Merry Christmas???

I’m going to come right out and say it. Christmas is far from my favorite time of year. I hate the rush, the constant push of advertisers, the endless Christmas songs that speak of what it could be, when the reality is that it is something far more shallow. Of course, my working in retail doesn’t help with that.

Add to that that my daughter Anna has been struggling a lot over the last few weeks. She wonders why she can’t be “normal.” She wonders if she will ever be happy again. She has been struggling with cutting again. In fact, last week while I was on air recording our weekly cigar podcast, The AshHoles (yeah, that’s the name they gave it, but it’s actually a very fun show and I enjoy doing it. In fact, it is one of the fastest growing podcasts in the country), she sent me a picture of her hand with needles stuck in it. She was begging for help. Fortunately, my dad lives close by and was able to head right over, and I left for home as soon I could. That was a hard night.

In a word, the last few weeks have been brutal. More so for my wife who is with her much more than I of late. It is hard for her to see her daughter struggle so hard. She struggles with the voices in her mind that try to convince her that it is her fault. Of course none of it is. She could no more cause Anna’s mental illness than she could alter the rotation of the earth. But a mother’s love and personal connection makes those thoughts hard to fend off sometimes. Truth be told, she is not happy with God’s providence right now. She feels ignored at best and punished at worst. Will things ever get better? Will things ever change? Her questions are very similar to Anna’s.

I keep this picture of Anna on my tablet.

It was taken in September. She and I were able to enjoy some daddy daughter time in Wolfboro, NH. We were staying with some friends who took us out for a ride on their boat. She was, as the picture testifies, genuinely happy. I loved the joy on her face. I wanted to remember it. I wanted her to remember it. I wanted her to remember that it is not always Dark; that joy was not something she never experienced. I wanted to remind her that her heavenly Father would not leave her in the Dark, or forget about her. These times have not come to stay, they have come to pass. How or when I do not know, but I know that they will. That is what that picture means to me.

For similar reasons, I have been learning that is why it is important to keep in the Word and to pray. Keeping in the Word reiterates God’s promises of grace, love, forgiveness, and redemption. Reading Scripture I find not only God’s promises, but the stories of people whom I identify with. I’m sure Isaac was wondering what was going on when he was on the altar. Joseph, I am sure had times when he looked around the foreign prison he was in and wondered if the dreams of God’s blessings from his youth were more delusion than prophecy. I can only imagine what Jonah was thinking when salvation from drowning meant being eaten by a gigantic fish. And we all know that Job was asking the same questions, and clearly wondered if death was preferable to living through his crap. But in all these cases, God came through. They all found God’s mercies abounding on the other side.

Rotten circumstances, lousy people, headaches and heartaches cannot undo what God is doing. They cannot kill the grace that is in your life. But they can cover them like smog and lead you to think they are gone. Prayer, I have been learning builds thankfulness and reminds you of the blessings that God has been planting in your life. They are still there! Smog may hide the Golden Gate Bridge, but it can’t make it disappear. Scripture and prayer act like the wings of a plane that can fly you above the clouds and let you see that the Son is still shining.

That said, do not think for one minute that prayer and Scripture reading are going to make your problems go away. Oh, some might that is true. But that is not always the case. And as tempting as it may be to believe that if we prayed better, or studied the Bible harder, or had purer faith that our problems, doubts, and pains would evaporate like the morning dew, you need to know that that idea is categorically false. This is one of the points of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV), Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometimes, to grow in grace we need to see how weak we are, how powerless we are, and how dependent on the Father’s grace we are.

Lessons from Repeats

Exodus 4:12 (NIV), I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.

About a week or so ago I was invited to give the Sunday sermon at a local church. That is not so unusual. What was a bit unusual was who asked, or rather who didn’t ask. It want the pastor, it was someone who my wife knew from a childbirth class she taught (he and his wife were her students). So years after this class was over, he reaches out to Mandi who reaches out to me to reach out to her friend (also named Dan by the way). Anyway, Dan tells me that their pastor has been out of town taking a summer course at a seminary and needed to be gone a week longer than planned, hence the request for me to come.

I had no relationship with the pastor or the church for that matter. What to do. I mean, I said yes, but what would I give as a message?

One came to my mind right away, Cornered for Grace. As I read over it, I realized that I needed to hear it myself, so I decided to run with it.

This church begins their Sunday service by asking for concerns, joys, and needs to pray for.

The first said, “I just lost my job, I don’t know what to do.”

The second said, “My friend is dying and is so upset she won’t talk to me.”

Those are two I remember, but there were a number that were basically: I feel lost. God is quiet. I’m confused. I am anxious.

Mandi leaned over and whispered, “They need to hear your message today.”

My message was based on Psalm 13 and the point is that God is not interested in making me feel capable, He is interested in showing me that He is capable.

It was very clear that God had put the right one on my heart. These people were going to hear it for the first time. I was hearing it for my fifth. But I needed to hear it as much as anyone.

Some things bear repeating. We need reminded, redirected, and corrected. Especially, I find when it comes to grace. We seem naturally pulled to focus so much on the wind and the waves that Jesus seems to have disappeared (see Matthew 14:30).

I posted this sermon a bit over a year ago. If you are feeling like you are wondering what God is doing with your life, where He has gone, why you are where you are, or feel like God has been silent in your life, then you might want to give it a listen. Even if you have heard it before.

Lessons from being let go

So a bit over a week ago, I got a call from my wife Mandi all in tears. She was let go by her employer. She loved what she was doing and the people she was working with. I don’t need to go into the details, but she is not being replaced, her position was cut. It was a real shock to her (and to me too to be honest). We are very much a two income family, and we knew that if she didn’t get work asap we would be in big trouble.

Like you would expect, she was wracking her brain trying to figure out what happened: Did she do something wrong? What could she have done differently? Why would God take away a job that she loved and that fulfilled her so much? Yet I could not help thinking that God had pulled her away from that work for something else that He needed her doing more.

That night, she called her parents to tell them what was going on. As the conversation progressed, they began batting around the idea of hiring her as a CNA for themselves. Her mom has advanced Parkinson’s and her dad is recovering from a mild stroke. They had been paying for 24/7 help through a home health aid service. By the end of the next day, it have been worked out that she would work full time for them. Now she is getting more time with her parents and getting to care for them when they need it most which she has wanted to do and is making the same money she was at her previous job. They feel much more comfortable with Mandi doing all the personal things that need done, she is qualified to do more as a CNA than the home health aids were able to do, and because she is private, they are saving a lot of money and helping us out at the same time which they have wanted to do. It is a big win-win.

We have been learning the importance of looking at events like Mandi losing her job, or water damage from a broken pipe, or not knowing how the bills are going to get paid this month through the lens of faith. I’m not talking a blind irrational kind of faith. I’m talking about faith that God will do what you cannot, that He will provide what you cannot, that He will get you to where He wants you to be when you have no way there. We have been learning that these lessons never get learned. They are not things we mater and move on from. Rather they are lessons that get taken to new and deeper levels throughout your life. At least, that is what I have been learning. Perhaps you have too.

This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland
(Isaiah 43:16-19, NIV).


So the sermon I heard today hit me pretty hard. It was a guest preacher, a pastor and author from England–Neil Hudson, the author of Imagine Church. Sometimes you may have justification to think your pastor aimed his sermon at you. I had none. I just knew that God wanted me to hear it. It was very good, and I wanted to share it with you.
It was on Luke 10:1-20, where Jesus sends out 72 disciples into the surrounding towns ahead of where He was going to go. He sent them with next to no instructions, told them to take no extra clothes and no extra money. They had to trust that the Father would give them what they needed.
Basically the message was that the “ministry field” he wants us working is the place He’s sent us to. He said for most people that is where you would be at this time Monday morning. For me that means the cigar shop.
You know I took a big financial cut taking my current job (but that’s a world better than not working at all). I like working there, but it isn’t a pastoral resume builder and there isn’t a lot of room for advancement(not none, but not a lot). And I hate being so financially tight. I have often wondered: why this change?
Then the pastor said that often we don’t like where we are. We don’t like having everything we need. We would rather be doing something else, somewhere else. And we probably pray for God to change our circumstances. But often He does not give us what we want. Because He wants us to be learning to trust Him for what we need. As Jesus sent the 72 out without extra clothes and adequate provisions of food or money, the Father often sends us out in the same way so that we can be learning the same things.
That hit me hard… in a good way. I felt like God was saying, “Are you listening Dan? Nothing is wrong. You haven’t been benched. There are people I need you to help who come into each of those stores you work at. And I want you to trust Me more. I want to trust me for everything, I don’t want you depending on yourself and what you can do, I want you depending on Me and what I can do. You have work to do where you are. Trust Me, and do it.”
We went to church in two cars on Sunday. I was glad for that. I needed some time alone to think, and pray, and process that. There is so much I love about my life and what I am doing and where I am, and at the same time there is so much I wish were different. But I need to trust that God knows what He is doing and that He will give me what I need to get done what He wants me doing. I need to trust that while do the things I can do, God will take care of the things I can’t do.
The audio is below for your listening pleasure. I highly recommend it.

Uncomfortable Grace 

I have been learning that grace allows you to walk away from the things in our past that kept us from moving forward or in the right direction. But grace is not content to leave us where we are. God’s grace not only meets us where we are but leads us to where He is. It moves us to follow Him. While Grace frees us from the pain of the past and the pain of our brokenness, it is not always comfortable following Jesus where he leads. It’s always challenging to change. Sure some changes we are more than happy to make, but other changes can be daunting, anxiety producing, and some are downright scary. Living in the faith of grace is not easy. The challenges us to change how we think about things. It challenges us to let go of things that maybe we don’t really want to let go of. The challenges us to lay hold of things and to move and directions that we’re not really sure we want to move in or grab hold of. It is a hard thing to be learning that we are not enough. But the good news is, wants God’s Grace has a hold on you, He doesn’t ever let go. So much like being on a roller coaster that’s traveling 75 or 80 miles an hour going around all these curves and loops and dives it makes you wonder if you’re safe, God’s grace can be a wild ride too. But grace always keeps you safe. You’re never out of the hands of the God who loves you and is bringing you to Himself. 

The Switch

That wily and sarcastically suave powerhouse of wit and wisdom, Insanitybytes, recently declared that I should not expect a visit from her anytime soon. Whether this is because of the inane amounts of snow that we have had in the last week or because of the wackiness that is my life right now, I am not totally certain.

It’s true, things have been crazy around here for a while. Hectic enough to keep me from keeping to my regular posting schedule. But God is keeping me learning that while I am not enough, He is enough.

Case in point: One of the ways God has been providing for us is through doing pulpit supply at local churches. I was scheduled to preach at a local church this Sunday. I was really looking forward to it, and (honestly) had worked it into my budget. Because of several storms we had over the week, the pastor’s trip needed to be postponed. The good news was I was available to cover when they need me in April, but the bad news was I could no longer count on the income. While I was praying and giving the need over to God, Saturday afternoon, I got a call from another local church that a guest pastor from out of town they had scheduled to come and preach could not get there because of the storm we have been having last night and today. Because the one was rescheduled, I was available to help this other church today. God provided what we needed in the way He has been using but with a new twist in how it came about.

In the end, my trust in God has increased and I am feeling a bit less awkward about the length of time God has had my feet planted in midair. I am smiling at how easily God can turn things around. We need to keep that in mind when things look like things, blessings, provisions, or opportunities seem to be taken away, it may well be because He is rearranging them for us, and not simply taking them away.

The more I simply focus on doing what God wants me doing right now, the more I am learning that God is at work to make sure things I will need tomorrow will be there when they need to be.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV).