I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.
On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.
My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”
That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)
There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.
Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.”
58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.
“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”
A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.
“In your light do we see light.”
I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.
This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.
Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.
“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”
Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.
I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.
“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.
Originally posted December 14, 2016
Read previous post: Local Outreach: Philosophy of Ministry Part 1.
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One morning several weeks ago, I met with Rabbi Bloom and the team from Compassionate Fort Worth at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. We enjoyed breakfast outside in the beautiful weather under a Sukkah (Hebrew for ‘booth’). This day began the Hebrew celebration of the Feast of Booths (See Leviticus 23:22-44)
We were given a brief history lesson about the Sukkah and why it is celebrated thousands of years later. As with most of the Hebrew feasts, the Feast of Booths is a remembrance and is rich in symbolism.
When the Jewish people made their Exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wondered in the desert for 40 years. During this time, they lived temporary dwellings called ‘booths’ for shelter (think tent with a thin screen for a roof). These booths were quite fragile and often had a thin layer of palm leaves or twigs for a roof. It was important to be able to see the sky through spaces in the roof material.
During the Exodus, the Hebrew people understood their booths offered very little in the way of protection from the elements, enemies or wild animals. They depended on God to protect and guide them. Today, Jews around the world celebrate by gathering, eating and even sleeping in their Sukkah to celebrate God’s protection and guidance.
After our meeting, the good Rabbi gave me a tour of the synagogue.
The first stop on our journey was a small quiet sanctuary. At the center was a large encasement on the wall, adorned with a beautifully carved tree. As we rolled the case apart, I beheld several scrolls. Each had a unique covering. The Rabbi ask for a hand to retrieve a large scroll and we placed it on a table.
I had the privilege to hold and learn about two significant Torah scrolls. The first scroll survived the Holocaust and WWII. The second was a 100 year old scroll from Iran. All script was perfectly justified and beautiful to look at.
When we unrolled the Holocaust scroll, we landed on Lev. 8:30 where Moses anointed Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. The Rabbi also pointed out the passage where Aaron’s sons brought foreign fire (or strange fire) into the temple. That did not turn out so well for them (God protects His Holiness). After discussing aspects of the scroll, we carefully rolled it up and returned it to its home.
Next Rabbi Bloom led me to a large sanctuary. Again, we went to the front of the room where the Torah scrolls were stored. He retrieved a scroll encased in silver with ornate artwork.
When we unrolled the 100 year old Iranian scroll, the Rabbi rolled to the 10 Commandments. I cannot read Hebrew but he showed me the 6th, ‘Thou Shall not murder.’ I happened to study the 6th Commandment that morning during my devotional time. Hebrew is a magnificent active language rich in description.
Murder is the unjust taking of innocent human life (not self-defense, just war, etc). The 6th Commandment has two sides in the Hebrew. 1. Do NOT murder and 2. DO protect and preserve human life.
Standing in the present, holding the past and knowing the eternal truth behind the Command was a lesson in theology and history. The irony of holding these two historical artifacts in light of current events was not lost on me. We replaced the scroll and finished our tour all before 10am. But that was not the end of the journey.
For several weeks, I had been wanting to set up a tent in the backyard and ‘camp out’ with the kids. It had been too hot. However, the first day of the ‘Feast of Booths’ was cool and clear. A perfect night to camp out under the stars. I remembered what I learned in the morning and found the application for my family.
Instead of our normal Bible reading and story, I took a detour and told my 6 and 4 year old kids to grab their sleeping bags. We are going to camp out tonight! Needless to say, they were excited. I was too!
Before heading to the back yard, I gathered my wife and children in the living room and read Leviticus 23:33-44. This is passage describes the ‘Feast of Booths’. I explained that we would sleep in a tent under a thin screen. We would be able to see the night sky and the celestial bodies that God flung into place. The thin tent would provide very little protection. We had to depend on God for protection this night in our own Sukkah.
I saw the Old Testament come alive that night in my children. And I remembered the God who protected and guided the ancient Hebrews is same God who protects and guides me today.
As the night grew quiet. The children wondered off to sleep murmuring about stars and galaxies. My eyes fell shut under God’s protection and eternal security of Christ as the melody of ‘How Great Thou Art’ lulled me to sleep.
May 15th will be the one year mark for me and my adventure in full time ministry. Yes, I am a Pastor, which is the last thing I thought I’d be at 40 years old. That is the beautiful thing about life. It is an adventure! When God calls, we can hang up, hang out or step onto the ocean and walk by faith, listening to God’s voice.
The #1 Question I get: “What is it like being the Local Outreach Pastor at Christ Chapel?”
Well, its a lot like surfing. Every morning I grab my surf board and paddle out into the waves not exactly knowing what to expect. Sometimes, I catch a wave and ride all the way into the beach. Other times, I take a tumble and get rolled by a few waves. Everyday is different. Everyday is a chance to take an adventure. I wake up and jump into the water! (more…)
A few years ago, Kathryn and I owned a beautiful SUV. It was truly a work of precision German engineering. It was the top of the line of ‘top-of-the-line’ SUVs containing all the ‘bells and whistles’ one could possibly imagine in a fine motor car. It was stunning and impressive. The darn thing was expensive. The warranty expired and we learned that maintenance was darn expensive as well. The ‘special’ run-flat tires could not be rotated. They had to be replaced (usually two at a time). The tires alone cost $650 each and had to be replaced about every 10,000-12,000 miles. Do the math. That’s $2600 per year in tires! As a special bonus, we had the privilege of replacing a cracked wheel at the low-low cost of $900. In one year, we spent over $3500 on tires and wheels. Oh yeah, did I tell you that it was beautiful, stunning and impressive? You can learn something from car tires.
Materialism requires maintenance
Here’s the lesson that you should take away from my foolishness. If you place any of your personal self-worth on the stuff you buy, get ready to spin your wheels and work your arse off to maintain it. I don’t care if you have millions or billions, if you place your ANY of your self-worth on the stuff you can accumulate in life, you will live in a cycle of maintenance. Take if from me, I’m a recovering materialist!
Everything we buy ends up in a trash heap somewhere. That expensive SUV we owned will eventually end up a rusted hunk of junk in a junk yard. That expensive home will eventually be torn down. All the stuff that we buy to impress others and/or make us feel better will eventually decay in some hole in the ground.
The material isn’t the problem, ‘Materialism’ is
Owning nice stuff is not the problem. The problem is when we tie our value to the stuff we own. When we love stuff and our capacity to attain more stuff more than we love God and people, we have exchanged that which is priceless for something with a price tag. Stuff can become an idol. Eventually, we run the risk of allowing that idol to rule over us and we eventually end up in bondage. The stuff owns us.
I’ve seen too many people end up with a pile of really expensive junk and massive bank accounts only to spend their last days completely alone in the pit of regret. They don’t even have anyone to share the regret with except those who they hire to maintain their stuff while they die alone.
You don’t have to get caught up in the nasty cycle of Materialism! Ponder this…
- Order you life: Life is about relationships. Who would you trade all your stuff to save their life?
- Motivation of the heart: Have you ever asked yourself ‘why’ before you buy?
- Value: Do you attach personal value on things you buy? A little status, perhaps? Be honest.
- Envy: When someone else buys something you desire to own, does it make you angry or bitter?
- People: Who are the people you spend the most time with? Are they people who work for you?
- Generosity: One cure for materialism is to give stuff away. Give something you love away (rinse and repeat)
- Breaking the grip of Materialism: Read this post..
- Cultivate Relationships: Seek time with God, family and friends. This means reaping and sowing. Do you invest in these three relationships? Are you generous with your time, talent and treasure?
What is true wealth?
“Add up everything you have that money can’t buy and death can’t take away.” -Pastor A. Rogers
Explore these passages.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:10
“Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” Mark 12:17
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:21-22
I am a recovered punk.
So, I know one when I see one. A punk is a selfish adolescent boy living in a 25+ year old body who cares only about his interests. He pursues pleasure and instant gratification. If he seems nice, it was only a means to an end. The older the punk, the bigger the disaster the world must deal with.
Last Sunday, I had the privilege to hang out with abortion survivor, singer and speaker Gianna Jessen. This remarkable woman spoke four times at our church. I won’t go into her story here but I’ll put a link at the end of this post for you to find out more about her. She’s my wise little sister. Gianna challenged me and a couple thousand men to behave like the brave warriors we were created to be and reject the emasculation that plagues our culture. She had a special message to men, “Men, you are made for greatness!” In order to be great, you have to stop being a punk!
On behalf of all recovered punks everywhere, I am sorry. To those we mistreated and misled, particularly the women, I am sorry. We ‘should’ have been lifting you up and protecting you. We should NOT have given into passivity. We should have taken responsibility for our actions.
Now that I got that off my chest, I am happy to tell you I am years removed from my punk days. I may have my moments, but I know my wife, family and friends like the current version better than the old. So, I have some advice for my brothers today.
It’s time that men in this country stop being punks!
Why should you stop being a punk?
First off, because you are not a child and the world does not revolve around you (or me). Not only is a punk selfish and immature, he is a blight on society. A punk is a pimple on the ass of a generation and every generation has their fair share. Men, God did not create us to be punks. He created us in His image. We are to fight the good fight, defending women and children. We are to care for the weak and the needy. We are ordained accomplish big stuff and fight big battles. You can’t accomplish big stuff or win battles if you are a freakin’ punk.
How do you stop being a punk?
1. Admit that you are a punk and turn from your punkish ways.
2. Stop being freakin’ lame and passive. Tolerating every little nuanced proclivity in our culture to be seen as ‘cool’ by your lame friends is foolish and lame.
3. Take responsibility for your actions. If you screw up, own up to it and ask for forgiveness. Don’t do it again.
4. Stop using women. Be a one woman man. Stop worshiping porn idols.
5. Protect women, children and the weak. That means stand up against those who take advantage of them. Take a bullet or beating if you must.
6. Be chivalrous. Open any and every woman’s door. Start there and see if that improves your situation.
7. Clean up your language and your life. Stop behaving and talking like you are some kind of rapper. You are a punk and people think you are an idiot. (I’m not talking about the Ramones sort who played fantastic punk music).
8. Call your mom and apologize. She needs to hear it from you. She knows you are a punk and has been praying for you to stop being an idiot for years. Call her now.
In conclusion, the world needs us men to behave like real men not punks. In fact, the culture is crying out for it. When we take a stand for what is right, things will change. Our relationships will grow and we will win back the respect we have lost over the last 40 years.
“Men, you are made for greatness!”
Learn more about Gianna Jessen here.
Watch her message here
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World War I was thought to be the ‘war to end all wars’.
It was a bloody conflict that dragged on for years. Both sides were entrenched in the mud and blood across Central Europe in a stale-mate. Between the trenches lay ‘no man’s land.’ When either side called their boys to charge, it was a death sentence. The charging soldiers who emerged from the safety of their trenches would be mowed down like fresh blades of grass by enemy machine-gun fire. From 1914 to 1918, 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians died.
One cold winter’s night early in the war the guns fell silent. In late December 1914, young men emerged from the trenches and greeted each other. The Allies and Germans met in ‘no man’s land’ in an unofficial truce. It was a Christmas ceasefire where men of goodwill but of opposing politics and heritage met in the most dangerous place in the world at the time, ‘no man’s land.’
Over the years, I’ve learned that Christmastime is much like ‘no man’s land’ for many.
Conflicts and turmoil within families have killed any spirit of goodwill or peace among kin. Practically all joy has disappeared as hearts sink and tensions rise among family members. The wounds are so deep that many refuse to leave their trenches. They remain alone on Christmas. Others attempt to endure with family by showing up physically while their hearts remain in the trenches. As bitter winter winds sweep through our towns, bitter spirits chill hearts and the soul shivers from lack of warmth and love.
Having personally come from a complicated and conflicted family, Christmas was a time of the year I wanted to skip usually. Although the situation has been healed and I cherish Christmas today, I understand what many are going through.
In his moving book, ‘Silent Night’, Stanley Weintraub captures the story of the Christmas Truce during WWI. Enemies emerged from the cold, wet trenches to meet in ‘no man’s land’. They erected Christmas trees, played games, exchanged pleasantries and mementos. For a few short hours sworn enemies became men of goodwill.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 began with one man’s courage and goodwill. History does not record this man’s name but his action spread up and down the enemy lines in Europe. One man of goodwill, took one step into ‘no man’s land’ and changed everything.
Perhaps you are dreading the days ahead and coming into contact with family or friends who have become enemies over the years. Maybe the wounds run so deep, you can’t possibly bring yourself to be in the same room. The trenches have been dug and ‘no man’s land’ is so frightening, why even go there?
What would it be like if you stepped out of your trench and into ‘no man’s land’?
What would have to change in your own heart to suspend your thoughts about the enemy and meet him or her as if you did not know them at all? Treat them as if they were a friendly stranger who just wished you a Merry Christmas?
Peace begins in the heart and is acted upon through the will in one person. One person makes one bold move and others respond. It is not about building consensus. It is about having courage. Sowing the seeds of peace will reap a harvest and potentially change the trajectory of a relationship.
“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” – Proverbs 34:14
A Peace Promise with yourself:
An old hymn points out that peace is seated in the will and heart of the individual.
“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow….”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27
In seeking peace with God, there is a blessing. In seeking peace with others there are more blessings.
Do you want to pursue peace?