Tag Archives: Jesus

Worship Wednesday – Even in the Madness, There Is Peace – You Are Writing a Symphony – Switch

Photo Credit: Piqsels

[Two nights ago I was on a Zoom meeting call with Virginia’s Kids Belong representatives and several others from churches and other community organizations. All meeting for the purpose of brain-storming for how we can best support foster kids, birth moms, and foster families. During this season of the Coronavirus and subsequent school closures and limited contact. Then last night Dave and I watched a movie – Instant Family – not meant for everyone, but definitely it moved my heart all the more – in terms of reaching out to these kids.]

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1:27

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children–and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him.  1 John 3:1

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.Psalm 68:5

I’d wanted to watch Instant Family since first seeing the trailer. Finally, as one result of “social distancing”, Dave and I watched it last night in our living room. It is NOT a family film. Strong language and adult themes throughout. However, it is one at least some adults should see – it is real (if not perfect – see excellent review below) in its depiction of foster parenting and foster care. Not recommending for everyone to watch the film, but do catch this one scene of the painful failed reunification with the children’s birth mom. So beautiful in the raw work required of adults reaching into the lives of seemingly fatherless children.

Instant Family – What Mark Wahlberg’s New Movie Gets Right and Wrong about Foster Care – Christy Tennant Krispin

Coronavirus Leaves Foster Children With Nowhere to Go – Eli Hager

In aligning with other churches and community agencies to serve this vulnerable population, we do a work that must please the Lord. To the point, even, that it is an act of worship. Right now foster children, and their birth and foster families, are more isolated than ever. The pressure in their hearts and homes must be hard for all involved. When in school, foster children have teachers who watch out for them. Teachers are a safety for these children because they care, they provide structure, and they sound the alarm when the children appear to be at risk for neglect or abuse.

I don’t have answers here, but there are folks in our communities who are working toward answers. Ears wide open.

Who knows how long we will be in this situation of “keeping distance”? However we are not out of hearing or direction from the Lord who loves these children and the adults in their lives. My hope is through listening to God, these agencies closest to the kids at risk, and through our churches, we can extend love, even in these days… in the power of the Lord.

In preparing for this piece today, I went looking for songs that reflect God’s love and provision in such situations, and there are many.

Songs for Foster Parents

One of the songwriters of Symphony, Cassidy Estevez had this to say about the song: “…one of those themes which we landed on for this song, was how everyone has gone through some type of chaos in their lives, whether it is unemployment, family issues, marriage distress, difficulty raising kids, everybody has some type of chaos in their lives. We wanted to write a song that could be a prayer for people to sing in the middle of those circumstances.” She also added, “This song reminds us that even when you can only see a small part right now, God is doing something bigger and He is crafting something beautiful that we can only see when we zoom out.”

Worship with me to Symphony by worship band Switch:

Sometimes it’s hard to breathe
All these thoughts they shout at me
Try to bring me to my knees
And it’s overwhelming

Darkness echoes all around
Feels like everything is crashing down
Still I know where my hope is found
And it’s only you and ooh-ooh

You say you’re working everything for my good and ooh-ooh
I believe every word

‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Tune my heart to your beat
Let me be your melody
Even when I cannot see
But you orchestrate it

Even when the dark surrounds
You’ll never let me drown
I know that my hope is found
In the name of Jesus

Ooh-ooh
You say you’re working everything for my good
And ooh-ooh
I believe every word

‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Yo, I wanna truly know
If you compose beautiful
Music, though
From all my unruly notes
Distance is distant, it’s movin’ close

Now I see, erase the scales from my eyes
Then play the scale of my life
Chaos played off with a chord in accord
With a source prevailing through strife and

I’ve tasted suffering
I’ve been embraced by the painful buffering
I’ve been bound by doubts so loud right now
But a melody is made when you play these rusty keys

So we all gotta get pressed
Tuned up like instruments
But I know
All of life’s tempo is set
Whenever we remember this

That even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony
Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony
Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony*

I’d like to close with this beautiful love letter fashioned for children with the words of our Heavenly Father (God’s Love Letter for adults also here).

Photo Credit: Father’s Love Letter

*Lyrics to Symphony by Switch – Songwriters: Louis Biancaniello, Michael Biancaniello, Cassidy Estevez

Hope Beyond Coronavirus Roger Carswell

Father’s Love Letter

Ministering the Love of the Fathers to the Fatherless – Anna Meade Harris

God Promises to Be a Father to the Fatherless – Barry Adams

5 Ways that Churches Can Stand in the Gap for the Fatherless – Daniel Darling

Chris Tomlin Reveals the Dream God Gave Him 10 Years Ago That Is Now Saving Children Across America

Worship Wednesday – When We Pray – Tauren Wells

Photo Credit: More Famous Quotes

[From the Archives]

We talk about the need for prayer. We “send prayers” to those in difficult situations. The Scripture has prayer woven throughout. Below are just a few references to the powerful nature of prayer.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”Psalm 34:15

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”Jeremiah 33:3

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” – Jesus – Matthew 6:9-13

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”Romans 12:12

Do you find praying challenging? It’s strange that it is, when it is challenging. We know that God invites us to be in conversation with Him (Jeremiah 33:3). He even taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). He tunes his attention to even our baby prayers. His desire is to show Himself faithful and loving and all-sufficient to his children. Even when our prayers get locked on what we want rather than whom we want…our Heavenly Father…that whom.

If the Scripture doesn’t settle for us why we pray, a little song I learned years ago might be an added help…especially when the answers seem delayed or denied. It is Babbie Mason‘s  Trust His Heart and the chorus follows:

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see his plan
When you can’t trace his hand
Trust His Heart

The most beautiful part of prayer is that God meets us wherever we are…his faithful children and his prodigals coming to their senses:

“There is a story in the Talmud about a king who had a son who went astray. The son was told, ‘Return to your father.’ The son replied that he could not. The king then sent a messenger to the son with the message… ‘Come back to me as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way’. ” – The Chosen

For Christ-followers, we don’t even make that journey back to Him alone, maybe even frightened. When we belong to Him, the Holy Spirit draws us back to Him…and the Savior is with us every step of the way.

What would put you on your face before such a God right now?

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Were it not for pride, or the cares of this world, or our culture’s clawing at us with its lies? God has already set prayer in motion by stirring up that desire, by making us aware of that need, by fanning our small faith into flame.

Our delight is to turn our hearts toward God…to enjoy His company, to see His mighty works, and to share community with others longing for Him as well.

My Mom, my Mom-in-law, my husband…other family members, and many many friends have deepened my prayer life by witnessing and being the beneficiary of their own…and their walk with the God of this universe. I wage spiritual warfare with them for the sake of those we love…and for the world that God also loves.

Worship with me (link to lyrics & music)…to this song, When We Pray, by Tauren Wells.

People hurting, people broken
Beaten down and feeling hopeless
Wonder if it’s gonna always be this way
Who will speak up for the captive
Show some love and heal a past that
Binds the wounds we think will never go away

But what if we could be a people on our knees
As one before the King
‘Cause we believe

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray
Oh, when we pray, oh

I see revival rising
I see hope on the horizon
As a generation stepping out in faith

As one before the King
Yeah we believe

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray
Oh, when we pray, oh

Let Your kingdom come, Lord
Let Your will be done

All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
All the world starts changing
When the church starts praying
Strongholds start to break
Oh, when we pray
Prison walls start shaking
At the sound of praising
Nothing stays the same
Oh, when we pray, oh
When we pray, oh

In Jesus name (when we pray)
In Jesus name (when we pray)
When we pray, oh
When we pray*

*Lyrics to When We PrayWriters: Tauren Wells, Colby Wedgeworth, Ethan Hulse

Worship Wednesday – My Hope Is In Jesus – David Crowder and Tauren Wells – Deb Mills Writer

YouTube Video – Trust His Heart – Cynthia Clawson – lyrics by Babbie Mason

When God’s People Pray – Jim Cymbala – Session 1 (of 4) – Vimeo

10 Most Important Verses on Prayer in the Bible – Lori Hatcher

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

Photo Credit: Flickr

[Adapted from the Archives]

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

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

My understanding of religion then was that it was Christianity only.

Years later, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I actually thought it would be a survey course on… Christianity.

[Even within the context of Christianity, I knew very little of its practice outside the realm of Southern evangelicalism. Now being older, I understand the difference in religion and faith. – that there are many religions. However, who the Person of God, and who we are as followers, is more about relationship than religion.]

My first experience with Lent was through a college friendship. One Wednesday long ago, I caught up with my best friend after she had disappeared from our usual daily routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons about Lent – lessons 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.Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim DenisonPhoto Credit: Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For these forty-plus days before Easter, my resolve is to:

  • read A 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer;
  • refer back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking;
  • reflect on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teaching
  • resist (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues;
  • repent of the sins of neglect and indifference;
  • remember to pray and
  • reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

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

Preparing for Easter – 50 Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis

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

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 herself, she finds herself in the middle of a stand-off between pro-choice non-Christian colleagues and pro-life Christian 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. 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 get angry 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 you 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 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 (I first put “bad” but changed it), power brokers at work, or politicians or political parties.

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 agree 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 are, 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.

Monday Morning Moment – the Culture of Contempt and How to Change It…or At Least Yourself Within It

Photo Credit: Paul Ekman Group

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It’s also my birthday, but that’s not today’s subject. In Richmond, Virginia, today a gun rights rally is scheduled because of new gun control laws slated to be passed in our state. Thousands are expected to attend. Some argue that having such a rally on Martin Luther King Day is morally wrong. The political divide on the issue of guns in our country is as wide as it’s ever been.

Later today, Dave and I will see the film Just Mercy, based on Bryan Stevenson‘s book of the same title.  The film tells the story of one of the cases attorney Stevenson fought and won for the release of an innocent man from death row. It speaks to the hatred and contempt found in culture, along racial lines, but also along the lines of class, authority, and privilege.

Our country…America…”one nation under God” a phrase still in our pledge (for now)…is woefully divided. With our presidential election looming later this year, we are sturdying ourselves to withstand the character assassinations of one political party for the other…Either trying to determine truth from falsehood and where we can stand. No matter what side politically we lean, we find it awkward and uncomfortable because of the behavior of those on our side and their contempt for the other.

“Contempt is the deadliest form of relationship cancer. So says John Gottman…[he] defines contempt as trying to speak from a higher level while attempting to push another down to a lower level. Contempt – closely related to disgust – is all about hierarchy and wielding elitist power to hatefully exclude another from the community.”Robert E. Hall

Is there any way forward in this culture of contempt? I believe there is. In fact, many are writing and speaking from their different platforms on how that might look…and how we might engage with one another.

Author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks is one of the voices in this crucial conversation. His book Love Your Enemies speaks to a way we can counter contempt in our own character and culture. 

“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.” – Arthur Brooks, Love Your Enemies

I experience contempt – not personally as much as from the social media broadcasting again “people like me”. If people who would have contempt for people “like me” really knew how deeply I feel about some of today’s issues, the contempt register would get personal.

From reading, listening to others, and trying to understand how to even be a healthy, engaged part of our culture…these 5 actions items are what I subscribe to:

1) Determine to stay engaged with those “on the other side”. Now I understand how we come to the point of needing to block others’ opinions in our lives (social media or social distancing in real life). However, I don’t think that gets us anywhere positive. [This is not to say a person must stay in an abusive relationship. Exit for safety’s sake, but bear in mind, healing requires more than exiting.] Exiting relationships out of contempt means the opportunity to move forward is gone…with that person and future “like” persons. We are practicing an exit clause that can become habitual across wider life experience. Arthur Brooks has much to say on this. Simply, “Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s hate speech or the person saying it is a deviant.” 

2) Listen.Listening Is an Act of Love. Too often we listen to respond, right? What if we listened just to know the other person? Just to show love and to communicate, “You are being heard. You are seen. You have value.” StoryCorps is even launching a venture giving opportunity for people who have polarized views and relationships to sit face-to-face and explore their differences and what they are about. Check out One Small Step.

3) Love your enemies. Jesus spoke these words to those who would follow him. Evangelicals have gotten a bad rap in our country these days, and maybe some of it is deserved… but if they are true followers of Jesus, they are not your enemy. A bold statement, but true if Jesus’ teaching is paramount to their lives. As for those politically polarized from each other…the far right and the far left… what if we truly tried to love them, to show them respect, to not make sweeping judgments on who they are as people? What if…

4) Pray. A huge way to deal with contempt is to pray for the individual (or group) for whom you feel it. Not to pray that she/he/they fail, but to pray for wisdom, to pray for excellent counsel in their lives, to pray for understanding. Prayer, in the very act of doing it, can change our hearts toward other people. Talking, talking, talking about people for whom we battle contempt…with those who feel the same as we do just fuels our contempt. Unless we are committed to pray and have our understanding of them seasoned with the love of God. Our stand on issues aren’t the issue. It’s our opinion of other people, not the issues, that can change our culture.

5) Take action with hope and good faith. Lean in. Forgive…every single time. [Not easy, nor will it be for someone who questions my heart or take on things.] Work toward listening opportunities with those we may oppose or who oppose us. Find ways in our workplaces, churches/etc, communities to join with others, maybe not like us, to learn, grow, gain understanding, in hopes of making substantive change for our world.

“Push opportunity to the people who need it the most.”Arthur Brooks

Even as I write this, there’s this creeping sense that those reading might think “She has really lost it now”. The thing is, I have always believed that “together we can make things better”. Nothing original here. This cultural calamity of contempt has gotten so big that even people I might not align with agree something has to change…and I am with them.

Sick and Tired of the Culture of Contempt? Here Are 5 Ways You Can Subvert It – Arthur Brooks

Take One Small Step with StoryCorps

What Is Contempt? – Paul Ekman Group

Saving America From Our Culture of Contempt – Arthur Brooks Lecture, UVA – Miller Center (Video)

The Pursuit – A Better World For All Starting at the Margins – Arthur Brooks Documentary

YouTube – Arthur Brooks on the Eric Metaxas Show

To Change Our ‘Culture of Contempt’, Arthur Brooks Suggests All of Us  ‘Love Your Enemies – Helen Raleigh

How You Can Subvert Our Pervasive Culture of Contempt – Leroy Seat

Worship Wednesday – This Is Christmas – Kutless

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:1, 14

This is Christmas. So many beautiful and as well as a few hard memories attached to it. My dad died on Christmas Day in 2016. He loved Christmas and made it all the more fun for all of us.

I wanted to write today…but like many days recently, the words are not coming. Writing takes time…and thought. Life itself takes precedence even though writing can be life to us writers.

Life is precious and calls for us to notice it and to savor every moment, and every person within those moments. It’s been 3 1/2 years since my breath-taking cancer diagnosis, I am fortunate. 3 1/2 years out is a very good thing.

My writing will come back, but for today it will be just a moment with you…a moment, a few pictures, and a worship song.

Merry Christmas. If it’s not your holiday, enjoy its gentling nature.

What is Christmas?

Wonder…of children, grandchildren, and the birth of one special baby…the Christ child.

Christmas Music – so varied and glorious we start listening in October.

Family – both with us and not able to be.

Friends – near and far.

Food…so much food.

Serving others.

Traditions – favorite books and movies, all the lights, treasured ornaments on the Christmas tree, outings…and those quiet staying in times.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown:

Worship with me to the song This Is Christmas by the band Kutless:

Do you find it hard to sleep tonight
Resting by the Christmas lights?
Could there be something you forgot?
Beyond the bows, and mistletoe
The tree with presents wrapped below
There’s more to this than you had ever thought?
Have we lost the reason that we celebrate each year?

[Chorus:]
What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas without Christ?

Remember how the story goes
God’s gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes
Beneath the star, one great and holy night
The shepherds heard the angels sing
The wise men brought an offering
Peace on Earth began in Bethlehem
Have we lost the reason that we celebrate each year?

[Chorus:]
What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas?
If the angels never sang ‘Glory to the new born king?’
What is Christmas without Christ?

There’d be no
Glo-oo-oo-oo-ria
In excelsis deo
Glo-oo-oo-oo-ria
In excelsis deo

What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas without Christ?
This is Christmas
It’s all about the Savior wrapped in a manger
This is Christmas
Because of Jesus Christ
This is Christmas
Because of Christ
Because of Christ*

I pray your Christmas is filled with all the good of this day. Whether words come or not…that you may know the love meant for you in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. May we also take every opportunity to “give it away“.

[Video above featured Samaritan’s Purse which is a great organization. We personally support the smaller Baptist Global Response. Both give us opportunities to give to world’s neediest.]

*Lyrics to This Is Christmas – Songwriters: Jon Micah Sumrall, David  M. Lubben

A Christmas Letter to Every Mama – Sally Clarkson

When Christmas Is Hard – the God of Comfort and Joy – Deb Mills

Merry Christmas, from Dave & me

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.

YouTube Video – O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen – Kings College

Connecting the Dots at Christmas – Ken Shigematsu

Photo Credit: Todd Carey, Facebook

Worship Wednesday – Advent – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

[Adapted from the Archives]
We live in a “not so much”,  “couldn’t care less” world.
Our senses are bombarded with the material – the stuff we think adds value. The “too cool for school” attitude of self-importance pushes past high school into adulthood. We think highly of ourselves, and the coolest of us settle into tight tribes – actually cool or not, we find our people and tuck ourselves in.
Advent gives pause. Even for those who do not celebrate Christmas, the presence of a God-child, a baby like no other, must be grappled with…even for a transformative moment. For believers and non-believers alike, we can stop the show of our lives…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
Consider.
So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.Revelation 5:1-9

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was/is worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

During the weeks of Advent this year, our praise team at Movement Church is leading us through this beautiful song, considering Jesus: Is He Worthy?

Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote this song for a congregation to participate responsively with the worship leaders. The reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to…but appreciate.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

[Sidebar: If you worshiped God with the help of this video, you saw a sea of white faces as the singers. Andrew Peterson wrote an apology worthy of your time. Let’s none of us falter from what he calls a misstep and miss the larger message of this beautiful song.]

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

Worship Wednesday – Our Best For Him – The Little Drummer Boy – For King & Country

Photo Credit: YouTube, The Little Drummer Boy Movie

Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for people.Colossians 3:23

He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:37-40
“For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.Colossians 1:29
Whew! We’ve just finished the protracted Christmas shopping push of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Now, we sift through lists of what we still need to buy for those we love and to supply the various events that fill the days ahead. Three weeks until Christmas.
In celebrating the birth of Christ, our December fills to the brim. For those of us who struggle at this time of year and pull away from the  crowding of the days, it is nearly impossible to stay clear of the insatiable noise of cultural Christmas.
We scurry around trying to buy and do for those closest to us…which is not a bad thing at all, but Christmas…for us…is most about Him. He deserves our best gifts… This is consummately freeing for us, His children.
This song – The Little Drummer Boy performed by For King & Country – was a highlight of this year’s CMA Country Christmas TV special.

What I love about this song is the crazy cumulative talent of the guys in this band! Drumming is something they do unlike any other music group I know. To translate that drumming into this little Christmas song made the lyrics even more meaningful.
Many of us have seen the 1968 animated film The Little Drummer Boy. That little movie tells a story of the journey of the wise men to see Jesus. A poor drummer boy forced to accompany them was then present as they presented their extravagant gifts to the baby king. He, too, wanted to give to Jesus…his best gift was his drumming.

What is our best for Him this Christmas? Maybe it is something different than we think. We can ask Him…in the quiet of our hearts, never mind the bustle of December days… He will receive what we offer Him…like a parent gladly receives the simple gift of a child.

As the Bible verses referenced above remind us, He empowers our giving. Whatever we give, however we serve, with Him and His purposes as our focus – He is at work in us and through us. Glory!

Worship with me to the joyously ebullient version of The Little Drummer Boy by For King & Country, with all “their best” drumming.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gifts to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum*

*Lyrics to The Drummer Boy – as performed by For King & Country – Songwriters: Katherine K. Davis, Harry Simeone, Henry V. Onorati

YouTube Video – For King & Country – Little Drummer Boy (Rewrapped Music Video) (Live)

YouTube – A for King & Country Christmas – the One Hour Concert, Phoenix, Arizona

Worship Wednesday – What a Beautiful Name/Agnus Dei – Travis & Daughter Lily Cottrell and a Whole Lot of Other People

Photo Credit: YouTube, Travis & Lily Cottrell

[Adapted from the Archives]

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.”Philippians 2:5-11

Considering the answer to questions is a part of how we learn, how we set a course toward knowing. We search out in our own minds the answer to a question. If we come up blank, we seek out other resources, those who show mastery, knowledge, or understanding that we lack.

Is there a most important question in life?

I’m posing this as the most important question: What will you do with Jesus?

The weight of evidence that Jesus existed is substantial, unquestionable. In fact, to say he didn’t would require more faith than not, given the historical documentation and his impact on history. Note one reference here.

What we do with this Jesus is partly determined on whether we see him as a man, a prophet, a revolutionary…or God.

During my early childhood years, my family was not religious. There were no rituals, no spiritual conversations, no sense of God or who he was.

I was eight years old before we ever went into a church building. This followed my parents’ divorce, a couple of house moves, and my mom’s remarriage to my sweet step-dad. Lots of ups and downs in there.

A student of mine once told me that he believed children just grow up in the faith of their parents…no personal wrestling of what to believe…or whom to believe in.

My family didn’t have any faith to speak of in those days. When friends invited us to join them in church, it began a journey for my mom, dad, and siblings. For my parents, it was a re-acquainting themselves with God…for me an amazing new discovery.

Everything I have learned about Jesus and know of him through personal experience has enriched my life like nothing else in this world. No human love, no accomplishment, no other adventure can compare with what has come to me through him.

There is no question for me that if there is God, then Jesus is God. It is difficult to wrap the mind around the reality of a triune God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We have to take that by faith, but not a blind faith. The life and teaching of Jesus point to one linked so intimately to the Father, they are one. Thoroughly infused by the Spirit of God. No ordinary man, or woman, could live as he lived, love as he loved, spend himself as he did. He was human and divine… completely…and without sin.

As a child from a broken home, whose biological father’s neglect and disregard continued through our lives until he died…I longed for the love that only God, through Christ Jesus, offered.

He has never disappointed.

Two beautiful songs have been weaved together in today’s Worship Wednesday. The Hillsong Worship song-writer team of Ben Fielding & Brooke Ligertwood gave us What a Beautiful Name – a song that describes something of the beauty of the name of Jesus.

Photo Credit: Phatmass

Singer Songwriter Michael W. Smith‘s Agnus Dei is a huge worship anthem lifting Jesus, the Lamb of God, as worthy of all praise.

What a Beautiful Name/Agnus Dei has been arranged for choir by singer/songwriter Travis Cottrell. The song features his daughter Lily Cottrell, and a whole lot of other people.

In a world where too often Jesus’ name is used as a derogatory exclamation, my heart is renewed in the company of those whose lives have also been transformed by knowing him…and praying to the Father, in his name. Jesus…God coming so close to us and making a way for us to come close to Him…now and forever.

Let’s worship together…[click on the link; the lyrics are there. By the way: my struggle often with posting Worship Wednesday is the possible distraction from the exquisite truth of Jesus and the Gospel with the emotional beauty of the music and the winsomeness of the singers in the video. May we never settle for the lift our hearts receive in a corporate praise experience…and miss both the rock-solid grounding and ascendant nature of the message of who Jesus is. Hallelujah!]

You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful name it is, what a beautiful name it is
The name of Jesus Christ, my King
What a beautiful name it is, nothing compares to this
What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus

You didn’t want heaven without us
So, Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now?

What a wonderful name it is, what a wonderful name it is
The name of Jesus Christ, my King
What a wonderful name it is, nothing compares to this
What a wonderful name it is, the name of Jesus
What a wonderful name it is, the name of Jesus

Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again…

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God, You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

What a powerful name it is, what a powerful name it is
The name of Jesus Christ, my King
What a powerful name it is, nothing can stand against
What a powerful name it is, the name of Jesus

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God, You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names
The Name above all names!…

Holy, holy
Are You Lord, God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb
‘Cause You are holy, holy
Are You Lord, God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb!…
You are holy!

What a beautiful name it is, what a beautiful name it is
The name of Jesus Christ, my King
What a beautiful name it is, nothing compares to this
What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus
What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus
What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus

Photo Credit: UEChurch

Explore God: Who Is Jesus?

Worship Wednesday – The Name and Person of Jesus – Various Artists – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Songs of Thanksgiving – Great Are You Lord – All Sons & Daughters – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Jesus – Do You Know Him By Name? – Deb Mills

YouTube Video – What a Beautiful Name (Lyric Video) – Hillsong Worship

YouTube Video – Agnus Dei by Michael W. Smith (w/ lyrics)