowdermusic.com and BPNews.net

Worship Wednesday – The Hands and Feet of Christ – “Do Something” – Matthew West

Blog - Do Something

[Adapted from the Archives]

Let’s start right here.

Worship with me to Matthew West‘s Do Something:

Do Something by Matthew West

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”
If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something
I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”
We are the salt of the earth
We are a city on a hill
But we’re never gonna change the world
By standing still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still
No we won’t stand still*

Songwriter: Matthew West (Into the Light album) 2014

*Lyrics: Publishing: Songs of Southside Independent Music Publishing / External Combustion Music / Songs for Delaney (ASCAP)

We want to do something, but where to even start in the world all broken around us. After four months of social distancing, I find myself fighting against an odd fatigue…the usual ways of reaching out to others, to serve, to encourage are all disrupted. COVID-19 and the social distancing that comes with it have turned community and ministry on its head.

Yet, the Lord continues to draw near…reminding us to draw near to Him, pointing us to our neighbors near and far, holding Himself to promises that are as constant as He is.

I’ve been thinking lately about muscle memory. Is it possible that as we practice our faith in Christ, no matter the situation, that we develop muscle memory of a sort that keeps us near to God and His mission.  Is it possible to give into a lie? Do the problems we face seem too big for us to do anything about them? Is God still with us, still for us? Of course, He is.

If our faith has taken a hit and we have faltered, we are not done.  So what if the culture around us says what we think or do is insufficient?! God is at work…always at work. We can take both hope and courage in that truth.

If God is at work, then we can do something. Whether a great thing or a small thing made great in love and obedience.

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”Dwight L. Moody

“There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.”Dwight L. Moody

As we pull ourselves out of the doldrums of COVID19, we can lean into a ministry of reconciliation – of serving, as individuals and the church, a world badly broken. I am reminded of 5 things…in these 5 things, we can do something.

1) Be informed. Every day we are slammed with bad news by the media. We are not immune to compassion fatigue and, in fact, can just let the news wash over us, suspicious of what’s true or not. As believers, we must not turn a deaf ear. We must weigh, every day, what is happening in the world, what grieves the heart of God, and what is ours to do about it. So what if we don’t always get it right? We take the news and op-eds, as well as conversations we have with real people, and sift not just the information, but considering (prayerfully) what we are to do as His people. How we answer His call has little to do with the news or social media…but with planting ourselves in the Word. He informs our hearts and infuses our hands and feet with His love and His resolve.

2) Refuse to be silent. – If we are silent, we align ourselves with the persecutors in this world. However, there is a way for Kingdom people to be the voice of the persecuted and oppressed. Language of hate and blame will not glorify God. Will not. We speak love.

3) Pray. Unbelief has to be the worst sin of all. We as Christ-followers resist this temptation, especially in a world so racked with cynicism, lethargy and self-absorption. So pray, believing, dear ones. Every day. Together and alone. Pray.

4) Give. There is so much in the Word of God about giving. Again, the world’s thinking creeps into our decision-making when we don’t give (either through our churches or to relief organizations). “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”1 John 3:17

5) Go. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20

When Jesus gave this Great Commission, He wasn’t just speaking to those within His immediate hearing. He was speaking to the Church through the ages. He means for us to go, in obedience – to our neighbor, our co-worker, our friend. He may also mean for us to go short-term (2 weeks or 2 years) to another part of the world. He may mean for us to take a job with our company or another organization and spend much of our life among the nations. God definitely means for us to go next door…and to those most marginalized in our cities, towns, counties. In obedience. For the lives of the people. For the glory of God.

Send Relief

YouTube video of Story Behind Song Do Something

Matthew West’s & his dad Pastor Joe West’s popwe.org – reaching beyond entertainment – Craft. Share. Live.

5 Ways to Love Your Neighbor – All Pro Dad

9 Ways to Love Your Neighbor In This Pandemic – Justin Whitmel Earley

19 Simple Ways to Love Your Neighbor Right Now – Sheila Dolinger

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

Photo Credit: Church Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with Erskin and me, would you?

The most segregated time in our country

Is Sunday morning 11 o’clock

Black churches, white churches

Right next door

They’re on the same block.

Both with hands raised high for Jesus

Still a million miles between us

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

We all want to walk with Jesus

We all want to be about His will

How do we break down the unseen walls

Where bridges need to be built

This song may not change your mind

Jesus won’t let me keep it inside.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Maybe it all begins

By not focusing on ourselves

Fixing our eyes on Him

Living our lives as friends.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal.

Photo Credit: James Estrin, The New York Times

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

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

YouTube Video – Global Spirituality: Pastor Michael Walrond at TEDxHarlem

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

7 Key Characteristics of Diversity-Oriented Churches – Brian Leander

Racial Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia? – Wendy McCaig

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

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

YouTube Video – Unwritten Black Church Rules – KevOnStage

YouTube Video – Black Church Phrases Explained – KevOnStage

Worship Wednesday – If I Stand – Rich Mullins

Blog - Rich MullinsPhoto Credit: azquotes.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHORUS(2x)

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

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

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

Blog - Rich Mullins 2Photo Credit: azquotes.com

Film- Ragamuffin – the True Story of Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins’ Biography – Wikipedia.com

*Rich Mullins’ Biography – ChristianMusic.com

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