Category Archives: Church

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

Photo Credit: Church Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with Erskin and me, would you?

The most segregated time in our country

Is Sunday morning 11 o’clock

Black churches, white churches

Right next door

They’re on the same block.

Both with hands raised high for Jesus

Still a million miles between us

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

We all want to walk with Jesus

We all want to be about His will

How do we break down the unseen walls

Where bridges need to be built

This song may not change your mind

Jesus won’t let me keep it inside.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Maybe it all begins

By not focusing on ourselves

Fixing our eyes on Him

Living our lives as friends.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal.

Photo Credit: James Estrin, The New York Times

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

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

YouTube Video – Global Spirituality: Pastor Michael Walrond at TEDxHarlem

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

7 Key Characteristics of Diversity-Oriented Churches – Brian Leander

Racial Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia? – Wendy McCaig

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

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

YouTube Video – Unwritten Black Church Rules – KevOnStage

YouTube Video – Black Church Phrases Explained – KevOnStage

Worship Wednesday – If I Stand – Rich Mullins

Blog - Rich MullinsPhoto Credit: azquotes.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHORUS(2x)

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

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

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

Blog - Rich Mullins 2Photo Credit: azquotes.com

Film- Ragamuffin – the True Story of Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins’ Biography – Wikipedia.com

*Rich Mullins’ Biography – ChristianMusic.com

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

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

Photo Credit: Mazur, Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy weekend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonuses:

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

Captive Thoughts – Sherwood Baptist Church

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

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

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

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

Grandpa Remembers Back When We Were in the Time of Coronavirus

When God Makes Us Wait – Barbara Rainey

Photo Credit: Karen Garner

Worship Wednesday – Gratitude Flattens Fear – Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Photo Credit: Interrupting the Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blaming, fault-finding, nay-saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Holy-Week-Black-Saturday.jpgPhoto Credit: Catholiclane.com – Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

[Adapted from the Archives]

As I write this morning, it is quiet outside. Very quiet. Lonely quiet. This is the morning of exhausted grief. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Sent One; His Only One lay dead in a tomb. Dead. How is this possible? The disciples, his family…those followers whose lives were transformed must have been numb with the stark reality that he was not with them…not on that Saturday. What would they do without him? What would happen to them? What? What? What?

There is only one scriptural reference to this day and it relates to the threat to some of Jesus’ power and influence, even in death:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66

The tomb was sealed. Guards were placed. Jesus would be no more trouble….

“He is dead: this man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With His dying breaths, He spoke words of forgiveness, finality, and faith.

But now the breathing has ceased, and the lungs that exhaled forgiveness are deflated. My Jesus – dead.”* – Trevin Wax

Read the rest of this gripping poem here.

We today have the great knowledge of the risen Christ, but his followers, on that Saturday, only had dim recollection of his words of promise. Shrouded in grief, they found themselves quite “in between” – in between the death of their Savior and the life of his glorious promises.

“Because of the interval that is Holy Saturday, the hope of Psalm 139 is now grounded in Jesus’s own experience: “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8). Jesus descended into death. He made all that darkness his own. Death captured Jesus as he entered it fully. But then, in the great reversal, Jesus captured death. In his rising, Christ filled that darkness with the light of his presence. He dispelled that gloom forever for those who trust him. So when we consider the crossing into of death, we can now hold fast to the truth, “Even darkness is not dark to you” (Psalm 139:12). Just as Jesus took our sins, so he has taken all our lonely dying as his own.” – Gerrit Scott Dawson

“Saturday is the “in between” day: in between despair and joy; brokenness and healing; confusion and understanding; death and life.” – John Ortberg

A dear friend of ours, Beth Wayland, shared with us this message by John Ortberg (quote above and passage below) from a conference where he spoke on Black Saturday, well, “Saturdays” in general. He describes so well this day in between.

“Saturday – the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. What do you think the disciples were doing on Saturday? Here they have seen their friend and their Master killed the day before but also have this vague promise, which probably seemed ludicrous at the time that he would rise again. So what do you think they were doing on Saturday between the tragedy and the promise?

Most of life is Saturday. We`re in a terrible position, but we have a promise from God that we only half believe. It`s after the doctor tells us we have cancer, but before we`re cured or find a new depth of faith to cope with it. It`s after the marriage breaks up, but before God heals the grief. It`s after we`ve been laid off, but before God uses our gifts in a new place. Most of life is Saturday. It`s waiting in faith and hanging onto the promise that God is going to come through for us in spite of how bad things look. Most of life is Saturday. — I don`t know where you are this Holy Week. Maybe you`re in a Palm Sunday kind of mood wanting God to get on board with an agenda and maybe he will, but if he doesn’t, know that his plans are always good. Maybe you`re feeling a little unlovable because of something you`ve done or haven`t done. Maundy Thursday means that God loves us no matter how dirty our uniform gets from the game of life. Maybe you`re in a Saturday kind of place – between a hard time and a promise you only half believe. Know this for sure that God`s Easter irony is still at work, and he can use even the worst tragedies for good, and he always has at least one more move left. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday`s coming, and it`s coming sooner than you think. “John Ortberg

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Garden-Tomb-from-imb.org-Holy-Week-Black-Saturday.jpgPhoto Credit: IMB Resources

Holy Week – Day 7: Saturday in the Tomb – Mary Fairchild

Question: What is Holy Saturday?

Anxiety & Holy Week – Beth Wayland – With, Inc.

YouTube Video of John Ortberg on “Saturdays” – American Association of Christian Counselors Conference, October 2011 (starting 5 minutes in)

The Day Jesus Stayed Dead – Waiting in the Heartache of Holy Saturday – Gerrit Scott Dawson, Desiring God

*My Jesus – Dead by Trevin Wax

Experience Easter – Somber Saturday – KLove

YouTube Video – Jesus Paid It All (lyric video) – Fernando Ortega

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us written by Stuart Townend – with David Wesley

Story Behind the Song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us by Stuart Townend

YouTube Video with lyrics – In Christ Alone  written by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

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

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Holy-Week-Good-Friday.jpgPhoto Credit: GoodFridayQuotes2015.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

It was a day like no other day in history. For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. The few Christians in those places passed this week in reflection and wonder. It was, of course, just another week for most of our friends and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but Good Friday was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus and all who have experienced life through his teaching and example, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.

Good Friday – good for us, hard for Jesus. His mockery of a trial, crucifixion, death, and burial are all recorded with great detail in the four Gospels. They are riveting accounts of this terrible and triumphant day – Matthew 26:57-27:61, Mark 15Luke 22:66-23:56, John 18:28-19:42.

Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed the night before, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary, with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people. In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, hiding himself nearby…in his own painful moment.

The outcome of all the wrangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash of his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.

Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the resolve of His Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him. We, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21). It is a miracle of grace.

Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.

It Was My Sin That Held Him There – Greg Morse

Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross.  Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words are recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.

Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!

‘Finished’ – What the Son Cried as He Died – Scott Hubbard – Desiring God

There is so much more to say about this day and the people present. Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return his wage of betrayal and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he no longer could. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him.  John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.

So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. Mine included… saved from my sin through Jesus’ sacrifice. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Good-Friday-from-popgodblog.jpgPhoto Credit: popgodblog.com

[Postscript: In the links are several beautiful songs of worship. Tributes to the Lord on this day. Don’t miss the articles and the great sermon “It’s Friday But Sunday’s a Coming” by S. M. Lockridge.]

Holy Week – Day 6: Good Friday’s Trial, Crucifixion, Death, Burial – Mary Fairchild

The Cross – Billy Graham 2020

YouTube Video – Passion – What’s So Good About Good Friday?

YouTube Video – It is Finished – Matt Papa

YouTube Video – Forever – Kari Jobe

YouTube Video with Lyrics – The Wonderful Cross by Chris Tomlin & Keith Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – The Power of the Cross – Kristyn Getty

YouTube Video with lyrics – Lead Me to the Cross – Hillsong

*YouTube Video – It’s Friday but Sunday’s a Coming – S. M. Lockridge

YouTube Video – Skit Guys – Good Friday

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

It Wasn’t Nails that Held Him to the Cross – Blog by Michele Perry

Good Friday – Bible Study

I Did It His Way: A Collection of B. C. Religious Comic Strips – Johnny Hart

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Blog-Cross-Good-Friday-Wikimedia.jpgPhoto Credit: Wikimedia

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

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Holy-Week-Last-Supper.jpgPhoto Credit – Baptist Press – Courtesy of DeMoss News Pond

[Adapted from the Archives]

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

The Thursday before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was the awaited celebration of Passover. In this day, we have a picture of Jesus, in all his humanity, and in all his deity. All four of the Gospels written about Jesus’ life have an account of this day’s events (Matthew 26:17-75; Mark 14; Luke 22:7-65; John 13:1-18:27).

After sunset, the Jewish people would take the Passover meal together – as families usually. They would share the Seder and remember how God protected them during the days of their slavery in Egypt. Photo Credit: Seder Meal, Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr

When Jesus and his disciples gathered around this meal, there was not just looking back, but also a looking forward. The disciples still may not have understood that Jesus was hours away from dying. However, I’m sure they listened carefully to his teaching in those sacred moments together.

This particular Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday. Maundy means “commanded” and also can refer to the ceremonial washing of feet.  Jesus took upon himself to wash the dusty feet of his disciples, modeling for them his command to love one another (John 13:34-35).

After Jesus and his disciples finished their meal together, he would then enter the garden Gethsemane to pray. They were all with him, except Judas Iscariot, who stole away during the meal. He would bring Jesus’ enemies to trap him there in the garden. Jesus prayed long into the night. He wrestled with his heavenly Father over the need for him to die. “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup [of suffering and death] pass from me.” Then, settled in his obedience, “O my Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” [Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42]

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/Giorgio_Vasari_-_The_Garden_of_Gethsemane_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgPhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Sometime during that dark night of the soul, he turned his attention toward his disciples and all the rest of us, across the ages, who would follow him. His prayer to the Father, recorded in John 17, is exquisitely beautiful, especially in the context of this difficult night. [Take time to read it in full, but I’ve included a part of it below.]

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Then out of the darkness, Judas came to betray Jesus. He was leading a group of the religious leaders, along with a huge company of soldiers. Although Jesus’ disciples wanted to resist his arrest, Jesus refused their intervening and surrendered himself…not to the mob but to the will of the Father.

The betrayal was complete. His disciples fled (although those closest to him would soon follow). He would spend the rest of the night in the tormenting custody of his enemies. The countdown to the cross had begun in earnest. A countdown that actually began at the Fall of humanity, and, under the careful watch of God, our Father…a countdown toward restoring us back to Himself.

One more day…

YouTube video – Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn) by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

Holy Week – Day 5: Thursday’s Passover, Last Supper – Mary Fairchild

What Is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday 2015: The History Behind The Holy Thursday Before Easter – Also enjoy the beautiful Lent Meditations Slideshow at end of article.

Jesus Pray for His Disciples…and For Us – Ralph F. Wilson

Photo Credit: Speak Life UK

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 the 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.

Photo Credit: klove

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. A sacrifice wholly satisfying the wrath of God the Father. 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

YouTube Video – Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson

YouTube Video – Worthy Is the Lamb – Brooklyn Tabernacle

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

Experience Easter – From Genesis to Revelation – K-Love

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

The Wrath of God Was Satisfied: Wondrous Love in the Awful Cross – Jon Bloom – Desiring God

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

Holy Week Timeline Graphic