Category Archives: Gospel

Worship Wednesday – Grace Got You – MercyMe featuring John Reuben

Photo Credit: Heartlight

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.Ephesians 1:7

It’s feeling like Fall around here. As I climbed into the car from an appointment, the temperature was upper 70s, low humidity, and breezy. Turning on the engine, this sweet MercyMe song was mid-play and immediately got me moving to the music. Drumming on the steering wheel. Singing like a rock star…well, like I didn’t care who was listening.

MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard said this about the song: “Grace Got You is just a song that makes me smile. The whole idea that once you realize that God’s grace has you…no matter what comes your way, you can live your life as if you’ve already read the last page of the book and know how the whole thing turns out. Our eternity is set! On your worst day, Christ is OK with you. He adores you. He’s pleased with you. How is that possible? No clue, but it is. That’s the most amazing news of all!”

How that’s possible is because of what Jesus did for us…what God the Father did in Him and through Him.

We talk a lot about grace. Years ago I learned this acronym for grace: God’s riches (or redemption) at Christ’s expense. Grace.

Behind the grace that Millard and MercyMe sing about is the mercy and justice of a righteous and holy God. We are sinful people and have no way to stand before God except that our sins are cancelled out. Only One without sin can pay for our sin. Jesus is that One.

We can’t truly bask in the great grace that comes to us through faith unless…until…we stare into the abyss of the sin that separates us from God. Apart from Christ.

Christ satisfied the justice and judgement of God. We are made clean through what Jesus did on the cross for us. Clean. Pure.

https://thebibleproject.com/explore/justice/

In this world we will still struggle with sin, but His grace helps us to reckon with it for what it is, and cling to Him and His promises that His sacrifice was enough. Enough.

That truth should fill us with such joy…we might dance in the streets…or at least in our cars.

As we celebrate and rejoice before God, as David and the Israelites did (2 Samuel 6), we pass on the inheritance of our faith to generations yet to come.

When our lives are touched by the love of God, His grace flows into this world through the channel of our love, healing it, straightening its twistedness, mending its brokenness, and enlightening its darkness. That is the celebration of the Christian life – to touch the lives of others and so invite them to experience the blessings of God.

Let us express God’s praise in every breath we take. Let us be a people who celebrate the goodness of God.

May God’s Spirit enable us to be free in our celebration of Him who saves us, and who dwells in our midst.”Ferdinand Funk

Photo Credit: YouTube

Worship with me.

Have you ever met those who
Keep humming when the song’s through?
It’s like
They’re living life to a whole different tune
And have you ever met those that
Keep hoping when it’s hopeless
It’s like
They figured out what the rest haven’t yet

The second when you realize
What you have inside
It’s only just a matter of time… ’til you

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you

So when you’re standing in the rain again
You might as well be dancing
Why? Cause there ain’t no storm that can change how this ends
So next time when you feel blue
Don’t let that smile leave you
Why? Cause you have every reason just to

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Grace got you

[John Reuben:]
Got away with something, bubbling inside of you
Spilling over cause your life is full, how incredible
Undeniable, monumental like the Eiffel
Uncontrollable, let the joy flow through – ha ha
Giddy oh but pretty pretty please
Let me see your hands in the air with you out your seats
Warm it up, let go, shout it out, celebrate
When you can’t articulate just say Amazing Grace

The second when you realize
What you have inside
It’s only just a matter of (only just a matter of)
It’s only just a matter of time… ’til you

Sing, so the back row hears you
Glide, cause walking just won’t do
Dance, you don’t have to know how to
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Laugh, ’til your whole side’s hurting
Smile like you just got away with something
Why? Cause you just got away with something
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Ever since, ever since Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Yeah yea yea yea yea yea
Grace got you*

*Lyrics to Grace Got You – Songwriters: MercyMe, David Garcia, John Reuben, Ben Glover, and Solomon Olds

YouTube Video – Grace Got You – Story Behind the Song

Worship Wednesday – We Must Go – Justice of God – Tim Hughes

Photo Credit: Heartlight

He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

For several weeks now, I’ve been reading the Scripture with God’s justice on my heart. It’s strange how I missed that in the past…sort of read over it. Struggled with it, so just chose (without thinking) to ignore it. In thinking about salvation, I had made it a matter of mercy rather than justice. My sins had separated me from God. Apart from relying on what Jesus did for me, those sins would have forever separated me from a holy God. What God did on the cross was justice… and mercy. Jesus who was without sin took my sin, all of it, upon Himself. Because of him, before God, I am justified. “Just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. Because of him, I can now live forever knowing God and being with Him…forever. It is an incredible reality this justice and mercy woven together.

God says something like this: Because I have saved you from Egypt, you should live like people who have been saved from Egypt. In the New Testament, Paul teaches the same way. He says that Christians are ‘dead to sin.’ Because they are ‘dead to sin,’ they should live like people who are dead to sin by putting sin to death (Rom 6:1-11). What God has done for us is the basis of what He commands us to do. The basic command is: Be the kind of people that the Lord has made you; live up to who you are. [Peter J. Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000), 79]

Micah 6:8 gives us direction on what God calls us to be and to do – He has given us so much – forgiveness of sins, abundant and eternal life, a right relationship with Him and the possibility of the same with each other, and work on this side of Heaven to point others to Him.

What does that look like? Micah 6:8 – Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. He calls His people to be like Him and to be His image-bearers in this world. To “be the kind of people that the Lord has made [us]; live up to who [we] are.”

How different our world might be if we as individual believers and the church at large walked humbly with God, acted justly toward others and loved mercy?

British songwriter/worship leader Tim Hughes has given us some great worship songs, including Here I Am to Worship. His call to justice and the God of Justice in the song below was new to me until this week.

Let’s worship together.

God of Justice, Saviour to all
Came to rescue the weak and the poor
Chose to serve and not be served

Jesus, You have called us
Freely we’ve received
Now freely we will give

We must go live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go

To act justly everyday
Loving mercy in every way
Walking humbly before You God

You have shown us, what You require
Freely we’ve received
Now freely we will give

We must go live to feed the hungry

Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go

Fill us up and send us out
Fill us up and send us out
Fill us up and send us out Lord (x4)

Acting humbly
Loving mercy
We must go, we must go
To the broken
And the hurting
We must go, we must go

We must go live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go*

Whatever the “go” means for our lives each day, it can’t just be out of duty or self-interest. We go in obedience to God, and out of a deep love and gratitude. Oh Lord, thank You, that we can know you, and love others because You love them.

Let’s pray:
O God, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to call on you.
Hear us now as we turn to you.

We pray that you will help us truly be your church by seeking to serve
those who are little, last, least and left behind.

We pray for our world in which many starve and struggle to survive
while others have far, far more than they need.

We pray for our nation and our leaders, that the cries of injustice
will be heard above the clamor of corporations,
the needs of the vulnerable will come before the desires of the lobbyists,
the priorities of the poor will come before the positions of the powerful.

We pray for our communities, that we move from complacency to caring and action.
We pray for ourselves, for the courage to care when discouragement overtakes us,
for the energy to act for justice when day-to-day demands occupy us.

Ever present God, you have heard our prayers in the silence of our hearts and you hear us now.
We confess that we have dulled our ears to the cries of all who are hungry.
We confess that we have hardened our hearts to the plight of millions
living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

We confess that we have dimmed our hopes for a more just world
and our ability to make a difference.

Sharpen our ears we pray, to hear the voices of injustice and your call to us.
Sharpen our hearts to show compassion to all who are struggling.
Raise our hopes for how we can help bend the arc toward justice
and work for the world that you intend. 

These things we ask in the name of Jesus who sided with the poor
and reflected your intentions for the reign of God.
Amen.

Prayer adapted from “How Long Must I Cry for Help Bending the Arc for God’s Vision of Justice for Children” Children’s Sabbath, Children’s Defense Fund

*Lyrics to God of Justice/We Must Go – written by Tim Hughes

What Does It Mean to Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly (Micah 6:8)?

The Politics of Confrontation and Promise – Micah 6:1-8 – Benjamin Kautzer

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

Photo Credit: My God and My Dog

This week 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: PixabayPhoto Credit: NeedPix, Martinique Le Prêcheur

Today 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 freedom.

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

On Sunday, we were in Dave’s family’s home church – Grace Church in Seaford, Delaware. Their pastor is teaching a sermon series on Avoiding Colossal Mistakes. This 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

Worship Wednesday – Scandal of Grace – Hillsong United

Photo Credit: SlidePlayer

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift–not from works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.Romans 1:16

Recently I was in a conversation with someone very dear to me. Our conversation turned to spiritual things and I confided to him how I can’t but believe God as His word because He has been completely faithful in all His word and deeds toward me.

He drew back from the stream of conversation, and said, “Well, it’s your choice to believe that way.”

My heart was broken in a couple of places at his response. How could we not know each other so well, and yet he didn’t see in me the transformation that Jesus made in my life, on a daily basis, over the years we’ve been close? On his part, how could he actually think it is a mere choice to believe God…like we might believe in luck or fate or fairies?

You see, I’ve known from early childhood that my heart was messed-up. That sin was as much a part of me as breathing. We started going to church when I was 6 or so, That was when I heard for the first time about Jesus…this historical Jesus. The God-man who lived a sinless life, in obedience to his Father God. The only one who could take our sin upon himself, thus restoring us to God the Father, if we receive His substitute for us. The one who would die, that we might live. Savior. Redeemer. Lord.

The Atonement of Jesus: Why the God-Man – R. C. Sproul

This past Sunday at our church, the worship team led us in a song that was new to me. It was Hillsong United‘s Scandal of Grace. What an odd title, I thought at the time. Then the lyrics on the screen burned right through to my heart.

Jesus’ death on the cross – the only truly righteous one dying for sinners – is something I wholly embrace and yet don’t understand how or why.

The scandal in this is two-fold. 1) Jesus, the perfect one, one of three in unity in the Trinity, the God of the universe…had to die for sinners. What a scandal of grace. He was the only one who could restore us to the Father…and he took it upon himself to make that happen. 2) Our scandalous sin that required his sacrifice for us is “treason” against holy God. Yet, we treat our sin like it is nothing. Like we aren’t so bad. That we measure ourselves against each other… thinking we have the capability of measuring rightly. That is scandal.

Jesus doesn’t require us to measure ourselves against his own life. If he did, we would realize the absolute futility of our trying to live our lives based on our own goodness. Praise God, He doesn’t require that of us as we take on his righteousness through receiving his forgiveness for our sins.

We should be shouting this to the rooftops!

“So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher, and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.2 Timothy 1:8-12

I am not ashamed of Jesus… but related to the conversation above, I don’t express clearly with my words or deeds how very needy I am for a Savior and how eternally grateful I am for him. I could make no other choice. Once the scales fell from my eyes at my own sinful condition, even as a child, I received his salvation, and continue to do so every day of my life. Humbled. Grateful. Joyful.Photo Credit: Dave Jeffers, Salt and Light Blog

More than ever, I hope it shows…

Worship with me. He is more than worthy of our worship.

Grace, what have You done?
Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong
My sin washed away in Your blood

Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place
So my soul will live

Oh to be like You
Give all I have just to know You
Jesus, there’s no one besides You
Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?
Your power is as dead as my sin
The cross has taught me to live
And mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come
I know that Your strength is enough
The scandal of grace, You died in my place
So my soul will live

Oh to be like You
Give all I have just to know You
Jesus, there’s no one besides You
Forever the hope in my heart
[x2]

And it’s all, because of You, Jesus
It’s all, because of You, Jesus
It’s all, because of Your love that my soul will live

Oh to be like You
Give all I have just to know You
Jesus, there’s no one besides You
Forever the hope in my heart.*

*Lyrics to Scandal of Grace – Songwriters: Joel Houston & Matt Crocker

The Scandal of Grace – Dave Jeffers (Blog/Bible Study)

The Scandal of Grace – Understanding This Changes Everything – SlidePlayer

YouTube Video – Scandal of Grace – Song Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship with me:

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

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

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

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

*Lyrics to Revelation Song written by Jennie Lee Riddle

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

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

Holy Week – Day 4: Silent Wednesday – Mary Fairchild

How is Jesus the Lamb of God?

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

Holy Week Timeline Graphic

Worship Wednesday – God With us – MercyMe

Photo Credit: ASU Now

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.Psalm 96:11

“If I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones, and I become weary of holding it in, and I cannot prevail.” – the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:9

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”Luke 19:38-40

But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God. For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heart.”Acts 4:20

The Scripture speaks over and over again about how God is always present with us. Always present. How do we respond to such a phenomenal truth? The accounts in the Bible resonate our own experiences – we are moved to worship this amazing ever-present God and we are loosed in speaking of His greatness. We can’t but speak.

“He is here. Right now. Fully, completely. He is in you, around you, with you, over you, about you, for you, on time, in the middle of, surrounding you and the ones you love, in complete power, communicating as clearly as any time in history, doing perfectly to you, for you, by you, thinking about you every moment, walking directly into the middle of your worst day, your worst moment, your worst fear, your pain, your loneliness, your doubts, your insecurity, your sickness, your tragedy, your fragileness, your hope, your joy, your peace, your dreams, your relationships, your love, your longing to have your life count. He is here. He is champion and author of every beauty you find yourself longing for. He is the one who stands over you in the darkest hour. He is lifting you up, when you are too exhausted, too devastated, too hopeless, too failed, too compromised, too far gone. He is in this season.” – John Lynch

Immanuel by John Lynch – Mundane Faithfulness

In Genesis 37-50, we marvel at the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph – sold into slavery by his own brothers, wrongly imprisoned, and then… forgotten? No. Not forgotten. Not by God.

Joseph lived as a slave and a prisoner for a total of 13 years. Always faithful to a very present God. Then in a providential, “for such a time as this” moment, the Lord brought him out and he was placed in the highest position of authority under Pharoah. It would be another 9 years before he would see his brothers again, but when he did, he would be able to come to their aid, and that of all the peoples of that day.

We are moved by the God who is always present with us. We are riveted by what we find in the Scriptures about how He works in the smallest details to bring about our good and His glory (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Then we are taken to our knees when we see Him do the same in our lives today.

“God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”Jonathan Edwards

We can do nothing less than worship. It is our complete joy to do so. Out of that worship, we understand God and His purposes more, and we rejoice. It becomes a joy to walk with Him wherever He takes us…right?Photo Credit: Media Shout

[We all have times when we feel alone…that no one cares; that we are invisible. Truth is…that is not true no matter how real it feels. Hold on to the “each others” that God brings to you…hold onto Him.]

MercyMe with lead singer/songwriter Bart Millard has delivered two of my favorite contemporary worship songs: I Can Only Imagine and Even If. This song God With Us reminds us of His loving constancy in our lives. It also reveals how it is that we can’t help but lift our voices about Him and raise our hands because of Him. He is with us!

Worship with me.

Who are we
That You would be mindful of us
What do You see
That’s worth looking our way

We are free
In ways that we never should be
Sweet release
From the grip of these chains

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS
All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel . God with us

My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid these chains are gone
Emmanuel . God with us

Lord . You know
Our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show
A love we cannot afford

Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

CHORUS

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay it at your feet

Such a tiny offering
Compared to Calvary
But nevertheless
We lay this at your feet

CHORUS

O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

     He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.                      –   Psalm 103:1-5, The Message

*Lyrics to God With Us – Songwriters: James Philip Bryson, Nathan Fay Cochran, Barry Earn Graul, Bart Marshall Millard, Michael John Scheuchzer, Robin Troy Shaffer

Story Behind the Song God With Us – Kevin Davis

The Place of Preaching in Worship – John Piper

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

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

[Adapted from the Archives]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Resource Guide – Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Monday Morning Moment – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Where Are We Now?

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Recently, flying back to Richmond, the inflight entertainment included the Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman. The film is based on the Ron Stallworth book written about his experience (in 1979) as an undercover policeman investigating a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington and Adam Driver are the lead actors in the film. The movie trailer was funny and won the film a place on my “gotta see” list.

It was definitely entertaining, but more serious than funny. As well as deeply thought-provoking. Spike Lee highlighted Civil War images, lynchings and other Jim Crow era horrors, Civil Rights era leaders, as well as real-life footage from the more recent Charlottesville riots.

To think that Ku Klux Klan membership (along with other racist groups) could be on the rise again gives pause. Full. Stop. Pause.

This social disease…racism…is not the fault of one man, one government administration, one political party. Minister and social activitist, Martin Luther King, Jr. called racism a moral issue, a sin problem, an evil of our society. None of us are immune to it or the hatred that both births racism and is borne out of it.Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery, Alpha Stock Images

He was murdered for his non-violent stand for people and against racism…or was he murdered simply because he was a black man?

Fast forward 50+ years, and we are still struggling with the real societal ill of racism. Fortunately, we also have voices like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stirring us to act in truth and in love. One of those voices in my life is that of a young local minister, Rayshawn Graves.

Some time ago, Rayshawn preached out of Ephesians 2:11-16 on the reconciling of Jewish and Gentile believers. He also preached on Galatians 2:11-16 on how racism can creep into even the most devout believers if we aren’t careful. My takeaways from his sermon follow:

  • Racism is a sin which will always be present. It separates and isolates us from God and each other.
  • Jesus died for that sin as for all other sins.
  • Through Him, we can have the guilt of that sin removed. We can all be free to live in unity with God and each other.
  • Our identity in Christ is above every other identity we may have.
  • We don’t have to live out guilt (as whites) or the hurt of racism (as blacks). We belong to Christ and we are called to live that out – loving God, loving others, making every effort to keep and preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
  • We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) – within the church and with marginalized peoples especially. Unless we come close to each other, and have heart conversations, how will we know what those burdens are?
  • Because our identity is in Christ, and we love Him and want to be like Him, we make a habit of being proactive in pursuing reconciliation.

You can listen to Rayshawn’s sermon in entirety here. So helpful.

Martin Luther King, Jr. preached to the church on racism but he also spoke to the world.

I take hope in Dr. King’s words…and in those of today’s influencers like Rayshawn.

In closing, excerpted below are just a few of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observations on what was happening in his day. He wrote these to a group of white pastors who had expressed concern about his actions.  He wrote from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for nonviolent demonstrations against segregation.

[Bold emphases are mine. Read his letter in its entirety here.]

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…
I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”  Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love?

“For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that. I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there are times when you must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but you must do it because it is right.Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s Letter

Photo Credit: Slate, Patheos

Monday Morning Moment – On Being White in a #BlackLivesMatter America – in Remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. – Deb Mills Writer

Don’t Just Blame the Cops: Who Is responsible for America’s Killing Fields? – John W. Whitehead – Huffington Post

Racial Reconciliation and National Covenant – Gerald McDermott

YouTube Video – If Someone Doesn’t Understand Privilege, Watch This

YouTube Video – A Biblical Response on Race – Sermon by Tony Evans

Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist – Daniel Kleven

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Photo Credit: The National Lynching Memorial

Worship Wednesday – More Than You Think I Am – Danny Gokey

Photo Credit: Pinterest

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

You reveal the path of life to me;
in Your presence is abundant joy;
at Your right hand are eternal pleasures.Psalm 16:11

Knowing Jesus is the most life-changing, transformative experience of my whole life.

He is thought of as a religion, when, in fact, He is all relationship. We throw up this religion thing like a wall around Him. He loves us and desires for us to know Him as fully as it is possible for us as broken and flawed humans. He removes the barriers between us.

Jesus…do you know Him?

Singer/song-writer Danny Gokey raises an anthem on who Jesus is in the song More Than You Think I Am. It’s written in first-person as if Jesus Himself is speaking to us.

The lyrics call to mind so many verses in Scripture that describe the heart of God that we see in Jesus.

Worship with me.

You always think I’m somewhere on a mountain top
But never think behind bars (Psalm 139:7-8)
You’d be amazed the places that I’d go to be with you (Romans 8:38-39)
Where you are
So forget what you’ve heard
What you think that you know
There’s a lot about me
That’s never been told (John 21:25)
I’m more than you dreamed
More than you understand
Your days and your times
Were destined for our dance (Psalm 31:15)
I catch all your tears (Psalm 56:8)
Burn your name on my heart
Be still and trust my plan (Psalm 46:10)
I’m more than you think I am (am, am, oh)
More than you think I am (am, am, oh)
Rumor has it there’s a gavel in my hand [Jesus is our righteous judge, and he has already taken our sin on Himself. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8]
I’m only here to condemn (Romans 8:1-2)
But let me tell you secrets you would’ve never known
I think of you as my best friend (John 15:15)
So much has been said
Even doubted my name
But I’m showing you now
Who I really am
I’m more than you dreamed
More than you understand
Your days and your times
Were destined for our dance
I catch all your tears
Burn your name on my heart
Be still and trust my plan
I’m more than you think I am (am, am, oh)
More than you think I am (am, am, oh)
Let me open your eyes to see the heart of me, differently, oh
Come closer than you’ve ever been
Let me in like never before (Revelation 3:20)
Bring me every broken part
The wounds and scars of who you are
And hide in me and you will see (Psalm 27:5)
I’m more than you dreamed
More than you understand
Your days and your times
Were destined for our dance
I catch all your tears
Burn your name on my heart
Be still and trust my plan
I’m more than you think I am (am, am, oh)
I’m more than you think I am (am, am, oh)
More than you think I am (oh, oh, oh, oh)
More than you think I am
I’m more than you think I am*
That song calls for a response, right?
The three songs below are all responses we could offer…or just a prayer lifted to the God of this universe who came so close to us in His Son, the Savior Jesus.
Do you know Jesus? Oh, I hope so.

YouTube Video – More Than You Think I Am – Danny Gokey – Live at K-Love

YouTube Video – That’s My King – Dr. S. M. Lockridge – don’t miss this!

The Four Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Yourself – Speech by Dr. S. M. Lockridge – That’s My King Sermon – Brian Cimins

Monday Morning Moment – Christmas Eve – Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa

[Adapted from the Archives]

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:5-8

There are words, it seems, we can’t use any more in polite company – words that have changed as culture changes and have been altered, perverted, in the common language. I have happened on such words by using them and then being gently corrected by my 20-something-young friends. “That word doesn’t mean what you think anymore.”

Condescension seems to be one of those words. In today’s usage, it  has come to mean “an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain”. Merriam-Webster has retained some of the fuller meaning of the word: voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.

At Movement Church, Pastor Cliff has spoken on it and our worship team led us in singing Matt Papa‘s Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (lyrics follow below). Afterward, we had this lively conversation on whether referring to God as condescending was correct or not.

Oh yes…in the fullest sense of that word!

Hang in there with me as I take you through a quick study of the word…with the help of others much smarter than I am.

“God is condescending. It’s true. However, the problem is not that God is condescending, but that most people have no idea what condescending really means, nor why it should be a good thing that God has such an attitude.

If you were paying attention during high school English class, you know that there are actually two definitions for every word. One is the denotation, which is what the word actually means. The other is the connotation, which is the way the word is usually used in popular conversation. Condescension has a pretty bad connotation; it’s usually used to refer to someone who thinks they’re better than you are, and talks down to you as if coming down to your level is a major chore for them.

The denotation, however, is quite different. The word itself merely means “to come down [descend] together.” The prefix “con-” means “together with.”

If you split the word up and look at its parts, “to descend with,” you actually get a pretty good idea of what God’s interaction with humanity is all about. While it might be offensive for me to act as if I was in any way superior to my fellow humans, it would be silly for God to pretend that he was not superior to us in every single way.

Descending to our level is the only way he could possibly have a relationship with us at all. There is certainly no way that we humans, imperfect as we are, could otherwise ascend to his level. Unless God comes down to our level, we’re stuck with this gigantic gap between God’s holy perfection and our miserable imperfection.” – Jim Barringer

“Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.” – Charles Spurgeon

“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension.”Jonathan Edwards

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Condescension, when applied to Redeemer God, is a word that must be reclaimed from the common vernacular of this culture. God, in sending His son, did not just descend. He condescended…He came down to be with us. He came as close as it was possible for a holy God to come to His people…bridging the great gap we could not bridge in our own helpless estate. He came down to be with us.

Thank You, God, for your glorious transcendent condescension. We are forever changed.

Worship with me to Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery“.

Come behold the wondrous mystery in the dawning of the King,
He, the theme of heaven’s praises, robed in frail humanity.
In our longing, in our darkness, now the light of life has come;
Look to Christ, who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: He the perfect Son of Man,
In His living, in His suffering, never trace nor stain of sin
See the true and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man,
Christ, the great and sure fulfillment of the law, in Him we stand.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: Christ the Lord upon the tree;
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.
See the price of our redemption; see the Father’s plan unfold,
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold!

Come behold the wondrous mystery: slain by death, the God of life;
But no grave could e’er restrain Him, praise the Lord, He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance; how unwavering our hope:
Christ in power resurrected, as we will be when he comes.*

Explore God – Is Jesus really God?

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, and Matt Papa

God Condescends – Charles Spurgeon

Jonathan Edwards: The Infinite Highness and Condescension of Christ

God Is Condescending by Jim Barringer

Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent

The Condescension of our Transcendent God by Lee Tankersley

The Condescending God?

Does Condescend-Condescension Always Have a Negative Connotation?

Lady Catherine’s Condescension

*Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery: Hymn Wednesday

“In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us”*