Storming the Beach

Sunday at my church, the sermon was about breakthrough. Here are some reflections I’ve had when meditating on that.

Ever notice it’s not called “breakaround? Circumnavigating the challenges and obstacles between us and victory doesn’t work. Strongholds remain alive and well when we avoid them, and they will simply continue to do their job when left unattended. The only way to take back what God intended for us is to battle through them.

I can’t help think about D-Day, June 6, 1944. The best way to get the number of boots on the ground and equipment necessary to take back France and other occupied territories was to storm fortified beaches along France’s northern coast. The Nazis were not going to just step aside and let the allies waltz in and seize the land they thought they had conquered. Operation Overlord, as it was code named, took just under a month before the mission was considered complete and successful. It took planning, full commitment, and an unquenchable resolve to see it through.

Your breakthrough is not going to come without resistance. That resistance is protecting “land” the enemy thinks belongs to him, and he understands its value.

You will know you’re pursuing something of value when you meet resistance. The absence of difficulty should make you wary that perhaps what you’re pursuing is of no consequence to the enemy and value to you.

Remember, prayer weakens the enemy. Don’t go into battle before inflicting damage through prayer. Then, you must decide you’re willing to storm that beach, take on the fire, and advance no matter the cost. All the while, be unrelenting in prayer. That “land” belongs to God, and He has great things in store for you when you take it back!dday.png

The following words are in red letters, spoken by Jesus, and found in Matthew 11:12,

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

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Church massacre; prayer works?

Shouldn’t a life dedicated to Jesus mean bad things won’t happen to good people? Not ironically, the sermon at my church, only minutes before the shooting would begin, was from the text in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (NKJV)

All things.

What was meant for harm, God uses for good. (Genesis 50:20). In other words, if you think the story is over in Sutherland Springs, Tx, with the saddest possible conclusion, stay tuned. God makes beauty from the ashes.

In the aftermath of the horrific church shooting on Sunday, if you’re sincerely or derisively asking if prayer works, I will stand up and resoundingly shout “ABSOLUTELY!”

I have seen miracles as the result of prayer. Too many to list. From finding a lost wedding ring in a huge field that had been occupied by thousands of people, to loved ones healed from stage 4 cancer, to lives being delivered from crippling addictions.

The answer to prayers in the wake of Sunday are yet to happen, or yet to be made public. Wait for it. In the days, weeks, months, maybe even years to come, the stories of answered prayers and miracles will come to light. The evil visited upon that small church in that tiny town was not a result of the impotence of prayer, but the depravity of man, underscoring the very need for prayer.

Those who were tragically lost on Sunday are today in the presence of Jesus. Those who survived are, themselves, the result of miracles. They will tell you of the power of prayer.

Faith is not strengthened when everything is going right. It is perfected through fiery trials. It is precisely in times like this when God’s strength, mercy, and grace are made perfect.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord , the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1‭-‬2 NIV

Life lesson on cat fur

In what is no longer an unusual phenomenon in my life, I was driving to church a few months back and discovered cat fur on my sport coat. Married life has required some adjustments, and getting used to cat fur on my clothes is definitely among them.

On that particular Sunday, I really felt that God had given me a word to share with my church. During the worship set, I took the opportunity. For the 99.9% of you who weren’t there, I’m taking a moment to share it with you. Not because I’m so clever, but because this simple thought has profound meaning.

When I discovered the fur, I kind of laughed because I know I hadn’t held a cat while wearing it. The jacket had been in a closet where no cat had been. I had no idea how it got there. Be that as it may, we do have three cats, so cat fur is simply part of life.

What God inspired in my heart was simple. Cat fur on clothing is evidence that I have been in the presence of a cat. But then God turned it around on me in a moment of introspection.

What evidence is there that I have been in the presence of God?

Somehow, the cat fur attached itself to a jacket I hadn’t worn around the cats. Just so, when we spend time with God, the evidence of that relationship can’t help but be transferred to others. In fact, that is the the primary purpose of an intimate relationship with Him. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that being in His presence is evident because of the Holy Spirit. We are given gifts for the purpose of benefitting others. Gifts that bring an undeniable, life-giving encounter with God to others.

Is there evidence in your life that you have been in His presence? If not, now is a good time. You will walk away changed, and you will change the lives of those around you. God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:60).

NMW

T-minus 29 days. You know, when you’ve gone over 30 years of your adult life seemingly watching everyone around you get married, you get to a point when you genuinely think it’s not going to happen for you.

Three years ago last month, I met the woman who instantly and permanently changed my life. Somehow, I knew right away that my life was going to change. In October of 2013, a mere two months after discovering one another, I wrote a series of posts about what God was doing, starting with this one.

Like any good and realistic love story, there were significant challenges to overcome. While we frolicked through the fall leaves and winter snow in my visits from California, we had to talk through some serious issues. Whether it was discussing and working through hurts and mistakes from our pasts, to thinking and praying through logistics of how to make a cross-country relationship work, it was going to take 100% effort, determination and commitment.

As the calendar flipped from 2013 to 2014, we made a pact that we have kept to this day, and it will be etched in eternity on October 8th. Sarah-Jane needed assurance from me that I would do whatever it takes, that I would stand by her side no matter the challenge, and I would love her no matter the cost. As the man, I knew it was my duty to protect her heart, life, body, mind and spirit. I knew her need for assurance was my responsibility. But it has to be more than words. It must be backed up with actions. Actions that were, and often still are uncomfortable. Actions that cause me to face my biggest fears. Actions that, by facing them and being open about them, liberate me from the bondage of fear.

So, on January 1, 2014, like any mature adults, we sat at her kitchen table, curled our pinkies together, looked into each other’s eyes, and simply said, “no matter what.” We even captured the moment with this picture.

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Since that day, “no matter what” has been our rallying point. When either of us says these three simple words, it calibrates our hearts and reminds us of what God has done, is doing, and will do because we have kept Him at the center. We believed then, as we do now, that He was the one who crossed the paths of a guy in Rocklin, California with a girl in Pascoag, Rhode Island. We knew then that it wouldn’t be easy. Fortunately, we didn’t know at the time how difficult the challenges would be. But we promised one another that no matter what the mirror says, the scale, the bank account, the doctor, the opinions of others…we will stick together. When we aren’t physically together, we often text each other the equivalent of the pinky swear, “NMW”.

What an honor it is to be given the responsibility by God to love and protect another human life. In my case, several human lives as I will also be blessed with her sons, Christian and Jeremy.

Father, as we promised each other on January 1, 2014, and as we will publicly and solemnly profess on October 8, 2016, I will love, honor and protect the lives with which you have assigned me stewardship. No matter the cost, no matter the difficulty.

No matter what.

One year

August 5, 2015, my dad went home to be with Jesus. One year ago this evening, while I was on the phone with my brother Matt, Dad entered into his rest, his reward; the presence of God.

IMG_5451I have written many posts about my dad through the years. Most often on his birthday. He was a man’s man. Born October 30, 1935, Dad grew up during the Great Depression. He began working as a boy, then lied about his age in order to join the Marines in the 1950s. After he was discharged, he worked for Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company in California. But his heart wasn’t made for this profession. He was made to do more. He was designed to serve. He entered the police academy in order to become a member of the San Francisco police force.

Dad served honorably for over two decades, earning many medals of honor, including multiple gold medals, which are most often given to the widows of fallen officers . Starting as a uniformed cop on the beat, to the juvenile division, narcotics, and ultimately as member of what was then a brand new division, the bomb squad. This was not long after a domestic terror organization, the Weather Underground, bombed a SFPD station in 1970. I remember him telling me the story of how he ran up several flights of stairs to submit his request to be part of this elite new squad. As he arrived, out of panting heavily from his sprint, they looked at him as if he had three heads.

“Why are you out of breath?”

“I wanted to beat the rush for this opportunity.”

“Rush? For the bomb squad? Nobody wants to be part of this.”

That was my dad. The greater the danger, the greater the opportunity to serve the greater number of people. He was always willing to put himself in harm’s way in order to protect others.

In 1982, at the age of 47, Dad led his family by example in giving his heart to Jesus and asking Him to be Lord of his life. He was not a man who was desperate. You’ve heard the saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” That wasn’t my dad. He wasn’t in crisis. In fact, he wasn’t even seeking God.

God was seeking Dad.

In a personal encounter on a Saturday afternoon in our garage Dad had turned into a wood shop, God spoke to my dad’s heart. Dad was flipping stations on his radio several times throughout the course of the day, and repeatedly landed on a Christian station that featured recorded sermons from a variety of pastors. As the day went on, he’d listen for a few minutes here and there. Each time, he heard a brief message from different speakers. The only consistency in these messages was they were each speaking on salvation and our need to ask Jesus into our hearts. After several hours and various speakers, Dad turned off his power saw out of fear that his trembling hands would cause an accident. He walked out of the garage, through the kitchen past my mom, and proceeded to their bedroom. There, he closed the door, fell on his knees, and asked Jesus to come into his heart and change him.

God did.

My dad became a sold out man of God. Some years later, Dad retired from the police department so he could give himself to whatever God had for him in ministry. Before he did, Dad had become part of a prison ministry where he spoke intimately with hardened criminals in San Quentin. Not a ministry and venue you’d expect to see a cop. But that’s what God said, and that’s what Dad did.

I’m not trying to write a complete biography, just give you a thumbnail sketch of the kind of man my Dad was. He was a Marine and a cop. But what defined him and what was most precious to him was being a servant of Christ. Long before my Dad submitted his life to the Lord, God had been preparing my father for ministry by giving him a heart for service. Willing to go to the dark places in order to bring the light of Jesus. Whether it was being in a locked prison cell with a convicted felon, or selling all they had to move to Costa Rica in obedience and service to God so that he and my mom could minister to people. My dad was a servant.

I miss him every day, but his influence in my life lives on today. His impact in the lives of hundreds, even thousands of people throughout his life lives on. God used him beautifully and powerfully. As I am two months away from being a husband and step father, I pray I can be half the influence in the lives of my family as he was to his.

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

Matthew 25:21

 

Easter 2014

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is my story. My purpose is not to denigrate a church or denomination. It is simply my experience and observation as it relates to my spiritual awakening.

I was raised Catholic. Even so, that was more a rite of passage than a lifestyle. My parents were Catholic. Their parents were Catholic, and so on, and so on. I went through the different practices as I grew up. First Communion, Confirmation. A typical Sunday involved me waking up, getting ready and walking to church by myself. I went in, God took roll, I sat down, stood up and kneeled when everyone else did, then left at the end. The mass could have been in Swahili for all I took with me from the 60 minute experience.

Fast forward to when I was 18 years old. I was in the latter stages of my senior year in high school. My parents had embarked on their own spiritual journey nearly a year earlier. In the latter days of 1982, my parents had “accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, whatever that means. Then, they turned their focus on getting me to go to a Protestant church. It was complete culture shock.

Without going into great detail, for the sake of brevity, it was April 4, 1983 when I quietly empty_tomband privately committed my desire and intention to have a relationship with God. It was the day after Easter. For the first time in my life, at least in a manner that stuck in my heart, I realized that Jesus wasn’t a statue or stained glass window mounted to a cross. He wasn’t a chain around a neck. In His death, He took upon Him my sin. As a Catholic, pretty much in name only, all I ever observed or knew about was His death. There is nothing wrong with that, except that’s not where the story ends.

It was about an empty tomb.

Jesus left behind His grave wrappings, and brought with Him my redemption for my sin. I never really knew that.

Easter is precious to me. It wasn’t just the death and resurrection of Jesus, but my own death and resurrection. My sins were nailed to the cross. His blood was shed as He quietly  accepted His fate in order to secure mine. Love isn’t love until there is sacrifice. Life is the result of sacrifice. Love is forged and purified in sacrifice. He did that for me.

He did that for you.

I want a faith like that

This morning, I felt a certain urgency to receive a specific word from God. Some people read horoscopes, some seek encouragement and direction from fortune cookies. For me, when I “randomly” open my bible or teaching from a trusted source of godly wisdom, and the word I receive feels like it should have been preceded with the words, “Dear Corey”, I know God has simply been waiting for me to stop and listen.

This morning was one of those moments.

I took a moment to open up Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Today’s installment was about a life of faith, specifically referencing the life of Abraham. In it, he said the following:

Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason—a life of knowing Him who calls us to go. Faith is rooted in the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world.

I sure don’t consider myself to be anything like Abraham. However, I do feel like my life has Life-of-Faithbeen something of an odyssey that has required a certain measure of faith. Where my life is at this very moment is no exception.

The final sentence in the paragraph above is the fine print that causes us to reconsider such an endeavor. To me, the key word is “surely”. I don’t think Mr. Chambers is saying we will not have success. It’s that it is more important that we achieve success by God’s measure, not how our culture has defined it.

God is concerned with our success. He is invested in us. It is not His will that we are homeless and destitute “in Jesus’ name”. He is glorified in our lives when we are willing to let Him direct us, even if it means He takes us in a direction that contradicts our logic and comfort. He is glorified when we trust that He will see us through the challenges that confront us that are bigger than our ability to resolve. We trust Him when we know His strength and character. We experience his strength and character when we trust Him.

No matter how big my challenge, my God is bigger.