Divided in Love

Since Valentine’s Day was just two days ago, I’ve been thinking about the topic of love. This morning I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread titled, Divided in Love, by Leslie Koh, a journalist from Singapore now working at Our Daily Bread Ministries, and this is what he wrote:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Ephesians 4:2

When public debate erupted over a controversial Singapore law, it divided believers with differing views. Some called others “narrow-minded” or accused them of compromising their faith.

Controversies can cause sharp divisions among God’s family, bringing much hurt and discouraging people. I’ve been made to feel small over personal convictions on how I apply the Bible’s teachings to my life. And I’m sure I’ve been equally guilty of criticizing others I disagree with.

I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?

Yet there are times when we need to address false teaching or explain our stand. Ephesians 4:2-6 reminds us to do so with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And, above all else, to make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3).

Some controversies will remain unresolved. God’s Word, however, reminds us that our goal should always be to build up people’s faith, not tear them down (v. 29). Are we putting others down to win an argument? Or are we allowing God to help us understand His truths in His time and His way, remembering that we share one faith in one Lord? (vv. 4-6). (Quote source here.)

Zeroing in on the key issue, Koh states, I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?” It seems as if humility is a dying art in our society today.

In a blog post published on August 23, 2016, titled, Is narcissism becoming a virtue or whatever happened to humility?” by Brian Harris, Principal of Vose Seminary and Pastor at Large for the Carey Group, a church, school and community center planting movement based in Perth, Australia, he writes:

The answer appears to be yes. A study by Hoover (2007) researching 16,000 students between 1982 to 2006 found that the average score on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory increased 30% in that time. Given that this study is now aging, I suspect the rise would be even more dramatic if tested now. Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell have written a book,The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” …which clearly chronicles our increasing obsession with self. The same book also helpfully distinguishes between self esteem and narcissism, recognizing that a realistic and valued sense of self is important, but that it is at risk of being tipped over the line in our time.

What’s wrong with narcissism… Many things, but here are a few:

    • An inflated sense of self sees us magnifying trivia. Everything about me must be awesome – and if it isn’t that’s tragic. But if everything is awesome, how do we differentiate and nuance things. How do we cope with disappointment? How do we face our shadow side? And how do we celebrate the ordinary?
    • Narcissism blinds us to sin (and I mean sin in the biblical sense of being people who miss the mark of God’s goal for us). It stops us from seeing our need for forgiveness and redemption.
    • A world that is about me, myself and I quickly becomes too small.
    • The order is wrong. Jesus taught that if we are willing to lose our life, we will find it. Paradoxical though this is, it is true. When it is all about me, something inside of me dies.
    • I become a consumer of services to which I feel entitled (because I matter so much). I become fixated on my rights, and usually gloss over my responsibilities.
    • Self preoccupation blinds me to the needs of others.
    • It makes me indifferent to the stories of others–the only story I want told is my own.
    • I place my confidence in myself. I want my world to be about me. Worshiping Jesus and having him at the center quickly disappears from my agenda.

It is never enough to simply tut tut about a social trend. What can be done about it?…

Could it be that the rise of narcissism is a comment on a world that has become too small… a world that has lost a narrative that can inspire, and challenge and motivate… a world that can make me bigger by getting me to move beyond my own very limited parameters? Perhaps we need fresh reminders that while God assuredly loves me, a God sized love actually encompasses the whole world. There are many stories to be told, and even more waiting to be written. And my role does not have to be the lead character in each. Simply cheering on the sidelines, and celebrating a story that has nothing to do with me, can be a helpful start. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 14, 2016, titled, Humility–The Lost Virtue,” by Tony Agnesi, Hall of Fame broadcaster, author, speaker, and storyteller, he writes:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  –C.S. Lewis

What ever happened to humility?  Once valued in our culture, humility just isn’t practiced at all.  Instead, we have a self-centered, chest-thumping, braggadocios, pat yourself on the back generation with an exaggerated self-importance.

The NFL running back, who years ago would credit the linemen for their great blocking and opening the way for his touchdown runs, will thump his chest and tell you how great he is, the best running back ever!

The mid-level boss at work takes credit for every accomplishment in his department never complimenting his staff for work well done.

The musician who interrupts an awards presentation to tell the recipient that someone else is better than she is.

The gossip, who is constantly putting down friends in an effort to make herself look better.

Yes, it’s true, humility is the ugly duckling of virtues, lost in a quagmire of self-centered bravado. This foolish pride is hubris and humility is the anecdote for hubris.

Somehow, over time, we have come to believe that humility is a lack of self-confidence, that humble people are shy or timid.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

That’s why C.S. Lewis’ quote is so important.  Humility understands that giving credit to others for their achievements doesn’t diminish our accomplishments. We gain respect, by being humble.  By simply shifting the focus away from self to others we make a powerful statement of leadership.  Try it sometime, and you will see the power of humility.

So, what are some examples of modern day humility?  What are a few simple things we can do to be more humble?

    • Try opening a door for someone, or giving up your place in the checkout line to the woman with a fussy child.
    • Clean up the coffee spills in the lunch room at work even though you don’t drink coffee.
    • When being honored for an accomplishment, use the opportunity to thank the people that helped you get there.
    • Cook a meal for the woman down the street who recently lost her husband, or invite her to lunch.
    • Instead of donating money to the local soup kitchen, volunteer to wait on tables once a month.

I am sure you can think of many others.

As Christians, we don’t have to look very far for examples of humility.  Jesus himself was born in a stable, had few possessions, and no place to live.  He led a humble life, but changed the world.

If we realize that our goal on this earth is not how great we can become, but how much of a difference we can make in the lives of others, then we will begin to understand the virtue of humility.

Let’s practice humility! (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 22, 2017, on PsychologyToday.com, titled, How Practicing Humility Can Help Your Love Life, by Kristen Fuller, M.D., she writes:

Humility is a simple human characteristic that is lacking in today’s society. We live in a world where it is “all about me”, from the upkeep of our physical appearances, our reputations on social media, self-gratifying behavior and the obsession with money and consumerism, it is so easy to lose touch with placing others before ourselves. With an astonishing rise in divorce rates and an increase in individuals choosing to be single, we as humans, must go back to the basics of kindness and humility.

It is not always about you

To be humble or practice humility means to value other people and their opinions without indulging in self- pride. Humility is the opposite of boastfulness, arrogance and vanity.  Oftentimes we are so concerned with winning the argument, making a point, being right and correcting other people that we forget to listen to others, and to allow the unimportant things to dissipate. Yes, there will always be that antagonizing individual in your life who always has to prove their point, but it is your choice to engage in their argumentative or opinionated behavior. You have the right to walk away from the conversation or to simply just agree with them in order to create peace. You always have the choice to practice humility even in the presence of chaos.

In a world filled with self-aggrandizing online dating profiles, it may be surprising to learn that humility is actually a direct expression of an individual who is truly confident and expresses a high self-esteem. How many of you have gone a first date where the other individual talked about themselves the entire time and did not ask you a single question? By leaving ‘you’ out of the date just a little bit, you allow yourself the freedom to discover whether this is someone you should be with. Or what about that one friend who is always telling you about his or her own problems but never takes the time to ask how you are doing? Or that family member who never stops talking about a past unresolved issue? We all love to “toot our own horns” however it is not attractive, in any way.

Staying humble to keep love alive

A humble person does not always have to prove their point, or be right or lead the conversation because they are truly comfortable with who they are.  Being vulnerable and showing humility to a romantic partner can allow for better communication and trust to develop in the relationship. Being aware of what you don’t know and asking questions allows for learning to take place within a relationship and humble individuals are more likely to admit their faults, apologize and practice forgiveness than an individual who is boastful or who is a narcissist. Many conflicts and arguments within relationships can be easily fixed however the majority of individuals are more concerned with proving a point and being right rather than listening to the needs of their partner and trying to understand the underlying catalyst that initiated the argument in the first place. The goal of a relationship is to grow with your partner, not fight against them or come out winning. Practicing humility requires the following attributes:

    • Active listening
    • Taking a different perspective
    • Empathy
    • Admitting wrong
    • Apologizing
    • Being confident in what you don’t know
    • Seeking forgiveness
    • Asking questions
    • Putting your relationship before your own personal needs
    • Serving others
    • Staying present
    • Practicing gratitude

In terms of dating and relationships, there is a lid that fits every pot however it is easier to find the lid for your pot if you’re not blowing off every lid with steam, hot air and arrogance. (Quote source here.)

As a last reflection for this blog post on the topic of love and humility, let’s consider what James 4:1-12 (MSG) states:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others? (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Corinthians 13:3-8 (MSG): If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love . . .

Never . . .

Dies . . . .

YouTube Video: “Get Together (Try to Love One Another Right Now)” (1967) by the Youngbloods:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Turning the Other Cheek

The last blog post I published on my other blog two weeks ago titled, Demonstrating Grace,” was on the topic of extending grace instead of dispensing justice even when justice would have been justified. I’ve thought a lot about that topic since I wrote that last blog post, and I was given another opportunity to “turn the other cheek” again a few days ago.

After that second opportunity occurred so soon after the first, I humorously emailed a friend stating that 2020 has already given me two opportunities to “turn the other cheek,” and I had now run out of cheeks to turn and February has only just begun. The subject of forgiveness can get pretty bogged down as we live in a fast paced society today where insults are spewed all over social media at break neck speed, and a general lack of hospitality and civility has infected even the most seemingly innocuous interactions we have with others.

For instance, doesn’t it just rankle you when someone sweetly says, “Bless you,” but you know they don’t really mean it, and it’s given as an insult with a nice smile cover-up? Seems our society runs on short fuses most of the time today. No wonder I feel like I’ve run out of cheeks to turn in such a short period of time since 2020 burst upon us just over a scant month ago. All of those insults can wear a person down.

Apparently, doing good isn’t fashionable today. No gold stars or brownie points are given out for doing good or turning the other cheek. Laughter and insults are often the response, and they are often disguised as “nicey-nice” expressions, but they don’t hide the hate. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a society where we can so freely express our hate for each other on a regular basis by disguising it by using nice words and a fake smile?

Social media has also had a big part in programming us in that direction whether spewing hate out in the open and in your face, or hiding it behind “nicey-nice” words and smiles that mean nothing. Slinging mud while disguising it in pretty words and an insincere smile might make it seem not as bad as actually spewing the “F” word, but it all means the same thing.

It was Jesus who said we should turn the other cheek and not return evil for evil. So what exactly did he mean by turning the other cheek? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

In Matthew 5:38–39, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” The concept of “turning the other cheek” is a difficult one for us to grasp. Allowing a second slap after being slapped once does not come naturally.

In the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He commands us to turn the other cheek, He addresses the need for true transformation, versus mere rule-keeping. It’s not enough to obey the letter of the law; we must conform to the spirit of the law as well.

Much of the material surrounding Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek complements the nature of His coming, which was characterized by mercy, sacrificial love, and long suffering toward sinners. At the same time, Jesus affirms the “last is first” principle upon which the kingdom of God is based. For instance, He tells us to go the extra mile for someone who abuses us (Matthew 5:41) and to love and pray for our enemies instead of holding enmity against them (verse 44). In summary, Jesus is saying we need to be pure inside and out and as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world.

A word about the “slap” that Jesus says we should endure. Jesus here speaks of personal slights of any kind. The slap (or the “smiting,” as the KJV has it) does not have to involve literal, physical violence. Even in our day, a “slap in the face” is a metaphor for an unexpected insult or offense. Did someone insult you? Let him, Jesus says. Are you shocked and offended? Don’t be. And don’t return insult for insult. Turn the other cheek.

Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse is helpful: “Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort” (Concise Commentary, entry for Matthew 5:38).

Turning the other cheek does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in danger. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is simply a command to forgo retaliation for personal offenses. He was not setting government foreign policy, and He was not throwing out the judicial system. Crimes can still be prosecuted, and wars can still be waged, but the follower of Christ need not defend his personal “rights” or avenge his honor.

There was a time in history when a man would feel compelled to protect his honor against one who slandered him or otherwise besmirched his character. The offended party would challenge the offender to a duel. Swords, firearms, or other weapons were chosen, and the two enemies would face off. In most cases, senseless bloodshed ensued. Samuel Johnson wrote in favor of the practice of dueling: “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” The problem is that “invasions of character” are exactly what Jesus told us to tolerate in Matthew 5:38. Turning the other cheek would have been a better option than dueling, and it would have saved lives.

Retaliation is what most people expect and how worldly people act. Turning the other cheek requires help from on high. Responding to hatred with love and ignoring personal slights display the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and may afford the chance to share the gospel.

Jesus was, of course, the perfect example of turning the other cheek because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him. Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). (Quote source here.)

In an article published on January 29, 2018, titled, Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean ‘Get Walked All Over’?” by Chris Nye, pastor of leadership development at Awakening Church in the Silicon Valley and the author of “Distant God,” he writes:

I have sometimes heard well-meaning Christians counsel those going through difficult circumstances that “this is your cross to bear” or “Jesus told us we would suffer” or “you’ve got to deny yourself.” Some cite Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:39 as a proper response to the people in our lives who have hurt us. Sometimes these well-meaning people tell us to stick around in unhealthy relationships because isn’t that what Christ would do? He was crucified, after all, and aren’t we supposed to follow in his steps?

But does turning the other cheek and denying ourselves really mean we should endure unhealthy relationships and circumstances, no matter what? Should we stick around in relationships we sense are damaging us because we need to “deny ourselves”?

Here are four observations that might help as we consider such questions.

1. There is a difference between laying your life down and someone taking it.

Scripture instructs us to “lay down our lives” for Christ’s sake and to take up our cross (1 John 3:16Matt. 16:24). But notice the active agent in that sentence: you. There is a difference between voluntarily laying down your life and someone taking your life from you. Jesus said he laid down his life so that he “may take it up again.” He went on: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

There were many times Jesus could have allowed his life to be taken, but he escaped because “his time had not come yet” (John 7:30, 44; 10:39). We need not pity Jesus for his death—he was accomplishing his mission, on his terms. And we need not pity ourselves, out of a false martyrdom complex, when we allow dangerous or unhealthy people to dictate our lives. We must be certain that we, like Jesus, are laying our lives down on our own accord and not having them taken from us by life-sucking individuals.

2. We are to pick up our cross, but not every cross.

When Jesus teaches us to daily pick up our cross, he uses the possessive: it’s our cross to bear (Luke 9:23). What is this cross? It will likely be different for everyone, but you’ll know when it’s yours. We cannot carry every cross and burden we see in our sights. As Paul tells the Galatians, “For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal. 6:5). But wait, doesn’t Paul also say in that same passage to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)? Which is it? Should we bear our own burdens or others’ burdens? Yes. Both.

We are called to discernment—to wisely assess if such burdens are ours to carry. Can we handle it? Is this our battle to fight? Am I getting involved to show love or to prove a point? Am I getting involved to serve another or to serve myself?

3. Jesus set limits and boundaries on his ministry.

There were so many people Jesus disappointed; so many in the back of crowds who never got close enough to touch the hem of his garment. One interaction stands out: a young man asks Jesus to settle a legal dispute between him and his brother. Jesus responds: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). It’s a good question. Jesus understood when he was being asked to do things outside of the focus of his ministry. He knew his calling, he knew his ministry, and he protected these things while remaining remarkably compassionate.

4. You are just one part of the body.

In certain kinds of churches, two or three people shoulder all the burdens. It’s common for one pastor to do most of the weddings, funerals, and hospital visits. But I do not see any evidence in the New Testament to support this kind of organizational structure. Paul speaks of the “body of Christ,” of which all of us are differing “members.” When someone carries a backpack or lifts something up, the weight is distributed to many different places on the body. While one area will bear the most (you can hear your dad saying, “Lift with your legs, son!”), your whole body feels the pressure. Likewise, you should entrust your burdens to the body of your church. You’re not the only one who can visit a hospital, offer relational counsel, or pray for the hurting.

Again, Jesus set limits on his ministry. We forget all the people he passed by, all the sick who left unhealed simply because he couldn’t get to them. We forget how he evaded crowds and escaped the masses. We forget that while many stones were thrown at him, he dodged them all so that he might pick up his cross.

Jesus was not walked all over, and no one took his life. If you are to imitate him and become like him, no one should take yours.

Disciples of Jesus would be wise to follow him specifically in this area by setting boundaries. You don’t have to text that person back right away. You can answer your emails during an allotted time. The tasks ahead will always be infinite, but you are finite. Especially for those of us in full-time ministry, we must learn the art of wise dismissal, of letting people down, and saying “no” so that we might say “yes” to the fullness of life in Christ Jesus. (Quote source here.)

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:38-39 that we are not to resist an evil person, and that we are to turn the other cheek. So what is the best way to not resist an evil person? Paul stated in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In a brief article titled, Explain ‘Do Not Be Overcome with Evil, But Overcome Evil with Good’,” by Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; host of The 700 Club, and CEO of Regent University, he writes:

There is only one way that evil can overcome a Christian, and that is if the Christian returns evil for evil. If someone insults you and snarls at you, you are not overcome. You are overcome if you begin to snarl right back. Then the unpleasant person has become your role model. You are copying evil and evil is overcoming you. If someone hates you and you hate him back, then evil is getting the victory. If someone strikes you and you strike back, then you have become like the evil one.

The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If someone reviles you, you are to smile back and say, “God bless you.” The person will not know how to react to that, and you have overcome him. You have won. That person has not changed you, but you have gone on the offensive with the most powerful weapon in the world–love! If someone strikes you on the cheek, Jesus said you should turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39Luke 6:29). And that will leave your adversary totally confused! And then on top of that you should say, “I love you.”

If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well (see Matthew 5:40-41). Do so graciously, cheerfully, even assertively. God has given you the spiritual weapons to discern who your enemies are and then to conquer them by making them your friends. (Of course, as long as there are vicious criminals and international tyrants in the world, there must be a system of restraint through local or international police. In Romans 13, police and legitimate armies are considered by the apostle Paul as “ministers of God” to bring vengeance on lawbreakers.) (Quote source  here.)

Turning the other cheek may not be a popular response in our culture today, but it is the only right response according to Jesus. And how do we do that? We do it by…

Overcoming evil . . .

With . . .

Good . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lacrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Psalm for 2020

We are now several days into the new year of 2020, and this is my first blog post for the year. To start the year off, here is a psalm that is a great way to get it headed in the right direction. It is, appropriately, Psalm 20, a psalm of David. Here is that psalm in several different Bible versions:

Psalm 20 (NKJV)–The Assurance of God’s Saving Work

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob [a]defend you;
May He send you help from the sanctuary,

And strengthen you out of Zion;
May He remember all your offerings,

And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah

May He grant you according to your heart’s desire,
And fulfill all your purpose.
We will rejoice in your salvation,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.

Save, Lord!
May the King answer us when we call.

Psalm 20 (ESV)–Trust in the Name of the Lord Our God

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire
    and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright.

Lord, save the king!
    May he answer us when we call.

Psalm 20 (NLT)

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary

    and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he remember all your gifts
    and look favorably on your burnt offerings. Interlude

May he grant your heart’s desires
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
    and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Now I know that the Lord rescues his anointed king.
    He will answer him from his holy heaven
    and rescue him by his great power.
Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
    but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
    but we will rise up and stand firm.

Give victory to our king, O Lord!
    Answer our cry for help.

Psalm 20 (MSG)

God answer you on the day you crash,
The name God-of-Jacob put you out of harm’s reach,
Send reinforcements from Holy Hill,
Dispatch from Zion fresh supplies,
Exclaim over your offerings,
Celebrate your sacrifices,
Give you what your heart desires,
Accomplish your plans.

When you win, we plan to raise the roof
    and lead the parade with our banners.
May all your wishes come true!

That clinches it—help’s coming,
    an answer’s on the way,
    everything’s going to work out.

See those people polishing their chariots,
    and those others grooming their horses?
    But we’re making garlands for God our God.
The chariots will rust,
    those horses pull up lame—
    and we’ll be on our feet, standing tall.

Make the king a winner, God;
    the day we call, give us your answer.

Psalm 20 (TPT)–A Song of Trust

For the Pure and Shining One
For the end times, by King David
In your day of danger may the Lord answer and deliver you.

May the name of the God of Jacob[b] set you safely on high!
May supernatural help be sent from his sanctuary.
May he support you from Zion’s fortress!
May he remember every gift you have given him
and celebrate every sacrifice of love you have shown him.
Pause in his presence
May God give you every desire of your heart
and carry out your every plan as you go to battle.
When you succeed, we will celebrate and shout for joy.
Flags will fly when victory is yours!
Yes, God will answer your prayers and we will praise him!
I know God gives me all that I ask for
and brings victory to his anointed king.
My deliverance cry will be heard in his holy heaven.
By his mighty hand miracles will manifest
through his saving strength.
Some find their strength in their weapons and wisdom,
but my miracle deliverance can never be won by men.
Our boast is in the Lord our God,
who makes us strong and gives us victory!
Our enemies will not prevail; they will only collapse and
perish in defeat while we will rise up, full of courage.
Give victory to our king, O God!
The day we call on you, give us your answer!

Psalm 20 (HCSB)–Deliverance in Battle

May Yahweh answer you in a day of trouble;
may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.
May He send you help from the sanctuary
and sustain you from Zion.
May He remember all your offerings
and accept your burnt offering. Selah

May He give you what your heart desires
and fulfill your whole purpose.
Let us shout for joy at your victory
and lift the banner in the name of our God.
May Yahweh fulfill all your requests.

Now I know that the Lord gives victory to His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
with mighty victories from His right hand.
 Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses,
but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
May He answer us on the day that we call.

In an article published on April 18, 2016, titled, Psalm 20:1-9 Trusting God in Prayer,” by Jim Erwin, who describes himself as a “country postmodern pastor in a digital world,” he gives us the following eight words we can pray from Psalm 20. He uses the HCSB version of the Bible which is the last version quoted above.

I SAY:

1. Answer me (Psalm 20:1, 9)

May Yahweh answer you in a day of trouble; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.(Psalm 20:1, HCSB)

Lord, give victory to the king! May He answer us on the day that we call.(Psalm 20:9, HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but I expect God in general to answer my prayers. God promises to answer when I call upon Him. In general, we want answers from God. So the first way in which praying to God can help me is because God answers prayer. He will answer if you ask Him.

2. Protect me (Psalm 20:1)

The psalm turns from the general call for answer to a specific type of answer: protection. It also establishes the immediate context; it is a “day of trouble,” a day of “distress” or “pressure.”4

Everyone has their days of trouble. Everyone has times in their life when they want protection.

May Yahweh answer you in a day of trouble; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.” (Psalm 20:1, HCSB)

In this case, God protects me when I call for help. He even protects me when I don’t realize it.

Ira Sankey was traveling on a steamer in the Delaware River when he was recognized by some passengers who had seen his picture in the newspaper and knew he was associated with evangelist D. L. Moody. When they asked him to sing one of his own compositions, Sankey said he preferred the hymn by William Bradbury, Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” [lyrics at this link].

He suggested that everyone join in the singing. One of the stanzas begins,We are thine, do thou befriend us; be the guardian of our way.”

When he finished, a man stepped out of the shadows and asked, “Were you in the army, Mr. Sankey?”

“Yes, I joined up in 1860.”

“Did you do guard duty at night in Maryland, about 1862?”

“Yes, I did.”

I was in the Confederate Army,” said the stranger. “I saw you one night at Sharpsburg. I had you in my gun sight as you stood in the light of the full moon. Then just as I was about to pull the trigger, you began to sing. It was the same hymn you sang tonight. I couldn’t shoot you.”5

The word, Israel,” means “Governed by God.” The word, Jacob,” on the other hand means “Heel Snatcher.” Therefore, when you read about the God of Israel in the Old Testament, the reference is to the nation when it was obedient to God. When you read about the God of Jacob, the reference is to the nation when it was following its sinful tendencies. Thus, David’s prayer is, “May the Lord hear you even when you’re not doing as well as you ought.”6

3. Help me (Psalm 20:2)

May He send you help from the sanctuary and sustain you from Zion.(Psalm 20:2, HCSB)

There are many times in my life when I need help. What do I do? I call on someone I know who can help me. If it is my car, I call a mechanic. If there is something wrong in the bathroom, I call a plumber. I call upon the right person to help me depending upon the situation. You can look at God as the Everyman helper.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.(Psalm 46:1, HCSB)

4. Sustain me (Psalm 20:2)

May He send you help from the sanctuary and sustain you from Zion.(Psalm 20:2, HCSB)

God doesn’t just help in times of need. He sustains me. He gives me the strength to get through the situation. When you depend upon someone to sustain you, you place your trust in that person to provide all of your needs. God has promised to do that:

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:19, HCSB)

God has a large enough supply to sustain me.

5. Remember me (Psalm 20:3)

May He remember all your offerings and accept your burnt offering. Selah(Psalm 20:3, HCSB)

David came to this situation with a long history of worship to God. He had built a strong relationship. David wanted God to remember that relationship now that David needed God’s help. David expected God to intervene because David had been loyal to God.

What we do day by day in times of peace prepares us for times of war. When our devotional life is a habit we are well served for the battle.7

As I build a relationship with God, there will be times when I want to recall that relationship to remind God that He should help me. This isn’t selfishness. This is a reminder of my dependence upon God. This leads naturally to my next point.

6. Give me (Psalm 20:4)

May He give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose.(Psalm 20:4, HCSB)

If I am dependent upon God daily, then when the tough times come, God will help me and give me what I need. Jesus this clearly:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.(Matthew 6:33, HCSB)

When God gives to help me, it is not for my selfish endeavors. God gives to fulfill His purposes in me.

7. Fulfill me (Psalm 20:4)

May He give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose.(Psalm 20:4, HCSB)

God doesn’t just give to me to make me happy. He gives so that He can fulfill what He wants to do in my life. God wants to be my source in life. That is why God wants me to come to Him in prayer.

8. Lift me (Psalm 20:5-8)

Let us shout for joy at your victory and lift the banner in the name of our God. May Yahweh fulfill all your requests.(Psalm 20:5, HCSB)

God wants to give victory in your life. It doesn’t matter what kind of difficult or challenging situation you encounter, you just have to ask God for His help. He wants to lift you up. Just as the people of God would raise a banner in God’s name, I can raise a banner of hope in God’s name.

All of these answers are conditional. They can only happen if we ask God for help. We can’t trust in ourselves, our power, our strength. We can only trust in God to answer us in our time of trouble. So when we ask these requests, God’s answer is always: “trust Me.”

GOD SAYS: Trust Me

Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (Psalm 20:7, HCSB)

We should insist that this is not a formula for defeat but a formula for trust. Human resources are needful, but they can become a substitute for God’s help.8

God is the One who can solve our troubles. We can stand firm because we know God will answer (Psalm 20:8).

They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand firm.(Psalm 20:8, HCSB)

His answers don’t take long. He answers on the day we call Him (Psalm 20:9).9

Lord, give victory to the king! May He answer us on the day that we call.(Psalm 20:9, HCSB)

We can trust God, not to remove all crises and difficulties from our lives, but to bring us through them, and, in so doing, to achieve his purpose in our lives as well.10

God will answer our prayers. All He asks from me is: “Trust Me.” But this prayer from Psalm 20 is also a great prayer to pray for others. Take these phrases and change it to the name of the person you are praying for. You can use Psalm 20 to pray for someone else. John Barry gives us this insight in his devotional, Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan:

I’ll pray for you.” We say it often, but how many times do we actually remember to do it? Our biggest downfall might not be a lack of compassion—it’s probably just not taking time to write down the request and not having a model of praying for others.

When I pray for God’s will in my life, I’ve found that using the Lord’s Prayer works well when I’m having trouble praying. But I haven’t adopted a model for praying for others. Psalm 20 contains such a model, and the psalmist offers some beautiful words for others:

“May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble.… May he send you help … May he remember all your offerings … May he give to you your heart’s desire … May we shout for you over your victory” (Psalm 20:1–5). And then the psalmist goes on to proclaim God’s goodness and that He will answer (Psalm 20:6). And this is the line I think I love the most: “Some boast in chariots, and others in horses, but we boast in the name of Yahweh, our God. They will collapse and fall, and we will rise and stand firm” (Psalm 20:7–8).

They will … fall … and we will rise.” We must pray for others with this kind of confidence.11 (Quote source here.)

[Numbered footnotes in this article can be found by clicking on the highlighted number at the end of his references above or at end of his article at this link.]

I’ll end this post with a few words from the refrain from that great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness(YouTube Video below): Great is Thy faithfulness . . .

Lord . . .

Unto . . .

Me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” sung by Israel Houghton:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Reckless Love

In a few short days we will begin another new year, and this year it will also be the start of a new decade (2020). While many of us might be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions for the new year ahead, this year we might think about making a resolution that just might affect the entire new decade. I read an article yesterday that gave me some food for thought in this direction.

I received a print copy of the January/February 2020 issue of Charisma Magazine in my mail yesterday, and in it was this article titled, Reckless Love,” by Cory Asbury, a songwriter, worship leader, and worship pastor/artist-in-residence at Radiant Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An online version of the article is available at this link.  The following is taken from BethelMusic.com:

Cory is known for his hit singleReckless Lovethat was nominated for a Grammy in 2019. His album by the same name hit the top of the charts as Billboard’s #1 Christian Album in 2018. Cory also won three GMA Dove Awards, two K-Love Fan Awards, and the ASCAP Christian Song of the Year Award. In addition, he’s received three Billboard Music nominations. “Reckless Love” was inspired by Cory’s journey into the depths of the Father’s heart through the birth of his first son and the near-loss of his first daughter…. (Quote source here.) [A YouTube video of the song is located at the end of this blog post, and as of this date it has received over 113 million views.] 

I have to admit that this is the first time I have heard about Cory’s massively popular worship song that came out in January 2018. I was also unaware of the hotly debated issue of his use of the word “reckless” in the title of his song.

In Cory’s article titled, Reckless Love,” he breaks down the theology behind the lyrics in his song (the lyrics are available at this link). He states that he has received “tens of thousands” of emails and messages about how the song has touched people’s lives. He has also received negative feedback from people who were, as he describes, in two main camps of disagreement regarding of his use of the word “reckless” in the title of the song. That discussion is available in his article at this link.

In an article published on September 30, 2019 titled, 4 Beautiful Examples of ‘Reckless Love’ in the Bible,” by Lisa Samra, a contributing writer on Crosswalk.com, she writes:

The deeply personal lyrics of the popular worship songReckless Loveby Cory Asbury have captured the imagination of many Christians with his description of the overwhelming nature of God’s kindness and goodness. Steeped in scriptural references, the song describes a love that pursues us even when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:7-8).

The song is not only one of the most popular worship songs, it also generated some controversy specifically because of the description of God’s love as “reckless.”

Much of the controversy likely stems from those who want to protect Christians from a wrong view of God that might be possible if one adheres to a strict definition of the word “reckless.” The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines reckless as “marked by lack of proper cautioncareless of consequences.” We might think of a reckless driver or reckless behavior that causes pain and suffering to others because the guilty party just doesn’t think or consider how his behavior might impact others in a negative way.

This definition could never be applied to God.

His goodness is part of the essence of who he is and how he interacts with his children. Paul assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). And, God is the source of all good in the world because “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

And yet, God’s goodness can leave us looking for adequate ways to express how we experience his love. A love that is lavished on us (1 John 3:1). A love whose height and depth we could never exhaust or fully understand (Ephesians 3:14-19). A love that finds us no matter where we go (Psalm 139:7-10). 

And so we use phrases like “scandalous grace,” “reckless love,” “crazy love,” and “the foolishness of the Gospel” to try and communicate how we experience God and his interactions with us. Those phrases may push against the boundaries of their technical definitions but they also give us poetic language to describe God’s expansive love.

Looking through the pages of the Bible we also discover many positive stories of men and women of God who behave in ways that might be deemed “reckless” but the Bible presents their lives as beautiful examples of love and faith.  In their stories we gain insight into God’s love for us.  Consider the following four biblical examples of reckless love:

1. David and Jonathan’s Sacrificial, Reckless Love Between Friends

Perhaps there is no greater example of sacrificial, reckless love between two friends than the example of Jonathan and David.

To set the scene, when God rejected King Saul because Saul did not follow God’s commands (1 Samuel 15:26), the prophet Samuel anointed David as the next king (I Samuel 16:13). However, Saul continued to serve as king for many more years.

During the decades that Saul continued to rule Israel, Saul’s oldest son Jonathan (and next in line for the throne) befriended David. Jonathan believed David would serve as the next king of Israel in his place.

Jonathan demonstrated great faith to submit to God’s plan even though it came at great personal sacrifice.  And, Saul kept trying to kill David to maintain the family claim on the royal line. 

During one of Saul’s especially violent outbursts, it was Jonathan who devised a plan to help David escape. Saul discovered Jonathan’s plan and hurled a spear at Jonathan, his own son, in an attempt to kill him. 

At risk of his own life, Jonathan demonstrated reckless love by putting his own life in danger to help David escape (1 Samuel 20:28-42). After this incident, the two friends never met again. Eventually, Jonathan was killed in battle (1 Samuel 31:2) and David deeply mourned the loss of a devoted, reckless friend.

2. Hosea’s Reckless Love for His Wife, Gomer

Old Testament prophet Hosea displayed reckless love when he obeyed God’s command to marry a prostitute named Gomer and raise a family together as a sign of God’s love for Israel despite the nation’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2-3).

Despite Hosea’s love for his wife, she did not return his affections and was caught in an adulterous relationship with another man. In response to her actions, God told Hosea to seek her out again and bring her back as his wife. Not only was Hosea to invite her back into relationship with him, God asked him to follow the custom of paying another dowry, a humiliating action for a husband (Hosea 3:1-3).

Without regard for other’s opinions of him, or even his own self-interest, Hosea is a picture of the reckless love of a husband for his wife.

3. Mary’s Reckless Love for Jesus

At a dinner at Martha’s home in Bethany, Jesus was eating dinner when Mary took a jar of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The aroma of the perfume filled the air as Mary anointed Jesus.

While this action might have been viewed as a simple act of worship, we see a sign of the reckless nature of this action in Judas’ response. Instead of recognizing the significance of her actions, Judas complained that cost of the perfume (a year’s wages) could have been spent on more important things (John 12:4-5). Upon hearing Judas’ criticism, Jesus rebuked him and commended Mary’s sacrificial offering.

Mary gave beyond what was expected or culturally appropriate, but it could be said she recklessly took the jar of perfume and “wasted” it as she poured it out on Jesus’ feet.

4. The Never-Ending, Reckless Love of Our Faithful Shepherd

The “Reckless Love” chorus provides an example of the way God’s love can appear reckless when it reminds us that God “leaves the 99,” a reference to the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.

The parable images a shepherd who is responsible to care for 100 sheep in the fields and caves of Israel’s hillsides. In the story, just one sheep goes missing. But the shepherd does not take the safe or prudent course of action. Instead of considering the odds and staying with the vast majority of sheep in his flock, he leaves the 99 sheep together on a hillside and goes to rescue the one sheep who has wondered away.

God recklessly pursues us in the same way. 

Not content with the number of people who have responded to the good news about Jesus, God pursues every person because he does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

You Are Recklessly Loved

While you may still find it challenging to think of God’s love for you as reckless; hopefully, you can appreciate the artistic description used by Asbury to give us words to describe the immense love that God has for each one of us. 

Together with Paul we can pray for the ability to understand more of this love as we try “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19). (Quote source here.)

In an article published on May 27, 2018, titled, Is God’s Love Reckless? Experts Disagree Over Popular Worship Song,” by Emily Jones, a multi-media journalist for CBN News in Jerusalem, she writes:

Bethel Worship Leader Cory Asbury’s song ‘Reckless Love’ has topped the Christian music charts and is being sung by believers around the world.

The song is about the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” But it’s the word “reckless” that’s got some theologians scratching their heads.

Is God’s love reckless?

Evangelical theologian and apologist Randal Rauser says ‘no’ and criticized the song recently.

“God’s love is the very antithesis of recklessness. What is more, when God asks us to live out Christ’s love he challenges us likewise to set aside the intensity of wavering infatuations and instead soberly count the cost,” he said.

He referenced Luke 14:26-27 in his argument, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

He concluded in his VOICES article, “God’s love is not reckless: it cannot be. Nor, in my view, is it helpful to think of God’s love as hyperbolically reckless because doing so frames God’s love as a youthful infatuation rather than the abiding, steady, well-planned, and eminently non-reckless love through which we were chosen before the creation of the world and for which we have been called soberly to count the cost.”

Well known pastor and author John Piper says churches and worship leaders should proceed with caution.

He explains that using the term “reckless” could imply that God does not know the future, and that he takes risks without knowing the outcome–a view he calls “heretical.”

However, Piper admits he does not know Asbury’s intentions when using the term “reckless.”

“Maybe the author used the word reckless in the sense that God’s love may look, to an outsider, foolish, ill-advised, brash, and breakneck, but in fact the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men,” Piper says. 

This is the interpretation Asbury openly preaches. In fact, he goes straight to scripture to defend his use of the word.

He points to Luke 15, when Jesus was criticized by the religious teachers for eating with sinners. Jesus responds with a parable about a shepherd who leaves behind 99 sheep to desperately search for the one who was lost.

“When I used the phrase ‘the reckless love of God,’ when we say it, we’re not saying that God himself is reckless. He’s not crazy,” he explains. “We are, however, saying that the way he loves in many regards is quite so. What I mean is this: He’s utterly unconcerned with the consequences of his actions with regard to his own safety, comfort, and well-being….His love doesn’t consider himself first. It isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what he’ll gain or lose by putting himself on the line.”

Some might say the shepherd is reckless for leaving behind his flock to save the one. Asbury says that’s just how God loves us and those who don’t understand why would call that reckless.

Andre Henry, theologian and managing editor of RELEVANT, says both interpretations of the word are flawed. 

“Those bothered by reckless as an adjective for God seem to take the word out of context,” he says. “Furthermore, Asbury rose to prominence in a worship context that is famous for using dramatic language that turns traditional meanings on their heads”

“If there’s any problem with ‘Reckless Love,’ it’s that the songwriters meant to celebrate God’s uninhibited, extravagant, practice of self-giving but hit a snag on familiar tropes and platitudes of the worship genre before they could ever get to plumb the depths of their main idea,” Henry adds.

Furthermore, Henry believes Asbury could have cleared up confusion by doing more to discuss how Jesus gave everything to save sinners.

Both Piper and Henry seem to agree that worship leaders should be more specific about the words they choose when writing and singing songs.

“As we sit in service, give us songs whose original meaning we can joyfully affirm because they are fully biblical. Don’t give us too many where we have to change the meaning in order to be faithful,” Piper suggests.

Apart from the theological debate over the song, it resonates with worshippers who are posting how it has drawn them closer to the heart of God.

Jim Van Leeuwen posted on Asbury’s Facebook page, “…this is a true testament to His never-ending passion to chase us down…”

Clay Fuller wrote, “He is not caution… His love is wild, extravagant and huge.”

Debbie Wikoff Nadeau-Meyer posted, “I was moved by the honesty of your song, the humility and honesty in your voice. And it made me realize that I am RECKLESSLY loved by my God. I am so thankful to Him for loving me this way.” (Quote source here.)

“Reckless love” is about a love that is deeply passionate; a love that is more concerned about others then it is about self. And God demonstrated his love for us through his Son, Jesus (see John 3:16), and as stated in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Follow that up with 2 Peter 3:9 which states: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus of the song, “Reckless Love”: Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away. Oh…

The overwhelming . . .

Never-ending . . .

Reckless love of God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Reckless Love” written and sung by Cory Asbury:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

An Invitation to the Thirsty


NOTE: On December 20, 2019, I published the blog post below with the title of “Ho! Everyone” as it is the opening line of Isaiah 55 NKJV. That chapter opens with these words: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come buy and eat.” Hence, that is where I got the title for my blog post.

However, I have come to realize this morning (12-24-19) that in today’s English slang the term “Ho” can have an entirely different and very derogatory meaning then it did when the King James Version of the Bible was translated and published in 1611, or when it was updated to the New King James Version in 1982. Also, I’m 67 years old and white, and I don’t know every slang word that is out there in our culture today. So I want to apologize if the original title of this post was misinterpreted or offended anyone. I never meant for it to be taken any other way but as an invitation just like the New King James Version meant it to be taken. I have changed the title of the post and used Isaiah 55 NIV in it’s place. Here is that new version of that post (the old version has been deleted).

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Are you still looking for a last minute Christmas gift since Christmas is right around the corner? The merchandise may be flying off the shelves in stores at this point (along with the cash in our pocketbooks), but here’s a free gift available at anytime for everyone (well, at least those who are thirsty for it) from Isaiah 55 (NIV):

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

How great is that invitation? Pretty great! But who will accept it? In an article/sermon published on December 19, 2013 titled, Home for Christmas | A Sermon for Advent 3 | Isaiah 55,” by Steve Thomason, associate pastor at Easter Lutheran Church, artist, and teacher, he writes the following (an audio of his sermon is available at this link):

Let’s play the “fill in the blank” game. I’ll say a phrase and you say what comes next.

There’s no such thing as a free _______. (Answer: lunch.)
You can never go ________. (Answer: home.)
If something is too good to be true, it probably ______. (Answer: is.)

Isn’t that interesting how common those ideas are? It’s pretty safe to guess that a vast majority of people operate under those basic assumptions about how the world works.

The fact that we think that way makes today’s lesson really hard for us to grasp. Our text today flies in the face of this common logic. In Isaiah 55 God says there is a free lunch, that you can go home, and that this offer of reconciliation is for everybody.

I want to do two things to open up our imagination in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to hear this text. I have two visuals that I hope will help us.

The first one is this table. It is set for a family to have dinner. In this chair there is a father and a husband. Here sits a wife and a mother. In this chair is a daughter and sister. Then there is this chair. It is empty. Seven years ago there was a fight. The son betrayed the family. Dad became angry and the son left. Seven years they’ve been estranged.

There’s an empty chair.

I wonder, this Christmas–as we approach that time when families gather together–who is not at that table in your network of family and friends? Or, which table are you not at this year?

Hold that image in your mind.

Now I want to show you another image. I’ve been soaking in this text of Isaiah 55 all week. On Wednesday I woke up with a picture in my head and a wild idea of how to express it. So, I took out my iPad and drew this image. I have this cool app that records all the strokes as you draw the picture and then exports it as a movie. I brought the movie in to Jonathan and asked him if he could write some music for it. He had it done by 5pm (the picture and music is on the YouTube video below–do take the time to view it right now before reading the rest of the post–the visual is really cool along with the music and it is only a little over two minutes long):

So, I offer this collaborative piece of art as the second visual to set the stage for Isaiah 55. Let’s walk through this passage together.

This is where we left things last week. We were in Ezekiel and the nation was a pile of dry bones. They have been in exile for 70 years. It seems like the promises God made to Abraham all those years ago are a distant memory. This is a bleak and desolate picture. They are in exile, all seems lost. But then it happens.

Today we turn the corner.

We come to this section of the prophet Isaiah. Let’s take just a moment and find out who Isaiah is and how he fits into the big picture. The book of Isaiah is actually a combination of three books. Book I was written back here in Judah just before the Babylonians came and took everyone into exile. That is chapters 1-39. Book II was written during the exile just before they went home. that’s chapters 40-55. Book III was written after they were established back in Jerusalem.

Our text (Isaiah 55) is the climax of Book II and paints one of the greatest pictures of the Gospel in the whole Bible. It begins like this.

There is light on the horizon.

When we lived in Las Vegas we loved to go down to Southern California. Many times we would drive home at night. That is a long, dark drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on I-15. It is nothing but desert for hours.

I remember there was one place where the journey always changed. No matter how tired we were, when we came over the last mountain pass we would look down and the lights of Primm and Las Vegas would spread out before us.

We weren’t there yet, but we could see that it was actually going to happen. The dark part of the night was over and the light of dawn was on the horizon. Do you know that feeling you get down in your stomach when you hit that moment? There is something bubbling up that hadn’t been there before? That’s called Joy.

That is the feeling of Isaiah 55.

God is calling the people to come home and he invites them to a huge feast. He is the father at this table who is reaching out to that estranged son and saying, “It’s time to come home, dinner is ready.”

Let’s look at this feast that God offers. There are three things about this amazing feast.

The first thing is that this feast is free.

Look again at what God says in the first verses of Isaiah 55:

Everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

There it is. A free lunch.

Contrast this to what Jeremiah wrote (see Lamentations 5) as the first exiles were dragged away to Babylon:

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to aliens.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.

After two generations they had become used to being in exile. Paying for something basic like water was the new normal.

But now, God offers a free lunch.

The second thing about this meal is that it is not junk food.

God continues in Isaiah 55. It says:

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

I love how The Message translation puts it.

Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?

Here’s the interesting thing. The people weren’t necessarily suffering during their exile. They weren’t slaves like they were back in Egypt. Many of them had actually become quite wealthy and powerful in Babylon. A new empire took over after Babylon. This was the Persian empire. The Persians were actually kind to the people of Judah.

I think that describes us in many ways. Remember two weeks ago when I said that the church is in exile. We live in two kingdoms at the same time. We are in the Kingdom of God, and we live in the host culture of Anoka County [the county where his church is located but we can add in our own county].

Life isn’t bad here. In fact, life is pretty good. Compared to the rest of the world we have it made. Most of us have homes and food on our plates everyday, and our kids are getting a good education and are relatively safe. So, when we hear that there is another Kingdom that God wants us to come to, we’re like, “Naw, I’m fine right here.”

Do you know how it is when you fill up on junk food? Your belly is full, but you’re not really satisfied. When you drink soda, you don’t really get quenched. In the end you are actually poisoning yourself with artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fillers.

But, let’s be honest, when you are munching away at that bag of chips and chugging that lightning Dew and somebody says, “Hey, I’d like to give you a fresh, healthy meal of colorful greens, squash, and organic tofu, for free.” You’ll probably say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I think that’s why it is so hard for us here in the suburbs to really buy into the Kingdom that God invites us into every day. The feast is free, and its healthy. But we’re full and it’s probably too good to be true, right?

There’s a third thing about this meal. It is for everybody.

God reminds them that he made a promise to David that his house would live forever.
God made a promise way back to Abraham, remember. He said the he would bless all nations through his family. Here God says, “You shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you.” Later he says, “Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

God’s dream for the world is just that. It is for the world. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that God’s will is that none should perish. God has called the church to be that blessing.

The people of Judah heard this invitation. They were invited to come back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and be a blessing. But that was just the beginning. The Messiah was coming. Four hundred years later a baby would be born. God would become flesh and Jesus would open up God’s feast to everyone.

Here’s my question to you today. Who is in the empty chair? Is there someone you need to invite home this Christmas? Is there someone who needs to eat the food and drink the water of God’s love and forgiveness?

Even deeper. God is calling you home. Are you eating spiritual junk food, or have you opened your heart to believe, there is a free lunch, I can go home, and, although it seems too good to be true, God does love me, and I can be forgiven and sit at God’s table today. Come, Seek the Lord. Come home for Christmas. (Quote source here.)

What better invitation is there to accept for Christmas (or anytime). So, I’ll end this post with this invitation…

Come home . . .

For . . .

Christmas . . . .

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night” sung by Il Divo:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Predictably Unpredictable

Back on February 25, 2017, I published a blog post titled, Divine Appointments,” and I quoted a section from a book titled, The Grave Robber (2014), written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. I picked up that book again this afternoon, and when I ran into that particular section quoted in the blog post above, I thought to myself, “This would great to include in a blog post.” That’s when I discovered that I had already written a blog post on that exact same section back in 2017 (you can read it at this link).

Déjà vu…

So, I continued looking through the book and I came upon two back-to-back sections titled, “Critical Realism” and “Eleven Dimensions,” in a chapter titled, “The Rule Breaker.” But before I quote those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a STRAC trooper (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots. A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance”) by my Commanding Officer when I was stationed in the U.S. Army in South Korea back in the 1970’s, and I’ve been the quintessential “rule follower” for most of my life. I figured if I always followed the rules, I’d stay out of trouble and I’d have a relatively straight forward life, but as my life moved forward, I discovered that is not always the case. Life is unpredictable no matter how hard we might try to control it, and I discovered what Mark Batterson states below.

In the first section titled, “Critical Realism,” on pp. 129-130, Batterson writes:

According to the research of Rolf Smith [author ofThe 7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results”], children asked 125 probing questions per day. Adults, on the other hand, ask only six probing questions per day. That means that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions per day! At some point, most of us stop asking questions and start making assumptions. That is the day our imagination dies. It’s also the day miracles stop happening. If you want to experience the miraculous, you need to quit making assumptions.

In the philosophy of science, there is a concept known as critical realism. It is the recognition that no matter how much we know, we don’t know everything there is to know. In the words of Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” What if we borrowed the concept of critical realism from science and applied it to theology? I’m not suggesting that we question any of our orthodox doctrines as revealed in God’s Word. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is a good theological starting point when it comes to the study of God: “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

Scripture says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) , so the words, “I can’t” should never leave our lips! But “I don’t know” should come out of our mouths which great regularity and humility. You aren’t omniscient. In fact, you aren’t even close! Your best thought on your best day falls at least 15.5 billion light-years short of how good and how great God really is. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129-130.)

Batterson continues in the next section titled, “Eleven Dimensions,” on pp.130-132, with the following:

A hundred years ago, we thought we lived in a four-dimensional world. Then along came Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity. He threw science a curveball by positing that the space-time continuum isn’t as linear as we once thought. Then string theorists extrapolated the existence of more dimensions than meet the eye–ten dimensions in the case of superstring theory theory or twenty-six dimensions according to the Bosonic string theory. In either case, this critical dimension is necessary to ensure the vanishing of the conformal anomaly of the world sheet. And if you have no idea what that means, I’ve made my point. If the universe is infinitely  more complex than can be imagined with the human mind, then how much more so the Creator Himself? His infinite complexity demands a degree of critical realism called humility.

If string theorists are right, then God is operating in at least eleven dimensions of space-time. and therein lies our greatest shortcoming: putting four-dimensional limits on the Almighty. In the words of Dr. Hugh Ross, “Orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God’s nature, powers, and capacities by at least a factor of a trillion in one time dimension.” Multiply a trillion by a minimum of seven additional space-time dimensions, and we begin to understand why Scripture states that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)! We can’t even imagine one extra dimension!

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. And the second half is far more difficult then the first half. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard that is was said… but I tell you.” He was uninstalling Old Testament assumptions with New Testament revelations. Going the extra mile or turning the other cheek was more than behavior modification. Jesus was reverse engineering the old rules and installing new ones (Matthew 5:38-48).

In 1932, a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics. His discovery ranks as one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, determinism ruled the day. Physicists believed in the clockwork universe that was measurable and predictable. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under the scientific community. Here is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in a nutshell: we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Here’s why. Sometimes matter behaves like a particle–it appears to be in one place at one time. Sometimes matter behaves like a wave–it appears to be in several places at the same time, almost like a wave on a pond. It is the duality of nature. So the imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes. Simply put: there will always be an element of uncertainty.

Here’s my translation: God is predictably unpredictable.

You never know exactly how or when or where God might show up and show off. But you can be sure of this: He will probably ask you to do something unprecedented, unorthodox, and unconventional. And if you have the courage to do something you haven’t done in thirty-eight years, you might just experience something you haven’t seen in a long, long time. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 130-132.)

In a blog post published on January 27, 2016, titled, Predictably Unpredictable,” by Dave Henning, Director at Crown of Compassion Ministries, a ministry to downsized workers, he writes:

“I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.” — Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 6 ofThe Circle Maker by reflecting on a favorite saying of his grandmother: “You can’t never always sometimes tell.” Translation: “Anything could happen.” The same is true when you circle a promise in prayer. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than any other kind of surprise. Mark explains:

“When you draw a prayer circle, even if that circle is limited by your ignorance, you never know how or when or where God will answer it. One prayer leads to another, which leads to another, and where they will take you no one knows except the One who knows all.”

Pastor Batterson notes there is one caveat: you have to give up control if you want God to surprise you. Although you’ll lose a measure of predictability, this frees God to move in uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, you live with holy anticipation, understanding that coincidences are providences and that any moment can turn into a holy moment. Mark observes it is at this point many of us become spiritually bogged down:

“It’s at this place where God wants to do something unprecedented that many of us get stuck spiritually. Instead of operating by faith, we switch back to our default setting of logic. Instead of embracing the new move of God, we fall back into the rut of our old routines.”

Mark’s solution? Don’t simply brainstorm, praystorm.

Today’s question: How difficult is it for you to give up “control” of your situation? (Quote source here.)

Lately–in fact, more times then I can count–I keep coming across a verse that speaks to the “control” issue many of us have when it comes to our sometimes very perplexing life circumstances. The verse is found in Psalm 46:10 (NASB):

Cease striving  and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

In the past decade since I lost my job in April 2009, I spent the first several years searching for another job that never materialized, and I had to apply for Social Security at 62 to have any income again. At the time I applied for Social Security, I lost the apartment I had been living in for over four years when new owners purchased the house where my apartment was located, and they wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. That has now lead into a five-plus year search for low income senior housing that has still produced nothing in the way of affordable housing.

I can attest to the fact that it isn’t easy to “cease striving” when perplexing circumstances keep going on and on after a decade of waiting for an answer to show up. Yet, what I have learned and experienced during this past decade is priceless even though what I thought would happen long before now (in fact, a decade ago) is that I would find another job and move on with my life.

God is predictably unpredictable, and He is also sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. What Mark Batterson describes above regarding our own understanding of God is right on when he states:

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129.)

This is where Psalm 46:10 is so important. Since we can’t ever totally understand what God is up to we are clearly told to cease striving (be still) and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. GotQuestions.org gives us an understanding of what this verse means:

This verse comes from a longer section of Scripture that proclaims the power and security of God. While the threat the psalmist faced is not mentioned specifically, it seems to relate to the pagan nations and a call for God to end the raging war. Here is the whole psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Notice that the majority of the psalm is written in the third person as the psalmist speaks about God. However, God’s voice comes through in verse 10, and the Lord speaks in the first person: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

What better way to end this post then by quoting Psalm 46:10Cease striving and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Taking Flight

Back on March 20, 2019, Lifeway Christian Resources, the nation’s biggest Christian retail bookstore chain, announced it was closing all 170 stores by the end of 2019, and “shifting its offerings entirely online.” Family Christian Stores shut down all 240 locations of it’s stores in 2016 after 85 years of operation in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. And Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013 and shifted to online sales, also.

Slate published an article titled, The Decline of the Christian Bookstore,” on July 11, 2019, by Ruth Graham, a writer for Slate who lives in New Hampshire, with a subtitle reading, “Yes, they sell sanitized music and “Jesus junk.” But something important gets lost when Christian bookstores disappear” (quote source here). In the article she states:

The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book,Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America,” will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.” (Quote source here.)

The Lifeway bookstore near me is permanently closing this week. When I stopped in there last week it was pretty bare from previous closing sales leading up to this last one, with what merchandise was left reduced in price by 70%-90%. I picked up five books I might not have normally thought about reading at a discount of 80% on four of them and 70% on the fifth book. Such a deal! For true blue book lovers, there is nothing quite like walking through a real bookstore and browsing the shelves. Online bookstores just don’t cut it in that way. Besides, there is no chance of having a lively serendipitous conversation with a sales clerk or other customer in the store when buying books online.

Online communication has totally changed the way we relate to the world and to others. What used to be a social event (like actually going to a bookstore and look at real, published books, and communicating with clerks in person as well as other customers) is now going online. See if you don’t relate to this nine-year-old article published on August 13 (which also happened to be a Friday), 2010, in The Guardian titled, Twitter, email, texts: we don’t talk anymore!” by Michelle Hather, mom to three now all-grown-up sons who were still kids nine years ago:

Michelle Hather and her three sons communicate increasingly in a silent world of emails, tweets and texts. Will her boys forget how to speak altogether, she wonders?

It’s 7:28 am and I crack open my laptop and take a crafty peek at my email. I’m not yet out of bed but it’s a simple task to reach across the duvet and pull my MacBook towards me. Emails checked, I click on to my Facebook page, in case I’m missing anything. That’s when I notice my 13-year-old son (and FB friend) is online and doing exactly the same thing.

“Get off the damned computer and go downstairs for breakfast. NOW!!!!” I message. Frantic footsteps rush past my bedroom door.

The night before, as his food sat cooling on the dining room table and he sat in his bedroom, I had texted my middle son: “Dinner ready now! Get down here immediately!!!” Two minutes later, he was down the stairs and sitting at the table.

Then there are the crucial messages I need to pass on to my eldest: “I’m working late tonight”; “Your rugby training is cancelled”; “Where’s the 10 quid you owe me?”; “Can you return my entire collection of mugs, plates and glasses from your room, please??!!!” All sent by email because they have more chance of reaching his brain than actual, face-to-face human- being exchanges.

What has happened to my family? We’re in danger of never speaking to one another again …

I’m not kidding myself that we’d normally be gathered round the dining table discussing anything meaningful – with teenage hormones raging and parental resentment kicking in, I’ve become adept at translating grunts. But I’ve suddenly realized these kids have sucked me into their hi-tech way of doing things. Now I’m communicating with them via message boards, phones and computers – just like their friends.

Gone are the days when we tripped over each other in the kitchen or slumped happily against each other on the sofa to watch a family film. I should thank my lucky stars we had our children before the age of cheap laptops and mobile phones for primary school children, otherwise we might never have known those times.

Fast forward to 2010 and, with four computers in the house, it’s usual to find all five Hathers in five separate rooms, clicking or bashing away on the PlayStation. And when you’re chatting by email to friends in New Zealand, it seems reasonable to slip in a message to your child, sitting in front of his own computer a few yards away on the other side of the bedroom wall.

While we’re at it, why not use unlimited texts courtesy of our phone contracts as a kind of house intercom system? No more bellowing up the stairs – our boys leap on any incoming message with an urgency last seen when they were in short trousers. Crushing disappointment only hits when they realize the message is from mum or dad. I’ve even been known to send them a printed message in the television room, where we keep the wireless printer. As I work in my own office, I can still nag them in red 78-point Ariel Black upper-case letters: “TURN OFF THE PS3 AND GO AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!”

But with laptops before breakfast, mobiles left switched on by bedsides and iPods stuck in ears as they fall asleep, I do worry my sons will soon lose the power of speech entirely. When I was a kid, I would spend hours gossiping with my mates, hanging out down the shops discussing clothes, boys and other urgent matters. My children are often happy to stay in their rooms and converse by keyboard.

“Switch off the computer and get to bed,” I yell, as I get ready to turn off my own bedroom light.

“Yep, I’m just saying goodnight to my mates,” they tell me.

Should I resist the inevitable march of progress? Is it enough to use proper grammar and spell out text words in their entirety – much to my children’s amusement – or should I be communicating only when I can see the whites of their eyes? After all, I know I’m a hypocrite when it comes to the lure of the laptop … I used to start every day gazing at my children; these days I open my Mac before I open their doors.

Lisa Warner is a parenting expert whose website Fink (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids) produces conversation prompt cards for teenagers. She says you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “The way we communicate is changing and your family can’t live in a bubble and ignore technology,” she says. “But kids learn how to communicate from their parents and we lose all sorts of things – crucial body language for example – by not talking face to face.

“By all means make use of the new methods of communicating but make sure you take time to talk about things other than the daily routine.”

The Bercow report of 2008 warned that we were all going to hell in a handcart. “If a child is exposed to a relentless diet of TV and computer games and deprived of interaction at home, that is very damaging,” the soon to be House of Commons Speaker told the Guardian at the time. And 2011 is earmarked as the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

It’s falling on deaf ears in our house. The more gadgets that appear, the less we have to do with one another. The other night our street was plunged into darkness by a power cut and the boys were truly shocked. Once the excitement of candles and no showers had waned, the horror of the situation sank in and they slunk off to bed. Nothing better to do, you see.

The way they plan their social life has changed, too. Everything is left to the last minute because everyone can be reached immediately, no matter where they are. Hours of no visible or audible signs of communication with their friends are suddenly followed by a slammed front door as they react to an urgent message or email. “What time are you coming back????” I text after them as they disappear up the road. I leave my phone next to my pillow as I try to sleep–comforted only by a bleep-bleep of a response and an eventual key in the door.

Then there’s Facebook. My youngest tolerates me as a friend, but he has nothing to hide… yet. My eldest two won’t let me near them, though I’m sure I could easily hang around unnoticed among the thousands of friends they have somehow collected. Interestingly, some of their peers have added me as a friend and I often spy on my children from a distance. Oh, how I laughed when I read that my baby had thrown up into a gutter during one jolly jape. And don’t get me started on the photos… when did 15-year-old girls learn to pose like that?

It’s not just speech that is disappearing in our house. The handwritten word is an endangered species, too. My boys rarely trouble a ballpoint pen and homework is always produced on the computer; handwritten notes left for me are therefore no more than a scribble. I think back to my own school days, of aching fingers and 90-minute essay exams, and wonder how on earth these children manage when they are not used to holding a pen.

It’s a worry. But then one day you see their online work and hope is resuscitated. They can write, they can express themselves, they do still have a language–they just don’t do it or use it the same way we do. Last month, I asked my eldest son to email me his latest piece of English private study. It was a beautifully crafted piece of work based on Sebastian Faulks’s “Birdsong,” in which my boy used words and phrases I could only dream coming from his mouth. It was thoughtful, moving and nothing like the usual clipped language I get in his texts and emails. You see, it’s all there–it’s just lost inside the computer.

With keyboards or phone pads prompting most communication within the Hather house, it’s easy to forget we are still chatterboxes at heart. So I didn’t hold back when I told my son what I thought of his essay: “It’s really lovely,” I texted. (Quote source here.)

Do remember that this article was published nine years ago. And the issue has only escalated since that time. Does it sound familiar? It reminds me of a phrase that Jesus stated several times–“he who has ears to hear.” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer to what Jesus was meaning when he made that statement:

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of those who have “ears to hear” at the end of a difficult saying or parable (e.g., Matthew 11:15Mark 4:923). Who is “he who has ears to hear”? Better yet, who is “he who has ears”? Ears are a feature shared by all of humanity—to not have ears would be an unnatural occurrence. Therefore, when Jesus addresses those who have ears, He refers to all who have been given His words—no matter their age, ethnicity, language, or status.

But there is a difference between having ears and having “ears to hear.” Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed contrasts types of hearers: those who let the Word of God pass straight through their ears and those who truly listen and seek understanding (Mark 4:13–20). Some hear the Word, yet they do not allow it to take root because the seduction of worldly pleasures and comfort overcomes them. Others end up rejecting the Word because of persecution or trials. Others hear the Word and open themselves to understand and accept it so that it transforms them. Those who have “ears to hear” allow the Word to bear fruit to the glory of God. It is up to the hearer to decide whether to take the Word seriously and pursue understanding; only a few are willing—the rest have ears, but they do not have “ears to hear” (Matthew 7:13–1424–27).

Whenever Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is calling for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Speaking in parables was one way in which Jesus sought to gain the attention of the crowds–people love stories, and the parables depicted events and characters with which they could readily relate. But unless they were willing to tune out other distractions and come to Jesus to understand the meaning of His preaching, His words would be only empty stories. They needed more than ears, however keen they were; they needed ears to hear.

When asked by His disciples why He was speaking to the crowds in parables, Jesus refers to Isaiah 6, which speaks of people who have eyes and ears, yet who have hardened their hearts and chosen to ignore the Word of the Lord (Matthew 13:10–15; cf. Isaiah 6:8–10). Part of the judgment on those who refuse to believe is that they will eventually lose their opportunity to believe: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:12; cf. Romans 1:18–32).

A similar phrase is found in Revelation in each of the seven letters to the churches: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:71117293:61322). And in Revelation 13:9, immediately following a description of the Antichrist, we read, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The readers of Revelation are called upon to pay close attention and seek God’s wisdom concerning what’s written.

Who is “he who has ears”? The simple answer: all people who have been or are being given the words of God. Like the parables’ original audience, we must also “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Jesus’ simple request is that we use our God-given faculties (eyes to see, ears to hear) to tune in to His words (John 10:27 –28Mark 4:24Revelation 3:20). “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mark 4:22). Seeking God’s truth takes energy and focus; it takes a willingness to be challenged and changed. While the way of God’s truth is not the most convenient or fun path to take, we can be assured that it is the best one (John 1:410:914:6). And so He bids us, “Come” (Matthew 11:28 –30).

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:1–3). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above and taken from Revelation 2:71117293:61322Whoever has ears…

Let them hear . . .

What the Spirit says . . .

To the churches . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
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Photo #3 credit here

Of Steel and Velvet

I read an online devotion this morning that showed up in my email inbox from Our Daily Bread titled, Steel and Velvet,” by Bill Crowder, Vice President of teaching content for Our Daily Bread Ministries. The title of the devotion is Steel and Velvet,” and here is what he wrote:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”John 8:7

Today’s Scripture & Insight: Read John 8:1-11

Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of former US president Abraham Lincoln, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.” “Steel and velvet” described how Lincoln balanced the power of his office with concern for individuals longing for freedom.

Only one person in all history perfectly balanced strength and gentleness, power and compassion. That man is Jesus Christ. In John 8, when confronted by the religious leaders to condemn a guilty woman, Jesus displayed both steel and velvet. He showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves. He said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Then Jesus modeled the velvet of compassion by telling the woman, “Neither do I condemn you . . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).

Reflecting His “steel and velvet” in our own responses to others can reveal the Father’s work of conforming us to be like Jesus. We can show His heart to a world hungry for both the velvet of mercy and the steel of justice. (Quote source here.)

In this devotion, Jesus “showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves.” And he “modeled the velvet of compassion” in his interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery. He was also firm in his stance with the Pharisees while trying to get them to see the error of their ways.

In a second devotion on the same topic published on June 8, 2010,  titled, Lincoln, A Man of Velvet Steel,” by Dr. Tommy Kiedis, senior pastor at Spanish River Church, and adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School, he writes:

I admire Abraham Lincoln and appreciate his words! Our sixteenth President, who penned the Gettysburg Address, also gave us such memorable lines as:

    • ‘Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
    • Sir my concern is not whether God is on our side. My great concern is to be on God’s side.
    • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.
    • It is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.

Lincoln was a man of resolve, but he was also a man of common sense. There were times to “put up the dukes,” and then there were times to relax the fists and extend a hand of friendship. Carl Sandburg, a Lincoln biographer, described the President as a man of “velvet steel.”  What a great appellation and fitting explanation as to why Lincoln’s sterling reputation has not tarnished over the years. When I open the pages of Scripture I see another person of velvet steel—Jesus! They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:4-11 ESV). Carry something soft in your pocket today. Every time you touch it, pray this prayer: “God, give me Jesus’ discretion. Help me be a person of velvet steel.”

When people stood before the judge’s bench, Jesus knew when to bang the gavel and when to put it down. He knew when to be compassionate rather than condemning, when to be relaxed rather than rigid, and when to excuse the offense rather than to exact the toll.

Being a person of velvet steel is not easy. It takes divine discretion. “Lord, replace my cold heart with a warm embrace. Give me the wisdom to be a person of velvet steel!” (Quote source here.)

In this devotion, Jesus “knew when to bang the gavel and when to put it down. He knew when to be compassionate rather than condemning, when to be relaxed rather than rigid, and when to excuse the offense rather than to exact the toll.”

The key in all of our interactions with anyone we come into contact with is replacing a cold heart and attitude with a heart of compassion towards others no matter who is confronting us or trying to manipulate us. This was the case of the Pharisees in the above story who were always trying to trap Jesus, and, in this specific case, they also had no compassion for the woman they dragged before Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery, either. And Jesus showed compassion towards the woman whom the Pharisees couldn’t have cared less about. They were using her to get to Jesus trying to find a charge to bring against him.

Every interaction that we have with others clearly shows us our own heart attitude, and that includes even if we are trying to be deceptive by not letting the other person know our true/real motives. For a Christian, this kind of attitude is deadly as it is pharisaical, and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day never saw it in themselves, either.

Ephesians 4:32 states, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Luke 6:31 states, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (that’s Jesus speaking). In a short story based on Luke 10: 25-37 titled, Jesus Teaches How to Treat Others,” by Diane L. Mangum, she writes:

The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along with each other. The Jews did not like the people who lived in Samaria. They thought they were better than the Samaritans and tried not to travel in their land. If they saw Samaritans, they would not talk to them.

But Jesus taught that you should treat people just as you would like them to treat you. Could that mean treating people kindly even if you didn’t know them or if they were Samaritans?

Jesus said people should love their neighbors. But was a neighbor only someone who lived nearby or someone who was like you? Jesus told a story to help the people understand how they should treat others.

In the story a Jewish man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a dangerous road that climbed through steep hills. Thieves would often hide behind big rocks and then try to stop and rob travelers.

The thieves attacked the man and hurt him badly. They took his clothes and left him by the side of the road to die.

priest traveling on the road saw the wounded man. But he hurried to the other side of the road and went on his way.

Next, a Levite man came by and saw the injured man. He, too, crossed to the other side and hurried by, not stopping to help.

Last, a man from Samaria came by. When he saw the Jewish man who had been attacked, he felt compassion and stopped to help.

The Samaritan washed and bound up the man’s wounds and took him to an inn, where he could rest and get food. The Samaritan paid the host money to care for the wounded man until the man was well.

The Samaritan showed the wounded man kindness and mercy. He treated him like a neighbor.

Jesus wants us to treat others as the good Samaritan did. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Micah 6:8He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly…

And to love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Guy Penrod:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Sing Anyway

The other day I stopped at a Goodwill Store and I looked over the large selection of used books found in many of their stores. Being a “bookaholic,” I am immediately drawn to the book area of any store that has a book area in it. It’s like I have a book magnet living inside of me… 🙂

I happened to find an old copy of a Baptist Hymnal (copyright 1956) with “Rockwood Baptist Church” printed at the bottom on the front cover, and it was well used and exactly like the hymnal pictured here, and I purchased it for 50 cents. It took me back to my childhood and teen years growing up in a small nondenominational church that I was raised in that primarily hired Baptist ministers.

Before going to bed that night, I turned every page in that hymnal until the very last page (over 500 hymns are in it), and I sang the first line and chorus of at least two dozen of the songs that I remembered singing years ago before going to sleep. It brought back many memories of those years gone by. Back in my younger years I sang in the church choir (alto), and I also sang in some of their musical productions, too.

The church I grew up in was a typical neighborhood church in the Midwest that eventually grew into one of the first of what are now called megachurches after it moved to a much larger facility. I haven’t attended there since my early 30’s, and the church has changed it’s name and moved to yet another location since then. I left that state a few years later when I accepted a doctoral fellowship at a private university in a another state.

Over the years since that time, modern worship music has taken the place of, and in some cases is used alongside, the older hymns that most older folks in our generations today remember singing. I really like the newer modern worship music, too, but I’m old enough to remember the older hymns, many of which are still very popular today (think of Amazing Grace and Great is Thy Faithfulness and, of course, many of the Christmas songs we still sing today, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night).

In an article titled, I Will Sing! Yesterday, Today, and Always!” by Victory Enyioke, wife, mother, and graduate student at SWBTS, she writes:

My recollection of Christian, congregational singing from my childhood and youth days is a repertoire of hymns either from the “Broadman Hymnal,” “Baptist Hymnal” or the “Sacred Songs and Solos” by Sankey. These songs etched in my mind and heart and continue to be my source of musical inspiration, encouragement and help in times of need. These hymns are loaded with spiritual lyrics and most times tied to Scripture.

Growing up, congregational singing was characterized by us holding hymn books by hand and connecting with the words of the song in a very special way. Families had hymn books at home and during devotional times we would pull out those hymn books and sing most times in parts because the songs were at our fingertips. This is a tradition we are trying to pass down to our children even though it is a challenge to match the contest that the sing-along trend of contemporary music poses. The technology of projector screens makes us lazy singers as we wait for the screen to spit out the next phase of the song without which we mumble and fumble.

My experience in recent years is one of bewilderment as I struggle to remember sometimes the very songs that were song in a morning worship service. Mind you, a lot of the songs are spiritual and melodious but not always memorable. And unless you are the type of person who is determined to take the extra time to go back and learn the songs, they fly by like the wind that brushes your face nicely and passes away swiftly. Not to misunderstand me, I do enjoy these new songs, they are Spirit filled and a lot of times are wonderful for worship. However, their life span is short because worship leaders are in a hurry to introduce the next new song.

Today, many reasons are responsible for why church folks no longer sing as the Church used to sing. These range from not knowing the songs to general apathy due to high pitches, complicated melodies and sometimes over repetition. Even though a lot of the modernized songs have rich theological content, worshipers generally have short attention spans and lack the patience to learn complicated musical pieces. Truth be told, most of these songs are designed for the choir and not for the congregation. While the younger generation try their best to follow along, older folks just cannot cope with the singing. While church music most ‘evolve in sorts’ and should not be static, we must not throw away the old as archaic and unusable. Reminds me of the old song that says, “Give Me that Old Time Religion, It’s good enough for Me. It was good enough for Paul and Silas, It’s good enough for me.” (Gospel Folklore)

My worship should glorify God. It is not about my likes nor dislike. Therefore, I should not pick and choose which songs to sing in church. However, worship leaders should strive to balance congregational music between the old and the new. The old folks should be able to sing for as long as their vocal chords can produce sound. While the young should be free to shout in Praise as their strength enables. What I want to be able to do is sing and sing and sing until eternity comes. (Quote source here.)

I agree with what the author above has written. Worship wars have been going on in churches for several decades now ever since modern worship music arrived on the scene. In an article titled, 5 Ways to Battle the Never-Ending Worship Wars,” by Carey Nieuwhof, a former lawyer and the founding pastor of Connexus Church, he writes:

So let me guess: someone recently complained about the music at your church.

It doesn’t matter what style of music your church features or how traditional or edgy your music is; complaining about music is almost a universal phenomenon in the church today.

Some of that is generated by church shoppers (I outlined 5 characteristics of church shoppers here), but the problem is more pervasive than hearing from a few church shoppers.

It’s endemic to human nature and to our consumer driven culture that basically says everything revolves around me. While I think consumer Christianity will die in the future (here’s why), we’re not there yet.

Before we get started, please know this isn’t a slam against any particular style of music in the church.

In fact, I admire all churches that are innovating to become more effective in their mission.

But here’s the challenge.

Many leaders have almost spilled blood getting their church to change in the area of music (or making sure their church doesn’t change).

And yet, despite the battles fought over music, many churches are still not much further ahead in reaching people because of it.

Why is that?

There are five problems I see church leaders struggle with when navigating the sensitive and emotional issue of worship style in church.

(1) You become so focused on pleasing the people you have that you lose sight of the people you’re trying to reach.

Whatever your music style, many church leaders are overly worried about how ‘their people’ will handle the change.

Being aware of the concerns of the congregation is healthy. Leaders who don’t care how their congregation thinks eventually end up leading nobody.

But it’s also a trap. When people’s reactions become an overriding fear, the mission shifts away from reaching new people to keeping the people you have happy.

As a result, leaders:

Abandon change to keep people happy.

Compromise vision to try to satisfy the discontent.

Stop innovating to try to placate people.

These attempts at making people happy virtually never work (I wrote about the problems people-pleasing leaders face here).

What To Do

So what do you do to combat your people pleasing focus?

Focus on whom you’re trying to reach rather than on whom you’re trying to keep.

And when you’re communicating a change to your congregation, focus on why you’re making the change (to reach people) and far more people will accept what you’re trying to do (changing the style of worship).

If you want more on this subject, I’ve written more on leading change here.

2. You define ‘contemporary’ relative to how you used to worship.

Let me name the elephant in the room. Most of what passes for ‘contemporary’ worship isn’t that contemporary at all.

Sure, the church has changed. And there may have been some battles over the change.

But walk into many self-described ‘contemporary’ churches and it feels like 2004, or 1994, or even 1984. The church isn’t actually ‘contemporary’ (contemporary means ‘occurring in the present’).

Tony Morgan makes a great point in The New Traditional Church: If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).

But most church leaders don’t like that style of music or are afraid their church wouldn’t.

What To Do

Be honest. Don’t call yourself contemporary if you’re some paler version of it. Self-awareness and honesty actually matter if you’re trying to reach unchurched people.

Sadly, well-meaning self-deception runs rampant in church leadership today.

Be truthful about what you’re doing. If you are, it might just make you frustrated enough to make you change again.

In the meantime, realize that despite all the change, you might still be miles away from being relevant to the people living around you.

3. You’ve become stuck in “No Man’s Land.”

I learned about No Man’s Land in churches from James Emery White.

It’s a term that describes churches too contemporary to please the traditionalists and too traditional to reach people who connect with a contemporary approach.

I have no desire to ignite a furious debate about ‘blended worship’ (a combination of traditional and contemporary styles).

Can it work? I’m sure it can, done right.

But you don’t have to get too far into the conversation with most church leaders who are in a blended format to realize it’s not an overriding passion to reach the outsider that fuels the change, it’s fear that if they go too much further there will be an apocalypse.

What’s the bottom line? Most blended worship happens because leaders are afraid to go further, not because leaders think it’s the best option.

The attempt to make everyone happy usually makes no one happy.

In my view, the last 10 percent of change is the hardest. When we transitioned from traditional to blended to full-out ‘contemporary’ music a decade ago, the last 10 percent of the change was harder than the first 90 percent. I think that’s how leaders get stuck.

Again, I’m not saying blended services are a bad thing (we’ve chosen to not embrace that strategy at Connexus for very specific reasons). I’m just saying if you end up there, make sure that’s where you want to be because you believe it’s the most effective way to accomplish your mission.

What To Do

Don’t get stuck somewhere you’re not called to be.

Finish the change or make sure where you’re at is honestly the very best way to fulfill your mission.

4. Style has become an end in itself, not a means to an end.

Your style of music and service should serve the mission. It is not the mission.

Once again, this nails all of us: traditionalists, innovators and everyone in between.

Our goal is not to arrive at a particular worship style. It’s to accomplish the mission Christ has given us.

I love how our church does music.

But 40 years from now, I don’t want to be sitting around in a retirement home with my friends complaining that young people today don’t sing enough Hillsong “Young and Free,” play cover tunes at church or make pour-over coffee.

The church should always change, and it needs to change on your watch.

How do you address this? 

Be committed to constant change. Don’t rest.

Your style as church helps you achieve the mission. It is not the mission.

5. Older leaders make decision that belong to younger leaders.

Far too often in the church, I have seen older leaders make decisions that rightly belong to younger leaders.

There is a role for middle-aged leaders and older leaders. They bring wisdom to the table and a seasoned viewpoint almost impossible to find in someone who is starting out.

I’m not slamming others. I am almost the oldest person on our staff team.

Even though I’m fairly up to date on culture, music, and technology, I’m no longer the guy who should be calling the music, design or cultural shots at our church.

I’m not sure most leaders over 40 should be. Not if you want to impact the next generation.

Sitting around the table at our service programming meetings are leaders who are 10-30 years younger than I am (we almost always have a teenager in the mix).

I trust their judgment more than mine when it comes to how our services will connect with the people we’re trying to reach.

I have just seen too many leaders in their 40s, 50s and 60s make decisions that alienate younger generations and then sit around and ask where all the young people went.

Don’t be that leader.

What To Do

Ensure you have younger leaders around your leadership table and empower them to make the decisions that drive your organization.

It’s really not more complicated than that. (Quote source here.)

I love all kinds of music from old time rock and roll, to rhythm and blues, Motown, jazz, contemporary (80’s and 90’s and today), country–especially country rock–you name it and I probably like it (well, I must admit that I am not a fan of opera, but there’s still time to for me to acquire a taste for it). And in church I love both the old hymns and the modern worship music. In fact, I even sometimes sing in the shower to get my day started. That’s how much I love music.

So let us not go to war when it comes to worship music. Let’s just sing and enjoy it! I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 42:10

Sing to the Lord a new song . . .

And His praise . . .

From the ends of the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” (1779)  by Il Divo:

YouTube Video: “Freedom” (2018) by Jesus Culture:

YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” (2008) by Israel Houghton and Lakewood Church (this song is a personal favorite of mine):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here