Category Archives: Gospel

Worship Wednesday – Lay Down Your Burdens – David Crowder

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens CrowderJesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29

The decade of my 20s is littered with the debris of a searching, self-centered life. Even as a follower of Christ, the world drew me like a powerful magnet. I was lured by the arguments of those critical of God, the church, and Christianity. After years of standing one foot in the world and one foot in the church, I woke up.

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

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

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

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

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 8 - bpnews.net

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

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

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

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

Worship with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 9 - bpnews.net

Blog - Lay Down Your Burdens 7 - bpnews.net

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

YouTube Video – Come As You Are by Crowder Lyric Video

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

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

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

Photo Credits: Crowdermusic.com and BPNews.net

Nepal Earthquake – Disaster Response, Faith-based Organizations, & Love in Action

Blog - Nepal

Jesus teaching: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;  naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” – Matthew 25:34-36

The news this weekend of Nepal’s devastating earthquake was heartbreaking. Thousands dead; tens of thousands losing family and friends, many injured, without shelter. Nearly a million children affected. Just hearing the news and seeing the images, in the aftermath, we are compelled to pray for the Nepali people and to give toward care of the survivors. Many will even travel internationally to add hands to the on-the-ground efforts.Blog - Nepal 3

In the face of tremendous need, I am thankful for the resilience of the Nepali people as they respond to the needs of their neighbors so woefully impacted by this natural disaster. It is also gratifying to see all the governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cooperating together for the sake of these people reeling from their losses.  They are the ones that matter right now. These survivors.

This is why I was dumbfounded by the venomous attacks on faith-based organizations that started shortly after the earthquake. Twitter and other social media were peppered with angry charges against relief agencies whose motives were questioned by these individuals. I won’t mention the hash-tagged slur not wanting to fuel this fire any further. After such a catastrophic event, any who really care for the Nepali people would want help coming from any source possible.

We were living in Morocco  when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook the northern coast on February 24, 2004. It was my first close-up experience of such a disaster.  We didn’t live close but we had friends with families in that area. There were over 600 killed, over 1000 injured, 2500+ families were displaced when their homes were destroyed, and over 10,000 more homes in the area were damaged. Although not as severe in terms of the losses Nepal has experienced thus far, for a rural area of Morocco, this was overwhelming.

We watched the rapid responses of international agencies coupled with local government and charities. The school our children attended became very involved, as families and faculty traveled to the area to help in whatever way we could (assessing damage, delivering goods, translation). We were encouraged to see how others showed their care for these Moroccans, so unknown to the world at large until hit by this earthquake. When you are trying to get tents, blankets, food and water to families left with nothing, you don’t deem one helping agency more preferable than other. The need is too great for such concerns.

When I wade through the hash-tagged outcries against faith-based organizations helping the Nepali survivors, I marvel at such insensitivity. On many levels. First, we must, all of us who believe in a God who loves humanity, respond to such agonizing human need. We must respond. Second, to imagine a government or people accepting aid from one group over another in such a crisis is incomprehensible. Wisdom is to cooperate and mobilize resources as much as possible early on, because the recovery period will be a long one. Third, to encourage rejecting aid from faith-based organizations for fear of conversions is such a disservice to those hurting – 1) it takes away their voice in accepting what help they need for their own families, and 2) it presumes they would trade their beliefs for aid. Such madness – to think this way about people.

We do support both faith-based organizations and other humanitarian aid organizations. Our preferred disaster relief agency is Baptist Global Response  (because of their judicious use of funds, their cooperation with local agencies, and their faith foundation of wise compassion-driven aid and education) . BGR is not just there when disaster strikes. In fact, a BGR training for local agencies was held just weeks ago in Kathmandu, Nepal for just such a time as this. Hopefully the fruit of that training will mean a more collaborative response acutely and, in the long-term, a more stable recovery for the Nepali people.

Blog - Nepal 2I pray we can take the boxing gloves off and put the work gloves on – serving together to alleviate the suffering of these people whom God loves.  It is a mandate from Jesus Himself for those of us who are His followers.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. ” – John 13:34

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

Donate: Nepal Earthquake & Baptist Global Response

50 Amazing Facts About Nepal

Amid the Destruction of the Nepal Earthquake, Grace and Hope are Found

2004 Al Hoceima Earthquake in the Rif Mountains, Morocco

In Pictures – Morocco Quake Aftermath

Losses in the 2004 Earthquake, Al Hoceima, Morocco

Jesus Sayings About the Poor

Photo Credits: Baptist Global Response and IMB Resources

Worship Wednesday – Live Like That – with Sidewalk Prophets

Blog - Live Like That - Sidewalk Prophets

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

We choose whether our brief lives are misspent or spent well. A few days ago, a dear neighbor, Mrs. Frances died unexpectedly at the young age of 92. I loved her stories of teaching English and serving people God placed in her life. She and her sister walked the neighborhood in the early morning. Just seeing her on those walks encouraged my heart. She had so much joy and was generous with it, lavishing it on all she met. By her own testimony of faith, and evidenced by a life of loving God and others, she is in Heaven. I can see her house from my kitchen window, and her life will continue to affect me for good. I want to live like that.Blog - Live Like That - Frances & JohnnieMrs. Frances (on left) & Mrs. Johnnie – Neighbors & Friends

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
C.T Studd (read whole beautiful poem here)

God has given me so many opportunities in life, for which I’m deeply grateful. Parents who loved God and loved us. A good education. Great friends through the years and across distances. Incredible work situations: teaching nursing at Emory University and then Yale University, working on cancer units in inner city settings and small towns, teaching English overseas, and now writing. I am a wife (blessed with an amazing “in-law” family), a mom to 3 great young adult children (two of whom have added sweet spouses to our family), and a grandmother-to-be. So much joy in all that.

Life has its deep losses as well. My closest life-long friend died this past year. We have lost other friends, family members, and dear colleagues over the years – some dying very young. My Mom, who was always my role model for godliness, died at 75, which today seems so young. My brother, Robert, and his son, Chad, are gone now as well, and even writing this, my heart is pierced again with the pain of missing them.Mom pictures for website 010My Mom, Mildred McAdams

IMG_0017My sweet nephew, Chad Stephens

2007 SepOct 046My older brother, Robert Stephens

So what of all of this? Did those people, through all these years and across all these miles, these whose lives brushed with mine, experience Jesus’ love through me? Today, is it the case?

There are moments of revelation – wake-up calls – that we are meant to hear for our own lives. Life is full of cross-roads, and we choose which way we go. No matter how successful, beautiful, influential, or (fill-in-the-blank), we are, each of us has only this one brief candle-flame of a life. How we live it matters. Will we be remembered more than a generation or two beyond our short stint on earth? Probably not. That doesn’t really matter as much as what we do with our lives – for God and for others. That’s what matters.

Do we live our lives for ourselves? Squeezing all the goodness out of our fortunes to indulge our own desires? Do we hold onto time as if it belongs to us? Do we waste a lifetime on our screens, instead of invested in real people? Uncomfortable questions, especially for me. I so struggle in this. As I write, even if this encourages some, I am aware of a world beyond the door I can see from my desk…where people are, in real skin, and real need. It brings all the more urgency to finish this writing…to get on out there.

“Oh God, I fail regularly. You are not bothered, I’m pretty sure, by our need for downtime sometimes. For recreation. You’ve created us to both work and rest, and You give us leisure to refresh us for the next round of life. Forgive us, when we use that leisure to spend on ourselves and only then want more – more time for ourselves, more toys, more self-directed adventures. Oh God, help us remember how You saved us from ourselves, through faith in Jesus. Help us to see the world with Your eyes. Help me, God, to get up out of this chair…and go out there… ‘recklessly abandoned, never holding back’ – like Jesus lived and shows us how. I want to live like that.”

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2

Worship with me, with this great call to faith and action by Sidewalk Prophets:

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song?

(Chorus)
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You
If love is who I am
Then this is where I stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back
I want to live like that
I want to live like that

Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true?

People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You?

Chorus

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

I want to show the world the love You gave for me
(I want to live like that)
I’m longing for the world to know the glory of the King

Chorus

I want to live like that
I want to live like that*

*Lyrics to Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets [images from films and news reports you might find familiar – brought tears to my eyes. One distracting typo: In the lyrics, corrected it’s “Was I love when no one else would show up?”

Live Like That – Sidewalk Prophets – Devotional Series

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets (just another lyric video – another set of powerful images accompanying life-changing words)

Story Behind the Song Live Like That

Sidewalk Prophets Website

Photo Credit – Sidewalk Prophets Live Like That album cover Others are my own.

2015 April phone pics, American Idol, Spring flowers, Dad visit 205My Dad, living well, so far, with Alzheimer’s, and me

Worship Wednesday – Coming Clean, Starting Over, Making It Right – Lord, I’m Ready Now – Plumb

Blog - Worship Wednesday - Plumb - Burial Chamber Pyramids 2

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.Matthew 5:23-24

Have you ever found yourself in a deep pit? With seemingly no way out? While living in Cairo, we visited the Pyramids of Giza many times. Just once did we climb down the steep stairs into the burial chamber of one of them. It was so dark, and I found it even hard to breathe in that small room. “Dead space” is how it felt down there. It was a place never made to sustain life. Although it was all mental, and breathing was really not a problem, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Sin and selfishness can put us in such a pit. Whether we talk about it or not in today’s culture, both exist and both create havoc in our lives – creating isolation between us and others, and especially us and God.

I am so thankful that I grew up in an era when even people who did not have a personal experience of God still wrestled with “right and wrong”. Today, our actions and their impact on relationships seem so relative. We can so easily justify our choices, no matter the fallout.

One night when I was in my 20’s, something must have really been bothering me. I don’t remember the reason now, but I remember the night well. I tried to pray and it was like being in that burial chamber. There was so much going on where I had chosen my own way. My relationship with God had become such a casual thing…even a cast-off thing. I was living in deceit. Still in church, still professing belief in Jesus (when it was convenient and cost me nothing). Yet I was all about my own pleasure and popularity – pleasing others and pursuing personal success….until that night.

Again, I don’t even know what I needed from God that night, but I needed Him. Trying to pray, but still so full of self, was like speaking words into a vacuum. The deadness of those moments was terrifying. God is within hearing always, but if I didn’t confront my own sin first, how could I expect a tender response from a holy God? It was terrifying to feel my prayers fall all around me “unreceived” by the God of the universe. That night was the beginning of the end of a life of total self-indulgence…and the new beginning of a life reaching toward true life. The life He has for all of us – loving Him, loving others, with grace sufficient for all that comes our way, and a peace that passes all understanding.

Singer/songwriter Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (aka Plumb) penned a song titled Lord, I’m Ready Now. She could have been looking right into my heart. Her lyrics came out of a painful but also redeeming place. Her marriage was a wreck from her pursuit of fame, and she had a similar wake-up call to reality. She repented of her self-serving choices (her sin essentially) and chose God again and His way for her life. Healing came – both in her relationship with God and with her husband.

If you find yourself in a pit, there is a way out…not into more deceit, but to real freedom and real life. Turn around and climb out of that situation. There is light for the climb. Reach your hand to God, and you will find Him there… Breathe…………

Blog - Worship Wednesday - Plumb - Burial Chamber of Pyramids

Worship with me:

I just let go
And I feel exposed
But its so beautiful
Cuz this is who I am
I’ve been such a mess
But now I can’t care less
I could bleed to death

Oh Lord I’m ready now
All the walls are down
Time is running out
And I wanna make this count
I ran away from you
And did what I wanted to
But I don’t wanna let you down
Oh Lord I’m ready now
Lord I’m ready now

[You called my name
I turned away
But now I
Am listening]
I was so caught up
In who I’m not
Can you please forgive me?

I’ve nothing left to hide
No reason’s left to lie
Give me another chance.*

YouTube Video – Lord, I’m Ready Now (Official Lyric Video) by Plumb

Story Behind the Song – Interview with Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb) by Kevin Davis, News Release Tuesday

*Lyrics to Lord, I’m Ready Now – KLove.com

YouTube Lyric Video – Need You Now – Plumb

YouTube Video – Who Am I? by Casting Crowns

YouTube Video – Drops in the Ocean by Hawk Nelson

How Do I Come Back to God?

Photo Credits: Boomvisits.com and RealityPod.com

Give Church Another Try – 7 Things to Consider in a Community Where You Can Thrive

Blog - ChurchBlog - Church People

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

When I was a child, we learned this little fingerplay about church. “Here’s the church; here’s the steeple; open the doors, and see all the people.” As an adult, church has become less about a place, or steeple, and more about people. So the fingerplay I teach children now about church says only “Here’s the church” – with the two hands, palms up, with intertwined fingers. That’s church. There are three things I see in that visual that are good to remember: 1) Palms up – we need God. Church is about God. 2) Fingers – we are all people (stay with me). 3) Intertwined – we get close, which means we know each other very well, too well sometimes (unless grace is always applied). With people, church can get messy. We are all those people.

There are people I love who have walked away from church, citing, “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” Seriously? Aren’t they right where they need to be? An old saying goes, “Church is a hospital for sinners.” Maybe it’s also a rehab program for hypocrites… Either way, if I’ve given up on church, then at some level, I’m giving up on God. He loves His church, and we, as followers of Christ, are a part of that church He loves. To leave it, because of the hypocrites, the legalists, the gossips, the other sinners…just. like. us…is not the answer.

We left a church ourselves. The details won’t help this narrative. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t wish the down side of that experience on my worst enemy. It wasn’t just our down side, or that of others who left…it was the pain and confusion of those whom we left as well.  We would have had that go very differently, if we had had the freedom to do so… That sort of leaving doesn’t heal easily, and the wounds break open as easily as a social media post reminding us that we are not in each other’s lives anymore.

That’s just so wrong. Jesus let nothing or no one keep him from his Father’s House. The Temple, in those days. My desire is to always follow His lead in life. We’ve learned a lot, some of it painfully, about church in recent years. There are writers on this subject far more wise and eloquent than I (just a few of whom wrote the pieces linked below). However, I would be so grateful if God allowed me to help someone be restored to His church. Also, for anyone who has never really been in a church community, maybe it would help to know what to consider.

Here’s my Quick List of 7 Things to Consider in Searching Out a Church Community. As you peruse a church website, or listen to a pastor/teaching elder’s podcast, or visit a worship service or community group, think about this:

1) Love for God – His Word is taught in ways you are meant to apply both inside and outside church. Worship is really about Him, not just a stage show. Humility, not arrogance, is apparent in handling God’s Word and His church. Prayer, not just for stuff, but to purely enjoy His presence is a sign of a God-centered church.

2) Love for people – The church operates out of a clear desire to creatively express God’s love to people in the church and community, neighbors to nations. It’s not just about that church’s presence or preeminence (superiority) in a town or city, but the goal is to be about Kingdom work – God’s Kingdom, not that church’s. Look to see if the church cooperates with other believers, other churches, other organizations to serve its city and the world. Partnerships tell you a lot about a church. Prayer opportunities, too.

3) Decision-making in the church – Who gives input for strategy or direction? Is the polity (or church governing) the pastor or elder rule? Or is there a clear flow between church leaders and the congregation? Is servant leadership development of all a part of the vision of the church? Can you get a sense of “the priesthood of the believers” (1 Peter 2:9) – where there is “safety in a multitude of counselors” (Proverbs 11:14)? Elder ruled vs. elder led churches both have Biblical support. A lot has to do with accountability and the leaders themselves.

4) Discipleship Throughout Ages and Stages – What happens on Sundays is vital, but it is just a part of church life as a whole. What opportunities does the church promote for growing in the Lord and serving Him both locally and globally? Pre-discipleship can start with young children, and discipleship continues through all life stages (we are grateful to know people in their 80s still serving actively in church). Young moms desperately need discipleship, too. Churches that make that happen must really please God.

5) Finances and Stewardship – What happens with the money that is given through the church? Who decides how it’s used? These answers may not be easily discovered. Is the budget presented by or published to the congregation? Or are the financial decisions made wholly by the elders? Is missions giving encouraged? Is sacrificial giving a pattern in the church? Not just for paying salaries or managing the operation of the church, but for critical needs beyond the church.

5) Church Membership – What are the steps to becoming a member of the church? Maybe you’re thinking you aren’t interested in church membership. Still this is something to consider. What are requirements of the members? Do they have to sign anything (a church covenant, a giving pledge, etc.)? [Signing your agreement/commitment can be a good thing, but realize things can change in the church such that what you signed can mean something different as part of that change. So just be aware…] What are the privileges of membership (teaching, children’s ministry, etc.)? What are the responsibilities of membership? These speak to the priorities of the church. They also speak to leadership/authority. Are members held with open hands, recognizing we belong to God first and then the Body?

6) Church Discipline – You may think that churches don’t all have a church discipline protocol. That may be true. I am thinking that church discipline is part of most churches, whether spoken/written or not. How does one even look for how the church does discipline? The sermons can give some sense of what is “tolerated” or not. That’s a sad thing to have to say, but we all know the expression “bully pulpit” which can happen in churches as well as in politics. Shunning is prescribed rarely in Scripture (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Titus 3:9-11). Honestly, if a church uses shunning as a discipline, I would run. It would require the church to have such humility and such wisdom. Who is able, over months or years, to do it with a pure heart? Jesus taught on discipline in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. It’s so like Him to place that teaching between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Think about it.

7) Style and Substance – Be careful you don’t make a decision about a church based on some element of style rather than substance. Just say, you don’t care for the style of worship. Or the preaching goes a little long. Or…fill in the blank. No church is going to be “perfect” because the church is made up of people, like you and me. Just don’t miss the church God has for you over something that matters so little. What does matter is that you get yourself in a situation where you can grow in knowing God, where you can serve Him and those around you as part of the church, and where you can heal…from whatever got you out of church. Don’t let that experience define your life. Please.

Just, please, give church another try. Do you know the story (Acts 15:36-40) about the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner, Barnabas and how they had a huge disagreement about another young partner, John Mark? Sometimes, disagreements happen – so strong, in fact, that maybe they can’t do ministry together for a season. Does that mean either of them are “the bad guys”? Paul even came to a place, near the time of his death, that he asked for John Mark to come to him (2 Timothy 4:11).  The Scripture doesn’t tell us whether either Paul or Barnabas was right or wrong. Yet, we are left with a huge door of reconciliation open to us in their story.

May it always be so with us – to the glory of God and for the sake of His Kingdom.

Jesus, you were once broken apart. You know how it feels to be so shattered by the good-byes of life. Help me to believe that I will one day experience wholeness again, that I will not have this terrible feeling of being torn into many pieces. Keep reminding me often that the Father raised you to new life, to a powerful wholeness that you had not known before. Encourage me to believe that, in time, I will no longer have this deep pain and hurt in my heart. I want to believe. Help my unbelief! Amen. – Joyce Rupp, Prayer for Wholeness in Praying Our Goodbyes

Healthy Church vs. Toxic Church – Bart’s Barometer (Bart Breen)

9 Marks of an Abusive Church – The Wartburg Watch

9 Traits of Mean Churches – Thom Rainer

9 Traits of Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

9 Ways to Deal with Church Bullies – Thom Rainer

14 Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders – Thom Rainer

10 Traits of Pastors Who Have Healthy Long-Term Tenure

9 Reasons It’s Hard to Attend a Church Once You’ve Been Involved in Leading One – Carey Nieuwhof [Applies to all of us really, not just church leaders]

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

Blog - Holy Week - The Olivet Discourse

When He [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”Matthew 21:23

On this long day, Jesus would demonstrate in one situation after another that he spoke and acted with the authority of God Himself. The barren fig tree cursed by Jesus the day before had indeed withered and died. The disciples saw it themselves that morning as they walked again from Bethany to Jerusalem. Jesus spoke to them of faith, which they would need all the more in the days ahead.

Again in Jerusalem, in the Temple and on the busy streets during Passover, Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders. They were determined to trap him in some sort of blasphemous teaching or interpretation of the law. It would not happen, yet they were set on his destruction one way or another.

In an attempt to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, a legal advisor to the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law. The Pharisees emphasized strict adherence to the laws of the Torah, all 613! I don’t think they were prepared for Jesus’ response:

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” –   Mark 12:29-31

Two commands: 1) Love God with your whole being; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Some might say that a third is presumed in that you must love yourself in a right and wholesome way in order to truly love others. Jesus’ love for the Father and his love for all people were in perfect unity. Loving God, with all we are, gives us perspective and capacity to love those around us, whomever they are, as we have experienced love ourselves, from the God we love.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish leaders grew more angry at Jesus and were vexed as to how to destroy his popularity and influence with the masses of Jews loyal to him. All their trickery that day failed. Jesus was not intimidated by them, and in fact, spoke some of his strongest words against them while teaching that day. His 8 “woe to you” pronouncements against the Pharisees are listed at bottom of this page. When I read them, the song from the original Godspell film comes to mind as the Jesus character stands against the religious “machine” of his day – those “hypocrites”, those “blind guides” of the people. Blog - Holy Week Pharisees

Finally, leaving Jerusalem that day, Jesus stopped on the Mount of Olives (Olivet) to speak about the future. He talked at length, to his disciples and all those who followed, about the end times, cautioning them about false teachers and the evil that would rise up in those last days. What it must have been to listen to Jesus, the Messiah, filled with a mixture of faith in him and fear of what could lie ahead for them, and the generations to come.

When Jesus and his disciples returned for the evening to Bethany, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, stole away and met with Jesus’ enemies. [Matthew 26:14-16] He would betray Jesus to them in the dark of night, away from the crowds who would have objected to this…in just two more days…for 30 pieces of silver…Judas would seemingly take history into his own hands, but the clock was already ticking, and Jesus would finish what he came to earth to do.

Holy Week – Day 3: Tuesday in Jerusalem, Mount of Olives

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree

Jesus and the Pharisees

*8 Woes Upon the Pharisees

Great Texts of the Bible – The Two Commandments – commentary by James Hastings

613 Laws of the Torah

YouTube video Alas for You from the original film Godspell

Jesus’ Olivet Discourse about Two Future Events

Photo Credits – slidesharecdn.com & www.faithbibleministries.com

8 “Woe’s” Spoken by Jesus Against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-30)

1- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men.

2- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses, and pray at length as a pretense.

3- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

4- Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.”

5- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.

6- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.

7- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

8- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”*

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

Blog - fig tree

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”Mark 11:12-14

During that week in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples spent the nights with friends in Bethany, two miles outside of the city. Each morning, they would walk into Jerusalem. On that Monday morning, just four days prior to his crucifixion, Jesus became hungry on the walk in. Seeing a leafy fig tree, he looked for fruit. With fig trees, where there are leaves, there should be figs. Green figs are edible, but since it wasn’t harvest season, there should still be fruit on the tree.

When he found no figs, Jesus cursed the tree. This seems out of character for Jesus, until his action is put in the context of his culture and community. Throughout his public ministry, especially as he became more known and revered, the Jewish religious leaders held him in contempt. Jesus’ teaching of our dependence on God’s righteousness and not our own flew in the face of the Pharisaical teaching of the day – that of strict adherence to Jewish law as the only hope of finding favor with God. For Jesus, the leafy barren fig tree must have been a picture of religious Jews of that day, all flash and finery but no fruit of faith.

Jesus was left still physically hungry and then also spiritually hungry  – for this people of the Book to receive the good news that the Messiah had come.

Finally, arriving back in Jerusalem, Jesus was deeply troubled by what he found inside the Temple. The crowds of Passover pilgrims did not disturb him, but temple grounds turned marketplace did. In this sanctified place, meant only for worship, there were money-changers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, right in the Court of the Gentiles – in the only place where non-Jewish God-believers could worship.Blog - Jesus Cleansing the TempleAnd Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”Matthew 21:12-13

Often in film depictions of Jesus cleansing the temple, he appears a crazed individual, flailing about, throwing tables and flinging pigeons into the air. I can’t even imagine it that way. We can’t know how it happened except that in Jesus’ anger, he did not sin. I know the Jesus Film is just another director’s film rendering, but in this scene, Jesus showed great restraint. Disturbed at the buying and selling that actually kept believing Gentiles from worshipping, he moved to correct the situation. He was unafraid of the temple officials, burning with zeal for his Father to be truly worshipped in that place,

Zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.Psalm 69:9

Later in the week, he himself would be the one sold –  for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by one of his own disciples, to satisfy the wrath of the religious leaders. That story is for another day.

This Holy Monday, we are drawn again to this Messiah who teaches us that the way we live our lives matters but not more than the way we relate to God. He is holy, and in His righteousness, we stand…on solid ground.

Holy Week – Day 2: Monday Jesus Clears the Temple

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree

Monday of Holy Week

The Righteous Anger of Jesus

Cleansing the Court of the Gentiles

YouTube Video with Lyrics of In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

Jesus Film Media – website & app to watch videos

Photo Credit: Fig Tree by Bob Orchard and Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple” by Luca Giordano

 

Worship Wednesday – You Love Me Anyway – with Sidewalk Prophets

Blog - You Love Me AnywayBut God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – John 8:32

Not knowing what is ahead can be a very uncomfortable place to be. Sometimes, it could be better than knowing, but the uncertainty of not knowing sits like a rock in the pit of our stomachs. Will I have a job after this company reorganization? Will I pass this exam? Will our church survive this downturn? Will my struggling friend find her hope again? Will we ever know that we did enough…that we were truly faithful in loving God and our neighbor?

What a morning! As I was wrestling with God through these actual right now situations, and looking up the song I had planned to use for today’s Worship Wednesday…You Love Me Anyway came up in the search list.

“You love me anyway.”

David Frey and Ben McDonald of the Christian band Sidewalk Prophets wrote this song about how our sin, that of every single one of us, was borne by Jesus on the cross. Such love! He loved us knowing us completely –  every impure thought; every selfish act. He loves us anyway.

As I listened to that song, it wasn’t condemnation that brought tears to my eyes; it was the amazing truth of His love…a love that sets us free…in Him. Though we struggle with situations facing us that seem more than we can bear, what He bore for us should give us enormous confidence…and peace.

The not-knowing about jobs, exams, church, relationships is still in front of us, but peace has returned to my heart right now. The puzzle of have I done enough or will I do enough isn’t meant for me to solve. The answer to the question I didn’t ask is that “He’s done enough.” He loved us always and He loves us still…no matter what. It is the love of God through Christ that lifts our heads (Psalm 3:3).

Now…in this moment, with perspective restored, “I count it all joy” (James 1:2), and “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16) Beyond the cloud of these days of uncertainty shines an every-present Light – the glorious Person of God who speaks the truth of His love into every dark place of our lives. Hallelujah!

Worship with me:

You Love Me Anyway*

The question was raised
As my conscience fell
A silly, little lie
It didn’t mean much
But it lingers still
In the corners of my mind

Still you call me to walk
On the edge of this world
To spread my dreams and fly
But the future’s so far
My heart is so frail
I think I’d rather stay inside

(Chorus)
But You love me anyway
It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
You love me anyway
Oh Lord, how You love me
How You love me

It took more than my strength
To simply be still
To seek but never find
All the reasons we change
The reasons I doubt
And why do loved ones have to die?

Chorus

I am the thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway

See now, I am the man that called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then, I turned away with this smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

Chorus

You love me, You love me
You love me, You love me
How You love me
How You love me
How You love me

YouTube Lyric Video – You Love Me Anyway

YouTube Video – You Love Me Anyway – Sidewalk Prophets

*Lyrics to You Love Me Anyway – Writers: David Frey & Ben McDonald

Story Behind the Song – You Love Me Anyway

Sidewalk Prophets Website

YouTube Video – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – Thou, O Lord

Photo Credit: maxresdefault.jpg for YouTube Lyric Video

Blog - Sidewalk Prophets

Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – A Lenten Devotional by Jim Denison

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim Denison“An evil spirit of this kind is only driven out by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church became any sort of meaningful in my life. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a better life of meager means and lavish love. It was then that we responded to an invitation of neighbors, and 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, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would only be about Christianity.

My first experience with Lent was seeing my best friend on a Wednesday long ago, after she had disappeared from our usual 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.

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking is changing. 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 my own need for Him more clearly, then I want to integrate Lenten practice into my life.

That said, Jim Denison has written a beautiful 40-day devotional for this year’s Lenten season. It’s entitled Transformed – How Stories of the Cross Are Changing the World*. A dear friend gave me the paper copy, but I encourage you to take advantage to the free download and start reading, praying, and fasting (as God leads) today.2015 Blog on Easter Lenten Devotional & American Idol 004

Corporate month-long fasting has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail for me. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of my 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.

For the past several years, during Lent, I read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was also a gift from a good friend. 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, from our side, with prayer and fasting. This is a strength 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 Transformed; 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.

Denison Forum

*pdf 2015 Lenten Devotional Transformed – How Stories of the Cross are Changing the World by Jim Denison

Why is Lent Relevant for Evangelicals? by Jim Denison

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Lenten Observances – Eastern & Western Traditions

The Coptic Church and Worship

A Catholic Homily for this Ash Wednesday in memory of the Coptic Christians killed last week [Beautiful blog – I do not believe in praying to anyone except God; still I appreciate the call to all of us to remember others caught in the cross-fire of evil in this world. Praying for their families and for those who are unfortunately enemies of the church.]

Photo Credit – Ash Wednesday – Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

Worship Wednesday – How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin & the World

Blog - How Great Is Our God - Chris Tomlin

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty…O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions…May the glory of the Lord endure forever; May the Lord rejoice in His works…I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. – Psalm 104:1, 24, 31, 33

Yesterday morning, in the pre-dawn quietness, I was struck by the thought of the world in worship. Here in this suburb of Richmond, Virginia, my Bible open, and my journal page full of how God had spoken to my heart. Then it came to me how this was happening in some form or other in other homes in Richmond…across the state of Virginia…and then across every time zone around the globe.

Friends came to mind who live and work and worship in Morocco, in in the United Kingdom, in Egypt…Jordan, Pakistan, India, China…and countries in between. All across the world, there are people who worship God moved by His Spirit and through the Truth of His Word.

The glorious thought then came to me of all those who have come to know Him, truly know Him, across history. These dear saints populating Heaven right now, where their faith has become sight. That took me to thinking about today again, as the Day of Salvation. God tells us in His Word to choose this day whom we will serve. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) I am enthralled at the wonder of people, all around the world, drawn by God Himself, coming into His Kingdom on this very day. Today.

Centuries ago, John the Baptist announced the arrival of the Messiah to those gathered that day, when he  said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) As the morning sun brightened my window yesterday morning, I thought of all those in the generations ahead who will receive that same Messiah into their hearts.  Glory!

Another John, one of Jesus’ apostles, recorded his vision of the end times and the Kingdom of Heaven.  After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – (Revelation 7:9-10)

A multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshipping God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. How Great Is Our God.

Chris Tomlin performed the World Edition of this song in the 2012 Passion Conference. It was a glimpse of Heaven for me to see all those worshippers singing in their various heart languages. English, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi, Afrikaans, Russian, Zulu, and Indonesian. Over the years, I have had the sweet opportunity of worshipping in other languages, alongside other Christ-followers (in Spanish, French, Arabic, and Swahili).

In Heaven…a multitude of peoples from all languages. Raising their worship to God, together. Such love…all of us for Him and for each other, because of God who loved us first and forever.

Worship with me:

The splendor of the King, clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps himself in Light, and darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

The Godhead Three in One
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

Name above all names
Worthy of our praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

Writers: CHRIS TOMLIN, JESSE REEVES, ED CASH

Blog - How Great is Our God - cover

YouTube Video of How Great is Our God [World Edition]

YouTube Lyric Video of How Great is Our God with multi-languages

Chris Tomlin Talks About “How Great Is Our God” [World Edition]

Songfacts – Story Behind How Great Is Our God

Lyrics in English – How Great Is Our God

How Great Thou Art – great old standard performed by Carrie Underwood & Vince Gill – standing ovation – for them and hopefully for Him

Chris Tomlin website

Photo Credit