I Do

Note: Personal Post

The double doors at the back of the church’s sanctuary opened, and there she stood… dressed in that gorgeous white gown that didn’t hold a candle to her beauty. Her dad walked her down the aisle, handed her off to me, and minutes later we both said, “I do!”

It was 23 years ago yesterday and, next to accepting Christ so I could be accepted into God’s family, that was the best decision I could have ever made. Scripture says that a guy who finds a wife finds a good thing and favor from the Lord. Amen to that!

Angela has been, is and will always be the best wife I could have possibly hoped for… in fact, better than I could have hoped for. It is my honor, joy and privilege to be her husband. I love that we have spent the last 23 years together, happily married… and I’m looking forward to spending the next 23 years with her… and the 23 years after that… and the 23 years after that. That would make us each over 100… and that would be a good start!

If you were to ask me what makes a great marriage work, I would say it comes down to what Jesus said in John 15:13… that the greatest way to show your love for someone is to lay down your own life for them… not dying physically, but setting aside your own selfishness to prefer them, help them succeed, bless them, meet their needs.

Angela exemplifies that. She lays down her life daily to make sure our marriage and family works. It’s how she tangibly shows me that she loves me. And it makes me love her even more. It makes me want to do the same for her… times 100!

I’m sure there are a lot of other great reasons that I feel like we have a great marriage, but she is my best friend… my closest confidant… the person who knows me better than anyone other than God… and still loves me anyway… just like God. She lays down her life in love each day to make my life great. Love is not a feeling… it’s a choice… it’s a commitment to give… to serve… to prefer someone else over yourself… to help… to share. To love is to lay down your life for someone else.

I talk a lot publicly about how smokin’ hot she is, and how she is the Proverbs 31 Woman (aka PR31) who does it all, but what makes her incredibly attractive is this crazy, ongoing, relentless effort she puts into sacrificing herself out of love.

Yes, I totally realize how blessed I am to be married to her. I’d marry Angela all over again, every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And I plan to lay down my life for her every day, too.

If you have the privilege of being married to someone like this, why not celebrate them in some way today to let them know how much you appreciate their selfless sacrifices for you. If you’re loving spouse has passed away, but they lived and loved like this, take a moment to reflect on how awesome they were and thank the Lord for the time you had together. And if you’re not married, you can apply this principle to your friends, neighbors and co-workers to make a huge impact also.

Choose today to say, “I do,” to living a life of self-sacrifice. It’s the best way to love! Just ask this guy!

Moments That Matter

I still remember nearly 23 years later the pastors at the church where I had just come to be the youth pastor in Oklahoma driving almost nine hours to attend our wedding in Louisiana. They didn’t have to, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I still remember a decade later how the Griffins and so many others worked together to bring our family food at the hospital every day during the 41 days while my Dad was in for a liver and kidney transplant. They didn’t have to, but I’ve never forgotten.

These were moments that mattered.

Over the past 48 hours, I had the opportunity to make time for moments that really mattered. A dear friend and mentor had a critical health issue that landed him in the emergency room, and I was able to get down to the hospital to check on him and his family before he had to be transported to another hospital. Then yesterday, I was able to attend the funeral for the father of another friend on my way to speak at a church.

I could have passed on both opportunities. Neither was really convenient. They took some resolve and rearranging on my part. And I don’t always get these decisions right.

But the people for whom I made time each commented how much it meant that I had made the time and effort to be with them. And in those moments, I knew I had chosen well how to use my time.

Truth be told, I’m not really good in either of those settings. Often, I’m a little awkward. Ok, I’m probably more than a little awkward sometimes. Even though I’ve been in vocational ministry for more than 2 decades, I still sometimes fumble with what to say that would be helpful and appropriate. But here’s what is interesting… no one ever complains or even mentions my faux pas.

That’s because the power is in our presence, not our presentation. They never care that I should have fixed my hair instead of wearing a ball cap. They overlook me saying, “I could’ve died” when trying to cheer them up with a funny story at a funeral. And it’s because the fact that I showed up to be with them was way more important than the words I said or the clothes I wore, all was okay. That fact that the moment mattered to me was bigger than anything else.

Simple, huh? Just show up. Just be there. Just value them and their feelings. Just put yourself in their shoes.

Let’s do our best to make the moments that matter most matter to us!

Blame or Credit?

I’m going to assume that since you are reading this, you must be human. And since you are human, I will also therefore suppose that you have faced hurt or unfair treatment in your life… like the rest of us. You’ve probably been wounded by people who were supposed to be for you, on your side.

When that happens, it’s normal to feel emotional pain, to feel betrayed, to wonder why this bad stuff is happening to you. That’s okay initially. And some wounds are deep enough that they just simply take longer to heal. That’s understandable.

But at some point on the journey, we need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen to good people. The question then becomes… What will you do with the bad stuff that has happened to you in life?

In the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, we read the story of someone who was done really wrong by those who should’ve been closest to him. His name was Joseph, and God had given him big dreams for his life. As he began to share these dreams with his family, his dad discredited him, and his brothers hated him for the dreams. They hated him so much that they started to kill him, but decided to sell him into slavery and tell their dad a wild animal ate him.

There is no doubt that Joseph was done wrong. But it got worse for him before it got better. Though he excelled as a slave for a high-ranking Egyptian leader, he was falsely accused of attempting to rape that man’s wife… and whose word do you think they believed, the slave or the lady? So Joseph was sent to jail.

In jail, Joseph excelled again and even predicted the futures for two servants of the king based on their dreams. They promised to remember him, but one was executed and the other forgot Joseph for a long time. Finally, Joseph was called upon to interpret a dream for the king, and it was then that he rose to prominence as the second in command for the entire nation of Egypt.

A famine ensued, and Joseph’s brothers showed up to get food from Egypt where Joseph had led a successful food saving and distribution plan. When they showed up, Joseph was confronted with a choice. There stood the very guys who had done him wrong. And it was within his power to set things straight.

In that moment, Joseph chose to give God credit instead of giving his brothers blame. Yes, they did bad things to him, but he chose to instead focus on how God used the bad they had done to work for all their good. He probably didn’t see it in the pit or the prison, but he certainly saw it the day they showed up to buy grain from him during the famine. Perhaps that was why he wept so intensely… the sudden understanding of how God had used the bad to set up the good.

I guess the question before each of us today is the same one Joseph faced that day his brothers showed up… Will I choose to give God credit or give those who did me wrong the blame they deserve?

God promises that He will set the record straight on our behalf, and that He will work everything that happens to us in life… the bad as well as the good… for our benefit and His credit… IF we will let Him.

The choice is ours today… Credit or blame? Let’s choose to see how God has worked things out for our good and give Him credit. In the end, we will win with a choice like that!

Stretched

When I was a kid, I thought Stretch Armstrong was one of the coolest toys in existence. To my small arms, it seemed like he could be stretched as far as I wanted. His arms stretched. His legs stretched. His whole body stretched. You could even tie him in knots. It was like there was no limits to his ability to be stretched.

Obviously, as I grew up, I came to learn that Stretch Armstrong had his limits. People pushed him to his limits to see how far he could actually stretch. In fact, they stretched him till he snapped.

I suppose we all see ourselves like human versions of the toy… We think we can only be stretched so far, and then we will break. We feel like we have our limits. We try to roll with life’s punches. Stretch. We deal with hurts. Stretch some more. We watch those we love suffer for no apparently good reason. Stretch a little further. Financial challenges come along. Strrrrrreeeetttccchhh. And we begin to think to ourselves that we simply cannot be stretched anymore… that we don’t have it in us… that if one more pressure in life tugs at us, we will snap clean in two and all our stretchy insides will ooze out.

The Apostle Paul knew that feeling. He begged God to make the stretching stop, but God told him that he could be stretched further than he thought because it wasn’t about Paul’s ability to stretch… It was about God’s grace giving him the ability to stretch some more.

God’s grace is sufficient for us… so we can be stretched as far as His grace can. That means we are actually unlimited as to how far we can be stretched. Now, it may not always be comfortable. We may not like being stretched that far or in that direction. We may think we have reached our limits and are going to snap, but we can always be stretched even further… to our own amazement, and to that of those watching us.

If you’re going through a time of stretching right now… if you’ve been going through it for a while… if you wish that it would end… if you’ve even asked God to put an end to the stretching… and yet you continue to be stretched…

If your bank account balance is shrinking… if your health doesn’t seem to be improving… if your relationship with that person you care about continues to worsen… if your dreams aren’t coming true… if you’ve prayed about it more times than you can count and it still hasn’t changed…

Know this….

You won’t snap. His grace is enough… all you need. His grace gives you some more stretchiness… and some more… and some more… and some more. Unending ability to stretch.

So, you can relax Stretch ___________ (fill in the blank with your last name), because God has put the right stuff inside you to stretch as far as you need to stretch!

Keep Trusting

It is amazing to me how the lyrics to a song have the ability to transcend time and speak to my heart more than two decades separated from the first time I heard them.

For those who are regular readers of this blog… or who have at least gone back and read the first several posts in which I began welcoming you into my world… you know that I am a fan of 80’s & early 90’s Christian glam rock and arena rock. And some of the groups I enjoy listening to are unknown to the casual listener. So most of you won’t recognize the band named Fighter. And the title “Look Me In The Eye” probably wouldn’t normally grab your attention.

But the lyrics to that song stood out to me as I mowed a couple acres of yard around our house today. I got to thinking about how so many people are facing long challenges that they aren’t sure they can endure. People who have received a diagnosis that says they will have to face a physical battle for the rest of their lives. People who long to be married but still have not found that special someone with whole to share their life. People who are out of work and can’t seem to land a job they love. People who long to have kids but still struggle with infertility. People to whom God has made promises but they haven’t seen them come to pass… and it’s been months or years or decades.

Waiting is not new for believers. Joseph of Old Testament fame had to wait about 13 years for the God-given dream about his family recognizing his leadership to come true. Joshua and Caleb had to traipse around the wilderness for 40 years to receive the land and victories God promises them. Scholars suggest it took Noah years to build the ark that God promised would save his family and all the animals from destruction in the great flood. Then they had to stay on the boat for over a year from the time the rain first fell till the time when they could step out onto dry ground and start over.

All of us go through times when we wonder how much longer our challenge is going to last. Each one of us wonders if we have enough left in our tank to make it through. And if that’s where you’re at in life right now, then let the lyrics below from a band who recorded them more than 26 years ago resonate with you, let you know you’re normal, and hopefully stir you to hope… because God has made you strong enough… and all you need is a mustard seed sized faith… and not only is God always with us through our challenges, but He always keeps His promises!


“Look Me In The Eye” – Fighter

This thing seems so big today

I’ve run out of prayers to pray

Please go away…Please don’t say

I keep thinkin’ things will change

Tomorrow it will rearrange

And soon be gone, it will all be gone

Won’t someone…

Look me in the eye and tell me

I’m gonna make it

Look me in the eye and promise

And end to the storm

Tell me that my heart is tough

Tell me that I’ve faith enough

Look me in the eye

Trying hard to hear God’s voice

I slowly start to doubt my choice

Talk to me…please talk to me

Day to day no change in sight

Evening fades into the night

Take my hand…please hold my hand

Look me in the eye and tell me

I’m gonna make it

Look me in the eye and promise

And end to the storm

Tell me that my heart is tough

Tell me that I’ve faith enough

Look me in the eye

When you go through the valley of questions

Know that time holds the answers, if you trust in God

The Big Book of… Tears

You might think that because I’m an author, I love to read. I do read. Leaders have to be readers. I guess I like to read. It’s just that it takes me a long time to read… not because I have a disability, but because I process as I read. I can’t skim a book and gain the major points, set it aside and move on. My mind just doesn’t function that way.

So, I’m super selective about what I choose to read… not just topically, but the size of a book. Too many pages, and I just get bogged down. I don’t read any book… other than the Bible… every day. So most of the books I choose to read are 200 pages or less. In fact, when I wrote my first book, I was determined to make it between 100-150 pages for people like me who can’t stand a long book.

Truth is, I’ve never read War and Peace, and the rest of that story is that I probably never will. Nor do I plan to read other books which require multiple volumes and have thousands of pages.

There are some really big books out there. I might eventually read Laura Bush’s Big Book of History, or the Big Book of Jokes for Kids, but you shouldn’t expect to find me reading most big books.

Yet I was intrigued when reading Scripture to find that God has at least one big book. I’m not sure if it’s one giant book or a book with multiple volumes. I don’t know whether it is on a scroll or in digital format. I just know that Scripture records for us in several places that God has a book that would have to be big to hold all it contains. And you might be surprised to find what He writes in His “Big Book.”

For example, God’s “Big Book” is a Big Book of Tears. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.”

That’s crazy, right? Of all the things God could keep track of and write in His “Big Book,” He chose to record your every year… and mine. Most of us want to forget most of the things that bring us to tears in life, but God chooses to record those experiences and feelings for eternity.

Why? Why would He do that?

I believe He does it for two reasons:

1) He wants us to know that He knows… and cares. Sometimes we hurt and think no one notices or cares. God keeps a record of our tears to let us know that He is right here with us… that He knows… that He cares… that He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15).

and 2) He is keeping track of everything the enemy of our souls has done to cause us sadness and pain so that He can bring him to account for those actions, and bless us for the times when we have been mistreated. Isaiah tells us that God will restore to us double for our trouble. How would God know what double is if He wasn’t keeping a good record? So, He captures every tear in a bottle, and records the instance in His “Big Book of Tears.”

If life has brought you to tears today, just know that He knows… He cares… and He is going to set things right one day. That’s one big book that might just be worth reading!

Explain That

The word of the day on my Merriam-Webster app is “retrodict.” It’s a verb that means, “to use new information to explain the past.” Wouldn’t that be handy? I’d love to be able to explain some of the things that have happened to me in the past. For example, we couldn’t understand why God wasn’t answering our prayers for our international adoption to go through… until years later when God miraculously gave us two sons biologically.

I bet that’s the way Joseph… of Old Testament fame… felt as he trekked across the wilderness from his home on the way to Egypt, having become the victim of human trafficking when his brothers sold him to some passing slave traders. It couldn’t have made sense. He probably had nothing to compare it to. He probably wondered why this was happening? How could God let it happen? What about his dreams… the ones God had given him?

I bet he still would have liked to have been able to explain what had happened in the past as he sat in an Egyptian jail, having been falsely accused of attempted rape by his owner’s wife when he would not give into to her advances. He had risen to the top of the hierarchy among the slaves in that home? Why did this happen?

I bet he still wished he could explain his past when he remained in jail, even after helping one of Pharaoh’s prominent servants get out of prison when he interpreted his dream. The man promised he would help get Joseph out, but he forgot… and Joseph remained in prison.

It wasn’t until Joseph had been remembered, interpreted Pharaoh’s troubling dream, been named second in command of the most powerful nation on the earth at the time, rescued his nations, and his brothers knelt before him begging for food to save their family that Joseph was able to retrodict… to use new information to explain the past. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers that what they meant for harm to him, God intended to use to save their family’s lives and thus fulfill the dreams He had given Joseph as a teenager.

Maybe today you can’t explain the stuff that has gone wrong in your life. Don’t give up. Keep being your best. Keep trusting God and honoring Him. There will be a day when He gives you new information which will make it possible for you to interpret, understand and explain what has happened to you in the past. One day, it will all make sense. Until then, let it be enough to know that day is coming, and God is with you.

Might Never Top That One

We had only been married several years when PR31 decided that she was going to try, without telling me, to get me the best possible Christmas gift she thought I would be able to dream of. One day, it hit her. She knew something I would love because I had owned it at one time.

Flashback Scene… It was the spring of 1995. Angela and I had just gotten engaged, and I suddenly realized that as we graduated college and got married, I would need money. So, I did what any sane college student would do… I started selling anything I owned that wasn’t nailed down or wouldn’t be needed in married life. This included a significant portion of my massive collection of 1980’s Christian rock cassettes. It was hard to part with some of them. In particular, I had every Petra tape made to that point, and I sold them as a set to my friend, Chris. I don’t recall how much he gave me. I just know it was hard to let them walk away.

Back to the story… Angela remembered how much stuff I sold so that we could start our life together. And she remembered those Petra tapes. Somehow, she got me talking about it one day, and I relived for her selling them to Chris. That’s all she needed.

She secretly hunted down an email address for Chris… this was before social media existed… unless you count chat rooms. She got in contact with Chris and asked if there was any chance he still had those tapes. He laughed, and told her, “You won’t believe this. I’ve moved three times since then, but I’ve never unpacked the box they’re in, and I know exactly where they’re at.”

Jackpot! She told Chris that she would pay any reasonable price he asked plus shipping cost, but he laughed and said that she could have them because he had never really wanted them in the first place. He just wanted to help me out. She gave Chris our address, and he sent the tapes.

Since we were going to be with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we opened our gifts a day or two before we left. We sat in the living room of the double-wide parsonage and gave our gifts to each other till there was just one gift left under the tree. PR31 launched into a speech that sounded more like a disclaimer… “I wanted to get you something special, and I think you’ll love this, but it may not be anything big. If it’s not, no big deal.”

I had no clue what I was about to open. I didn’t know how to prepare myself. Slowly, and more carefully than normal, I removed the tape and wrapping paper. I opened the small cardboard box, and pulled away the paper packed around the gift. Then my jaw dropped, and tears filled my eyes just like they are right now as I type this story.

I couldn’t believe it. These were not just replacements of the very tapes I had loved over the years. They were my Petra tapes! And not just some of them. All of them!

I fumbled around through the tears with some, “How did you…” and “I can’t believe this!” As PR31 told me all she had done to get the tapes, I realized what an act of love this was. She thought of my likes. She thought of something I sacrificed. She went to all that effort. And then God worked a miracle to let Chris have the tapes, know where they were, and be willing to part with them. It was one of the times in life when I felt the most loved.

Those tapes may have been the best Christmas present I ever got… outside of God giving the gift of His own Son, Jesus, that first Christmas. If they’re not, they’d sure be hard to beat. But it wasn’t about the dollar value… it was about the love invested through care, time and effort.

What if we all tried to live out that kind of love this Christmas? Not just with the gifts we give each other. I mean, what if we really considered what mattered to others? What if we went out of our way to do something special… something we knew would mean a lot to someone else?

Better yet, what if we tried to live out that kind of love all year long, and not just at Christmas? Maybe we can’t do something that special for every person we meet every day of the year. But maybe we could once a week… or at least one time each month. And how much more love would be people sense in their lives if they “opened a box” like I did one day, and realized how much we really care about them? Well, I can tell you. In fact, I just did.

Together Is Better

In Monday’s post (click here if you missed it), I mentioned that part of our enjoying the snow miracle was making snowmen. The snow was perfect for packing together and rolling around into ball shapes to set on top of each other. As a windy day previously had dropped a bazillion more leaves on our property, our snowmen were a terrific blend of fall and winter, but to us they were beautiful and amazing.

Later on snow day, I had to get out to run some errands, and by the time I made my return trip to the house, almost all the snow everywhere had melted. The sun had begun to shine brightly, and there was no more snow in the trees. There was barely any to be found on the ground.

Yet, there stood our two snowmen.

We went on about our day, and they stood guard overnight. I took the picture above the next day. It struck me that all the other snow had long since melted away, yet the snowmen remained. That’s because the snow they had been made from all stuck together.

There’s value in sticking together. Like our snowmen, though difficult times may leave you not looking like much, you will still be there in the end when all those who decided to go it alone are no longer anywhere to be found.

King Solomon said that, “Two are better than one… and there are even better.” He understood what made our snowmen survive… together matters.

So, today… especially during this Christmas season, stick together. Whether it is with your military band of brothers… your fellow nursing home patients… your co-workers… your PTA or neighborhood watch… or your church… stick together. Overlook offenses. Put up with idiosyncrasies. Laugh at humorless jokes. And love a lot. Stick together. You’ll be better off than all those alone folks.

And by all means, stick together as a family. Stay married. Stay engaged in your kids’ lives. Help an aging parent with some task that isn’t as easy as it used to be. Work together on a project. Laugh a lot. And love a lot. Stick together.

I wish I had waited another day or two to take the picture… because those snowmen were still there… together… worse for the wear, but still there. When all we had were memories and pictures of all the other “alone” snow, there stood… or laid… our “together” snowmen. And I smiled even more as I realized how good together really is.

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