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

Thankful

I have so much for which to be thankful. At the same time, there are a great many things, Thanksgiving-Picturesand even people, which seem determined to smother an attitude of gratefulness. Joy isn’t the absence of sorrow. Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. Gratitude isn’t the absence of struggle. These qualities, these attitudes, these behaviors are conditions of the heart despite what the circumstances may be.

Lately, I have had a hard time dealing with negativity. I’ve had it involuntarily foisted upon me every single day. Quite literally, it’s an occupational hazard. At times, it sucks the life out of me. Being with loved ones, sharing stories of our days, laughter, and reminding one another of how great God is always recharges my joy, peace and thankfulness.

May your Thanksgiving bring you love and laughter. I pray that you would celebrate with loved ones, as I will. Though I’m so far from many who I love, they are in my heart every moment. Whatever your challenges, I pray that the goodness of God, His love, His peace, His forgiveness, His tender mercies will overwhelm you today.

I pray your Thanksgiving isn’t limited to the fourth Thursday of November. But a constant, daily condition and practice.

Sacrifice

It is a fact of life and nature. In order for something to live unmolested, there must be some sacrifice. Often, this sacrifice is unseen and unnoticed by the beneficiaries. 

The majority of us never served in the United States Armed Forces. And fewer still have feltservice_flag_1-gold_star the direct pain of sacrifice in their service. It is incumbent upon us to do what is uncomfortable and inconvenient by taking time to consider the price that was paid by so many so we can enjoy every single detail of our lives of freedom.

As a Christian, I recognize that my life, my eternal soul, was purchased and secured by a sacrifice I can never repay. As an American, the freedom I enjoy to even write this without fear of imprisonment or death was also paid for by the ultimate in sacrifice.

Enjoy your day with your family and friends. If you are fortunate enough to spend any of it with a man or woman who has served, or is serving in the military, do yourself a favor. Listen to their stories. Learn from them. Get to know the honor by which they served. Listen to them as they share about those they knew who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

God bless those who paid the price for us. God bless their families. And God bless the United States of America.

Christmas, Duck Dynasty and Gay Marriage

For a few weeks now, I’ve been seriously contemplating writing about today’s politically “correct” environment and how it has affected some of the most wonderful things in our culture, such as Christmas. As I’ve thought about it over the past few weeks, I just haven’t had, or taken the time to sit down at the computer and write it out.

Then the recent “controversy” with Phil Robertson, of the TV show Duck Dynasty, hit the news.

My original premise to the post I intended to write was about how thankful I am for those I consider friends, especially those who don’t agree with me in the areas that are lifestyle sensitive. Again, I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. Two days ago, just hours before I caught a flight to New England from California, I bumped into a good friend of mine. She happens to be a lesbian. We shared a hug and chatted for a few minutes. We each were up against the clock, so we couldn’t talk long. I was about to run into the Sam’s Club, from which she was just leaving. She mentioned to me that her partner was working inside the store. As I was going about my business in the store, I bumped into her, and we enjoyed a fun, brief conversation.

While my friends and I do not agree on the topic of gay marriage, each with our own reasons that are very personal and deep, we are still friends. In fact, we find there is much more we share in common than that one topic in which we differ. I’m thankful to have friends who can receive and give respect even when the topic is personal and a cultural lighting rod.

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, recently conducted an interview for a magazine I will not dignify by identifying it in my blog. During the course of the conversation, they predictably baited him by bringing up the topic of homosexuality…as if they didn’t know his position on the topic. His response was to paraphrase the bible, as well as share his own personal preference. Upon doing so, the network on which Duck Dynasty is broadcast has put him on “indefinite hiatus”.

I’m all for spirited debate. But when did we become a society that punishes people for talking about the values by which they live?

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Again, I’m thankful for the maturity in the friendships I have. My friends understand that I am a Christian, and I consider the bible to be the inspired Word of God. My friends also believe in God and have good families. We are also Americans who believe that the Constitution is the law of the land. This includes the First Amendment, which applies to all of us. Well, at least it’s supposed to.

When did we become a culture that wishes to silence those for their religious beliefs? Even the atheist groups that are purposefully out to offend Christians, particularly at this time of the year, have the right to their opinions. Since when did Christianity, and those with opinions and values that echo biblical standards become anathema?

I wish our society was more like my friends.

Finding success in failure

I posted a lot of what you’re about to read and see on Facebook, but I understand not all of you use Facebook or are connected to my page to have seen it. I have enhanced my thoughts on this matter here, so even if you did read my Facebook rant, there is more to it here.

Here is a video I hope you’ll watch. It’s only 78 seconds long. But it is very revealing. This is a political issue, but the final takeaway is something that applies to all of us in life. Thus, I believe this is a teachable moment no matter your political leaning, or lack thereof.

In this video, the President is blaming Republicans for the disastrous results and the humiliation of it STILL being in a state of disrepair? This is shameful. Can you imagine the neverending victory lap he’d be on if things had worked out the way he sold it?

Let’s just say a friend of mine is thinking of buying a house in a terrible town and neighborhood. I advise him repeatedly that he is setting himself up for disaster. Even so, he does it anyway. When he runs into the inevitable and predicted results, am I somehow to blame for what he did on his own, against my protestation and without my involvement? Am I somehow responsible to get him out of the problem he brought on himself and those under his care? I’m not keeping him from fixing it. I’m not interfering. Was I “invested in failure”, or did I just have the wisdom of forethought? He got what he wanted, and is facing the consequences. How he responds to those consequences is revealing, and something we all can learn from.

The takeaway:  A real leader, a real man of character takes responsibility for his own character_humility_Snapseedactions. He doesn’t blame others. A real leader, a real man of character attributes success to all those who made it happen, yet takes full responsibility for failure. Real character can be thankless. It is humble. Real character may not be recognized as such immediately. True character doesn’t seek applause.

In life, we will make good decisions, while others will blow up in our faces. Most decisions allow us time to think things through. We can get advice. We can do research. We can weigh the pros and cons. Whether or not we have the luxury of time, we make decisions based on the best information we have at the moment. Sometimes thing will work out well, and other times, unforeseen things can happen that ruin everything. No matter what, we must stand by our decisions. Our character is revealed in how we respond to the successes and failures. When we maintain our integrity, we have ultimate success regardless of how the decisions turn out.

Results can vary. Good character is consistent, regardless.

A new voice

About a week or so ago, I received an email from a lady in the choir of my former church near where I live. As you may know, singing has been a big part of my life going back to when I was 19 years old. But within the last couple years, my opportunities to sing were decreasing, and with them, so was my desire. My friend from the choir was reaching out, inviting me to come back to sing. It was very nice and sincere, but there was nothing in me that felt any desire to return.

I took a couple days to really ponder my response. To do so, I had to truly examine myself and where I am in my life these days. I had some legitimate frustrations that led to my decision to stop singing publicly. But now, a good year and a half later, I want to be sure that my reason today isn’t rooted in bitterness.

As I contemplated my feelings and attitude, I am really at peace. I loved singing. I still do it from time to time while in my car. I have some songs that are special to me on my iPod on a special playlist. They are background tracks so I can just sing the songs my own way.

But it’s just for my audience of One.

As I crafted my email response, I wanted to focus on where I am today, and where I’m headed in life. It’s not about what I did for all those years. It’s about what is ahead of me. I am not a songwriter. As such, when I sing, I’m communicating the words, inspiration and experiences of other people. Now, I feel more liberty and fulfillment in communicating my own words. In a way, God is giving me a new voice.

There are simply times in our lives when we need to hit the reset button. I don’t feel as if I’m reinventing myself. I’m simply tapping into an area that was largely overshadowed by other things. It’s a little weird calling this my “new voice”, being that this post is literally my 400th on Crossing Paths. But I do feel a surge of energy and new significance in writing.

I don’t have any idea to what extent my focus on writing will go, for how long, or how often. What I do know is that it’s not unlike God to take us in new directions in later stages of our lives. My parents were a great example of that. When I was growing up, they had always threatened to move to another country to get away from me. Of course, in jest. (Or was it?) But several years after my dad retired, they made good on their promise. But it wasn’t to get away from anything or anyone. It was to follow a new path, led by God.

New things are on the horizon in my life. Maybe they are in yours, as well. Maybe you don’tfind-your-voice even yet know about it. Or maybe you have some hidden talent or desire that you’ve been putting off. Whatever it is, what are you waiting for? I don’t know about you, but the past couple weeks have brought me painful reminders that life is short and unpredictable. Whatever it is, put your touch on it. It’s your voice. Don’t try to be someone else. Do what you do in a way only you can do it!

On the shoulders of a giant

Today, October 30th, is my dad’s birthday. Yes, if you’re keeping score at home, my parents’ birthdays are five days apart, each born in 1935. Yes, my mom robbed the cradle.

As I have done for my mom, I have written many posts about my dad. I’m not going back to review them, so please forgive me if I inadvertently repeat some of my thoughts and memories.

My dad is an understated, humble man. Highly, highly principled. He was a bit of a thrill seeker in his younger years, which carried over into his professional career as a cop in San Francisco. In the 60s and 70s, being a cop in any city was not for the faint of heart. But in San Francisco, it was an especially volatile time and place to be in law enforcement.

In his private life, Dad was a little league baseball coach who eventually rose through the ranks to become the president of the league for several years. He also built numerous haunted houses for my schools, floats for the Boys Club during the annual city parade, as well as dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain and amaze children.

Together with my mom, they were an amazing team. In later years, after Dad had retired from the police force, they bought a motor home for the purpose of making numerous trips to a Mexican orphanage for which they were on the Board of Directors. They loved those kids with such a heart of tenderness and compassion. After a career of seeing the worst in humanity, he easily saw the best in children.

At nearly 60 years old, my dad approached my mom about a radical direction he felt God was leading them. He asked my mom to begin praying about the possibility of moving to Costa Rica to begin a ministry there. For a year, they prayed. They made frequent visits to the area they felt would be their eventual home. They then bought some land down there. And that’s about all that could be said about it. It was land. A hillside cow pasture, to be more precise. After they had made their move to Central America, they transformed a cow pasture into a well-manicured paradise. I’m sorry that I don’t have any ‘before’ pictures, but this ‘after’ gives you a little idea of the natural beauty of only a sliver of the land on which they worked so hard.

Costa Rica lawn

It’s hard to tell anything by the picture at this size, but this land was beautiful. None of the structures existed before they bought the land. The house at the top of the picture was their home. The purpose for this land, and their being in Costa Rica, was to minister to pastors and their wives. It wasn’t a retreat center. It wasn’t a place for pastors to vacation. It was a place for them to get counseling, seek God, get good teaching, good meals, and love. Many came with serious marital problems. My parents saved many marriages and ministries in their years in Costa Rica. Something they were too humble to talk about.

While they intended to live the rest of their lives there, my mom’s health became a factor. After eight years there, they were forced to return to the United States in order for my mom to receive better medical care. It broke their hearts to leave, but they made an incredible impact in such a short period of time.

The next several years were the most amazing years, in my opinion, of their entire marriage. As my mom became less and less independent, my dad had to take on the role of caretaker and homemaker. This man among men, who never had to make a sandwich because my mom was always willing and able, now had to learn to cook, do laundry, and all those other chores that my mom took care of as he worked. As she continued to deteriorate, the things he had to do to take care of her had to be awkward for each of them. But love, true love, sacrificial love empowers you to overcome any and every obstacle.

My dad has always been my hero. But never more than in those last years in all he did to take care of the woman who brought me into the world. He completely gave up his life in order to do anything and everything he could to take care of her. The way he watched over her, prepared her substantial regimen of pills each day, fed her, helped her dress and undress. Absolutely heroic. At the same time, he was no spring chicken. He has his own health issues. But he would wear himself to the bone to take care of his Love.

Mom has now been gone for four and a half years. The woman God brought into his life long before he would completely understand why, was no longer by his side. My dad, who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, was married to a woman who spoke it fluently. No big deal, until decades later when they would take on such active roles in Mexico and Costa Rica. God knows what we need before we do.

My dad is a giant. Not in physical stature. I am much taller and larger than he is. But he casts a tall shadow in every other way. His influence in my life is immeasurable. The man he always was, and the man he became in the face of extreme heartache is the greatest example of the attributes of love, listed in 1 Corinthians 13.

7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

I pray I can be half the man my dad is. His life has been, and always will be an inspiration to me. What an honor to be the son of a man of his stature.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

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Sap isn’t just for trees

If you’ve been reading my posts over the past couple of weeks, no, I haven’t been auditioning for Harlequin.

I admit, I am a sappy, sappy man. I have been criticized by men and women throughout my adult life for being a deep feeler. It makes some people uncomfortable. Transparency makes people feel awkward. I’ve received well-intentioned advice from female friends that I need to be more of a ‘bad boy’ in order to attract women. As Leo Durocher famously said, “nice guys finish last”. Male peers look at guys like me with a skeptical eye, as if maybe we’re confused about our gender identity.

Even in this day and age, and maybe even especially in this day and age, fathers all over the land get nervous if their sons are emotional and creative. We’re not supposed to cry. If we are hurt, physically or emotionally, we’re supposed to rub some dirt on it and not show that it hurt. My dad would probably kill me if he knew I was telling this story, but I think I can outrun him. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I injured my arm at my neighbor’s house. For three days, I complained about the pain. My mom was very concerned, but my dad wanted me to tough it out. “C’mon, tie your shoes. You’re fine.”

Finally, a few days later, my dad relented and took me to the doctor. When we returned home, I emerged from the car with a cast from my hand all the way to my shoulder. My mom watched us through the living room window as we made our way up the driveway. I had this cool cast, my trophy for my broken arm, and was grinning from ear to ear. It wasn’t until I was an adult when my mom told me my dad had the guiltiest, most remorseful look on his face. See? He has a heart!

God gave us emotions. Whether it’s love, anger, sadness, fear, excitement or happiness, EmotionsGod intended us to experience a wide range of feelings. The key is to embrace them, but keep them under control. We can’t let them control us. Any of these emotions can lead to impulse issues. We must control these impulses. However, there is nothing wrong with feeling and expressing our emotions, when appropriate.

In the past week, many of you have shared with me your emotions, and how you were touched by the content of my posts. Many of you have paid me very nice compliments about my writing. I don’t even know how to tell you how much I appreciate these comments. The only thing I know to say is that what you’ve been reading is a direct result of accepting and utilizing the way I’m designed. As such, I try to harness my emotions to communicate through my writing, my singing, my speaking, and my actions. God has used my sensitivity to connect with teenagers with self esteem issues. With kids with special needs. With the elderly. With people enduring heartache. And now, God is using my tools in a new and special way for my own life.

For men, young and old, it is not a indictment on your masculinity to express sensitivity. We must embrace it and express it. Being Mr. Macho is fine with the guys, but not so much when you’re with your mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc. I have worked with kids of all ages, and so many boys feel guilty and confused if they show love or sadness. Whether it’s peer pressure, or something they’re conditioned to think by their culture at home, there needs to be some teaching to boys and young men about how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Harnessing emotions comes with maturity. Believe me, I’ve had to learn from a lot of my own mistakes and heartaches. God is faithful, however, to take these things and use them for His purpose. But that is just so God. The Great Improvisor. He makes us all different. We all have our own skills and tools. The important thing for each of us is to utilize the gifts He has given us to serve something bigger than ourselves.

Others may do things differently than we’d do it, and that’s okay. God will use me in ways He may not use you, but He’ll also use you in ways He won’t use me. Be who you are. And please, encourage kids to be who God designed them to be, even if it’s different than we are. God will bless and use them in special ways. For each of us, we need to yield back to Him what He has given us.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.   ~1 Corinthians 15:10a

Crying out for leadership

This week, something happened that I’ve been aching to see for some time. It was true leadership. It was someone with the courage of conviction, standing up, (literally), in the face of those who oppose him. But it turns out, he also stood up and called out those who are supposedly on his team.

Texas senator Ted Cruz did an extraordinary thing this week. According to Senate rules, a senator may control the floor for as long as he or she is able to stand and speak. Though it technically wasn’t a filibuster, the rules of one applied. That means he was required to stand the entire time, was not allowed to sit, lean, use a chair in any way, nor eat, drink or use the bathroom. They must basically speak continuously the entire time.

I’m not going to go into a civics lesson or anything. The point is, it is physically demanding. Senator Cruz held the floor of the senate for 21 hours, 19 minutes. The point of this extraordinary measure was to draw attention to his opposition of ObamaCare, or, the Affordable Care Act. Not only his opposition, but that of a majority of Americans. Certainly those he represents in Texas.

During and after Cruz’s extended floor speech, colleagues from both sides of the aisle criticized him. Those opposed to his views attempted to brush off his commentary by calling him an anarchist. Even some who supposedly share his views criticized him. They felt that his tactic was, “a waste of time”, that it wouldn’t change anything.

But here’s the thing. To those of us who are sick and tired of the status quo of political blowhards in both parties, this act of courage resonated with millions and millions of Americans. We are screaming out for leadership. We are crying out for someone to stand up and refuse to go down without a fight.

Passion and conviction. Dying commodities, it seems. Yes, maybe the outcome will not be affected by Ted Cruz’s speech. But what has happened is the status quo has been served notice. If those who have held positions in the Senate for decades got their feelings hurt by being called out for not fighting hard enough, GOOD! If “leaders” of the Senate Republicans were bent out of shape because a freshman dared to speak up without their blessing, GOOD! True leadership doesn’t create dependence. It enables and empowers INdependence!

America is crying out for leadership. We are aching for someone to stand up and fight the good fight. Rather than acquiesce and give in to defeat, we are desperate for someone to make their voice heard, even if it ruffles some feathers. We’re looking for someone who shares our views who will not fade silently into the night. That’s not who we are. We’re tired of being represented by people who are more interested in their own image, popularity, power and prestige.

I love the movie Braveheart. Though it’s based on a true story, it’s largely fiction, I know. But the movie still moves me. The passion of one man who is willing to die in order to achieve something for which he is passionate. He is confident he will not live long enough to see what he’s fighting for, but he fights anyway. That inspires me. I end this post with a scene from this movie. It completely summarizes the point I’m trying to make. America needs TRUE leadership!

Remembering 9/12

As we all reflect upon the events that changed the world forever, I find myself longing. Many long for the world we had on 9/10. We could go meet loved ones right at the airport gates. We weren’t worried about the government reading our phone records or our internet activity. We could go to sporting events and amusement parks without having our bags rifled through, or even banned.

For me, I long for 9/12. On that day, we were Americans. We weren’t divided by politicalbos_u_redsoxpre_576 ideology. We stood side-by-side, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, straight, homosexual. We were unified. The rest of the civilized world felt compassion and solidarity with the United States.The American flag flew everywhere. Freeway overpasses, cranes, fire department ladder trucks, sides of buildings.

How far we have drifted.

In our darkest days, I saw the best in us. Tragedy struck, and we responded beautifully. Just as one hand reaches to the the aid of a thumb accidentally struck by a hammer, we reached out to one another in an effort to comfort and aid the suffering. We found ourselves applauding and honoring the first responders in our communities when it dawned on us that they are the ones running into the very crisis the rest of us are running from.

Tragically, we are so far removed from our best days. I’m sickened by the divisive tones we take against one another. We are so disagreeable. We argue over things that, in the big picture of life, are so trivial. We have become so selfish. If one disagrees with another, it’s because they are a bigot or a racist. We level ad hominem attacks against our brothers124805794.jpg.CROP.article568-large and sisters without respect for their feelings, their life stories, or even any facts. The same people we stood with, shoulder to shoulder, waving the Stars and Stripes, singing God Bless America without worrying about the so-called separation of church and state.

What our enemies meant for evil, good came from it. But now, we are more divided than ever. I dread that it may take yet another catastrophic event to bring us back to a place of humility and unity.

Will we ever learn?

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