Tag Archives: Cliff Jordan

5 Friday Faves – Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, Reading, Moving On or Staying In Relationship, Recycling, and Home for the Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! For some, you may understand Christmas as just a fun, family-oriented holiday. It is so much more than that for many of us. Christmas commemorates the birth of the Messiah – the only son of almighty God. Christmas is huge for those who have experienced God coming close to humanity. Coming close to us in a sinless life, laid down in love for us. If you don’t know Jesus, consider getting to know Him, rather than just making the assumption you do. It (He) might change your life. He did mine.

1) Christmas Eve to Christmas Day – It’s looking somewhat different this year, but the things we hold dearest can still be celebrated.

  • Grandchildren  – bringing joy and wonder into every experience. Super sweet to have their parents around as well.
  • Friends and neighbors who make life fun are not deterred by the need to physically distance.
  • Baking goodies and playing games – still happening. Our grands are big enough that this year we played a new game. “Bring Baby Jesus Home” – we gathered the Jesus figures from all the nativities (I have a collection), and our littles (with help from their parents) “raced” to return them to the proper nativity.

  • Candlelight Christmas Eve Service – Every year at Movement Church, we have this lovely service. The worship center is normally packed with families and friends gathered for Christmas. We sing carols and light the last Advent candle. Then Pastor Cliff brings a Christmas devotional. Finally, we light our candles, passing the light from person to person. So thankful that we still had this worshipful time this week…albeit not quite together. Thanks, you who made it happen.

2) Reading – My husband asked for books for Christmas. Somewhere along the way, he lost his collection of Chronicles of Narnia.

He’s already reading it this afternoon.

The British author of Chronicles, C. S. Lewis, had this to say about reading:Photo Credit: RelicsWorld

“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves…Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”C. S. Lewis

Words: “We Seek an Enlargement of Our Being” – C. S. Lewis

What are you reading these days? Please comment below.

3) Moving On or Staying In Relationship – Holidays can be especially hard when we find ourselves in tough places with family or in a marriage. One writer and marriage counselor who has been instrumental in our married life is Gary L. Thomas. The book we always recommend to folks struggling in marriage is his: Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

Marriage and family rifts are the deepest heartache in life. The ripple effect is wide. Now, there are times, we find ourselves in this situations…not wanting it to be so. Thomas is very candid about these issues. Candid and kind.

He talks a lot about the life-altering decision of leaving a marriage. I was touched at how he described the losses that come at us blind when we divorce. All the history…gone. [Now maybe you hope it will be gone…I can understand that in abuse, for sure.] My mom and dad divorced when I wasn’t quite 6 years old. It was not amicable. In fact, I saw my dad once after that, and never again. I wrote letters to him for 20 years (at his last known address…never got a letter back so I figured he got them). At the birth of his first grandchild, when he didn’t respond even to that announcement, I stopped writing.

Anyway…I have dear friends separated from each other and family members deeply hurt with each other…so I listen, write, and pray…

Below, you’ll find some of what Dr. Thomas has said about marriage and the relationships attached to them.

“A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make.”
Gary L. Thomas, A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if many marriages end in divorce largely because one or both partners are running from their own revealed weaknesses as much as they are running from something they can’t tolerate in their spouse.”  – Gary Thomas
“Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep in the harshest of circumstances. It’s something that can be learned and that we can grow in. Biblical love is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved—none of us deserves Christ’s sacrifice—but on the worthiness of the One who calls us to love: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).” – Gary L. Thomas, The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why?
“Contempt is conceived with expectations. Respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude. We can choose which one we will obsess over—expectations, or thanksgivings.”
Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
“Just when we are most eager to make ourselves understood, we must strive to understand. Just when we seek to air our grievances, we must labor to comprehend an other’s hurt. Just when we want to point out the fallacies and abusive behavior of someone else, we must ruthlessly evaluate our own offensive attitudes and behaviors.”
Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

 

4) Recycling – OK, here’s a question. Do you know anyone who works in a recycling plant? Now, I’m not talking about the very kind drivers of the big trucks that pick up our recycling every other week. I’m talking about someone who works, at any level, in the recycling industry. I haven’t. Yet, we have been recycling for a very long time, thinking we were helping the environment…doing what we could.

What if our recycling is ending up in landfills…if not our own but those in another country, China, for example?

The other side of our sacred holiday of Christmas is its full-out consumerism. We buy a lot of merchandise this time of year (less this year because of COVID). All kinds of stuff to give those we love. Besides the commercial packaging of said stuff, we also love to wrap or bag it in festive ways. It’s a heavy week for generating and processing recycling.

Now, like many of you, I love to reuse or repurpose things when possible. Especially, now, that I’m looking at the possibility that recycling may not be offsetting my use of materials. Not sure, but am becoming more suspicious.

So, more than ever, I am reusing whatever gift bags, bows, and boxes are left at my house after Christmas. This isn’t new around here. You can see in the image below a bag with a cut-out angel and a bag with a handsome young man‘s picture on it. We’ve had those bags since these two kids of ours were in high school. Now they are many years married and parents. It’s a small thing, but we’re rocking at the reusing aspect of recycling. How about you? I’m also still putting the recycling bin on the curb next time our neighborhood recycling truck comes around. I will keep believing…for now.

5) Home for the Holidays – Who is your “home for the holidays” person? Several in our family fit the bill, but this COVID year, the one in particular for us is our youngest son. Last night, he spent the night in his own bed at our house for the first time in over 9 months. He is a front-line worker and has his own place. Because of his situation and mine (being more at-risk), we have only visited more from a distance since mid-March. Some back-yard barbecues, and an occasional family dinner. He is so kind about wearing his mask except for eating. We miss him. This Christmas, we decided it would be really good to have him home. So…here’s our youngest, and our joy is full…he’s home. Hope you are able to connect with that person of yours…if not at home, then in as real a way as our modern lives allow.

__________________________________________________________________________

Be safe out there and enjoy the moments that make Christmas the best it’s meant to be.

Bonuses:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.* – Christina Rossetti

The Remarkable Woman Behind “In the Bleak Midwinter” – Karen Swallow Prior

Who knew?! The Babylon Bee has a book out. Ever #TongueInCheek

Thankful for organizations who give us paths, all year but especially during the holidays, to give to those in need. Movement Food Drive:

The Christmas Star – the Great Conjunction – Facebook – Best image

Andrea Bocelli Sings ‘Silent Night’ in an Empty Cave, in Haunting Duet with His Own Echo

Worship Wednesday – Keep Me in the Moment – Jeremy Camp

Photo Credit: Ramstein AF

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”Romans 12:1-5

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”Ephesians 2:10

“…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”Philippians 3:9-10

The Scriptures give us a clear look at the large life God intends for us. He has set us apart from the world; He has prepared good works for us; He embeds us with His righteousness to faithfully endure whatever confronts us.

Then comes COVID.

Nothing in the character or purposes of God have altered. His children are still called to live in the present in His strength and to extend His love out to those around us.

[Writer Emma Grey Ellis has posted a fascinating article on the lethargy and depression that plagues us in the isolation of COVID. I can’t help but think there is also a spiritual component at work in this disease and in its prevention.]

This Sunday, our pastor Cliff Jordan of Movement Church finished teaching a series on God’s Kingdom Culture – focusing, this time, on the culture of displacement (listen here).

Displacement for us is that we’re not Home yet (Philippians 3:20). Cliff recalled his years playing high school basketball. It was a very high and privileged experience to be part of the Home team (playing in your own town and your own gym). When he was part of the Away team, it was a very different experience – no special treatment, and the team that most folks in the gym hoped would lose.

The church, here in this moment, is the Away team.

Basketball is a great picture of where we are as believers doing life, dealing with COVID.

When our children were in high school, the two oldest played basketball. At that time, our school was often the newcomer and underdog. What we lacked in experience and status, we made up for in enthusiasm, determination, and perseverance.[Seniors on the team of the 2007 boys’ basketball season of George Washington Academy, Casablanca, Morocco. Nathan “Beyond the Guitar” Mills is on the far right.]

We didn’t have a gym, so we were always the Away team.

As in life, especially in COVID life, we didn’t have to bring our “A” game. We had lots of opportunities to excuse ourselves from being all in. Between being “at-risk” or furloughed or parents all of a sudden juggling work and helping children school at home. The above-mentioned fatigue dampens our enthusiasm and stamina. Being truly “in the moment” as believers has become a challenge unlike any we’ve known previously.

It would be easy, again with the basketball analogy, to just wait out COVID and hope for better days, like the Away team might when the score starts mounting on the Home team’s board. Our enthusiasm wanes and our pace slows. We begin to give up before the game is over. And the bench!! What might have been “Put me in, Coach!” turns into thinking being #OfftheBench might not be a great idea. Our minds wander off the Word of God and onto anything else.

I love the tension of the pic below. The tension in those faces. Absorbed in the action on the court. Focused. Leaning forward. Ready at any moment to launch off the bench.Photo Credit: Needpix

Whether we feel benched by COVID or we’re very much in the game, the fact that we are the Away team doesn’t change anything about how God calls us to be engaged with Him and those around us.

Sure, we have to be creative at how to socially distance (for the sake of others and, at times, our own sakes)…but we don’t have to fall for being socially distanced from God’s glorious will for our lives.

Singer songwriter Jeremy Camp song “Keep Me in the Moment” could have been written for this season. The official video points to the beautiful, pulsating tension of lives lived well as God leads us through every situation. Redeeming the time.

Worship with me.
I’ve been thinking ’bout time and where does it go
How can I stop my life from passing me by, I don’t know
I’ve been thinking ’bout family and how it’s going so fast
Will I wake up one morning just wishing that I could go back?
I’ve been thinking ’bout lately, maybe
I can make a change and let you change me
So, with all of my heart this is my prayer
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (oh)
When I wake up in the morning
Lord, search my heart
Don’t let me stray
I just wanna stay where you are
All I got is one shot, one try
One go around in this beautiful life
Nothing is wasted when everything’s placed in your hands
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Lord keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
I’ve been thinking about heaven
And the promise you hold
So, it’s all eyes on you
Until the day you call me home
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
(I don’t wanna miss, I don’t wanna miss)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after (oh)
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (yeah)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Oh, keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)*
By the way…that Away team analogy is only for a few years. Home is also our experience. Home is where we celebrate with our forever Victor…together.

8 Ways to Be Present – Tom Stuart

Why God Wants You to Live in the Moment – Drew Smith

Monday Morning Moment – Life & Politics – What If We Refused to Get Angry?

Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery

A friend of mine reached out to me this week with this dilemma. A Christian friend of mine finds herself in the middle of a stand-off between pro-choice colleagues and pro-life friends. Each side angry at the other, without even knowing each other, just on principle alone.

I’ve been puzzling over her situation all week, and then yesterday, thanks to a pastor friend, an answer came. In fact, it is the most definitive answer to so many conflictive situations in our lives. Is it easy, no? Simple, yes.

The answer…or the path to the answer…is to refuse to get angry. OK, maybe we can’t refuse to get angry, but we can determine our response to anger. Here’s where we can act: refuse to think ill of another. Refuse.

I’m not talking about stuffing our anger somewhere inside, keeping it pressurized until it explodes sometime later. Refusing to act in anger is actually a step toward defusing it. Anger demands action. We take the energy of the anger and do something altogether different with it.

Jesus of Nazareth once delivered a short sermon known as the Sermon on the Mount. No matter our current faith, if we applied his teaching to life and politics, we could change the world for good. In the crowd that day, many religious leaders saw him as a threat, and would seek to destroy him in the months to come. However, that day…the wisdom and authority of Jesus’ words hit home to those in hearing, and they “were amazed”.

Here’s what Jesus said about anger:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22

See the contrast…we would never even think of murder as the solution but we allow ourselves to stir up anger like it’s nothing… especially if “deserved”. Jesus sees it differently.

When someone cuts us off in traffic, puts us down at work, or sets in motion legislation against a cause dear to us, we get angry. What is our response?

Anger too often goes to a place which escalates the situation rather than altering it in a positive way.

If we take to responding to anger, with a quietened heart, this is far from passivism. This is about as intentional and reasoned an action possible for us to take. Refusing to act in anger…refusing to think ill or speak ill of another.

Our strong opinions about politics today (especially, this being an election year) drive us to put relational wedges between ourselves and those with whom we disagree. What if we responded differently to those with whom anger becomes the first emotion?

We would listen, with our finger on the pulse of their hearts. We would seek to understand. Our disagreements become a launch pad for positive action. Anger would cease being a call to retaliatory or retributive action. It would become a flag, a button, a cue to respond in love and forgiveness.

Not as satisfying as “righteous indignation”, right? Not as definitive as my definition of justice…my, my, my.

What if there is another path to justice or rightness? We have another example from the life of Jesus…well, maybe examples, but here is one that peels away any sense of my right to express anger.

Jesus’ enemies would press to prevail against his life. It wasn’t really about the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman political authorities. Jesus gave his life for us. He was always in control, and his purposes were fulfilled, not thwarted, on the cross.

At any time, Jesus could have turned the situation around that day. When he was beaten, ridiculed, and falsely accused, he could have walked away. When he was attached to the cross, he could have taken himself down (Matthew 27:40-41). When he saw the sorrow on Mary’s face or his friend John’s torment, he could have acted in anger against those causing so much pain.

He did not. How he responded was an altogether different way:

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”Luke 23:34

When we find ourselves getting angry or having reason for anger, we can take another path through it. Instead of hardening our hearts toward those who cut us off or block our goals, we can take the anger a different way. We are not obliged to cultivate hatred and contempt…for reckless drivers, power brokers at work, or politicians or political parties.

Remember that “righteous indignation”? It goes unrighteous in milliseconds. Unless we alter course.

What if anger sparked in us an intentionality to love and forgive.  What if, instead of railing in Facebook posts or blogs or office conversations, we work toward solutions about the things we care most about?…the things that suffer when we do nothing but express anger about them. What if we prayed more for our President, for instance…for Congress…for our governors and State legislatures. What if we thought deeply about solutions and then wrote them to those decision-makers? Rather than just talking to friend (or enemy) about how we disagree with them…or to those with whom we agree and then agree together to hate the other side.

What if (for my friend above) we took our anger at abortion or protecting choice on the other side of the conversation, and we worked to make access to birth control and health care truly available for those most vulnerable?

What would the world look like if we refused to act on anger in hateful, punishing ways? What if we remembered we are all frail humanity? No matter how we come across to others or how powerful or powerless we may be, we can alter the course of anger… in ways that heal instead of hurt.

There is another verse in the Bible where the Apostle Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26). We, as Christians, sometimes justify our anger by calling it righteous, when our actions say otherwise. When we act out of anger, we can’t reflect the One who lived a life without sin…unless we act in love, tempering our anger into something that elevates rather than diminishes.

Thanks, Cliff, for that sermon, and thanks, Sherry, for reaching out to me…and making me think about this.

Movement Church – Sermon on the Mount Series – on Anger

The Twist in the Sermon on the Mount That You Probably Missed – Mark L. Ward, Jr.

Sunday Short – God’s Day, Groundhog Day, and Superbowl Sunday

February 2, 2020

This is a big day around here!

02-02-2020

First, it’s another God’s Day. Church gathering this morning. Pastor Cliff preached on the “salt” and “light” passages from Matthew 5:13-16. Great start of today. You can catch the service/sermon on Movement Church Facebook page.

Then, being it’s also Groundhog Day, we got the news that an early Spring is expected. Yay!

Photo Credit: Needpix

The Fascinating and Bizarre Stories of Groundhog Days in Virginia – Nicole Kappatos

As for groundhogs, my husband doesn’t care for them. When we lived in East Tennessee, groundhogs wreaked havoc on his garden every year. He was relentless in trying to stave them off, but I think the groundhogs won more than not.

Still one of his absolute favorite movies is the Bill Murray classic (1993) Groundhog Day. The story revolves around Bill Murray’s character, a TV weather guy, who had to keep repeating Groundhog Day. The upside was his being able to get to know the beautiful news producer better and better, until she fell in love with him.

‘Groundhog Day’ Movie Taught Me These Ten Incredible Life Lessons – Paul Batura – great list of life lessons!

Watch the movie sometime…but probably no time today.

…because it’s Super Bowl Sunday!!!

Many of you know more about football than I do. So…I will defer.

Besides the great championship game, Super Bowl commercials are phenomenal. Since today’s game is on Groundhog Dog, it’s not surprising that one of the commercials is a reprieve of that old great movie with dear Bill Murray. Enjoy!

Have a great rest of your day…and if you’re not a football fan, catch this old movie if you can.

Worship Wednesday – Connect the Dots to Christmas – O Magnum Mysterium

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

“Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”). – Matthew 1:23

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” –  Galatians 4:4-7, ESV

Christmas. At this time of year, it is everywhere. The folding together of secular and sacred. The parties. The music. The food. Gift-buying, giving, and receiving.

Whatever our take on Christmas…whatever we believe…one thing is clear. No matter how hard some will try to blur the message…even Christians in our own small endeavors to insist on our observances…one thing is clear.

There would be no Christmas apart from the coming of Christ.

Our teaching pastor, Cliff Jordan, powerfully preached this message during our recent Advent service. After his welcome to the church, he railed for 5 minutes (to make the point) on the tangle of Christmas distractions. The stuff of Christmas that can make us anxious and fearful of not getting it right – for ourselves, our families, and God Himself.

[Here’s the link to the sermon podcast, and here’s the link to the service from Facebook Live.]

Then (hang in there, past that 5 minutes), and Pastor Cliff launches into a beautiful challenge of how we have the privilege of connecting the dots of how the Lord Jesus permeates all that is Christmas.

“What if we just acknowledge and see the joy that everything that happens during the Christmas season is literally a direct or indirect response to one person – the person of Jesus. He is literally the linchpin of all that we get right and all that we get wrong, whether people know it or not. Without Jesus, there is no Christmas. There is a ton of joy that we can, at least, just acknowledge…that all of this is literally connected back to Jesus.” – Cliff Jordan, Movement Church

He called us to connect the dots of how Jesus is celebrated in the  great lyrics of the Christmas hymns. Even in the holiday programs of schools today – we can take the secular and remember the sacred.

We connect the dots – from the cradle of Christ to the cross…and to the commission He has given us in the culture of our day. Not in weird “Christiany” ways, but lovingly leaning into others’ lives, as Jesus did. Inviting those in our circles into the story of Christ…the story of Christmas…connecting the dots.

Rather than offering a song of worship today, I’d love to suggest a few moments of quiet. Reflecting on the wondrous nature of this season…this world-transforming birth of Jesus. It doesn’t really matter when he was born…it matters that he separated himself from the eternity he has always known to become human, for our sakes. For our sakes.

American composer Morten Lauridsen‘s O Magnum Mysterium is one of my favorite Christmas sound experiences. It is not intrusive. The lyrics in Latin don’t distract. It can be a call to quieten our hearts and to breathe in the great gift of Jesus to a world so in need of him.

Connecting the Dots at Christmas – Ken Shigematsu

Photo Credit: Todd Carey, Facebook

Worship Wednesday – Hills and Valleys – I Am Not Alone – Tauren Wells

Photo Credit: Heartlight

I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.
Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.

The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life.
The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever.Psalm 121

Hills and valleys. They are part of our lives.

A week ago, I sat silent in the car by this beautiful friend, her face blotched and shining with tears. It had been a low time for her, and, for the moment, she just needed to cry. We were together for her wedding day – the loveliest of high times. There have been other shared mountain-top experiences since…as well as valleys.

When we have those big positive experiences, the valleys are forgotten – that ache of loneliness or undoneness in the times of helplessness or disappointment. Still, we need people in both those experiences…More than that, we need God.

Several years ago, along with some friends, our family visited Mt. Sinai. Dave’s Mom and Dad also joined us, visiting from the US. It was an incredible time. We traveled up toward the summit on donkeys via a camel trail. The last 750 feet we climbed on foot. The view was spectacular. Just under 7500 ft. high, Mt. Sinai is a sentinel in Egypt’s eastern desert. Majestic, beautiful, changing in appearance with sun and shadow. Awe-inspiring.

Even more so, as we think this could be the place that Moses met with God, so many years ago. It is considered a holy mountain by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Looking out over the desert below, we got lost in our thoughts, reflecting on history and God and the privilege just to be there. It was more a solitary experience, although surrounded by loved ones and strangers. One group of tourists started singing “How Great Thou Art” in a language I couldn’t understand. We joined in, in English. It was truly an obvious mountain-top experience.

Then, the climb down. The camel trail would be slower, so we decided to take the faster route – the Steps of Repentance. Stones placed as stairs from the summit to the valley floor (legend goes that one monk placed them all as an act of repentance). 3750 stone steps. Uneven, rough-cut, some deeper or narrower than others. All requiring care in descending.

[Click on this blog for pics of Mt. Sinai’s summit and the valley below as well as a look at the Steps of Repentance – 3750 steps down to the valley.]

Plodding our way to the valley, step by step, wasn’t taxing at first, but that didn’t last long. As hundreds of steps took their toll on our knees, we started feeling shaky and unsure of our footing. Hoping not to fall or injure ourselves. It helped that we were in a group, in case we needed each other.

On that walk down, I got to see a tenderness in my husband that fit perfectly the situation. He saw his mom was struggling and came alongside her to get safely down to the valley. His dad was fine enough, as was I, although shaking from the pounding down descent. Being careful not to fall. It turned out to be harder than we thought.

Valleys are like that, in general. Ofttimes, harder than we think. We need each other and most importantly we need God. To bring us through the journey that takes us low. To give us the grace to deal with what is in front of us.

Our pastor Cliff Jordan preached on prayer a few Sundays back. Prayer and the postures of prayer. When we are experiencing a mountain-top moment or a downward spiral to a spiritual valley, we pray. As God’s children – for different reasons and with different postures. Remembering that we are not alone. Never. Not ever.Photo Credit: PixabayPhoto Credit: 163atkw.aug

Singer/songwriter Tauren Wells‘ has given us a song about this very thing. Hills and Valleys.

“When you’re on the mountaintops of life, learn to bow low. and when you’re in the valleys of life, learn to stand tall….No matter where we’re at, we’re standing in God’s grace, and that no matter what we have, His grace is enough.” Tauren Wells

Worship with me.

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven
From my lowest place
And I have held Your blessings
God, You give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

I’ve watched my dreams get broken
In You I hope again
No matter what I know
I’m safe inside Your hands

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone

Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain
Over it all
Father, You give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all You will remain
Over it all
On the mountains I will bow my life, yeah
In the valley I will lift my eyes
Ohhh, ohhhh

On the mountains I will bow my life
To the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes
To the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain
I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley
I know I am not alone
No, I’m not alone
I know, I am not alone
You’re the God of the hills and valleys
Hills and valleys
God of the hills
And I am not alone
God of the hills
The God of the valleys
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone*

*Lyrics – Hills and Valleys – Songwriter: Tauren Wells

YouTube Video – Hills and Valleys (Story Behind the Song)

Hills and Valleys – Behind the Song – Kevin Davis

Worship Wednesday – It Is Not Good To Be Alone – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe

Blog - I am Not Alone - Kari Jobe FacebookPhoto Credit: Kari Jobe, Facebook

[Adapted from the Archives]

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.”Genesis 2:18

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the LORD your God.” Isaiah 43:1-3

In all the good that God had accomplished in creating this world (Genesis 1), He Himself points out the one “not good” thing. “It is not good for the man to be alone.

Pastor Cliff is preaching a series on Genesis, and this was where we landed this past Sunday. He talked about that aloneness as being something we experience apart from intimacy with God and His human provision for us. Not just marriage, but family, close friendships, and genuine community.

What Does Genesis 2:18 Mean?

Our hardest battles are the private ones…the ones in which we feel alone. We could be surrounded by coworkers, family members, friends, yet we can’t really bring to words the terror in our hearts…the questions…the sense of isolation, of aloneness. We are not usually overcome by such things; it’s not who we are. Yet, there are days when it seems, seems, that we are alone. Everyone else is rocking with the latest turn in life…but me. It seems I am somehow alone in this.

First…if we could speak it out loud, we would find others with questions and wondering. We are not alone. Especially in the deepest places. Then, remembering again: we have great and many promises that God is with us through all of where He takes us. Most importantly, He sometimes orchestrates these places of weakness for us to remember His strength. It is for us to learn afresh to trust Him. His desire is for us to see and manifest His glory meant for our good and for those around us. This sometimes comes through those dark, desperate times of seeming aloneness. We. Are. Not. Alone.

Several years ago, I heard a seminary professor, Chuck Lawless, teach on spiritual warfare. He reminded us, through passage after passage from God’s Word, that our battles belong to God. He will fight for us. We are not alone.

“We turn to Job when our own life hits the wall. Job 1:20 – Job worshipped. I hope if I lost everything, I would still worship God. In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Spiritual warfare – It’s not escaping from the battle; it’s worshipping God in the battle.  Job is in a battle he can’t win. He trusts the Lord anyway. And we must as well.

It is in our weakness that we find victory. When the noose is around our neck. When we can come to a place where we’re content with the worst…then Satan can’t affect us. We lean on God in our weakness – we lean on God. We can say, “I’m o.k. with this.” We don’t like spiritual warfare because we want to hang on to our stuff – our dreams, our idea of ourselves, our position – whatever it is. Hang on to God. Alone.”

When our job is on the line or we are facing an uphill battle in our work, when we face a devastating diagnosis or diminishing health in our elder years, when our marriage is in a hard place or there seems no hope for marriage for us…whatever our situation. We are not alone.

As I listened to Dr. Lawless back then and to Pastor Cliff on Sunday, I looked around the room and my heart filled with love for those people God had placed in our lives. We may be unaware of the struggle…but we know a God who knows and joins us together with Himself and each other…in our struggles.

We have this amazing spiritual privilege, a divine work: to take each other to God in prayer…preemptively. Proactively not just reactively. The more we do this, the more quickly we will remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. [2 Chronicles 20:14-18] Satan would have us divided against each other, feeling on the outside of whatever is the preferred inside, stuck in thinking we are missing whatever is the better part. Not true! God loves us and He fights for each of us. Remember the Truth; cling to Him. We can pray confidently, knowing that we are not alone. Ever.

“The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You.”Kari Jobe

Worship with me to Kari Jobe‘s beautiful, full-of-truth song I Am Not Alone:

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul.*

13 Truths About Spiritual Warfare for Leaders [or any of us] – Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless on Spiritual Warfare – Website

God is Always with Us

Kari Jobe Explains Story Behind ‘I Am Not Alone’; ‘God Fights for You…You Need Only to be Still’

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Live)

YouTube Video – Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone (Lyric Video/Live)  – walk through a forest

YouTube Video – I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe – Worship Video with Lyrics

YouTube Video – Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone) [Live at Linger Conference] People & Songs ft Josh Sherman

*Lyrics to I Am Not Alone – KLove – Songwriters: Kari Jobe, Marty Sampson, Mia Fieldes, Ben Davis, Grant Pittman, Dustin Sauder, and Austin Davis

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 1 – Capacity

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at a women’s holiday event in Kingsport, Tennessee. 150 women gathered to bring in a vintage Christmas together. Photo Credit: ISBC Women’s Ministry, Facebook

The food was delicious, the company was old friend-comfortable, and the memories wrapped around us like a Tennessee quilt.

The Festival of Tables was amazing – designed by the women hostessing. Just a few of the table toppers shown below:

[Today’s blog and the next two – Part 2 and Part 3] are taken from the talk I gave that evening on “Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart”. The following are excerpts of the talk because some who couldn’t come wanted me to post. Though written for Christian women, there is much to apply to any of our lives.]

“Vintage” can mean something very different to each one of us, depending on our ages and life experiences.

Vintage…one day our grandchildren and great-grands will look way back to our Christmases and call them vintage. They will look back on us as the women of old in their lives – the grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) of their faith.

What do we see when we look back? What will they see when they look back?

When I look back to my growing up years, it’s my Mom and women like her who come to mind. Godly women – tirelessly serving their families, church and community and pointing us to Jesus.

In thinking about Vintage Christmases and matters of the heart, God has placed three character traits on my mind. Three qualities we probably saw in our Godly grandmothers and great-aunts.

Strong and steely traits that we can develop across a lifetime walking with God. These traits are all matters of the heart. We see them in the life and character of Jesus. As we wrestle with them in each season of our lives, we can hope to carry them forward to future generations.

The first is capacity defined as the maximum that something can contain or produce.

In every season of our lives, we have those moments or days of coming to the end of ourselves. We feel like we just can’t do one more thing. We are DONE. When I talk about capacity, it’s not about adding more stuff to lives that are over-packed or over-scheduled lives. God doesn’t call us to be Energizer Bunnies…until we burn out, or dry up, or give in to the busy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Capacity isn’t just about getting a lot done. Nor is it, on the flip side, about shaking up those of us in seasons of life that have been downsized –  intentionally or unintentionally. Unless God is speaking into that…which He sure did with me.

Building capacity means to look to God to order our days and to watch for Him to show up in our schedules and “chance” encounters.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come through both a cancer diagnosis and a couple of cardiac emergencies that could have taken my life. Having half a lung removed diminished my physical capacity for awhile. Then moving into retirement diminished my other capacities even further. I felt old. In our previous work circles and in our church, whatever purpose or identity I had before seemed to fade with time and age. It wasn’t pretty.

Maybe you have experienced this sort of thing, whatever your age is. A situation where you have passion or desire to be a part of something but the doors seem to all be closed. When it seemed there was no way forward, I just settled into a slowed-down, lesser life.

In the middle of all this, the Lord in His great kindness, pretty much asked me, out right, “Is that it? You’re done?” I sure didn’t want to be done. With age and what seemed to be dwindling opportunity, life had become small for me.

Or did I do it to myself? Was I looking to people for opportunities to serve…or to God?

Now those of you with heavy academic loads, small children or big responsibilities in your work may not even be able to imagine this…but think with me a minute. Is our capacity such that God could show up and do as He wills in us…or are we pretty much maxed-out or turned-in?

Does God have our hearts? Or is our capacity dulled because He is more a tenant in our hearts rather than the Lord?

Is there space in our hearts He would fill if we didn’t already have them packed with other stuff?

Now, we all have responsibilities in life. For some, papers have to be written, babies must be fed, and payrolls managed…fill in the blank in your thoughts of where you have to show up every day…

What happens when we show up with our eyes on Jesus and the possibility of what He might do in and through us?

That realization from the Lord that “if I wasn’t done, then what?” started a spiritual journey for me… Last December, as part of a New Year’s resolution, and in response to our pastor’s challenge, I determined to make God’s voice the first voice of my every day. I’m a morning person, so quiet times before dawn may come easier for me than for some. Still for God’s to be the first voice does require me NOT to pick up the cell phone, or sit down at my computer, or turn on the TV news. In my season of life, there are no children to feed or to get schooled, so you with children have different challenges of making God’s voice first.

Whatever our challenges, it doesn’t change our great need of hearing Him speak truth and love into our hearts. Early. Every day.

When God did get first voice, He began helping me to clear out the clutter in my heart which changed the contents of my conversations and my calendar…Bit by bit, God added space to my life. Space to hear Him speak and to “interrupt” the rhythms of my day.

The discovery that I seemingly had more time wasn’t magic…it was God.

The visual below is so perfect of Christ flooding our heart with His love and all the good things God has for us, and in turn our hearts are cleansed, cleared of all the junk that distances us from Him, and then the contents of our hearts pour into others. Jesus talked to the religious leaders of his day about this very thing: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”Photo Credit: HolyTrinityPTC

Another way to look at this is related to what we hold in our lives as treasure. Jesus taught us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Photo Credit: Heather C. King

You can guide your heart with your treasure. Wherever you put your treasure or whomever you make your treasure, your heart will follow. Your treasure leads your heart.

This was so helpful for me because I had stored up quite a bit of self-absorbed treasure in recent years – my own significance being one part of that. Even wanting to be useful to God somehow had become an idol. That sort of thing just happens when we take our eyes off Him and onto ourselves. Right?

Days turned to weeks of God being the first voice each day in my life. I started doing life more in present tense with Him, listening for His voice through the day. Like a real conversation. Sometimes it would be a prayer; sometimes a complaint; just being in His presence. The barriers keeping life small seemed to start coming down. Such that, even when life was small, I was becoming more content. We keep our eyes on God, and He guides…sounds too simple, I know…but it has given the most mundane day or situation a sense of the divine.

The prophet Isaiah captures this so well when he says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. [Isaiah 30:21] Of course, we may not hear God speak audibly, but He will lead us just that clearly as we tune our hearts to His voice. We’ve all experienced that. To walk daily like this builds capacity…

Photo Credit: Francis of Assisi, Brainy Quote

We start by doing what’s necessary…this is sometimes where we stop…short.  If…we keep our hearts on the Lord, the necessary can open up to being a part of something only possible with God in it…and then…the impossible.

 If we are faithful to make a capacity for Jesus…He will fill that capacity with Himself.  “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent!” – Catherine of Siena

Photo Credit: Heartlight, Quotemeal

[Part 2 on Caring and Part 3 on Constancy]

Worship Wednesday – I Am Broken at Your Feet – Alabaster – Rend Collective

Photo Credit: The River Walk

Within two days of Jesus’ crucifixion, just hours before, a woman would anoint his body for burial… Here is the strange and glorious account of that event:

 It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”

While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:1-9

Our pastor Cliff Jordan’s sermon on Mark 14:1-11 brought this account alive again to us. [Listen to the podcast linked above.]

The woman who poured out her treasure – possibly all she had in the world – in worshiping the Lord – was no stranger to him. She was Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha – friend and follower of Jesus.

Surrounded by the disciples at his host’s table, Jesus was enjoying the company of these men so close to him. Mary entered the room without ceremony and straightaway broke open an alabaster jar containing this expensive perfume. [That jar was like her security – equivalent to a year’s wages in that day – “compared to her love for Jesus, it was nothing”, Cliff preached.]

She would pour that extravagant oil over his head. She then took the dripping oil into her hands and rubbed it on his feet. Drying off the excess with her own hair. The men in the room took loud exception at what they considered her frivolous act…but not Jesus.

Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Two days later, Jesus would give his all on a cross. Beaten and bloody he would die…for us…holding nothing back. It was a Friday, and Passover. By the time his body was released to be buried, his followers had to rush, because of the late hour, laying his body in the tomb, wrapped but without anointing oils.

No worries. In the quiet of that Passover evening, Jesus’ body, caked with blood mixed with his sweat, the fragrance of Mary’s love offering must have remained…must have sweetened the stench of his death. He gave his all for us…she gave her all for him.

“Love is a laid-down life.” (Elisabeth Elliot) – We experience that in Jesus, those of us who know him. We see that in Mary.

Pastor Cliff asked the questions: “What is my alabaster jar? Where do we place our security? What can’t we imagine life without?”

I can’t imagine life without Jesus and knowing his love and his great gift of salvation. Everything else pales.

___________________________________________________________________________

From our years living in Egypt, we have kept two small alabaster votives. The light they emit is both enthralling and beautiful…so like the act of Mary’s giving all she had to her beloved Jesus.

Worship with me to Rend Collective‘s Alabaster.

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet
Yeah

Oh, the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same, no
I am lost and found in You

And I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet

Oh, I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet.*

* Lyrics to Alabaster by Rend Collective

The AlabasterJar – The River Walk

YouTube Video – Alabaster Box – Cece Winans

Worship Wednesday – Son of David, Have Mercy on Me – Ghost Ship

Photo Credit: Shelly Duffer, Bobby Nicolescu

They came to Jericho. And as he [Jesus] was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”

Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road. Mark 10:46-52

Photo Credit: Free Bible Images

On Sunday, our pastor Cliff preached on the persistent faith of blind Bartimaeus. As you read in the passage above, this is a gripping story of a man who knew darkness too well. He also must have heard of the man Jesus. In this moment, in close proximity to Jesus, he cried out for help.

He must have sounded like a mad man in his desperation to be heard. Those around him tried to shush him, but he would not be silenced. He knew help was almost within reach…in the person of Christ. I can just imagine the pitch of his voice rising higher and higher, not caring if he sounded the fool. He was so focused on Jesus hearing him that he had to be told that Jesus had indeed beckoned him.

When he was brought near, Jesus asked him that incredible question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“I want to see,” gasped Bartimaeus. I want to see!

…and Jesus gave him his sight.

[Catch Cliff’s sermon in its entirety via this week’s podcast. So powerful.]

We have times when we cry out to God to help us see. Or maybe we just want to see without having to face what keeps us blind…if we’re honest. Our God is a confessional God. When we are willing to say out loud what is going on in the darkness of our hearts, He will take the scales off our eyes.

Eyes opened, we will begin to see who God truly is, and who we are apart from Him. We will see clearly our need for Him and our need for one another. What comes after is what happened to Bartimaeus. He left the side of the road where he was bound in his blindness, and followed Jesus on the road.

When we can really see, there is nowhere else we would want to be.

Worship with me to the Christian band Ghost Ship‘s Son of David:

The blind won’t gain their sight by opening their eyes.

A king is coming to His city, and crowds around are following,
If I could see, I would follow too.

He heals the sick with His hands, as He walks by, they reach for Him;
If I could see, I would reach out too.

The blind won’t gain their sight by opening their eyes.

Son of David, have mercy on me! (x2) Son of David, I want to see!
Son of David, have mercy!

I cannot leave this gate since I cannot see my way, but I can stand and call His name.

No I could never leave this gate but I will stand and shout His name, and I will count on His grace!

Son of David, have mercy on me! (x2) Son of David, I want to see! Son of David, have mercy!

I was blind – now I see! Jesus saved me!*

Photo Credit: FaithHub

After Cliff finished the sermon on Bartimaeus, he had an altar call. For those unfamiliar with that, it is a call to action on the part of any in the church who sense their need for Jesus in that moment. It’s an opportunity to privately and publicly “get right” with God – dealing with some hard thing in our hearts, and setting a different course in our lives. This sort of thing seems unusual in the church today, but it is fitting. When we recognize our need, and realize that Jesus can, and wants to, meet us at that need…what would hold us back? Bartimaeus gives us an example of deep desperation and unbridled desire to get to Jesus. When he did, he was rewarded with sight…and a Savior.

Even as a believer, it is too easy to turn a blind eye…on our sin, on our neighbor, on the world. We could all use an altar call from time to time, where we shed our timidity, or self-importance and pride, and run to Jesus…

…and, like Bartimaeus…just keep walking, with our eyes on Him.

[Truth: I met that altar call with a heart deeply moved, a mind set on confession, and feet frozen in concrete. When we think of Heaven, God’s winsomeness and our eyes clear (1 Corinthians 13:12), every pretense will be gone. Silly self-consciousness won’t even be a memory. Maybe one day, in our church gathered, this side of Heaven, we will become “a people marked by confession”. Thanks, Cliff, for leading us in that way.]

*Lyrics to Son of David by Ghost Ship – written by Cam Huxford IV and Shay Carlucci

The Blind Won’t Gain Their Sight… – Shelly Duffer