Wednesday Selah: Create In Me A Clean Heart by Keith Green

Earlier this week, a friend posted the words to one of Keith Green‘s most memorable songs along with a picture of a sunrise at the beach. Just seeing those words reminded me how much I loved Green’s music even though I was only beginning to discover it when he died in a plane crash at the age of 28. We can only wonder at what his prophetic voice might be telling us today. Below is a video from one of the first Keith Green songs I ever heard … well, it’s the audio anyway. Back then – believe it or not – people didn’t have such easy access to video!

P.S. As a writer, I love this quote from Keith Green:

I only want to build God’s Kingdom and see it increase, not my own. If someone writes a great poem no one praises the pencil they used, they praise the one who created the poem.  Well, I’m just a pencil in the hands of the Lord.  Don’t praise me, praise Him!

A not-so-beautiful ruse (The Sarah Series 3)

Sarah and God

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister,so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Genesis 12:10-20

 

Obeying the call of God, Abram and his entourage began walking. They walked the length and breadth of Canaan, where Abram once more heard the promise of God as the Lord told him, ““To your offspring I will give this land.”

But a famine struck. The situation became so dire that Abram led the family into Egypt. In making this bold move, Abram had but one concern. It had nothing to do with the armies of Pharaoh or the hostility they could face as outsiders in a land not their own. It had everything to do with Sarai, whom Abram believed to be so exceedingly beautiful that she would attract the attention of Pharaoh. Not only did Abram think Sarai would attract the Egyptian ruler’s attention, but also that he himself would be murdered as Pharaoh’s desire for Sarai overtook him. So Abram devised – and Sarai agreed to – a plan in which they would present themselves as brother and sister rather than husband and wife. They believed the subterfuge would protect Abram from Pharaoh. Maybe the scheme would even lead Pharaoh to treat Abram well.

It is natural to question why such a plan would be necessary. Sarai was between the ages of 65-70 by this time. Could she still be so beautiful as to attract the attention of the ruler of Egypt?  A portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to suggest that she was indeed still that physically attractive. Other scholars suggest Sarai’s dignity, bearing, and style contributed to giving her a striking impression. However we may describe her beauty, it was indeed enough to capture the attention of Pharaoh, and the story unfolded just as Abram had predicted – almost. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house, and Abram was given livestock and servants.

God, however, had a plan to bring his chosen couple’s ruse to light. Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly how Pharaoh determined that his relationship with Sarai was the root of all the ills of his household, but he rightly traced the problem to Abram. After a good reprimand, Pharaoh sent the couple away, along with all that had been acquired during their stay.

The plagues sent on Pharaoh and his household show the first instance of God intervening in the lives of Abram and Sarai to protect the promise. There would be other instances – some of them strikingly similar to this one. We would think that Abram and Sarai would have learned from that first mistake, especially after God had so clearly intervened on their behalf.  Yet, they – like us – continued to devise their own strategies rather than trust fully in the promise that God has made. We make small decisions every day that rest on our own strength rather than trusting God. We make massive decisions throughout our lives that rise from our own thinking and planning rather than from the plans of the One who made us.

And, like Sarai and Abram, we sometimes find that God corrects our path. As much as we may want it, we don’t see plagues rain down on our adversaries, but we do see obstacles crop up as we move along our own trajectory until we finally surrender in prayer and give up our plans for the greater plans of the Lord.

To be honest, I need to fully surrender each day to the Lord to assure that the visions I have for my future come from him and not from my own misdirected ego. I’m not good at surrender. I fail as often as I succeed in doing so. In the end, though, I know that surrendering my small dreams opens the door to God’s greater dreams.

Read the whole story in Genesis 12:10-20.

To the cretin in the pick-up truck

English: A red bike lane on the side of a high...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m compelled to write this missive to you – an unknown, faceless figure who poked his head out of the window of a pick-up truck past its prime (but not its primer.)

You were driving down a main street in town. I was safely pedaling in the bike lane.

The you made this noise. I suspect it was meant to be a shout of some sort. I’m not naive enough to think it was pleasant.

But I’m fairly certain that physics was never your strong point.

The first clue was the condition of the smoke-billowing conveyance in which you were a passenger.

The second was your blatant disregard of the effect of said smoke-billowing conveyance’s motion on your voice. Simply put, the motion of the vehicle combined with the excessive decibels at which you attempted to communicate rendered your Neanderthal musings incoherent.

Please understand that this does not mean that I need or want you to repeat your message as I suspect it is one that I have heard before from similar people who directly correlate their manhood to the loudness of their muffler.

Just remember this … someday you’ll be standing at a gas station pumping precious fuel into your guzzling gas tank while I ride by thinking of all the money I am saving and the calories I am burning.

Maybe I’ll slow down and shout something at you.

Don’t worry. I’ll speak slowly so you can understand.

This post originally appeared on one of my earlier blogs, but I thought it would be fun to revisit it for #ThrowbackThursday.

Wednesday Selah: Happiness by NEEDTOBREATHE

One thing we need to put out there about these “Wednesday Selah” posts; it doesn’t matter if the song is fast, slow or in between. The whole point is to take a break from the craziness of the week. Or, at least, that’s my interpretation. Ancient Israel may have had other ideas. Then again, they also didn’t have the new NEEDTOBREATHE album. I’m loving this track. Lyrics below.

 

Singing oh, happiness
Singing oh, happiness

I got a homesick heart but a long ways left to go
I’ve been doing my part but I ain’t got much to show
So I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

Chasing that life, moving on ’cause I had to prove
There ain’t no life worth doing what I did to you
So I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

I got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night
Telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life
There’s a light I see, but it’s far in the distance
I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

Singing oh, happiness
Singing oh, happiness

I’ve been working all night, maybe you could help me to believe
This song ain’t nothing if this song can’t set you free
So I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

I got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night
Telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life
There’s a light I see, but it’s far in the distance
I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

Singing oh, happiness
Singing oh, happiness

Sometimes you leave the ones you love
But if it’s love, they won’t give up
‘Cause they know a war’s raging and you gotta choose
These days are tough, these days are long
Sometimes it’s hard, you carry on
But I hear a voice singing and I know it’s true

I got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night
Telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life
There’s a light I see, but it’s far in the distance
I’m asking you to show me some forgiveness
It’s all for you in my pursuit of happiness

Singing oh, happiness
Singing oh, happiness
Oh, happiness
Singing oh, happiness

Saturday Shares: Say this, not that …

It’s Saturday so it’s time to share some of what I found fascinating on the Internet this week. Be warned … some of the links are old. I’m finally able to start reading some of the links I had saved on Twitter and Facebook back when seminary classwork was taking up every minute of my spare time.

The Louisiana Floods of 2016

The Times-Picayune is sadly familiar with covering disaster, having experienced Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago this month. Now, they’re on the forefront of coverage of the flooding devastating their state, and they have some choice words for the national media in this editorial:

The disaster porn coverage networks liberally apply to non-stories all the damn time isn’t coming. But this is a sprawling human tragedy, and it’s happening right now, just beyond the view of a media more interested in Justin Bieber’s Instagram status than in the sufferings of flyover country.

Heartbreaking, really.

That time when a Bible scholar, who happens to be a woman, is asked to be part of a commentary, panel or what have you and even she has questions about why she has been invited. Lynn Cohick says in this Her.meneutics interview:

So while it gives me a chance to work, I also wonder if my efforts are judged differently. I wonder if people think, “Lynn has been asked because she’s a woman, so I’m going to presume that her work is not that good, that she wasn’t given this based on her merit or her argument, but just because she’s a woman …”

What not to say …

Christine’s thoughts on this old, familiar phrase are spot on. She writes:

And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.

You can’t possibly imagine a reason for what just happened. 

And, finally, the video of the week (or, what you should say.)

The Olympics are coming to a close. I initially wanted to share the video of David Boudia and Steele Johnson proclaiming their identity in Christ following their performance in synchronized diving that won them the silver medal. As the games continued, however, I heard other athletes boldly proclaiming their faith in post-event interviews. This video features quotes from a variety of athletes, taken at various competitions, that reflect their faith in Christ.

Out of Ur {The Sarah Series 2}

Sarah and GodThe story of Abram – as it is often told – begins with a great call from God to leave everyone and everything that he knew to go to a land he did not know as he was led by a God he did not understand. This, too, is often where Sarai’s story begins, mentioned alongside Abram’s nephew, Lot, and all of Abram’s people and possessions as the journey from Haran into the unknown begins.

But Haran was not their home, and obedience to the call of God was not the beginning of Abram and Sarai’s story.

Their story begins in Ur of the Chaldeans. Scholars debate over the site of the ancient city, but generally agree it is in the Middle East in or around what is modern-day Iraq. There we meet Terah, a descendent of Noah’s son Shem, and his sons Abram, Nahor and Haran. For reasons not expressed in the text, Terah decided to move. That he packed up his family to go on a journey is less interesting than their intended destination. Genesis 11:31 tells us:

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.

We barely know Sarai’s name before a stark truth is revealed — Sarai was barren and had no child. This declaration provides a vital context to the promise that would be made to Abram when God called him. The command to go included the seemingly impossible promise that Abram would the father of a great nation.

But, look ahead a few centuries and see the impossibility brought to life. Imagine yourself sitting around a campfire in ancient Egypt. You are part of a family and a people that have been slaves for generations. These moments – surrounded by your people and listening to the stories of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – fuel you through the drudgery of the work given each day by your Egyptian task masters. Tonight, the old woman is talking about Sarai. Her gray hair is pulled back under a worn headscarf. Her skin, tanned and wrinkled from the desert sun, adds to her air of wisdom. Her, gnarled by decades of slave labor, move expressively as she tells the story.

“And Sarai was barren,” she said dramatically. “She had no children.”

Everyone around the campfire laughs instinctively. You look to your mother and lock eyes. She smiles. You smile back. You both understand you are two daughters of Sarah sitting among dozens of daughters of Sarah in a nation of thousands of daughters of Sarah.

Barrenness appeared to pronounce a death sentence on the divine plan. But, in the course of time, it offered a background for God’s power to be displayed as obstacles and hurdles were overcome. What God had done for Sarah is still being done in the lives of women today. Obstacles, hurts, illnesses, disappointments, and loss create walls we feel unable or inadequate to climb on the path to what we know God has called us to do. We question the call. We question the process. We may even question God. We can never question his capacity to do abundantly more than we could ever imagine, and all we have to do is look back to the life of Sarah for confirmation.

Many years stood between the promise and its fulfillment, and there were multiple incidents brought on by Abram and Sarai themselves that threatened to derail the promise. We’ll explore one of those in next week’s post.

Wednesday Selah: Forever by Kari Jobe

Take a break tonight. Don’t watch the news. Steer clear of politics. Focus on the One who is forever. Remember that – as the spoken word artist, Isaac Wimberly, says in the video – hope has a name, Jesus.

P.S. You can read the poem Wimberly performs on his website. I love the ending …

So it’s not just words that I proclaim
For my words point to the WORD
And the WORD has a name
Hope has a name
Joy as a name
Peace has a name
Love has a name
And that name is Jesus Christ
Praise His name FOREVER!

Wednesday Selah: Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels

I have loved Christy Nockels music for a long time, but this is the song I sing when I’m driving, cleaning or just hustling around the house. It’s become my everyday prayer. Lyrics are below the video.

(P.S. Christy recently started a podcast called The Glorious in the Mundane. check it out!)

Lyrics

Let it be Jesus
The first name that I call
Let it be Jesus
My song inside the storm
I’ll never need another

For me, to live is Christ
For me, to live is Christ
God I breathe Your name above everything
Let it be, Let it be Jesus x2

Let it be Jesus
From the rising of the sun
Let it be Jesus
When all is said and done
I’ll never need another, Jesus there’s no other

For me, to live is Christ
For me, to live is Christ
God I breathe Your name above everything
Let it be, Let it be Jesus x2

Should I ever be abandoned
Should I ever be acclaimed
Should I ever be surrounded by the fire and the flame
There’s a name I will remember
There’s a name I will proclaim
Let it be, Let it be my Jesus x3

For me, to live is Christ
For me, to live is Christ
God I breathe Your name above everything
Let it be, Let it be Jesus

The God of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah

Sarah and God

“The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.”

“… the God of your ancestors …”

Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel …”

“… the God of Jacob …”

“… the God of Abraham …”

These names for God were on the lips of the nation of Israel from the moment Moses heard the Voice speaking from the flames of the burning bush. They were repeated in song and in solemn assemblies as the nation remembered its identity as the chosen people of God.

Hearing these names conjures images of the patriarchs wandering the length and breadth of the land the Lord swore would be theirs, waiting for the promises to be fulfilled, and listening for the voice of God to offer direction. It speaks of the eternal nature of the Lord, and of his faithfulness to the men who would give rise to the nation that he would call his own.

But these men were not alone.

Alongside Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. These were the women through whom the promised children would come. These are the women who came to know the eternal nature of God, his faithfulness and the truth of his promises though – like their husbands – they did not follow the Lord perfectly. They wavered with unbelief. They were impatient. They failed to trust in God’s timing.

Or, you could say, they were a lot like us.

A closer look at the lives of these women, though, reveals an overall life of faith in God and in experiences that point to the one who would provide the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises, Jesus.

What does it take for us today to cultivate a life of visible faith in which our humble walk with the Lord daily points to the promises we find in the resurrected Christ?

Let’s strap on our sandals, and find out by walking alongside Sarah in her journey with Abraham. It all begins in Haran, in ancient Mesopotamia.

 

 

Ten years later …

IM000835.JPG

My classmates and I before our bike ride at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center during our first week of class back in 2006.

 

A ten-year journey will be coming to a close at the moment I have scheduled this post to publish.

At 10:30 a.m., I will be lined up with my fellow graduates of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, waiting for the first notes of the processional to signal the start of the commencement ceremony. Though it comes six years later than I had anticipated, the timing is perfect. Ten years ago, I was where I needed to be, but not when I needed to be or who I needed to be.

I had been in youth ministry for nearly ten years at the time, and found my sweet spot in discussing life and Scriptures with students who were about to enter college. I had volunteered a few times with Passion conferences, and loved the one-to-one interaction with the students I served. So, when I embarked on my seminary journey, I had visions of a flourishing college ministry that would meet in the old movie theater downtown and draw in students from local colleges and maybe even high school seniors.

Nearly halfway into the seminary experience, my world was shattered when my mother died just a few days before Christmas. My seminary family prayed me through, and I vowed to continue on with my classwork. The reality, though, is that you just can’t concentrate on early Christological heresies and the thoughts of the ante-Nicene fathers when you are trying to move through the fog of loss.

So, I bailed.

For the first time in an academic life characterized by a perfectionist streak and flat-out ambition, I quit. I not only quit, but also the transcript for that semester shows letters I had never seen before on any report card – “WF” – withdrew failing.

And, that was the greatest thing I have ever done in all my years of schooling.

But, that’s when Jesus grabbed on to me like he never had before. I didn’t consciously reach out to him like you read in great redemption stories. I continued doing what I had always done.  I prayed. I read the Bible. I continued serving in church. In those little faithful acts, taken one step at a time as I came out of the darkness of grief, Jesus held onto me until I gradually realized I was being held.

And I grabbed him back.

More than once, I toyed with the idea of returning to school, but there were reasons to not return. It was too busy at work. The family needed me. It was busy at church. There was always the burning question of why I had even started seminary in the first place. Was it my ambition or God’s calling?

Finally, in the fall of 2013, I sensed that it was time. As it turns out, it was just in the nick of time. I faced a deadline to finish everything so that the old credits I had earned back in 2006 wouldn’t expire. It wasn’t easy. There were far more tasks to complete each day than there had been, and far less time available to complete them. The challenge, however, made the work all the more precious.

It was only in this last semester that I realized the great work God had done in the seven years that passed between the end of the last class I successfully completed and the start of the first class in my return to seminary. This time, I know that God has called me to write, speak and teach his word to people of any age willing to hear. This time, it isn’t in my own ambition or talent. It is though the grace and guidance of God. Now, I sing with conviction – and will sing at the graduation ceremony – the words to my favorite hymn:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand