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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Re-membering

This week is the definition of bittersweet for me. Last Sunday would have been my mom’s 80th birthday, and today will be the first October 30th since 1935 without my dad.

The title of this post is not a typo. The word remember means bringing back that which is broken. Imagine one of your arms being broken from your body. The act of restoring it to your shoulder is re-membering. IMG_5453

For several years in the 1990s, my parents served on the board of directors of an orphanage in Mexico. I had the privilege of visiting and ministering in this orphanage. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. Being with these children, with whom I could barely communicate because of the language barrier, touched my heart in a way I never knew possible. We laughed, played and even cried together. This was my first experience in such a ministry, and it never would have happened were it not for my parents.

This past Sunday, the 80th anniversary of my mom’s birth, we had a special missionary guest. His ministry?

Orphans in Haiti.

On the day that held a special place in my heart as I remembered my mom, God sent a messenger who re-animated a chamber in my heart for those with no parents or blood relatives.

Re-membering.

Today, as I think of my dad, and for the first time, being unable to see or even call him to wish him a special day and tell him I love him, I re-member his unwavering integrity and character. An imperfect man, yes, but one who wouldn’t allow himself to knowingly do the wrong thing whether people would know or not. HIs example has served as an inspiration to me throughout my adult life.

Re-membering their love and devotion to one another. Re-membering their steadfast pursuit and love of God and people. Re-membering the laughter. Re-membering the tears.

My heart was broken on March 20, 2009, and again on August 5, 2015. But as I re-member the parents God blessed me with, and think of those who have no parents, my heart is restored and filled with joy, humility, and resolve. A resolve to make a difference in lives, just as my parents did. By any means necessary. Even if it seems crazy. Even if it seems impossible. Even if it seems too late. Even if it seems too expensive.

God showed me through my parents that all He needs is a willing heart, and lives will be changed.

It must start with mine.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I miss you. But you are part of me as I re-member you. May my life be a continuation of the spiritual heritage you began. I look forward to seeing you again, but first, there is work to be done here.

The heart of a mom

Today is Mother’s Day. As I reflect upon this day, missing my mom, I think of the wonderful gifts to us that mother’s can, and should be. Sadly, there are many among us who do not experience the best of what mothers bring. For them, I have to imagine that this day can be hollow.

One need to look no further than the life of Jesus to understand that the mother/child relationship is intensely significant. We’re left to speculate about Jesus’ younger days. This also means we do not know what it must have been like for his parents. Because he was perfect and without sin, we can infer that he obeyed her when she asked him to take care of chores. If he was given a curfew when to be home, we can rest assured he was home on time, if not early. But this doesn’t mean it was easy. It is unnatural for a parent to outlive their children. How this mother’s heart must have been torn to shreds as her beloved son went from hero to villain in the hearts of the people in the span of one short week. The torture, the mocking, the brutal public death. All within view of his mother. And yet, from the cross, as his breaths were drawing few and far between, he looked down and made assurances his mother would be taken care of.

When I think of my mom, I think of her unwavering, unconditional love. Sadly, she had to Quotation-Richelle-E-Goodrich-strength-love-god-motherhood-mom-mother-Meetville-Quotes-223792deal with a kid who was fluent in sarcasm. I could crack wise at the most inappropriate moments. As I became a teenager and a bit more independent, I pushed her away. Everything that made her so amazing was rejected because it wasn’t “cool” to her unappreciative son. Yet, everything that made her so amazing was expected of her. In her last years, as she battled illness and was confined to a bed at least 20 hours of the day, she loved me endlessly. When I lived 2 hours from her, we would speak by phone. She loved to hear about how my day was. She wanted to know every detail. For one, it made her feel connected to me. It also allowed her heart and mind to move freely through life when her body wouldn’t allow it. As her days drew down to the end, her concern turned to who would love me and pray for me when she was gone.

Last year, I met another amazing mother. Sarah-Jane is so loving, gentle, kind and caring. The relationship she has with her boys is beautiful to behold. The love her sons have for each other makes your heart melt. The love they have for her makes my heart so warm, yet, it also grinds at my heart in remembering how it wasn’t until later in life that I became more expressive and appreciative of the love I shared with my own mom. Sarah-Jane is humble. When she receives a compliment of how uniquely special her boys are, she agrees with the compliment as it relates to their character, but bristles when it is directed to her as being such a powerful influence on the young men they are. When her boys enter the room, her spirit glows. When they leave the house for the day or longer, there is an immediate emptiness. She loves her boys with all that is within her. One day, when her sons are older, with families of their own, she will hopefully then be able to reflect on these years and see that she has done a fine work. That she has been a worthy steward of these lives left in her care.

I know an amazing mother when I see one. I was raised by one. I am in love with one. I know, first hand, the often unspoken impact the love and devotion of a good mom can have on a life. As a grown man, so close to an incredible mother, I see first hand all the behind-the-scenes elements that warm, and break a mother’s heart. “You are only as happy as your least happy child”. How profound, and how true. I am growing in understanding as to what my mom must have felt in times when I went through difficulties, and triumphs.

My heart is full today. I had the most amazing mother, and now, I am sharing my life with one cut from the same cloth. Understanding, seeing and experiencing the heart of a mother, and how God designed it, inspires me. I’m so blessed and grateful to have a place in the lives of these wonderful, godly women.

Sole mate

Several years ago, a couple from my church invited me to their home for dinner. They were friends, so naturally, I agreed to a nice, home cooked meal. During the course of the evening, the conversation turned to asking me about my, at that time, non-existent love life.

“What is it you’re looking for in a woman? Obviously, aside from her being a singer.”

They had assumed that since I was a singer, that this was some kind of “must have” for me. Not only was that not something I wanted or needed in a mate, I actually preferred that she wouldn’t be a singer. As much as I enjoyed singing, and it was a huge part of what I did, it wasn’t and isn’t who I am. It doesn’t define me. It wasn’t and isn’t some kind of foundation for a relationship.

All along, God was molding my desires. Not only what I do want and need, but what I don’t. 

Fast forward to present day.

In God’s infinite and undeniable wisdom, He has given me a woman who is precisely what I need for life. In short, her strengths are my weaknesses. At the same time, I have strengths in areas where she is somewhat vulnerable.

I have had conversations with single people about the topic of soul mates. Is there one person out there who is perfect for you? Is there more than one person who is perfect for you, and it’s just a matter of finding one?

I honestly do not know. What I do know is that I’m a month shy of my 49th birthday. I’ve never been married. I have had numerous relationships in my life, but obviously, we were not perfect for one another.

Perfect. There’s a word. You might be reading this and thinking, “well no wonder you’ve never gotten married. You’re as flawed as a marble boat. How can you expect to find perfection, never mind attract it?” Good question. I look at Facebook, and I see so many spouses touting their mates as “the most wonderful in the world”. Is that hyperbole? How can hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of spouses all over the world be “the best”? That’s impossible. There can only be one best. And by what standard is this measured?

The key is finding “perfect” for me. And I have. Obviously, we have each been in other relationships. We were fundamentally the same people we are today. But we have each experienced excruciating heartache, and we have each broken the hearts of others. But in each other, we have found ‘perfection’. I certainly am anything but perfect. Good grief. I am riddled with flaws. But I have qualities that make me the exact right fit for her life. And she has qualities of which I am in awe.Picture-Quote-about-Love

Speaking for myself, this is not to say that those from my past are bad people. They are not inferior in any way. It’s just that we weren’t right for one another. I have no bad feelings about those in my past. I wish them unbridled happiness. It’s simply that I have found the one who, from the very beginning, understood me in ways that others who have known me for years don’t get.

Whether there are 1 or 100 “soul mates” for me out there, I have found my sole mate. No one has ever spoken to my heart, mind and spirit as she does. No one has confronted my deepest fears, and filled me with the strength to face and overcome them. No one has ever seen me so vulnerable, and responded with even more love.

It’s been a long time. There have been many heartaches. Being patient has cost me some life experiences that I wish I could have had. But I’m so thankful that I didn’t settle for someone for whom I was not right, and who was not right for me. We are all better off with the way things are turning out. No regrets.

God saved his very best for last. Sarah-Jane is absolutely perfect. For me.

No greater love

A new movie was released over the weekend. It is one I am so eager to see, I’ll actually go alone if I have to. I’ve never gone to a movie alone before. The only other movie I was willing to do so for was The Passion of the Christ. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the similarities in these two movies. The new one is Lone Survivor. Yes, one movie is about the sacrifice of Jesus for all mankind, and the second is the level of love and sacrifice of brothers in arms on the battlefield.

Most of us will never face situations where we will be called upon to lay down our lives for Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 8.20.53 PMsomeone else. John 15:13 tells us that there is no greater love than when we lay down our lives for our friends. Does this mean that we are doomed to a lesser love unless we’re facing a life and death situation?

Absolutely not.

It’s very likely that we are presented with this “no greater love” opportunity on a fairly regular basis. The simple application is when we love someone more than we love what we want for ourselves. As a man, as a steward over the heart, mind and body of a wonderful woman, it means that I show her I love her more than I love having my own way. It means showing her, not just telling her, that she is more important than my own desires. That she is worth any cost or sacrifice.

As a Christian, it frequently means making choices because I love God more than things that would damage my relationship with Him, or my reputation as a Christian.

As a friend and neighbor, it may mean that rather than spend a relaxing day or evening at home, or taking care of personal business, we make ourselves available to help or spend time with someone in need.

We are all blessed with opportunities to serve someone and something that is bigger than ourselves. By doing so, we put them, and ourselves, in proper perspective. In doing so, we bless others, and we experience and receive a greater depth of love in our own lives.

Today, demonstrate “no greater love” in some way, to someone.

2014, bring it on

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-8

As I have taken time this morning, New Year’s Day, 2014, this passage of scripture has risen to the surface of my heart and mind. Wiser, more learned people can speak to the historical and theological depths of this passage better than I. If that’s what you’re needing or expecting, be prepared for disappointment.

Instead, I am looking at it from my personal perspective. How does this apply to me? To me, how it becomes relevant to my life is that to move into my Promised Land, something first had to die. In Joshua’s case, it was Moses. In my life, it is my expectations of how my life should have played out. It is my preconceived ideas on how God’s promises should have looked, when they should have taken place, and where.

Had things gone they way I thought they should have, the admonition that appears three different times in this brief passage wouldn’t be necessary.

Be strong and courageous.

If I were the author of my own story, I control all the elements. It’s the lack of control that requires strength and courage. These lead to faith and trust. When God breathes into our lives, we can have a tendency to say, “Okay Lord, I’m good. I’ll take it from here.” That’s often where we get off track. But His plan requires we follow His instructions. That is where verses 7 and 8 come in to play. We need to follow the instructions.

For me, courage isn’t in making big decisions. It’s not in being responsible for others. It’s in making those decisions, being the leader when you don’t have a charted out plan. It’s in knowing the destination before knowing the route, or following the path without knowing the desitination. It’s in trusting your Resource, not your own intellect.

This passage concludes with these assurances from God. When we trust Him, when we accept the call upon our lives, He promises us prosperity and success. That may mean materially, but it most likely doesn’t. I am learning more and more each day that what defines a man is not what he owns. It is not what he drives. It’s in being a good husband, father, member of his community. It’s in helping those who need help.

As was the case in Joshua’s promotion, God’s promise wasn’t just for him. God had first made a promise to Moses and the Israelites. Moses made mistakes that cost him the blessing of seeing the promise fulfilled. But God stayed true to His promise to the Israelites. He chose Joshua. In my life, those I love and am assigned stewardship, they have been given their own promises from God. Others may have lost the blessing of seeing those promises come to fruition. At least, first hand. And God is offering me a promotion. The responsibility, and rewards, are mine if I stay true to the calling. dsc00536

That can sound intimidating. But God finishes this passage by saying, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

That’s all I need.

 

Best Christmas ever…so far

Like a good play, life has acts. Act one is the “kid” years. Act two is typically those middle years when many go off to college, experience independence, get married and start families.

For me, the second act has been much longer than I had anticipated.

When we assess our lives and our experiences, we do so in some form of context. I had a good childhood. Great memories. I never was left wanting for anything. Well, there were the times I wanted bikes and cars when Santa didn’t exactly come through, but I now understand that those things were not always what I truly needed. Understanding the difference between what we want and what we need comes with maturity.

As I am now in Act 3 of my life, the gap between my needs and wants has narrowed. The things that mean most to me are not even things. The best gifts I was given this year didn’t have price tags on them. The elements that made this the best Christmas ever were linked to tears and smiles that came from expressions of the heart.

I received two priceless gifts this Christmas. In chronological order, the first was a journal. It is a prayer journal Sarah-Jane started on October 25th, 2013. My mom’s birthday. As I opened it to the inside cover, she had attached a closeup photograph of my mother on the right hand page. On the inside cover, opposite her picture, Sarah wrote her first prayer for the journal. She expressed her desire to take the baton from my mom, and accept the role as the one who would pray for me, as my mom had until she died.

It took me five minutes to get past the inside cover of the journal.

The journal is an ongoing, never-ending work. So I will have to surrender it back to her before I return to California. I absolutely can’t wait to read it all over again, as well as the new installments that will await when I get to see it again in February when she comes to visit me in California.

Scrapbook

The second gift was equally touching. She created a scrapbook of our story. The very first page included wonderful details that brought us together. The book is filled with sentimental thoughts, pictures, notes and keepsakes. It was so amazing to see us through her eyes and heart.

There is nothing she could have bought me that could have meant more to me, that would have touched my heart as deeply as these two gifts. She just gets me. She knows how I think. She knows what touches my heart. God knows every detail about us, and places just the right person in our lives who knows how to love, respect and feed those parts that make us who we are.

I’m thankful that things aren’t as important to me as they once were. I’m thankful that sacrificially blessing others, speaking into their lives, sharing your heart, and thoughtful expressions of love and appreciation are the things that will span the test of time. No assembly or batteries are necessary.

This has simply been the best Christmas ever. So far.