Category Archives: Holidays

Independence Day Reflection – You Say I Am Free – Lauren Daigle

Photo Credit: My God and My Dog

[Adapted from Archives]

Today, we Americans celebrate our Independence Day.

Food, fireworks, and freedom. That’s what it’s all about. Family, too, and/or friends gathered. It’s a big day around here.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: NeedPix, Martinique Le Prêcheur

In this early morning, I’m reflecting on freedom.

American Independence Day (4th of July) commemorates our declaration of freedom (July 4, 1776) from the rule of Britain. We declared our own freedom. On July 4, we celebrate the freedom we continue to have as Americans because of the many wars fought to hold onto or to obtain freedom.

How much more transforming when the Lord Himself declares us free!

Some time ago, we were in Dave’s family’s home church – Grace Church in Seaford, Delaware. One of their pastors was teaching a sermon series on Avoiding Colossal Mistakes. That Sunday’s sermon centered on the cross of Christ (podcast here).

During the worship service before the sermon, this lyric really penetrated my heart:

“You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free.”

When you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

As we celebrate our Independence Day, we have a far greater celebration in the cross of Christ. Apart from receiving His death for our sin, His righteousness for our own unrighteousness, we would be dead in our sins today. Still in bondage, enslaved.

We, in the US, have a dark history of slavery. No matter how deeply we are grieved by it, the stain of that great sin is forever a part of our nation’s fabric. Try as we may, we cannot wash that stain out.

Those who lived as slaves in this country, like those who are enslaved today through human trafficking, did not bring their bondage on themselves. It was/is a wrong done to them.

Many anti-trafficking organizations have a key strategy:

Reach, Rescue, & Restore

This is exactly what Jesus has done for us. In our sinful state, He reached out to us. He rescued us through the cross, and He restored us to Himself.

As we think about the freedom we have in Christ and the freedom we have as Americans, I pray we don’t forget our own bondage, or that of others – spiritual bondage, and for some…the physical bondage of being trafficked, forced into slavery even today.

We must reach. We must rescue. We must restore.

Worship with me, as we celebrate freedom, to the Lauren Daigle song “How Can It Be“:

I am guilty
Ashamed of what I’ve done, what I’ve become
These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy one

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be

I’ve been hiding
Afraid I’ve let You down, inside I doubt
That You could love me
But in Your eyes there’s only grace now

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be

Though I fall, You can make me new
From this death I will rise with You
Oh the grace reaching out for me
How can it be
How can it be

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be*

He himself [Jesus Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude. Colossians 2:6-7

*Lyrics & the Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be” performed by Lauren Daigle – Songwriters: Paul Mabury, Jason Ingram and Jeff Johnson

The Victory of the Cross – Chuck Smith Sermon Notes – Blue Letter Bible

Colossians 2:14-15 – Commentary – Precept Austin

Photo Credit: QuoteFancy

Independence Day in the USA – Celebrating the 4th of July and Remembering that Freedom is Not Free – Deb Mills

Conflicted Thoughts on Independence Day – Chris Turner

Sunday Reflection – Father’s Day & Fathering

https://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2007-Feb-Dave-Boys.jpg

[Adapted from the Archives]

We all have fathers – whether very present, present but distant, or long-time absent. Some of you may be fathers. Some of you may have wanted to be fathers but are not able to be…for whatever reasons.

This day of commemoration usually means a good meal and some sort of gifting or pampering for you dads. For all of you, with or without children, you can be influencers…and we need you. My biological father was absent long before my parents divorced.

Thankfully I have had a rich heritage of good fathers through the rest of my life – my step-dad, brothers, uncles, husband, father-in-law, son/son-in-law, brother-in-law, nephews, and loving, empowering male friends and colleagues. Most of these good fathers in my life were spiritual fathers…but fathers nonetheless.

The father of my own children used to travel with his work. He and I had a parting ritual. He runs through the “in case something happens” list [let me know if you want particulars of that – it is helpful to know]. Then, we did sort of a “Thanks for marrying me” farewell…and finally that wonderful, “If I don’t see you here, I’ll see you THERE.” When this man wasn’t present with us, he still was.

Fathering, like mothering, is not an easy job. So much dying to self. So much responsibility. What a delight for us when the men in our lives take fathering on their shoulders as they might a sleeping child. Surrendering themselves to the serving of those younger than them. I thank God for men who humble themselves in prayer for their children and who go to work every day to support their families. Working, studying, and life-long learning passed on to their children and others.

Photo Credit: Calvin & Hobbs from the blog of Kenneth Reeds

These dads are too-often taken for granted in the shadow of fathering that falls short. The absent, neglectful and downright abusive fathers cut wounds so deep that decent fathers are sometimes judged by the same measure. We watch for “the sins of the fathers to be revisited on their children” (Numbers 14:18).

Today, let’s reflect on the good fathers. Those who were present at our births, or those who came later in life to us, or those who father us out of their own great hearts. Imperfect, sure. All of us are. Yet, there are those men who go many more than second miles for us, and we are grateful. – Deb Mills

…and finally let’s live in hope that those fathers who struggle to be present or loving may one day gather themselves together, awaken to what was left behind, and reach out to the treasures they missed along the way…and may they find us within reach.

The Father I Never Knew on Father’s Day – Deb Mills Writer

Fathering – Celebrating Men Who Did It Well; Forgiving Men Who Didn’t – Deb Mills Writer

“As to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you.”Jonathan Edwards, his last words to his children, as he lay dying

Traveling Man – Somewhere Between Here, There, & Home – Deb Mills Writer

Blog - Father's Day - B. C. comic

Photo Credit: B. C. Comics

5 Friday Faves – Good Friday, Beyond the Guitar’s Rendition of Dune, How to Know a Person, Scruffy Hospitality, and Flowering Trees

Real fast. 5 Friday Faves.

1) Good Friday – Holy Week 2024 is coming to an end. Every day, I join many around the world reflecting on the events and meaning of each day of that last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Up through the crucifixion and onto Resurrection Sunday. You can read my countdown here.

“It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and it was his love for sinners like me.”D.A. Carson

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind – Hillsong (So Will I (100 Billion X)

Don’t leave until you watch and listen to Pastor S. M. Lockridge‘s powerful 3 1/2 minute oration below!

Or listen to Atlas Rhoads song He Cries with scenes from The Savior film.

2) Beyond the Guitar’s Dune – As usual, Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar captures the exquisite beauty of Hans Zimmer‘s compositions (this time, from the film Dune Part 2 soundtrack).

Here’s Nathan’s rendition on classical guitar. So moving!

3) How to Know a Person – How to really know a person? David Brooks’ book delves into that so practically. I hadn’t heard of this book until someone I follow on social media described it as a masterpiece. then I caught Brooks’ interview on The Next Big Idea podcast.

Photo Credit: David Brooks, Amazon

So far, I love everything I have heard and read about this book. A few quotes from the book follow:

“The real act of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete social actions well: disagreeing without poisoning the relationship; revealing vulnerability at the appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to end a conversation gracefully; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to let someone down without breaking their heart; knowing how to sit with someone who is suffering; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.”David Brooks, How to Know a Person

“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”David Brooks, How to Know a Person

“On social media you can have the illusion of social contact without having to perform the gestures that actually build trust, care, and affection. On social media, stimulation replaces intimacy. There is judgment everywhere and understanding nowhere.”David Brooks, How to Know a Person

“As the Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan has observed, what the eye sees more deeply the heart tends to love more tenderly.”David Brooks, How to Know a Person

Brooks offers story after story of human connections, the kind we all long for…and how they happen. With curiosity and care and a measure of intentionality. Get the book!

How to Know a Person by David Brooks – Review, Summary, Analysis & Facts – Mental Branch – excellent review!!

David Brooks: We Change People for the Better by Knowing Them More Fully – Justin Whitmel Earley – also super helpful!

4) Scruffy Hospitality – Hospitality follows along the same thinking as David Brooks’ book on knowing people. When we put out the welcome mat for folks, we gain as much as we give, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Photo Credit: Jason Lander, Flickr

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’” – Jack King

In Praise of ‘Scruffy Hospitality’ – Robin Shreeves

Families are embracing ‘scruffy hospitality’ — should you join the trend? – Rosie Colosi

Scruffy Hospitality – Poems of Lived-In Places – Sarah Ann Winn

What We Gain When We Forget That Scruffy Hospitality – Tara K. E. Brelinsky

I was reminded of this sort of hospitality when a neighbor dropped by recently without notice. I felt a bit embarrassed by the piles of books on my coffee table and the general messiness of the kitchen. I was cooking for a special occasion, and the counters were full of preps in progress. She wasn’t bothered by any of it, and we had a great visit.

Just today after a meal shared with extended family, we were sitting and talked, and I noticed how dusty the floor was in the afternoon sun – the areas that don’t get “swept up” by sock-clad feet. Sigh… Even as we were visiting, I pulled out the dust-mop and tidied up the floor. It didn’t bother our visitors, but it did me, once I saw it. Couldn’t unsee it.

The important thing is to keep inviting folks into your home, into your welcome. The condition of the house is secondary. There are too many folks out there eating alone because we want the comfort of our own homes without the work of making them presentable to others. Since COVID, also, we seem to have gotten out of the sweet habit of gathering, like we once did. Worth re-visiting.

5) Flowering Trees – We’re in Springtime here, and the flowering trees and bushes are giving us quite the show! I remember with great delight the fragrance of flowering Jasmine when we used to live in North Africa. For a brief time, the Viburnum bushes with new blossoms gives that same intoxicating smell. Everywhere you look right now, trees are like watercolor paintings with flowers popping and new leaves unfurling. Spectacular time of the year!

Viburnum

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So much more…but with this being a special week of celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah…will close here. Thanks for stopping by. It means so much.

Monday Morning Moment – Birthdays and Seasons – the Punctuation of Life

Photo Credit: ArborMaxTree

Hello, Dear Ones. As I write, Keith Jarrett‘s Shenandoah is playing in the background. Have a little sit with me, and let’s talk about birthdays and seasons. My birthday has just passed, and it was truly fine. Full of reflection of past years and wonder at the possibility of another calendar year added to my life.

Grateful.

Oh…there was a momentary pity party. A singular evening-long regret that I have not always stewarded friendships very well. Not sure that will be changing (sigh…) which then took me again to gratitude for the friends who have stuck with me through all these years. What treasures you are!

This birthday has unfolded…with cake, cards, family, and some of those faithful friends showing up anyway.

Life is such an amazing thing. In every season. As we get older, so many things change but our hearts don’t really age. We still long for closeness with those we love; we seek out purpose in our days; we pray to finish well. All the things.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

A few hours ago, I had birthday lunch with a dear friend who is coming up on her 80th birthday. We both lamented that if birthdays punctuate life, then those celebrations ahead could barely count into double digits. Those times with family. Those opportunities of looking back and ahead. This beautiful woman with a heart full of love wondered aloud if she was/is doing what she was supposed to do with her life. I am so glad she trusted me with that, because it was my joy to remind her of the huge ripple effect she has across so many lives. All the good quietly overflowing from this servant of a woman. Continually.

My heart is just encouraged thinking about her…and inspired by the possibility of living life well at 80.

Another friend gave me a beautiful photo calendar. Every page has a picture of this tall, proud maple tree in our yard. She had taken a picture of the tree through all the months of this year – in all its glory, in every season. If that maple tree could talk, it would not lament one season over another one, I don’t believe. Oh, it may remember most gladly the leafy summers or its deep red Fall foliage, but each season has its own sweetness, its own beauty.

As happens, I find, one experience flows into another, deepening the lessons we’re meant to learn. Facebook Memories today took me to a blog I read 10 years ago written by Amanda Hill. She wrote about “glory days” and reflected on seasons, using the example of the towering oak eventually ending up in bundles of firewood. Here are the last few paragraphs – so worth your read:

I am not good at letting go.  I hold onto old pictures and handprint wreaths and have all kinds of problems letting friends slip away through the years.  I want to hold onto them like warm blankets, safe and folded, loved and cared for, put away in a cedar chest.  I want to hold onto a better time or a better place when secrets were yet unearthed and I was an oak who protected.  I want to go back to a time when I didn’t believe anyone could really chop me down.

And yet sometimes we have to be stripped down to be built up again.  Ripped into bundles and packaged differently and oftentimes devalued in the world’s eyes to realize what our true worth is.  A piece of wood cannot again become a tree, but it can light a glorious blaze of sacrifice…

Photo Credit: PxHere

This is a worthy calling as great as a tree standing tall, for “we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

Don’t look backward. Let the past slip through your fingers like fine sifted sand, knowing that God will reshape, and reuse, and redirect into something magical. Your glory days are ahead.  Brilliant blazing bursts of light that will dance and spit and pop with fire.

Burn bright. It’s what you were born to do. Amanda Hill

I’ve embraced this birthday with peace and even joy. Thankful for the life that’s been given to me. All of it.

Every birthday. Every season. With still many adventures ahead.

Our kids grew up with “Calvin and Hobbes” (1985-1995) created by Bill Watterson. Last week, on the Facebook page Everything Calvin and Hobbes, an essay was posted detailing Calvin, as an old dying man having his last visit with his friend Hobbes. It reminded me once again of all the seasons, before children and after, and relationships that weave together to make this wonderful life in all its hard and good. Thank You, God.

Thanks also to any of you still reading this ramble. Wish you could come by to share the last piece of my birthday cake.

Photo Credit: Calvin and Hobbs, Facebook, Everything Calvin and Hobbs, Lizzie Friden

Monday Morning Moment – Advent – Celebrating the Coming of Christ

Advent means “coming”. We celebrate the coming of Christ, as Messiah, a helpless baby born of a virgin mother. God in arms. Miracle and mystery. Advent also commemorates the coming again of Christ in the last days. We look with hope to the day He will come again for His people, as Redeemer King.

Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for His coming – we light candles to remind us how Jesus’ birth brought light into a dark world. Celebrating Advent happens over the four Sundays before Christmas. The candles we light represent Christ’s gifts to us: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. A fifth candle is lit on Christmas Eve celebrating Jesus, the One who came for us.

[Our current favorites for this Advent]

What the practice of Advent does is to keep Christ central in all the busyness of Christmas.

Those Sunday advent worship gatherings lead us then to continue in the Word through each week, focused, in particular, on the wonder of God coming so near to us…humbling Himself to enter this human space as an infant…to awaken us to who He was and is and grasp what only He could fully bring to us.

In celebrating the joy and peace we have in Advent, anticipating Christ’s coming, we look to the blessing Paul wrote to the Roman church which, at the time, was enduring terrible suffering.

May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace, in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE. – Romans 15:13

Let’s rest in Christ’s beautiful word to us. Focusing on all the other stuff of Christmas can be exhausting…and sometimes unsatisfying. Keeping Christ as center is where we experience his hope, peace, joy and love.

This Christ who drew near to us in a humble creche and held nothing back from us, even in His death on a cross. Oh the love, the joy, the hope and peace, we have in Him. Hallelujah!

[Below are images of the Women’s Christmas Event, celebrating Advent, at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. We were surrounded by beauty and loving hospitality in this experience.]

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send Your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious about many things look forward to Your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of Your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To You we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen. – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Online Advent Readings/Studies

Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts – The Advent Project – a daily Advent offering of art, poetry, music, and devotional from Scripture

The Gospel Coalition – Advent Readings

Gospel in Life – Advent Devotional Readings

Kate Bowler – Bless the Advent We Actually Have

Justin Whitmel Earley – Advent Readings

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy – John Piper – pdf

[What are some of your favorite Advent resources? Please post in Comments for all of us reading.]

Worship Wednesday – Abide – Dwell Songs

Photo Credit: Pinterest

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5

In the South, where I’m from, the small-time farmer (gardener really) strives to have at least one of his vine tomatoes ripe and red by July 4. That first delicious, sun-warm tomato for the Independence Day burger or BLT.

Dave did it! Out of all the huge green tomatoes bowing the vines down, one turned red just in time for July 4. Along with several cherry and grape tomatoes. Yum!

The branches bearing the tomatoes are so heavy that they pull the vines over. So much so that they must be staked up to hold the weight. If the branch is severed from the vine, for whatever reason, the tomatoes rot. Without the nourishment from the vine, they die.

In John 15, the Apostle is quoting Jesus speaking on our relationship to Him. He is the vine and we are the branches. As we stay close to Him, He will do in our lives what we need – to be sustained ourselves and to bear His fruit…much fruit as we stay close. It is pretentious for us to think we are responsible for all the good that comes from our lives. Anything of lasting value, anything with eternal significance, is produced through abiding in Christ. Praise God for that…we stay close and He does wonders!

Photo Credit: Pinterest

I think of those branches straining under the weight of the ripening tomatoes. They may break. The vines themselves may not be able to withstand the growth depending on them.

Not so with us or our Savior. As we follow and trust Him, receiving all He has for us…as we cling to Him, we will receive what we need to endure under the beautiful burden of much fruit. He will not bend or bow. He will do what only He can do in the Father’s vineyard. He will give us what we need always – from the first breath of the morning and through our rest in sleep each night.

A devotional written by Marshall Segal that accompanied the release of the song says, “Jesus did not mean that we would be unable to walk or work or watch Netflix without Him. He meant that we would be unable to do anything real or meaningful or lasting – anything that pleases God. We might live for sixty, seventy, or even eighty years, and yet accomplish nothing, live for nothing, die with nothing. Most people do.”

We can make it through a full day without once acknowledging the Lord. We can do our jobs well, we can love our families well, and we can be kind to our neighbors. However, the fact is, whether we acknowledge it or not, it is only by the grace of God that we have a job in the first place. It is only by the grace of God that we have been blessed with a family. It is only by the grace of God that He has put a roof over our head and ordained great friendships with those whose paths have crossed ours.

Marshall Segal goes on to write in his devotional, Sometimes abiding in Christ will feel like dying with Christ. But anyone who dies with Christ – who abides in and obeys the crucified King – will also be exalted with him.” (Philippians 2:9-11; Ephesians 2:6)

We have all experienced some type of hardship in this life. We have all experienced or been near friends and loved ones that have walked through heartbreaking trials. Some of us are experiencing more suffering than others. In John 16:33 Jesus reminds us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”Chris Jamison

Take heart. It’s harvest time. Hold on to Christ. He will hold us fast!**

Worship with me.

For my waking breath
For my daily bread
I depend on You
I depend on You

For the sun to rise
For my sleep at night
I depend on You
Yes I depend on You

You’re the way the truth and the life
You’re the well that never runs dry
I’m the branch and You are the vine
Draw me close and teach me to abide

Where the Spirit leads
As I’m following
I depend on You
I depend on You

For the victories
Still in front of mе
I depend on You
I depеnd on You

You’re the way the truth and the life
You’re the well that will never run dry
I’m the branch and You are the vine
Draw me close and teach me to abide

Be my strength, my song in the night
Be my all, my treasure my prize
I am Yours, forever You’re mine
Draw me close and teach me to abide

When I pass through death
As I enter rest
I depend on You
I depend on You

For eternal life
To be raised with Christ
I depend on You
I depend on You *

*Lyrics to Abide – Songwriters: Aaron Keyes, Aaron Williams, Dee Wilson, & Jake Fauber

**YouTube Video – Keith & Kristyn Getty – He Will Hold Me Fast (Official Lyric Video)

Abide by Dwell Songs – Worship Song Analysis – Chris Jamison

Aaron Williams

What Is the Key to Bearing Fruit as a Christian? – Got Questions

Monday Morning Moment – No Going Back – a Bit of My Story

[As I write, it is the day before Independence Day in the US. The 4th of July. Parades, barbecues, gatherings of friends and family, and fireworks gloriously finishing off the day. Our fridge is filled with summer-sweet watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and chicken ready for the grill. Today is quiet and full of introspection. Here’s what’s on my mind.]

I wasn’t born into a Christian family. We weren’t in church until I was 7 or 8. My mom had a church experience as a child and was saved and baptized but had stopped attending church years before I was born. She would say she stopped seeking God somewhere along the way in a difficult marriage. Not sure at all whether my biological father had any sort of faith. To this day, I’m thankful for Christian neighbors who loved us and invited us into their church family.

When I was 9, during a summer Bible school week, the message of God’s love and His deliverance from our self-serving, sinful hearts was immensely beautiful to me. Even as a little girl, I had unsuccessfully tried my hardest to be good for my mama. She worked so hard to keep food on the table for us (with no help from anyone), and I didn’t want to add to her burden. Still, like I said, being good wasn’t always my path forward. Then hearing that God was not put off by that, and, in fact, had made a way for me to be covered by His own righteousness through Jesus…well, it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

This wasn’t just a tickling-the-ears sort of experience. Not just a relief-generating tale for troubled child. It resonated with my heart and mind. It sounded truer than anything I had known before. Understanding, even as a child, that God had made a way for me to be free of the burden of my sin was really good news.

Photo Credit: My God and My Dog

My pursuit of God actually followed His pursuit of me. He has never let go of me…even in seasons of my rebellion as a young adult. The shiny things of the world can be mesmerizing – popularity, higher education, professional favor, the stuff and experiences that work affords us.

In my 20s, I had a divided mind and allegiance. To some, it may not have seemed so, but I knew my own heart, and it was, for a time, lured back to old ways – a heart that could be both deceived and deceitful. However, by God’s grace, I did NOT stay in that place forever. He drew me back to Himself.

Reminded of the passage late in Jesus’ public ministry, when some of His followers fell away, He asked the apostle Peter if he would leave, too. Peter answered Him with the question that always brings me back to the reality of life: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is simply no one else…nowhere else to go. Period. Full-stop.

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Well…that’s a bit of my story. Your story may look very different from mine. Since my 30s, as winding as the path may be, or as imperfectly as I follow it…there is no going back.

As we celebrate our freedoms as a nation, freedoms hard-won by those who sacrificed their lives for our sake, I also celebrate the freedom won by Christ whose own ultimate sacrifice won us back to Himself. Hallelujah!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Independence Day in the USA – Celebrating the 4th of July and Remembering that Freedom is Not Free – Deb Mills

Independence Day Montage – Family, Food, Fireworks, and the American Flag – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Independence Day Reflection – You Say I Am Free – Lauren Daigle’s How Can It Be – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Steps Forward in “We the People” Becoming True for All Americans – Deb Mills

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

Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read the rest of Wax’s poem here.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Heartlight

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

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

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

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!

[Many of the links below are praise songs of various genres – as this year’s Holy Week closes, I hope you will take some time before the day ends to worship the Lord in the quiet of this great day. Hallelujah!]

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

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ by Sean Davis

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

*My Jesus – Alive! by Trevin Wax

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

Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter – Timothy Keller

Spotify Playlist – From Palm Sunday to Resurrection – Beth Wayland

ToGather: Time to Reclaim the Joy (April 4 2021) – Demetrius Collins & Phil Ware – This is a powerful Easter Sunday service via a pastor’s written message and great singing thanks to YouTube selections!

YouTube Video – Doxology – David Crowder

YouTube Video – Because He Lives – Matt Maher

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

YouTube video with lyrics – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

YouTube video with lyrics – Before the Throne of God AboveSelah

Story Behind the Song Before the Throne of God Above

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

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

YouTube Video – He’s Alive – Don Francisco

YouTube Video – Then Came the Morning – Guy Penrod

The Bridge Gospel Presentation

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

P.S. For the last time, all the days of Holy Week are described in my posts below, if you missed a day.

Photo Credit: Knox United Vancouver

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

Photo Credit: Fig Tree by Bob Orchard

Jesus and Holy Week – Monday, Day 2 – Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Cleanses the Temple

Photo Credit – slidesharecdn.com

Jesus and Holy Week – Tuesday, Day 3 – A Long Day Teaching & Countering Religious Opposition

Photo Credit: Baptist Press

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

Photo Credit – Baptist Press – Courtesy of DeMoss News Pond

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

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

Photo Credit: GoodFridayQuotes2015.com

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

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

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

Photo Credit: The Gospel Coalition

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

Monday Morning Moment – When Distress Messes with the Joy of Christmas

Is it writer’s block? Words have always been a friend to me, but they are hard-won in writing these days.

Christmas is a time of tremendous joy for me…deeper than happiness. Much deeper. For in the joy are such things as longing, grief, disappointment, anxiety. Most of the time, I can shake those off so as not to miss Christmas. Most of the time.

Here’s a tiny example. You may think it frivolous but it is reminiscent of something more. Our children grew up doing the nativity story as part of our Christmas traditions.

(Mills Christmas, December ’94)

It was fun and chaotic – never sure how it would turn out, but for several years, the kids just acquiesced to the direction of the grownups in their lives. Some of it, I’m pretty sure they even enjoyed. Fast forward to them now being adults who bring their children – our grandchildren – into the picture.

For a year or two, our grands have also been caught up in the wonder of the Baby, donning costumes, and waiting patiently (sorta kinda) for the narration to move them to the next point of action. Not all of them wanted to participate but they were close at hand to add to the drama of the moment. It was sweet.

This year…it didn’t happen. In an attempt to do the play earlier (taking some stress out of a Christmas time together), we experienced a great divide – two eager and willing older grandchildren dressed in Middle Eastern garb, and, at the same time, being brilliantly silly with their parts. So…looking the part but definitely not in character. The other two younger grands…just not interested; not even present in the room. Now, Christmas weekend is still a few days away with another family occasion planned, but I have no inclination to revisit this tradition. Maybe next year.

After giving up on the play, and rejoining the rest of the family, I asked the kids to pray for me. Somehow longings and expectations had clouded my mind, and joy was left trembling at the edges of my heart. Such a small thing (right?)…it revealed more than just a family tradition in transition. It revealed an idol of some sort – so small but effective, distorting the reality of this beautiful time of the year.

This morning, in front of the fire, I had the last Christmas cookie (there will probably be more, but I savored it as if it was my last), while reading Scott Sauls‘ great book Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen.

In the chapter “Honest Songs”, Sauls proposed the ordinariness of distressed feelings. He wrote how some of the Scripture writers laid out these “negative” emotions, along with their praises, before a God who understands and loves us through them, not in spite of them.

In referencing Ecclesiastes, Sauls writes: “Like a skilled songwriter or poet, Solomon made sure that was was genuinely inside of him also came out of him. [Herman] Melville likened Solomon to Jesus, whom the Bible also describes as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…The Suffering Servant [Jesus] fully embraces, and is careful not to diminish, dystopian stories as well as the happily-ever-after ones…He refuses to whitewash the darker parts of our history.”Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen

He goes on: “The Suffering Servant invites us, in our pain, to wipe disingenuous smiles off our faces and start living honestly concerning how damaged and hurt we feel…Jesus loves humans, and when the humans you love become injured or threatened, the natural and godlike response is to get angry and feel the swell of energy directed toward righting a wrong…There is a solidarity to suffering that we are meant to embrace, so that no one might suffer alone. Sharing in one another’s suffering binds us together in the deepest form of fellowship.”Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen

So what’s the connection between a situation of no Christmas play this year and the suffering of a grander scale? You probably already know. The play is not the point. It wasn’t about our darling grands meeting any expectations I might have…it was the larger story. How the play reminded me of sweet memories, and sad ones. Of parents no longer with us who I miss terribly. Of grown up children I want to pull in and keep close (they are close…but a mother’s heart seems never full…again a larger story). Of the account of Christ’s birth that is so magnificent and miraculous…and how He laid down his life, just a few years later, through death on a cross…for us. How do we communicate such grandeur to our little ones?

Our kids will figure it out…and we will support them.

So…how about you? My example probably seems so mundane. I could have shared heartache over a painful family rift. Or about a friend in a terribly troubled marriage, or one who lost both parents within weeks of each other, or another struggling with mental illness, or another praying her heart out for a grandson white-knuckling through early sobriety.

Distress messes with our joy. Let’s not let it isolate us…drawing us away from each other to suffer alone. Being real with people is complicated. “Real is unsettling, scary, even traumatic. Take the risk anyway and lean in. Leaning into lament is a necessary skill in the art of rejoicing…Almost every person is insecure and underencouraged. Almost no person wants to admit it…There is no shortcut past Good Friday to get to Easter. There is no joy without a sorrow, no rejoicing without mourning, no comfort without distress, no rest without weariness, no gain without loss, no songs of joy without songs of lament, no rejoicing from Philippians without the vapor from Ecclesiastes.” [Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen]

That day this weekend, when the Christmas play didn’t come together, my kids prayed for me. I don’t even think it seemed silly to them. [Dave was grilling our supper or he would have been right there in all that struggle with me.] Distress happens, and when it does, call on those who care for you to come alongside…for comfort and for joy.

Worship Wednesday – The Wonder of God – “So Will I” – Hillsong Worship

[Adapted from the Archives]

Photo Credit: Cedar Ridge Community Church

Christmas time is full of wonder…of a mystery of Jesus’ coming, not just as a man but, as a baby. God drawing near to us, in love and long-suffering. Immanuel – God with us. What a wonder!

Several years ago, I spoke at a homeschooling conference on the role we as parents have in modeling wonder and training worship. Our children are born with this huge sense of wonder, and then as the years go by, it can be dampened by the harder things (or people) in our lives. However, we, as adults, can model our own grown-up wonder. What follows, then, as we remind our children the source of the wonder…is worship.

In preparing for the conference, I was reminded of the apostle Peter’s exclamation below…his own wonder at a question Jesus asked. At that time in Jesus’ ministry on earth, some of his followers fell away. He then asked his closest followers if they would leave him (John 6:67-69):

“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

 Where would we go? There’s nowhere…no one…like the Lord. The Creator and Sustainer of this beautiful world…

“When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place— What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings; You crowned him with glory and honor.”Psalm 8:3-5

“Even the darkness is not dark to You, but the night shines like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.” Psalm 139:12-14

“So if you cannot do such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow: they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!”Luke 12:26-28

In thinking of how, as parents, we might protect and nurture our children’s sense of wonder, we rouse up our own sense of wonder.

Why We Must Protect and Nurture Our Children’s Sense of Wonder – Linda Akeson McGurk

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement…I should ask that [a] gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life. If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

What happens to our wonder? How do we pass it along, or keep it flourishing in our kiddos?

It’s helpful to spend a bit of time in reflection on some of what causes us to wonder:

  • Babies. Full-stop.
  • Cracking open a perfectly ripe watermelon – the color, how it smells, how it tastes.
  • Flowers coming from the tiniest of seeds (Dave has gardened in 4 different countries – pots on balconies when necessary).
  • The sky, night or day, and the vastness of space.
  • The water lines on the mountains of the Sinai Desert – no other way they could get there but a world-wide flood.
  • Forgiveness.
  • The wonder of sleep – lights out & alone with our thoughts & God; also sleep interrupted from anxiety but then the wonder of waking in the morning after miraculously falling back to sleep.
  • God’s answering Mom’s prayer – preferring for Him to be glorified in her cancer more than being healed from it, this side of Heaven.
  • The wonder of a virgin birth, of obedience even in death, of a resurrection.
  • the wonder of loving God – and that we are heard, known, understood, and forever received…by Him.

“Does the resurrection mean anything for your life now? Oh my, yes. [Because Jesus is the one bringing the kingdom of God – “shalom – complete healing of all the relationships in creation. We will be reconciled to God; to nature; to one another; and to ourselves…This broken world is not the only world we’re ever going to have…In the resurrection life we will dance perfectly, know perfect love, full satisfaction. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear”.Timothy Keller, Jesus the King

If we aren’t careful we falter in our wonder because of the seeming weight of our responsibilities or the distraction of our differences one with another. God never meant it to be this way.

“In a world full of pragmatic ‘older brothers’ it is easy, even in church, to forget the love that wants to stream between us. Instead we allow our heads and backs to bend under the weight of all that needs to be put right.Teresa McCaffery

“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. –  C. S. Lewis

This is just a taste of the wonder we will know in Heaven…and what is our response to the wonder that surrounds us…the marvel of God Himself reflected in this world…and in His image-bearers? Gratefulness.

Photo Credit: Alan Chen, Good Free Photos

Gratefulness flows out of wonder and moves us to worship. We parents model wonder for our children & train them to turn their hearts in worship toward God…at Christmas and every “ordinary” day.

Worship with me in wonder as these days unfold toward Christmas – to Hillsong Worship‘s So Will I:

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind*

“Lord, what a world you’ve given us! Our senses are full of the wonder of Your creation. Even more than that, the wonder of You. How You love us is beyond our understanding or comprehension. Your provision for our lives…the people You have brought close to love and to be loved by. The work You have given us…we are so privileged. Life eternal and abundant that we have both here and in the Hereafter. We are amazed, Oh God. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

*Lyrics to So Will I – Songwriters: Joel Houston Benjamin Hastings & Michael Fatkin

YouTube Video – (Star of Wonder) We Three Kings by The Roches

5 Friday Faves – Fortnite Revisited on Classical Guitar, Spring Rain, Habits of Love, Andy Crouch on Shame, and Wonder – Deb Mills Writer

Father, thank You for sending Jesus,
our rescuer, redeemer, and hope.
Fill my mind with wonder and awe
at the deep truths of Christmas.
Help me to celebrate and share the
good news of Your grace with others
whom you bring across my path.C. S. Lewis Institute, Advent Prayer