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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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.

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.

Beauty In The Breakdown

I admit, I am about the least mechanical guy you’ve ever met. However, in the first 12-15 years of having a driver’s license, I learned a lot about cars.

Involuntarily.

Up until 2005, when I bought my first and only brand new car, I was happy to have a car that was less than 10 years old and under 120,000 miles. Older cars that go through multiple owners are prone to breakdown. Yeah, those were the cars I had. My cars broke down just about everywhere. Sometimes conveniently located near home and familiar people and repair shops, and sometimes in very unfamiliar places, hours from home. Sometimes in the light of a week day, other times, late on a weekend night. Sometimes in the safety of a quiet neighborhood, sometimes on the narrow shoulder of a busy California freeway. And those days were well before cell phones. Some breakdowns are less harrowing and complicated than others, but no one ever says, “wow, that was a great time for my car to crap out on me.”

When the engine light comes on, it’s literally a signal that something is not working as it should. It may be something very simple, or it may be an indicator that something serious is happening. These signals should not be ignored, or your problem and the cost to fix it may become significantly worse.

Life is very much the same. The problem is likely something deep inside, beyond what the eye can see. You may hear a strange noise, smell something that isn’t right, or notice that things aren’t operating as they should. When things are going well, it’s easy to take things for granted. You think that changing the oil every 3,000 miles and the occasional filter changes are all you need. However, there are literally tens of thousands of parts, wires, bolts, belts, brackets, plugs…the list goes on. They can go wrong without warning. Similarly in life, there are a lot of moving parts. You can do the simple day-to-day maintenance, but there are a million little things that, if not taken care of, can leave you on the side of the road.

The big difference between cars and life is that when you’re stuck on the side of the road Woman-broken-down-carin life, your Mechanic is right there waiting for you. Instead of sitting on the roadside calling a tow truck to get you to a mechanic, God is right there waiting for you to call on Him. The thing is, He is not interested in just MacGyver-ing your life just to get you back on the road.  He also isn’t interested in restoring it to the way it was. He wants to make you better than you were before.

Unless you are a mechanic, nobody brings one with them everywhere they go. And even if you are a mechanic, there are certain things you can’t do without all the tools and parts necessary. And who knows how to fix what’s wrong better than the one who built it in the first place? In life, not only can God fix anything at any time, but He is always with you.

“and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”  Matthew 28:20b

I find myself on the side of the road right now. I have been cruising along, singing a song. But God knows there are some things under the hood that need some attention. I could pop the hood and look around for fire, smoke, noises or leaks, but I wouldn’t know what to do with them if I found them. That’s God’s job. Mine is to let Him in there and do what only He can do. He’s ready to get His hands dirty. The thing is, it’s not enough to sit on the roadside fiddling with my phone while He does all the work. I’ve got to get my hands dirty, too. He wants to show me where the problems are. How to identify them. How to prevent them from becoming something catastrophic. How to get peak performance out of my life, beyond what I thought this old machine could even do.

Getting stuck on the side of the road is inevitable. Both with cars and in life. It’s not if, but when.

Maybe you’re not stuck on the side of the road right now. Here’s where it gets fun. You don’t have to be. Even if things are going well and humming along, let God in there to examine what’s under the hood. Let Him show you where things are misfiring. You may not even be able to tell that something isn’t operating as it should. You may learn about something you weren’t even aware of that exists in your life, just like I had never heard of a solenoid until my 1974 Pinto needed one. Maybe you’re missing something you should have, or maybe you have something you shouldn’t. Either way, Let God in to assess and change things as He sees fit to make you a better you. He knows just what to do because He is the one who made you!

73 “You made me; you created me.
Now give me the sense to follow your commands.
74 May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy,
for I have put my hope in your word.
75 I know, O Lord, that your regulations are fair;
you disciplined me because I needed it.
76 Now let your unfailing love comfort me,
just as you promised me, your servant.
77 Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live,
for your instructions are my delight.”  Psalm 119:73-77

My dad’s secret life

When we think of people and their secret lives, we automatically think of something scandalous. Jared from Subway and Josh Duggar are currently in the eyes of their respective storms for their secret lives. We are conditioned that secret lives are exclusively for those who are hiding their transgressions so they may protect their public reputation.

Then there are people whose secret lives conceal activities which would only magnify what people already think of them.

My dad was such a man. I was raised by a man who lived to serve and protect others. He was a former United States Marine. Some years after completing his service for our country, he became a San Francisco police officer. Following his career in law enforcement, he became an ordained minister, and with my mom, served at an orphanage in Mexico, then moved to an impoverished part of Costa Rica ministering to people in great need. I could easily list his accomplishments and achievements so you would be impressed.

My dad would be embarrassed by that.

I’m very proud of who he was. The secret life he led touched lives everywhere he went. IIMG_5451 remember when he gave our family car to a young couple who were in ministry at our church. They had a very young family, and on an associate pastor’s salary, they couldn’t afford to buy a much-needed vehicle to accommodate them. Dad recognized the need, and simply gave ours to them. No fanfare. Had there been Facebook then, you never would have seen it posted, and he would have strongly required that the family who got the car not tell the story in any other way than God provided it for them through by speaking to an anonymous servant.

To this day, I am so turned off by people who, by social media or in everyday conversation, speak of themselves and their every thought and activity. We live in a very self-promoting, self-centered generation.

While living and ministering in Costa Rica, my parents were ministering in a church. At some point in the service, the pastor inexplicably called a young, single girl forward to stand before the pulpit. It was then that he publicly spoke of how this young lady was pregnant and in sin. Apparently, this was standard operating procedure in this church. My dad, standing in the front row, moments before he would speak to the congregation, stepped forward and stood next to the young lady.

“I’m Ed, and I’m a sinner, too.”

My mom told me of this, because he never would.

Later in life, after they moved back to California due to my mom’s illness, my dad did so many other little things to bless people. On Fridays, he would go to Krispy Kreme and buy dozens of doughnuts. He would then drive around to their various doctors’ offices and deliver the treats to those who took such great care of them. He frequently gave boxes of candy to my mom’s hospital nurses.

Whether ministering to pastors and missionaries, or to hospital nurses and doctors’ assistants, Dad had a special vision and knew how to show appreciation and serve those who serve. Those who are expected to do extraordinary things, and who were easily overlooked for their service.

There are many, many things I can list here, but that would defeat the purpose of honoring the example and character of a great man. These things he did, and the many secrets he took with him as he entered God’s presence on August 5th, were not for his glory, but God’s.

What is your secret life? Is it one you want hidden so that people will not be disappointed? So that your reputation won’t be damaged? Or is it a life that is dedicated to honoring and revealing the love of God to those around us?

This week, as I had a private moment at my dad’s open casket, I quietly thanked him for his love and example. He showed me so much, yet told me so little. I share these things with you to challenge you, as I have been challenged. How willing am I to do something that would make a great Facebook or Twitter post, that would make people really like and respect me, but do it only out of obedience to God, and only for His glory, not mine? May I truly want only God and His beneficiary to know of my involvement.

May my secrets bless those who God ordains, and may they bring glory to Him, and Him alone.

Springing to life

Today is March 20th. It is the first day of Spring. It is also the sixth anniversary of my IMG_4600mom’s passing from earth’s winter, into her eternal Spring, the arms of Jesus. I didn’t realize until about a week ago that her death, and her new life, came on the first day of Spring. Maybe that’s because in California, the first day of Spring doesn’t mean much because the weather is Spring-like for a good month or two by then. But in New England, Spring means you technically survived a long, rugged winter. I say technically because it snowed today for the first time in weeks. Figures.

Life is so much like our seasons. Some years, it seems like varying degrees of Spring. Maybe you have a storm here and there. But nothing major. It goes about as quickly as it came. But then there are the long, grueling winters that really grind at your resolve to go outside and deal with all the stuff that has piled up around you.

When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and told she only had weeks to live, she was completely at peace. Completely. She was not afraid to die. She knew her destination. She knew that what was ahead was much greater than what she was leaving behind.

This winter has been brutal. In every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Even native New Englander say this winter has been one for the record books. And I survived it. It didn’t defeat me. It didn’t send me packing for the relative comfort of California. There have been times, not just during the calendar winter, but the life one, that it seemed giving up was the answer.

It can be tempting, when the going gets tough, to pack your things and move to a more comfortable “climate”. But it’s those grinding winters that make Spring more beautiful. More rewarding. Life is challenging. It can be downright brutal. But I have survived it. When the Spring comes, I will bathe in its beauty. I will breathe it in. But can I maintain that level of appreciation when the storm seems to be trying to kill me?

My mom sure did. That woman went through the storms of life that would break a lot of people. But anyone who knew her never knew when there was a storm in her life, and never knew the storms she endured earlier in life. Not because she was fake. But because she had a strength, grace, and peace that passes all understanding. And because she was more interested in how others were doing, than herself.

She has been gone for 6 years. And yet, she is still teaching and inspiring me to this day. God blessed me, and countless others, with her influence. I fall so drastically short of her example. Of her legacy. But I press onward. May this long, grueling winter make me a stronger, better man. And when that day comes, that first day of “Spring”, when I am face to face with my Lord, may I not leave this world defeated by the winters. But let them strengthen me, give me an appreciation and longing for what lies ahead. There must be nothing in this world that is more significant than pleasing my Father in Heaven. When that’s the case, there can be nothing on this earth that can break me. No matter how hard it tries.

Christmas, and heaven, are for children

It began with a baby. A night like every other was also a night like no other. A baby struggled His way into the world. In doing so, He changed it forever.

There is something special, pure and exhilarating about seeing the unbridled joy and wonder in the eyes of a child at Christmas. For the adults, it can be a beating. Life is hectic. It’s filled with pressure. It’s filled with elbows and impatience in the stores. We have lost the wonder.

Jesus came into the world as humbly as possible. A gooey, completely dependent infant. The head which would one day be scarred with a crown of thorns, couldn’t be supported by His tiny, weak neck. His voice, which spoke the universe into existence, couldn’t be heard until his lungs were free of the fluid which enveloped him for nine months. The Savior of the world, umbilically connected to a simple teenage girl.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In what must have been a startling moment for them, Jesus told them that we must “change” and become like little children in order to enter the kingdom. He went on to say that those who assume a lowly place of a child would be the greatest in heaven.

Humility. Instead of jostling for position, instead of bickering and competing with one another, instead of having to be right, we are called to be humble. Not immature. Not ignorant. But humble.

When we are in a state of humility, and we are in the presence of something glorious and astounding, we are overwhelmed with wonder, just like the wide-eyed awe of a child. This is where we need to be. This is where I need to be.

As we celebrate and consider the meaning and joy of this day, let us be mindful of what we can learn from a child. Let us not be so dignified that we can’t allow ourselves to be stunned into silence, with our mouths agape, as we consider the glory of the Christ child. Let your heart be a humble manger.

Experience the joy and the wonder of Christmas, like a humble child.