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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Confessions of a knucklehead

Yesterday, during the music portion of our church service, I briefly shared something that is and was heavy on my heart. Many people I know are dealing with severely difficult times in their lives. I am facing certain difficulties in my own, while simultaneously celebrating wonderful blessings and answers to lifelong prayers.

Sometimes we make dumb decisions and compound them by avoidance. Many of us end up in this type of situation at some point. Whether it’s health, finances, relationships…bad decisions happen. Avoiding fixing them makes matters exponentially worse. Beneath the surface of the bad decisions, a cancer grows until it demands immediate attention.

I don’t know about you, but when I make some kind of significant mistake, I beat myself up with the power, relentlessness and devastation of an MMA champion. Yesterday morning as I was spending some quiet time with God, He reminded me of some powerful things that I want to share with you.

My cry to Him was that I felt completely unworthy to be on the platform leading worship or participating in any kind of ministry on that day. But God quickly cut me off. He wasn’t bothered by my thought that I was humbled and broken before Him and valued my role as a leader in my church and my responsibility as such. He was more concerned with my notion that I ever considered myself worthy to be in that position in the past. Who among us is truly worthy? While we were sinners, while our hearts were hardened to Him, while we were overtly turning our backs on Him, Jesus died for us. I fail Him daily. Hourly. In good times, I forget just how completely dependent I am for every single thing. Every breath. Every moment. Every detail.

Next, He reminded me of a conversation I had with Sarah earlier in the week. In seeing what people around me are going through, I have prayed and believed God would reveal Himself and miraculously see them through these trying times. She asked me, “do you believe God can deliver you and heal you as you believe He can for others?”

Simple question, right? But in all honesty, I felt that because what others are going through are more tragic and not their own faults, it’s different for them than for me. Simply, it’s easier for me to believe in miracles for others than for myself. That’s when Sarah got very real with me.

“Then that makes you a liar.”

Ouch.

Just as God’s reminder that I’m not worthy and I must depend on Him in good times and bad, Sarah’s words weren’t said in anger or to slap me down. These words were brutal truths. If I deny the extent of God’s power in my own life, while promoting it to others, I make either God a liar, or I am speaking falsely.

God can’t lie, so that made the conclusion pretty obvious.

Then God brought to my attention the following few verses in Isaiah chapter 6.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LordAlmighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

In the verses that follow, God’s redemption of the contrite heart is immediately followed by a call to action. Though I am unworthy, though I feel shame for my mistakes and shortcomings, He supernaturally removes the guilt of our sin.

In our weakness, in our failures, in our desperation, God redeems. He forgives. He restores us. He sends us out to share who He is and that He loves us unconditionally, even when we might even hate ourselves.

I cannot complete the simplest task without His favor. He can remove the air from my lungs. He can allow my heart to stop beating at any moment. He can isolate me from people I love, and who love me. Instead, He is blessing me abundantly. How can I not trust Him? How can I not honor Him?

Sometimes, we must be broken down to nothing. Beaten to a pulp. It is then that potterthe formless lump of clay can be molded by the Potter’s hand. The hard part is remaining pliable and desperate for Him when we feel self-sufficient. When we try to do things on our own, we’re destined for failure. When we place our trust in Him, when we seek Him with all our heart, He will be found, and He is, was, and will always be faithful.

Thankfully, it’s not about who I am, but who He is.

Mother’s Day 2016

This week has been like no other in my life. What a ride! To cap it off, I have the privilege to honor one of the two best moms who ever mom’d. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post telling the story of my mom, and my now-fiancee. My mom’s name was Sarah Jane, and the woman God has ordained to be my life’s partner is Sarah-Jane. The similarities only start there.

I was blessed with an amazing mother. By virtue of her example, I know an incredible IMG_6752mother when I see one. Sarah-Jane has two incredible boys. I am so fortunate to soon be the stepfather to these young men who love each other and their mom in such a special way.

I was a knucklehead when I was a kid. Though I had such an incredible mother who sacrificed so much for me, I didn’t appreciate her nearly as much as she deserved. Sarah-Jane’s boys are so far ahead of me in that department at the stages of life they are in.

I couldn’t be more proud of Sarah-Jane for the mom, and the woman she is. She is so loved and respected by so many people, and her sons know they were blessed by God with the woman he chose to raise them.

My mom has been gone since 2009, but her influence is alive in my heart to this day, and I know her seal-of-approval is etched in Sarah-Jane. They never met in this life, but the two women who have loved me most will one day meet in eternity.

Though I was slow in appreciating my mother, I was able to learn how important it is to recognize the special bond between moms and their kids. And because of that, I know just how wonderful a mom and woman I have in my life today.