Not my words this time . . .

We were able to spend last weekend with my three siblings. I love these gathering andIMG_2672 they are much needed I think for the four of us. My oldest sister blessed me with the handwritten copy of something my mother wrote and presented to a group of ladies. I am not sure of the context and it really doesn’t matter to me.

Her title was: Seeing Your Worth in God’s Eyes.  Here are some thoughts contained in these handwritten pages. I’m not including every word or a couple of stories she shared but here is the heart of her message:

“There is a need to feel loved, to have a sense of belonging, the need to feel acceptable., to have a sense of worthiness, the  need to feel adequate, to have a sense of competence. . .

20170808_1939101

Picture of Scotty from around 1974

One day I noticed that my youngest son had a new playmate. He was a little red-headed boy — four years old. This little boy, whose family had moved in 2 blocks way, spent all day and evening into supper time at our house. His father was in the penitentiary and his mother was epileptic and never attended church. Scotty and his 6 year old sister began coming to church. They always came in the clothes they had slept in the night before. No one cared what they did. The came in the Sunday after Halloween  with faces painted with mascara and lipstick — walked down to the second row from the front so they could sit with me. As Christmas time approached, I assembled outfits for them and told them to come early before the Christmas program so I could wash and dress them. They marched onto the platform and soon it was his time to speak, he proudly stepped to the mike saying “Here I come” and then burst forth in gales of laughter. It was the best part of the program — a little boy that felt worthwhile in his new garments and someone that cared about him.

You have only to read John 3:16 to recognize that you were included in His great love. The apostle Paul wrote: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed you will all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world. . . ‘

In Romans 2:10 we read, ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ  Jesus unto good works.’

Isaiah 43:7 ‘ Even every one that is called by My name: for I have created him for My glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

1 Peter 2:9 ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’

 “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.‘ 1 John 3:1

If every person could conceive how completely God forgives, the world would see more joy.

 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12

As the songwriter wrote:  ‘Wide, wide as the ocean, High as the heaven above. Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior’s love. I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care. For His word teaches me that His love reaches me, everywhere!'” –Virginia Humble

You are loved and remember that God’s mercy is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.  He loves you, seeks after you and never quits looking for you to come back to Him.  And when you come back . . . all heaven will rejoice and sing of the mercy of our Great God.  –W.

 

 

just stuff . . . thankful stuff

19990201_10159113453640370_8983252058991158193_nLife happens and sometimes it is life changing. Sometimes it exceeds anything you’ve ever experienced before. Both of my parents passed away but because of age and failing health those transitions seemed natural and for their sakes timely. Those deaths were hard but “normal” passages of life.

Sometimes things happen that completely change everything. Many times they are described as traumatic because when something really big happens in your life everything you have known is both challenged and changed. Normal is not normal anymore. You are in uncharted waters. You are in a wilderness and finding your own way out. My favorite metaphor is the desert description. It is a time of exploration, learning, listening and living. It is very different but living and life are precious gifts and somehow when big things happen it forces us to slow down and take deeper breaths and process the days and even relationships at a deeper level. When brokenness happens it is not all negative. Sometimes brokenness is what heals our hearts.

I am thankful for my life. I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to be loved and to love. Every so often I have this sense that slowly and surely God is healing my life and heart from the inside out. It’s as though something deeper than my comprehension is happening and while it may not move as fast as I might think in reality all of life has slowed down so I inhale a little deeper and calmly wait to see what each new day brings. “Slowed down” is a very relative term because I am busier than ever but I think I mean that internally things are slower and more steady. I reflect more. I ponder more. I try really hard to be self-aware and in the moment.

It’s been a journey and I want to say thanks. First of all, I am thankful for my family . . . all of them. Each person in my family is unique and touches my life, challenging me to be  a better man, husband and father. Thank you Francene for loving me daily.

I am thankful for people.  I know at times in this blog I have grieved the loss of people I thought I was close to or others that have drawn conclusions and lines of division without ever talking to me or us or asking any questions, but this is not about them. This writing is about the people who have been kind, gracious and merciful.

There are some men and women that have loved unconditionally. Not once have i ever taken your love and support as endorsement of things I did wrong or should have done better. I can’t imagine how hard this has been at times but their support and grace never waivers. I struggle here because I want to name names but know if i do I will unintionally leave someone out. So let me try to do this and cover everyone.

Thanks to:

My siblings. I know I disappointed you but you have loved beyond my expectations. Your grace, kindness and support, though unmerited has been given freely and with love. Words truly fail me and I can not thank you enough.

The closest of friends that I talk to almost daily. Your availability has been life giving and life saving and that is not being dramatic.

The couples that are always up to hanging out and letting us be a part of your lives

The handful of pastor friends that have never wavered or pulled away but have urged me to follow God out of the brokenness and even given me chances and trusted me to share with their people. They actually treat me as though God really forgives and heals the broken. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The friends that call me and check on me or just to talk about life. Those “normal” conversations are so important and vital to the healing process.

The men that have trusted me with your life stories. I share your hurt and pray for you often.

The people I’ve bumped into in public that don’t run or walk the other way.

The people who extend a hug and a genuine show of care and concern every time I see you.

The hundreds of people who read this blog and have responded with stories of their own or private messages sharing the hurt and brokenness that they have or are experiencing. We are in this together and I am glad to be a part of your life as well.

The people who pray for me . . . those prayers are so important and God is listening.

The people who hit “like” on something I posted on Facebook. As dumb as that may sound there were times early on when I felt pretty isolated and alone and seeing someone acknowledge me in that way was encouraging. This goes beyond the little high we all get when someone hits like. lol  In the context of brokenness those “likes” say so much more.

The people who from the first moments I left the church and failed in my marriage sent private messages of hope mostly through Facebook or email. Amazing to go back and read but at the time they were life-sustaining.

The community around me outside the church that has been loving, generous and kind.

The men and women I work with daily who continue to let me be a part of their lives. So thankful for my job and the opportunity.

My dog . . . well he’s not mine. Everybody at the house says he’s their dog but daily he remains happy to see me and that’s worth a lot!  He has stayed by my side this morning for the last two hours while I have written and prayed and tried to prepare myself for gathering with the people of God on this Lord’s Day.

Most of all I am thankful for God. He IS the God that doesn’t walk away. He is the God that will turn toward you if you turn toward Him. He is the God that will draw near to you when you draw near to Him. He is the God that will punish you to help you turn back but He puts up with a lot before He goes to that option. He wasn’t shocked and has loved in all the ways He promises to.

That’s just some of the “stuff” I am thankful for.  I guess it’s not stuff . . . it’s people. Please know that I am so thankful for you. All of you.

 

 

 

Finding the light . . . Light.

IMG_2185When you walk through a particular dark time in your life it is easy to fall into patterns of depression or at best negativity. There is the temptation to believe that those moments may define you and in some ways control you. Many people spend years looking for light in the darkness of the trail following personal heartbreak, personal failure and devastating loss. Events can completely change everything about us and in some cases threaten to push us into places of darkness instead of light.

Life happens. Life is precarious and challenging. You may wake up one day and find yourself estranged from everything you once knew. Life is different. Life may not look like anything you’ve known in the past. Death, divorce, loss of vocation, and a hundred other things may cause your life to turn upside down.

There is hope.  There is light. You still have value and reason to live.  Yes, it is new. It may all be new and unlike anything you have known in the past but God never changes. He is the same. He is not shocked by your circumstances. He calls you to keep following. He longs for you to reach out to Him especially in your brokenness and vulnerability. He will lead you through the new and find ways to use you that are beyond what you can see now. Just follow the Light. Jesus is the Light.

In our journey, both Fran and I have read a lot, allowing others journey’s and words to bring healing. Brokenness is not easy and if you are not very attentive it may lure you into a stuck place. You might be tempted to let people, opinions and judgements without the facts stifle your future.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B includes these words of admonition:

“We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: (1) personalization—the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever. The three P’s play like the flip side of the pop song “Everything Is Awesome”—“everything is awful.” The loop in your head repeats, “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful. And it’s always going to be awful.” Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. 

Life is not awful. Life is here to be lived. You have family and friends. Some of those friends or even family might be new but you have people to love and people to give back to. You have things to do and God wants to do them through you. He has never shied away from the broken and hurting and more often than not He uses people who are broken to show the way of mercy and grace to those around them.

I keep writing this blog for those that have gone before me and those that will no doubt come behind me. Your responses both private and public often tell the stories of hurt, shame, discouragement and even depression but also many of them ring with the sound of hope. You’ve found Jesus in the shadows like you never found Him before when things, at least on the outside or publicly, were at their best. So relax . . . give yourself a break . . . let Jesus continue to call you and heal you. Let His Light shine on you in you and all around you.

 

 

 

He’s in a coma . . .

I wrote this blog two days after Otto Warmbier was returned home. Sadly he has passed away in the last 24 hours.

The tragic story of Otto Warmbier was in the news recently and it doesn’t look like a happy ending. Much of his story was buried by the shooting at the Repub636331232262094896-WarmbierFredAPlican Congressional baseball practice. His father stood and talked at a press conference and answered questions the day after Otto was returned home. As Fred Warmbier represented the family his voice only cracked once and that was when he identified the jacket he was wearing as the same one his son was last seen wearing in a North Korea propaganda video.

He was a vibrant and very much alive college student when he left home but since January of 2016 he has been held by this rouge and ugly nation. A few days ago he was flown home in a medical plane and the news was shared . . . he is in a coma.

I watched the three doctors from the University of Cincinnati explain that his chances of functioning again were very slim.

There are things that can happen in our life that literally turn everything we know upside down. There are moments that threaten to paralyze us and send us into a voluntary retreat. There are events that are life changing, traumatic, heartbreaking and even stifling to our lives and future. I am made to pause and think about the possible scenario that Otto may live with the rest of his life.  He is in what his doctors call “a state of unresponsive wakefulness.

When I heard this phrase I couldn’t quit thinking about it. It reminds me of what can happen to us if we allow traumatic circumstances or life issues to paralyze us from our future or even our today. Supposedly Otto will open his eyes but it is not connected to anything going on around him.

What is it like to be in an emotional coma? Because of things that have happened in your life you allow yourself to emotionally barely breathe or function. You shut down and if you are not careful you shut others out. You are awake but you dare not be responsive because to do so will make you vulnerable and you have learned that people can be cruel. People will judge you without knowing the whole story. People will take sides. I have yet to have anyone ask me point blank what happened? (I’ve told my story to a few people but most assume they know enough to judge.)  People will walk away from you and shun you. People will protest you by trying to hurt you economically if you are running a business. (I guess the logic is “We will show her or him just how much we disagree with their actions by pulling our business or friendship away.) People are flawed, even the ones that think they are not or can’t give themselves permission to be honest.

So . . . it is easy to want to drift into the solitude of an emotional coma. It is easy to want to narrow your friendships down to a precious few and run from the crowd. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it has to be or should be this way.

I hope that against the odds, Otto finds his way back to his family and out of his “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” And I hope for you and I, that we don’t allow ourselves or our story to keep us in an “emotional state of unresponsive wakefulness.” Allow yourself to be alive. Allow yourself to find joy. Allow yourself to accept the new. Allow yourself to laugh and even cry when it is healthy. If you need forgiveness from God, He offers it unconditionally and if He has forgiven you and He hasn’t walked away from you rise up out of the coma and let God fill your life with His goodness.

 

My daily prayer . . .

mind-of-god-heart-of-god1You pray differently when you’ve been broken. Psalm 40 says everything that needs to be said. It covers my past, present and future. Even after the brokenness heals you are forever changed and it changes your attitude about most things in life.  The Psalmist states his testimony in the first 4 verses and then the prayer begins. Woven into this prayer is the story of what it means to trust God with your life. He also proclaims his willingness in the past to proclaim God’s grace, mercy and justice in the “great assembly.”  For thirty years I proclaimed it faithfully. Life has changed and in many ways for the better but I still cry out daily to God for His tender mercies and to remind Him that I remain poor and needy and always want to be in God’s thoughts. (v. 17) With the Psalmist today I shout, “The Lord is great!”  (v.16) Thankful for my life and thankful for this prayer . . .

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand[a]
    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
    As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

I have told all your people about your justice.
    I have not been afraid to speak out,
    as you, O Lord, well know.
10 I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;
    I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.
I have told everyone in the great assembly
    of your unfailing love and faithfulness.

11 Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
    Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles surround me—
    too many to count!
My sins pile up so high
    I can’t see my way out.
They outnumber the hairs on my head.
    I have lost all courage.

13 Please, Lord, rescue me!
    Come quickly, Lord, and help me.
14 May those who try to destroy me
    be humiliated and put to shame.
May those who take delight in my trouble
    be turned back in disgrace.
15 Let them be horrified by their shame,
    for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

16 But may all who search for you
    be filled with joy and gladness in you.
May those who love your salvation
    repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”
17 As for me, since I am poor and needy,
    let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.
You are my helper and my savior.
    O my God, do not delay.

When God finds you . . .

I went to a local church today to support and hear some friends joining a local church choir in presenting some songs from Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsay’s Bluegrass Mass. The words chosen for the music were incredible, biblical and as theologically sound as anything written by J.S. Bach.  You can do your own research on that by searching for video of this “mass.”

Beyond the music which I expected to connect with I was in total surprise as I found out God had some things I needed to hear. I think it was during the children’s sermon when the explanation was given with amazing and simple eloquence as to why a child was being baptized and why a teenager was being confirmed. It was stirring and appealing in so many different ways.  It was stated clearly that the parents of the teen had taken her baptism and their vows seriously years before which led them to this moment of her confirmation. As I heard the questions asked of this young lady about her faith I allowed myself to answer those questions for myself. As the associate pastor gave the meditation I was struck by his words on this Pentecost Sunday. He remembered his time at camp as a child and the man who made the fire sometimes even from sticks. He then described the next morning when another counselor would go to the burn pile now gray with ashes and apparently cold from the long night hours. He would take a stick and start digging to find hot coals and he would blow on them. Within a few minutes the fire would flare up again and soon breakfast would be cooking. The point is that the fire can burn again. It may look like cold ashes in the morning but dig deep enough and you will find the fire.

IMG_1905As I sat and listened to this young man’s words I realized that God had a message for me and that I needed to take it on and let Him apply it to me. I was sitting on a folding chair literally right down the aisle and even that allowed these words to flow unrestricted into my heart and soul.

For the last two and a half years I have fought the battle to rise above the condemnation and judgement of others. I have not doubted God because of moments like this in which He has repeatedly found me and called me to continue to let Him work in my soul. But I have struggled.

Today I heard Him and I listened. I heard a close friend this week that called to check on me and pushed on me to forgive myself. I will share one other moment from today’s service.

During the offering the words to one of my favorite songs found me. My all time favorite hymn is Pass Me Not oh Gentle Savior and this song would be close to that in sentiment.  Mosie Lister wrote these words and they surely are my prayer most days:

Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low
In the darkness, as black as could be
And my heart felt alone
And I cried oh Lord
Don’t hide your face from meLike a king I may live in a palace so tall
With great riches to call my own
But I don’t know a thing
In this whole wide world
That’s worse then being alone

Chorus:

Hold my hand all the way
Every hour every day
From here to the great unknown
Take my hand
Let me stand where no one stands alone.

As I walked away today I thought of all of the people who have contacted me over the last two years and our stories that are all different and yet so much the same. Somewhere along the line we broke, we failed and we fell down in our spiritual walk. We have beaten ourselves with shame and the shunning of people we thought we were close to. We have repented over and over not because we didn’t find forgiveness through Christ but because the church too often doesn’t know what to do with broken people and so the wound lives on. I thought of you all today. I thought of us today.

Let the fire of God burn in you on this Pentecost Sunday. The people in the upper room when the church was formed were flawed and broken but because of the grace of God it was with them that God started the church.  As I walked away today I was reminded of God’s love for me. I was encouraged to think that He might find something good in me and something that He might use for His honor and to help others. We are loved. God found me today when and where I least expected it. I am thankful.

(I’m going to publish the video of the song referenced above on my Facebook page since I can’t get it to load in this blog post.)

Pressing on . . .

 forgetting-the-past-pressing-on-philippians-3-13I am confronted and reminded often of my brokenness and especially the brokenness of the past. It may come in the form of a phone call I desire but never receive, a text with accusing non-forgiving words, a public encounter with people that once professed to care but who now turn away without speaking or even by the memory of things past. It may even be the change in vocation and the job I do on a daily basis.

I have wrestled the last two and a half years over how to process repentance, forgiveness and restoration. God clearly demonstrated in the Bible His love for those who repent and turn back to Him. Jesus also left us with a record of His mercy in the New Testament. While King David is the go-to seemingly that people like to point to I have searched for other examples. David’s story is incredible given the mess that was made and for him to still be recognized as “a man after God’s heart” is something I can relate to. No matter what may or may not have happened in my story, I am the same person with the same thoughts, desires, and even convictions as strange as that may sound. I don’t claim David’s status but I have never lost my desire for Him or to follow Him.

Most recently I have wrestled with what I am calling “ministry muscle memory.” I still think about church and what it could look like. I still engage the bible and see sermon’s that could be shared. I still pray and pursue God. I still care about others and especially “the least of these.” I have dreamed about buildings that would make a unique place to invite people to study God’s word and more importantly experience real relationships.

I have concluded that probably I need to let it go for now. Just because I can envision it, feel it and put it together in my head doesn’t necessarily mean that God is calling me to do it. So I will rest and wait and stay as close as I can to be able to hear Him  if He calls. I’ve had all the public ministry a person could wish for . . . I don’t need that . . . but to hear His call even to obscurity or to walk with someone through their brokenness may be the call that comes.

Recently  I’ve been thinking a lot about the disciple named Peter. He was impulsive, brash and hasty. He was not polished or tactful. He was a fisherman turned follower of Christ. He was zealous. He was committed. He was ready to be Jesus’ right hand man. He fell hard. He did what he said he would never do. He denied even knowing Jesus let alone following Him. Jesus knew it was going to happen just like He knows what you and I will do. I have often assured myself that the God that called me into ministry at 21 knew where I would be at 53. He still called me, used me and allowed me to be a part of some amazing things. When I found myself “on the outside looking in” at the church world it was fascinating to know that He was there with me the whole time. He was not shocked by anything. He was ready to forgive and restore.  Peter found this also and here is a reminder of his story. Yes, I know it’s an outline so  . . . preach it if you want. I’m preaching it to myself.

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly” Matthew 26:5 NLT

“And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.”  Luke 22:62 NLT

A place of conviction: Peter knew as soon as he denied the Lord that he was guilty and had broken his relationship with God. Conviction is a gift that we should never run from. It is hard and it is painful but it is necessary to bring us back to Christ.  In the verses below there are two possible unintentional metaphors of what Peter did, “he went away” and “Peter left the courtyard.”  If you have ever failed or fallen especially publicly it is as though you “went away” or “left the church world.”  He went and wept bitterly at disappointment in himself and the fact that he had failed.

“Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Mark 16:7 NLT

A place of separation: Even the angels in the tomb separated Peter from the other disciples when they instructed Mary to go and tell the others. The great thing about this is that they included him even though he was separated from them by his actions. Even when we are away God is still thinking of us and longing for us to return. The church may not give you this indication but God is where you must look for strength when you have failed or fallen. 

“Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat. . .”   John 21:7-8a NLT

Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12 NLT

A place of invitation: Peter jumped at the chance when he realized he could come face to face with the Lord. Yes, he failed but I don’t believe he ever stopped loving Jesus. I can testify that no matter how far you may drift away due to circumstances that nobody else may understand, you can still long for the Jesus that you have known and loved.  Jesus come bring some fish and have some breakfast, but the invitation of His presence is more than physical satisfaction. He came to invite Peter back into the fold. Back into relationship. And He does the same for us today. I love a Jesus that will fix you breakfast and then fix your soul.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” John 21:15 NLT

“Then feed my lambs,”

“Then take care of my sheep,”

“Then feed my sheep.

A place of restoration: Do you love Him?  That is the biggest question to answer. He didn’t belittle him for his particular failure. He didn’t accuse him of forsaking Him in His hour of need and death. He just said, “Do you love me?”  After affirming it three times Jesus restored Peter spiritually and even commissioned him to get back to work.

I rest in this. I will not worry or fret about my gifts or strengths being used or not used.  I have a job I am very thankful for and a family to care for, love and pray for. I am tasked with living my faith everyday. I am working hard to surrender my past, present and future. I am learning or at least longing to relax in knowledge  and presence of my loving Savior.  It’s a daily struggle but in the classic words spoken by Peter a long time ago:

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” John 21:15 NLT