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

Advertisements

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).

Valentine’s Day 2017

I’m not necessarily one who gives in to made up “holidays” that more or less manipulate you into romance or suddenly appreciating that special someone in your life. I am not as good as I want to be, but I don’t want the calendar to dictate when and how I show my love when I have 364 other opportunities in a year to do so.

But this Valentine’s Day is special. This is my first with my amazing, beautiful wife. It has now been over four months since the wedding. In that time, I have blessed her heart in wonderful ways, and I’ve disappointed her. Blessing her heart fills me with such joy and love. The other grieves me so much, but still fills me with love.

I understand the depth of the calling on my life to be the husband of Sarah-Jane. I also know of the incredible significance and honor to be the stepdad to her wonderful, handsome and talented sons. I truly am blessed beyond my merit. But with great blessing comes great responsibility. How am I, a man with such deficiencies, able to live up to the blessing and responsibility from God.

Well, by God, of course. Through Him, I am adequately equipped. Only through Him. I have to rely on Him completely to be the man she and they deserve. She has accepted me for who I am, despite my insecurities and shortcomings. Despite my failures. She believes in me, even when I struggle to believe in myself. I understand that I have the power to lift her up and empower her, but I also have the power to devastate her if I’m not cautious. The stakes are too high to not be mindful and cautious in this great calling.

All of this to just say, publicly, I’m ridiculously in love with my wife. It’s not just the “honeymoon” phase. I’ve waited a very long time for this. I’ve been with the wrong person, and I’ve been the wrong person. But all that was a setup for what God had in store all along, for each of us.

So, on this Valentine’s Day 2017, I declare my love for my wife and stepsons by expressing my love for the God who made it all possible. And to Him who continues to make possible the impossible, to make passable the impassable, I show my gratitude by offering my heart and life to Him and those He has entrusted into my care in this life.

As some form of confirmation, as I began writing this post, the following was put up by a life long friend of Sarah’s, whose name I will leave out as I was not given her permission to publish it.  May I live up to this all the days of my life.

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-7-50-41-pm

Humbled

It’s shortly after 6 AM and I’ve been awake an hour already. This is not my normal schedule, but this is not a normal week.

As I lay in bed, brain completely dominating my body’s cry for rest, I began to dwell on the fact that in the next few days, I will have friends traveling by various means from different parts of the country. They will all descend upon Rhode Island for the purpose of attending my wedding.

I am overwhelmed.

Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe what fills my heart as I consider the sacrifices, time and expense these people are going through to share the most special day of my life. My brother and his family have already been on the east coast for the better part of the week, and I can’t wait to see them in a couple days. Dear friends I knew in California will be arriving from Florida, West Virginia and Ohio. Then a special contingent who transcend the friend category. They are family. They will be hopping on a red eye tomorrow night and arriving in Boston early Thursday morning.

You should know me by now that when I think of what people will do to be there humility-in-praye-1024x605when we celebrate and when we mourn, my mind automatically considers the sacrifice and faithfulness of God that He is available to me through everything, Who am I that I would deserve the love and sacrifice of my friends and family? Who am I that God would be my faithful companion?

My heart is full. My body is tired. My brain is an attention-seeking control freak.

This is the greatest week of my life!

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.

img_3125

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

 

My Vote

Very little polarizes people, including friends and family, like politics. There hasn’t been a more controversial, confusing election cycle like this in 50 years. My point in this post isn’t to tell you who you should or shouldn’t vote for. I’m not going to tell you who I’m going to vote for…since I don’t even know yet. I’m just going to lay it out what will drive my decision, if it even matters to anyone other than myself.

You’re going to see that s a registered Republican, that is not the deciding factor because it votedoesn’t define my standards. It seems to be expected of me that I should support the candidate who bears an R next to their name. I have had people suggest to me that if I don’t vote for Trump, I am casting a vote for Hillary.

Huh? Is there a new system I don’t know about? What happens if I don’t vote for Hillary? Is that a vote for Trump? I’m really confused. In case you didn’t realize, there is no such thing as a national election. There are fifty individual statewide elections. I live in Rhode Island, and my vote only counts here. If Trump wants my vote, he’s going to have to earn it with more than party affiliation.

Here’s the thing. My vote belongs to me. My vote is currency. It is bestowed up on me to offer to a single candidate I ultimately endorse and wish to hold the office for which they pursue. With that as the mindset, I offer a list of five qualities that define me and will determine my choice. In descending order of influence, they are:

  1. I am a Christian. This is the fundamental influence in every detail of my life. While I understand I am not voting for a pastor or spiritual leader, they must demonstrate to me consistent character and integrity. Even if they are not, themselves, Christian, they will defend and respect my faith and not minimize it, silence my voice or demonize my beliefs and values. They will respect the office and remember they serve the people.
  2. I am soon to be a husband and stepfather. I will vote for a person whose values and agenda is, in my estimation, in the best interests of my family, both now and moving forward into the future.
  3. I am an American. What is in the best interests of my country outweigh those of other countries. I do not want conflict, but if it is necessary in order to preserve our freedom and lives, so be it. I believe in American exceptionalism. We are not perfect, but we are the greatest country in the history of the planet. It is not our role to make everyone like us or to emulate us. But we must set and live by a high standard, and hold ourselves to it.
  4. I am a Constitutionalist. I believe this document empowers the people and limits the government, not the other way around. Rather than seek to throw out things that don’t fit an agenda, they see the wisdom and time-tested value of this document and the men who sacrificed everything to draft and ratify it.
  5. I am a Conservative. As such, I support the individual over the collective. I believe in personal liberty and responsibility. Government needs to be reduced, not an obstacle to a citizen’s inalienable rights. While the government cannot and should not compel Americans to practice a particular religion, We must remember that this country was founded on, and is inextricably linked to Christianity. Our Christian values demand that we love others, even those with whom we disagree. Even those who worship differently, or not at all. Our values do not discriminate against anyone for any reason.

Some have justified supporting Donald Trump as, “the lesser of two evils.” Do you know what the lesser of two evils is? Still evil. Before anyone takes this as me calling anyone evil, that is not my meaning, and that is not my job. The phrase is an idiom, and that is the context in which I mean it. The point is, my vote is not simply for the person who is less awful than the other. My vote will go for the person I believe is best suited for the job based, at least on the criteria I listed above, even if that individual has no chance to win. My vote is sacred to me, and I will not give it to someone who hasn’t earned it.

You’re welcome to disagree with my standard. Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t. I’m only sharing this with you because I have had my position and values questioned and mocked. That doesn’t bother me one bit. I’d much rather be mocked for upholding a high standard than cave in and throw my support to someone I wouldn’t even want to have dinner with. I’d rather be wrong and have the person for whom I didn’t vote prove to be a wonderful president than hold my nose, vote for them, and they turn out to be what I predicted, or worse.

If you find my reasoning flawed, that’s ok. But at least you now understand it. Donald Trump has not earned my vote. I have almost no faith that he will, but it’s not the first Tuesday in November yet. I just see no evidence that he will. Miracles can happen. But if one doesn’t, I cannot, in good conscience, cast my vote for the lesser of two evils.