Tag Archives: mercy

Monday Morning Moment – a Parable of Lost Sons and Their Father

Photo Credit: Rembrandt, Wikipedia

Whatever your faith base is or even if you have none to speak of, the parables of Jesus are magnificent stories that call us to deep thinking about life…and the choices we make.

The parable reflected in Rembrandt’s extraordinary painting above is one such story. In brief, you see a father and his older son (both in red robes) and a younger prodigal son, returning home, repentant.

The Return of the Prodigal Son – Rembrandt – Wikipedia [read the short and powerful article – a beautiful synopsis of the work.]

“The Parable of the Lost Son” is found in only one of the Gospels – Luke 15:11-32 (the whole of his story is found in the link, within the larger context of Luke 15 – read that here). Jesus was responding to the questioning and contempt of the religious leaders of his day. Their problem with Jesus was the two opposing facts that he was a religious authority himself and yet he took company with sinners.

In Jesus’ response to them, he spoke of loss and our reaction. We go after what is lost, and we rejoice when it is found.

His story tells how a younger son wants his freedom and asks his father for his inheritance. He wanted something that would not normally come to him until his father’s death, but he demanded it still. The father then divided his estate between his two sons. The one left home to spend his wealth on folly, and the other, the older son, stayed, out of duty or love (we don’t really know).

The younger son’s foolishness quickly leads to a wasted, impoverished life. He longs for the life he once knew in his father’s house. He finally “came to his senses”, remembering his good father and how well even the hired workers in his household lived. He determined to return home and ask his father’s forgiveness – not to be restored as his son but in hopes of becoming one of those workers.

Jesus’ story goes on to show the father’s deep and loving character – seeing the son approaching from a distance, he ran to him. Receiving him back to himself, in joyous celebration.

This was part 1 of Jesus’ parable of the lost sons. Part 2 begins here with the older brother. He had been working out in the fields as always, and, returning at day’s end, he hears the noise of a party. When he asked a servant what was going on, he was told the younger brother had returned home and their father had ordered a celebration. Here, we find the other lost son’s response…

…he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him.
But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.
But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
” ‘Son,’ [the father] said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” – Luke 15:28-32
Again, we capture the beauty of the father’s character. He loved both sons. He was generous with them both, and he invited both into his merciful love.
Jesus shared this story (as well as the story of the lost coin and lost sheep) with religious leaders who questioned his care for sinners. In a way, these religious ones were much like the older son.
Do you identify with one of these sons? One is reckless and searching – allowing his self-indulgent longings to take him far from home. The other is dutiful and obedient. Accepting the responsibilities of life to shape his character…and his subsequent lack of care for both his father and brother.
[My husband preached a sermon on this story years ago and I am often reminded of his reflection on it – how the elder brother must have thought he was pleasing his father because he stayed at the plow. What if that older brother would have come to the father and said, “Hey, Dad, would it be all right if I go and look for my brother?” If he truly knew the heart of his father, he would have left home, at some point, to search for that lost brother and bring him back to their dad.]
The father in this story is reflective of God. He is home. Whether that is your belief or not, we are place-oriented as humans. What (or who) we regard as home has a huge impact on how we do life.
I take heart in both of these brothers…my life has taken me far from home in both these ways. Wanting popularity and the stuff of this world as well as longing to do what is right and the influence that comes with that. Neither extreme brings us the joy we can have in being known and loved for who we are…and loving others the same.
Henri Nouwen‘s book The Return of the Prodigal Son is a short, winsome engaging of these three men in Jesus’ story.

Here are a few of Nouwen’s observations on Jesus’ story:

“Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home.”
“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”
“…the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
“There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.”
“The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. ..Isn’t it good to be obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, and self-sacrificing? And still it seems that my resentments and complaints are mysteriously tied to such praiseworthy attitudes… It seems that wherever my virtuous self is, there also is the resentful complainer.”
“In all three of the parables which Jesus tells to explain why he eats with sinners, God rejoices and invites others to rejoice with him. “Rejoice with me,” the shepherd says, “I have found my sheep that was lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the woman says, “I have found the drachma I lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the father says, “this son of mine was lost and is found.” All these voices are the voices of God.”
In closing, I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section of this blog. What struggle do you have in coming home? Or thinking of yourself as never having left, do you still feel alienated even at home? The best part of this story is that whether we feel more like the older brother or the younger brother, Jesus communicated that we can come home. A loving father is watching for us.
[Below are two sermons that got me thinking again about this great story – one of many Jesus told to those with “ears to hear”.]

YouTube Video – Parable of the Lost Sons – Part 1 – Sermon by Khiry Cooper – Movement Church RVA – September 18, 2022

YouTube Video – Parable of the Lost Sons – Part 2 – Sermon by Cliff Jordan – Movement Church RVA – September 25, 2022

Worship Wednesday – Build My Life – Pat Barrett

[Worship – Movement Church – July 3 2022]

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Jesus – Luke 6:46-49

How shall we build our lives? Whether we are young or old, it matters the foundation.

When Jesus spoke of whether we truly know Him, he makes the distinction of whether or not we obey Him. Not in any silly, shallow legalistic way…no. He implores us to consider what we are paying attention to…what foundation we are building on.

If we say we love Him, we will obey Him, because He knows and loves us completely. It simply follows that we would obey Him. He knows what is best for us, and He has shown Himself consummately trustworthy.

Why wouldn’t we obey Him?

The world has become a difficult place and those of us who have been cushioned by affluence are no longer untouched. In the US, our culture is now considered post-Christian, and yet it is not completely so. Our government and courts are waging war to move us toward a secular worldview. The entertainment industry and business sector also use their financial power to influence our thinking…in a direction that moves us off foundation.

If Christ is truly our Lord, then He is the foundation on which we build. Then, and only then, we will prepare, preach, and practice lives of justice, mercy, and humility (Micah 6:8).

Dear God, we need You so right now. We need you to draw our eyes, our thoughts, away from that which would draw us away from You. We are not a people who hates. We are not a people who divides. We are not a people who excludes. We are Yours. Lord, may those around us see Jesus in our faces, in how we apply our hands, and what we do with our time…in all things. Oh Jesus…build our lives.

If Jesus is Lord, we don’t hold grudges. We don’t hate our neighbor. We don’t withhold mercy. We do love even our enemies; we pursue peace, and we point our lives to our Savior. He gives grace. He empowers. He sets us aright as we seek to follow Him.

Hallelujah! He is worthy. Remember He has given us all we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We can have confidence as we follow His lead. As we build our lives, His love is our firm foundation.

Eyes on Jesus – we build our lives.

Worship with me to Pat Barrett‘s “Build My Life”. Let’s also remember together to “build our lives on the things that last.” Pat Barrett

Worthy of every song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You, oh, we live for You

[Verse 2]
Jesus, the Name above every other name
Jesus, the only One who could ever save
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You, we live for You

[Chorus]
Holy, there is no one like You, there is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder and
Show me who You are and fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

[Verse 2]
Jesus, the name above every other name
Jesus, the only One who could ever save
You’re worthy of every breath we could ever breathe
We live for You, oh, we live for You

[Chorus]
Holy, there is no one like You, there is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder and
Show me who You are and fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

[Bridge]
And I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation
And I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken
And I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation
And I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken

[Chorus]
Holy, there is no one like You, there is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder and
Show me who You are and fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

[Outro]
And I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation
And I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken.*

* Lyrics to Build My Life – Songwriter: Pat Barrett

Worship Wednesday – Overcoming Regret – Mercy – Elevation Worship & Maverick City

Photo Credit: Heartlight

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?Jeremiah 17:9

If You, O LORD, kept track of iniquities, then who, O Lord, could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be feared.  I wait for the LORD; my soul does wait, and in His word I put my hope. – Psalm 130:3-5

For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I have not been justified by this; but the One judging me is the Lord.1 Corinthians 4:4

Let’s spend a few minutes looking back. Thinking about regret. We aren’t going to stay there, because God saved us for this present moment, and, beyond this, our glorious future. However, looking back (with righteous intention) can empower us for our lives in the present. Looking back can also grow gratitude for the God who has graciously forgiven us.

Maybe regret isn’t something that plagues you. That is a grace, Dear One. Pastor John Piper says: “A life without regrets is built on a mirage. We have all sinned.” I have never thought much about regret until recent years. Getting older seems to grease the tracks for that.

I have regrets…and it turns out, so do we all. In pondering it this week, I’ve asked several in my life about their regrets. Surprisingly, these conversations revealed things I didn’t know about people I know well…regret exposed tender memories and heartbreak.

Some things we can’t change…but the things we can, then… hallelujah!

Let’s pull our regret out of the dark recesses of our memory, put it on the table, and examine it with the help of the Holy Spirit…and a trusted friend. If we don’t deal with our regret, it is still affecting the freedom we have in Christ and our sense of ourselves and each other.

Let’s do what we need to do with that regret…and get truly free.

Researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. J. Kim Penberthy posted a fascinating and empowering piece on overcoming regret.

Regret is a very real reaction to a disappointing event in your life, a choice you made that can’t be changed, something you said that you can’t take back. It’s one of those feelings you can’t seem to shake, a heavy and intrusive negative emotion that can last for minutes, days, years or even a lifetime.”

Regret mentally references something we did or that we didn’t do (in the spiritual realm: sins of commission and sins of omission).

Penberthy offers a cognitive model for overcoming regret. It involves the acronym “REACH“:

  • Recall the hurt (face it)
  • Empathize (be kind and compassionate)
  • Altruistically offer forgiveness (to oneself)
  • Commit publicly (share it) and
  • Hold on to that forgiveness and stay true to the decision.

Regret Can Be All-Consuming – a Neurobehavioral Scientist Explains How to Overcome It

The Psychology of Regret – Melanie Greenberg

Our tendency is to either bury our regret or burrow into our regret. Either way robs us of 1) what we can learn from it, 2) what we can do to correct or overcome it, and 3) what freedom we can experience, living fully in the present (beyond the conscious/unconscious burden of regret).

Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson writes about overcoming regret:

“The process of repair requires us to confront the reality of the wound that has taken place. This includes naming the offense (what someone did or failed to do), acknowledging that it has caused pain to the one offended, and pledging to work to never repeat the behavior. In the language of faith we describe this maneuver of repair as confession and repentance – the act of turning around and going in the opposite direction, not merely feeling regret for having done something wrong.”Curt Thompson, The Anatomy of the Soul

John Piper answers the question “How Should I Handle My Regrets?” in a 10 minute podcast. He reminds us of the Savior we have and the salvation we’ve received…recalling the thief on the cross, being executed because of a regrettable life, and yet, in a moment, repenting and receiving assurance of Paradise with the Lord. Wow!

Piper warns us that our memories are faulty causing us to be either too hard on ourselves…or too easy. Then he calls us both to remember and to forget:

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.Ephesians 2:12-13

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

“Wherever remembering our failures will help us fly to Christ, love Christ, rest in Christ, cherish grace, sing of mercy, serve with zeal, then let’s get on with remembering and regretting…

but…

Wherever remembering begins to paralyze us with the weight of failure and remorse so that we don’t love Christ more or cherish grace more or serve with greater energy, then let us forget and press on by the power of grace for the little time we have left…Press on in faith for the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.”John Piper, Desiring God

Let’s close out as Pastor John calls us to “sing of mercy” with the song below: Mercy.

REACH Forgiveness – Everett Worthington – wonderful resources!

Monday Morning Moment – a Non-partisan Prayer for America on the Eve of the Election

Photo Credit: Savio Sebastian, Flickr

[6 minute read…and prayer]

Oh God,

We come to You because “where else would we go?”. You alone, Lord, hold all things together (Colossians 1:17). How thankful we are that nothing can separate us from Your love. (Romans 8:38-39)

Father, You call us to love You, not because You need our love, but because You know if we do harm to ourselves in loving anyone or anything more than You. With loving You as our primary call, You also urge us to love others as we love ourselves. Help us to daily become more like Jesus, that when we love others, they will experience His gracious love through us. Even our enemies.

God, You remind us how we work out that love in our lives – by “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with You” (Micah 6:8).

Forgive us, Lord, when our identity as partisan citizens takes priority over Your Kingdom rule and reign. You remind us that You have created “thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities”. You have given us the blessing of being Americans. Forgive us when we elevate that blessing over Your place in our lives. You are God – You “exalt and You bring down”, “remove kings and establish them“, “appoint authorities”. Thank You, God, that no matter the outcome of this election, we can be confident that You are ever at work in the world.

How do we vote, Lord? Guide us to vote not just our sensibilities but out of conscience drenched by your Holy Spirit. Some preachers and writers counsel with us that neither candidate may deserve the vote of a true follower of Yours. Then there are Godly responses that followed of how we must live “in this world but not of this world” (John 17:9-19) – not drawing away from voting. There are so many opinions, so many platforms…both outside Your church and inside.

Teach us how to be as fully a part of our culture as possible, but without sin. How does that work with voting in a post-Christian country? Lord, our hearts burn with desire for You to be glorified in this place. We need Your clarity.

Will voting our conscience drive away or draw others to You?

Please help us, Lord. Are we to be silent in the arena of politics?

Guide us, Lord. We need Your wisdom. We also surrender ourselves to Your will in this…just please lead us. Whichever side we align with politically has its unique secular agenda. With no interest in Godly outcomes. Give us discernment, God, as we make our decisions and act on them.

We need Your humility. Help us Democrats to fight for the unborn; help us Republicans to intervene for children at our country’s borders.* Help us see Your love for the whole world, and move us to act, not just on election day, but every day thereafter.

You call us to demonstrate Your love to the most vulnerable in our society – the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the poor. Help us, Father, move from intention, from words only, to be the hands and feet of God…following the life-giving (and life-giving-away) example of Jesus.

How ever the election ends, whatever the outcome, Father help us, each of us, to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Also, we pray for the grace to continue to obey You by praying for those in authority over us, whoever that might be.

Thank You, Father, for the amazing grace You give us to quieten our hearts and still our resolve.

Thank You for Jesus, whom You’ve given all authority. He has given us a great work in this world, from which we do not want to be distracted. Praise Your name that You are always with us…even in these moments ahead of the election. It is a small thing for You. Help us keep that perspective.

Lord, many of us came to faith in a supportive environment where we had freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembling together. Forgive us when we fall to fear of losing these currently protected rights. Should we experience persecution, Lord, we know from Your Word and the testimony of Your saints, that You continue with us always. Thank You, Father.

We keep our eyes on You. Whether we line up to vote tomorrow…or decide we won’t be voting this year. You are God. You are good. Your purposes are not thwarted. Every morning, Your mercies are new to us…just what we need for each day. Thank You, Father, that You love Your children and You remind us, throughout the Holy Scriptures, to be strong, to not be afraid, and to not lose heart.

We will ever keep our eyes on You, to finish Your work, in each of our lives, in this country, and in this world. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Oh, and Lord, could I pray for one thing more? Please, Father, please rid our world of COVID-19. We pray in the name and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not just divided by politics; we are divided by this terrible virus. Free us from the bondage and hardship that has come out of this disease and its mitigation. Lord, You have told us to come boldly in prayer to Your throne. This is a time of great need for us, all around the world. We ask for Your mercy. Thank You, Lord. Again, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*YouTube Video – Politics: How Would Jesus Vote? – Scott Sauls – He also encourages us in how we vote. Best sermon I’ve heard on this topic in this election season.

Positive Living: No Matter What You Do – God’s Plans Cannot Be Aborted! – Margaret Hodge – Great passages of Scripture included

What Christians Should Do If Their Candidate Loses the 2020 Election – Andy Stanley

A Facebook post from a friend – short and worthwhile read

Worship Wednesday – Taking Heart in the God of Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Photo Credit: a worship service in Richmond, during recent protests Jared Burwell, Facebook

I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.
I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard [him] and saved him from all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.Psalm 34:1-9
Our city has been rocked with shock and grief in recent weeks. The resulting waves of protests, vandalism, and looting have turned everyone’s attention to the brokenness here and elsewhere.
Some say the church has finally found its voice in this conversation. The church is finally showing up where it should have long ago.
We struggle. All of us. With understanding and a willingness to lean in where there is pain. Whoever caused the pain or was complicit in ignoring pain, we as believers come under the lordship of a God who leans in.
I am still without words (you who read my blogs, thank you. You noticed and I am grateful). Fortunately many more articulate people are writing and speaking about what is going on in our country and how we can respond…as Americans for some, as believers for others.
I want to respond as a believer, and I am listening.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir‘s Psalm 34 really touched my heart this week, and I wanted to share it with you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfW2mkkMTAg&feature=youtu.be
Our church is not very diverse in its congregation, but we have (or maybe want is a better word) a heart for loving all peoples. I am thankful for our leadership for nurturing that. Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, has been multi-cultural for many years…as is its leadership.

The Pastoral Staff of Brooklyn Tabernacle

I think it’s safe to say that right now the church is trying to figure out how to show up for those hurting in our country and around the world. What that will mean in the days ahead…in the years ahead…is yet to be seen. How it turns out will be impacted by how we walk with the God of Psalm 34.

Worship together:

I sought the Lord
And He answered me
And delivered me
From every fear
Those who look on Him
Are radiant
They’ll never be ashamed
They’ll never be ashamed
This poor man cried
And the Lord heard me
And saved me from
My enemies
The Son of God
Surrounds His saints
He will deliver them
He will deliver them
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Oh taste and see
That the Lord is good
Oh blessed is he
Who hides in Him
Oh fear the Lord
Oh all you saints
He’ll give you everything
He’ll give you everything
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever…

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

Worship Wednesday – We Are Blessed to Be a Blessing – Andy Flannagan

Photo Credit: Heartlight

[Adapted from the Archives]

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – God to Abraham –  Genesis 12:2

We are so blessed. It is not a cliche. It is truth. Even those who don’t believe that God is will still use the expression of being blessed.

I wonder, “by whom?”.

Earlier this week I wrote about silence as punishment…withholding our words, ourselves, from others. Today we focus on the opposite – blessing others, through our words and actions. Reaching out, drawing in. Speaking life and love. Listening close. Blessing.

We are blessed to be a blessing. From the beginning of time, when God instructed His first man and woman. Especially to childless Abraham who would receive that promise in faith…blessed to be a blessing.

Writer Tina Boesch has written a beautiful book on blessing: Given: the Forgotten Meaning and Practice of Blessing. The first page of the book begins with a Scottish blessing:Life be in my speech, sense in what I say…the love Christ Jesus gave  filling me for every one.” Boesch writes about how, no matter the situation or the persons in front of us, we can bless them, because He has so utterly blessed us.

Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Colossians 3:17

From a young British friend’s Facebook page sometime ago, I was introduced to songwriter Andy Flannagan and Reverend Kevin Lewis. They both love Jesus and sing and write about blessing…

They cheer us on to shake off the weight of self-interest and reach out to a broken world…that those desperate for love will find it in the same Savior we know…and show by our love – our words and deeds – that He loves them, also.

Worship Wednesday – Grace Got You – MercyMe featuring John Reuben

Photo Credit: Heartlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: YouTube

Worship with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube Video – Grace Got You – Story Behind the Song

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

Photo Credit: Heartlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s worship together.

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

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

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

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

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

We must go live to feed the hungry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship Wednesday – Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Don Moen

Photo Credit: Bible Screen, Pinterest

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!  “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. – Deuteronomy 32:3-4

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

This is going to be a little random and ranging…but throughout this day, over and over, I was reminded of the faithfulness of God.

This morning, first thing, I routinely get up, quick stop in the bathroom, and make the bed. While making the bed, that amazing old hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness wafted through my thoughts… out of nowhere.

Soon, it’s out the door to pick up one of my grandsons for Play ‘n Pray at church where we gather, kids in tow, and pray while they play.

Do you ever have those times in the car that God seems to speak through something on the radio? That happened briefly this morning across two great songs on my favorite Christian radio station.

First, David Crowder‘s song Red Letters came on. Red Letters refers to the words recorded in Scripture that Jesus spoke. Crowder tells the story of how the Lord gives us freedom though we deserve death because of our sin. Then right after, Lincoln Brewster‘s jumping version of Everlasting God… If a car could rock with praise, mine was rocking! You know how you see some people at traffic lights with their arms raised, or drumming their steering wheel, or heads bobbing…that sort of car-rocking praise.

By the time, my grandson and I arrived at Play ‘n Pray, my heart was so full of the faithfulness of God.

While the kids played on the playground, we moms and grams sat, watching, talking, and finally praying. Between gummy bear snacks, sorting out rows between the kids, and rounding up the scattering crawlers. We prayed. God is faithful to draw near to us in all the chaos of mothering small ones.

I had to leave after our scheduled time was over, but one of the young moms lingered to continue talking to moms from the neighborhood who had joined us on the playground. It was the very thing we hope happens each week…connections, bridges, neighborly links to the very love of God.

On my way to the next thing, with a content little guy in his car-seat behind, an odd memory surfaced. Both sad and lovely. Something I hadn’t thought of in years…

It was a memory that goes back over 20 years to a church for internationals in Cairo, Egypt. Heliopolis Community Church. Living in Cairo in those days, we loved being in the English-speaking congregation of HCC. It was an oasis of sorts where we didn’t have to think or speak in Arabic and we all had in common that we were, most of us, foreigners and we loved Jesus.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Heliopolis Community Church, Cairo, Egypt

Rotating teams of laypeople led the worship part of the service each week. A young man from South Asia led our worship from time to time. Although I do not remember his name, but I’ve never forgotten him…or his story. He was originally of a different faith and had come to receive Jesus as his Savior gradually. First through dreams, then in chance meetings with Christians, in minority where he lived. Finally, he received a Bible and devoured it…especially the red lettered words of Jesus.

He told us that his conversion to Christianity was very hurtful for his parents. He was their only child. His father rejected him and would die still estranged from him. His mother also became fatally ill at some point. In her faith, if her son did not return to the faith of the family, it could create too great an impediment for her to be able to enter Heaven. I didn’t understand how that worked, but for his mother it was a terrible, horrifying belief. She begged him to give up his faith in Jesus…but he could not. She died with that bitter plea on her lips…and that painful dagger in his heart.

He closed out his story by giving witness to the great faithfulness of God in his life…to seek him out, to save him, to love him even when his parents could no longer.

We were all mesmerized by his story and his own faith in God.

He then led us in singing Don Moen‘s chorus Ascribe Greatness. It is a simple song, lyrics repeated (as the praise songs often were in those days – 1990) – taken from Deuteronomy 32:3-4.

Worship with me and consider the faithfulness of God to each of us – His children.

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect
And all His ways are just

A God of faithfulness without injustice
Good and upright is He*

As I write, it’s the end of the day. Housework, cooking, community group and the hours passed by. My heart continues full…reflecting on the happenings of today…and the memories of others whose stories we know…stories of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God even in the most difficult of situations.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23

*Lyrics to Ascribe Greatness to Our God the Rock – Songwriter: Don Moen

New Mercies Every Morning – Dave Zuleger