For This Child I Have Prayed…

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.

As I think about my name, “Samuel”, and as I read the story of his mother, written thousands of years ago, I notice that my wife had a similar experience to my own mother who had a similar experience to Hannah.

I obviously don’t remember, but my Mom and Dad struggled to have a child for 4 years.  She’s told me that she longed to be a mother and never dreamed, when she was married, that it would be that hard.  Both of my parents continued to pray for a baby and I was born in a doctor’s office in the hills of western Pennsylvania.  They named me Samuel because, like Hannah, they prayed for a child.  That is what “Samuel” means.

Years later, Sara and I were in a similar situation, but we knew that there was no biological way for us to have kids.  So we prayed and pursued adoption.  God gave us a baby girl.  We named her Eliana, which means, “my God has answered”.

So this week, as we approach Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who lived thousands of years ago.

First off, I’m reminded that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  He is a loving Father who cares for us even when it doesn’t feel that way and we don’t understand what is going on.  I have lived in the tension multiple times in my life.  Infertility.  Cancer.  The death of a child.  But it’s true.  Job is the one who first said this, but it’s true.  Blessed be His Name.

I also see that people will misunderstand you, adding to the pain of your experience.  Eli, a priest of God, thought Hannah was drunk when he saw her praying to God.  People told Sara and I that we were too stressed and needed to take a weekend away with a bottle of wine to make things happen.  We laugh about it now, but, people will mis-understand you.

Even when that happens, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord in prayer.  That’s my third thought.  Whatever you are going through, bring your pain and anguish to the Lord.  For a woman who desires to be a mother, this is deeper than I know.  But God hears you when you call.  God hears.  God answers.

Lastly, I am incredibly thankful for the example of these amazing Godly women.  Hannah prayed, trusting that God would answer her prayer.  And THEN, she fulfilled her vow, giving her little son back to the Lord.  Incredible.  My mom prayed to the Lord for a baby and I was born.  Since then, I have watched her continue to live a life of faith, even in the midst of hard times and hard questions.  My own wife has also showed me what deep faith looks like.  She also struggled, prayed and continues to do so.

Isn’t it funny how our lives, and history itself, move in circles?  Names and stories trigger memories and we see meanings emerge that we were blind to before.  As I think about my name, Samuel, I realize that it’s a reminder of the faith of women throughout history who have taken their pain to God and afterwards said,

“For this child I have prayed”.

 

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7 Cancer Lessons

Once again, I will be sitting in the doctor’s office looking through the blinds at people in cars passing by as their lives raced ahead of them.  The steps and muffled sounds of nurses and doctor’s will filter through the door.  Then my heart will starting to race and I will identify what is happening to me…

It will be fear.

It’s been 13 years since that April 5th when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer.  In those first days and weeks, I knew fear intimately as an evil twin who was trying to kill me.  Twelve weeks of chemo left me so weak that some days I couldn’t get off the couch to get a glass of water.  The chemo not only ate the cancer, but also destroyed my stomach lining, brought on migraine-like symptoms and damaged the nerves in my fingers and ears.  And all the time…fear.

The strange thing was that it took me years to identify the fear and anxiety that comes before my check-up.  Some years, I would feel it grab me from from behind weeks before.  Other years, it snuck up on me.  But I never saw it coming and then wondered why I was in an emotional funk.

Now, I am able to remind my fear of what I’ve learned because of cancer…because of fear.  I’m not always able to respond clearly.  But now, before a check up, I try to speak these things to my fear.  I tell it what I’ve  learned from cancer…

1.

Freedom from fear is a process.  Some people might be able to defeat fear and never face it again, but not me.  While it’s hold on me is less, I still have to wrestle with my fear!  (If you’re fighting fear, here here are some further thoughts on fighting it.)

2.

I am thankful for going through cancer.  It changed me and gave me so many things that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  And knowing myself better now, I realize I would have run from the pain and suffering so God made me face it head on…

3.

We all die.  I sat next to some amazing people in chemo.  One man was a life-long smoker and had brushed shoulders with the Russian mafia, or so he said.  Another woman was a worship leader and new mom facing breast cancer.  Another man was a life-long farmer newly diagnosed with cancer and you could see the fear in his eyes.  Some survived and some died.  We are all mortal.  Don’t waste your life.  There is bigger story than just your life and you can join that story.  It might mean you get cancer.  It might mean that you son will die, but get in the game for God’s glory.  You are on limited time.

4.

Having your life destroyed will either make you withdraw into your own self or you will learn to  trust God.  We all the desire to control our world, but this is the truth.  YOU CAN’T CONTROL YOUR WORLD.  We are 100% guaranteed suffering in this life and we are promised that God is 100% faithful to meet us there.

5.

I have hope in eternity.  I am looking forward to it.

6.

Facing cancer has deepened my love for others.  I’m crazy selfish and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  When facing pain, the temptation is to focus even more on yourself.

7.

Cancer helped me know Jesus better.  Before cancer, I tended to love Jesus for what he gave me.  I loved Jesus because a lot of family and friends loved Jesus.  Cancer destroyed that world and taught me to love Jesus for Jesus.  As author Tim Keller writes, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.”  It’s a life-long process, but he is saving me from myself.  It’s becoming less about me and more about him.

…And all of that will take place in my brain in the space of 15 min.  Because after 15 min, the door will open and my doctor will walk in.  He will asked me the litany of questions…

“How would you rate your pain?  How are your side-effects?  Any more pain in your fingers?”

As he is leaving, I can almost guarantee that he will forgot to tell me about the lab results from my blood work.

But you can’t be too hard on him.  It has been 13 years.

How Do You Love Your Neighbor? Die for Them?

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” –Luke 10:27

These are the words of Jesus, but what do they mean for us in our daily lives?  There is no doubt what they meant to Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame.  Beltrame was killed on March 23 in the terrorist attack on a supermarket near Carcassonne.  I don’t know all the details, but he died after having been exchanged for a hostage.  What is deeply moving to me is that this was not only an act of heroism.  It was one of faith.  The chaplain of the gendarmerie was asked about Beltrame.  This is what he said…

It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic.  The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he testified.  We can say that his act of offering is consistent with what he believed.  He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith.  To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine.  It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life.  In the happy or unhappy, even dramatic circumstances of our lives.  -Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain*

May we take the words of Jesus to heart and love our neighbors like Arnaud Beltrame.

____________________________________

*Quote and content translated by Google from https://www.famillechretienne.fr/politique-societe/societe/arnaud-beltrame-est-alle-jusqu-au-bout-de-son-temoignage-de-foi-234374

Down & Dirty Theology: Giving Death the Finger

Some of you might remember that I wrote about Troy back in December.  At the time, he was facing terminal cancer.  At the time I wrote,

This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service.  It was for a man named Troy.  Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else.  He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be.  “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”

I also wrote,

I’m following the example of Troy.  I want to serve God now.  I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.

Troy died this week and went to be with Jesus in eternity.  As I reflected on Troy’s life and how to worship in this wilderness, I was reminded of something else I wrote, after my son died.  I want to share it with you as we remember the testimony of Troy Mann and follow his example in walking with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death…

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Life moves on.  I get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time.  I eat my cereal and drive to work just like everyone else.  As I watch the faces of the other drivers, I wonder, “What they are thinking about?”.

The death of a loved one changes us in too many ways to count.  And now as I look again at the faces of the people driving past me on the way work, I realize at least one thing my son’s death has enabled me to do…

It enables me to give death “the finger”.

You might be shocked that I would say that.  But stay with me…at my son’s funeral, we sang Matt Mahr’s song, “Christ is Risen”.  The bridge is taken directly from Paul in 1 Corinthians where he paraphrases Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14.  He writes about the resurrection…

THEN THE SAYING THAT IS WRITTEN WILL COME TRUE:                        “DEATH HAS BEEN SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.”

“WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR VICTORY?
WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR STING?”

As we sang, Sara and I raised our hands to worship the Lord of Life, but as we did that, I instinctively turned my open hand into a fist.  I wasn’t just praising God, I was insulting sin and death that had taken our son.

I was giving death the finger.

Death might think that it took my son forever.  Death might think that it took Troy forever, but we know that because of Jesus this is temporary.  And as we live now, we are following Paul’s lead in defiantly living in the face of death with tears in our eyes.  Think about it…

Where is death’s power to hurt us?  We believers are dead and then we come back to live again forever.  We are out of death’s reach.  What kind of heat is it packing now?  We can trash-talk it’s power and give the finger to it’s wrath.  And the grave?!?!?! Where is it’s victory?  We used to be it’s prisoners, but now the doors are blown open.  The locks and dead-bolts have been broken.  Our chains are thrown off.  Death has died and captivity is now captive.

I still get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time, just like the other drivers on their way to work every day.  But for me, for us, we can now give death the finger.

New Song: One Day (When We All Get to Heaven)

Have you suffered a major illness?  Have you lost someone you love?  I have.  And the older I get, the more I look forward to the glory of Heaven with Jesus.

This weekend we are learning a new/old song about heaven.  It’s based on the old hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven”.  The original song was written by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt.  This amazing woman was a school teacher in Philadelphia and a christian volunteer who was deeply devoted to teaching the Bible to kids.  Eliza’s goal in writing her songs was to reach children and teach them the basic truths of the gospel.  She also enjoyed a long personal friendship with Fanny Crosby, another famous worship song writer.  The new song we are learning was recorded by Matt Redman with new verses.

But before we jump in, a few opening thoughts about heaven…

First, Heaven is the place where God dwells and the Jesus is preparing for us.  However, it’s also good to remember that the point of heaven is not that we “get out of here”, but that God brings his rule and reign (heaven) down to us in the new heavens and the new earth.

Secondly, there are two major views about what happens in heaven.  1. We know that we will have eternity to worship/contemplate/learn more and more about our infinite God.  2. We will be reunited with all believers throughout history without any sin or death.  These are both true, but I’d like to add a third thing we know about heaven.  3. Heaven will be all of that and more…we will be face to face with God!

Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that this song is sung by believers and to believers.  We still hold that heaven is a place for believers and that salvation is through the work of Christ alone and his grace and mercy to us as sinners.

Alright, enough talking…let’s jump in…We start at the end of time.  That’s right, the first verse comes from Revelation.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -21:4

[Verse 1]
One day You’ll make everything new, Jesus
One day You will bind every wound
The former things shall all pass away
No more tears

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. -1 Corinthians 13:12b

[Verse 2]
One day You’ll make sense of it all, Jesus
One day every question resolved
Every anxious thought left behind
No more fear

And then we come to heaven and the chorus that most of us have heard before.  It comes from 1 Corinthians and Revelation.  I love the added heading in the ESV version before Revelation 19.  It reminds us that all believers will be “Rejoicing in Heaven” because of the salvation victory of Jesus over sin and death.

[Rejoicing in Heaven] After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… -19:1

Then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

…thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:54-56a

[Chorus]
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

Onto the next two verses.  Verse 3 refers to the book of 1 Corinthians…

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. -1 Corinthians 13:12a

 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  -1 Corinthians 15:52-53a

[Verse 3]
One day we will see face to face, Jesus
Is there a greater vision of grace
And in a moment, we shall be changed
On that day

Finally, we are encouraged by Paul not to lose heart, but to finish the race…

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  -2 Corinthians 4:17

[Verse 4]
And one day we’ll be free, free indeed, Jesus
One day all this struggle will cease
And we will see Your glory revealed
On that day

 

DAVID Preview Video!

I have had numerous questions about available video for the DAVID show.  

So, we are going to release a short 11 min teaser from the weekend so you can get a taste of it and invite others to the show in.  (CLICK HERE FOR TICKET INFO)

Until then, I hope you enjoy this preview video from DAVID!

Performance February 16-18 and 23-25 with all-for-One Productions at the PPG ArtsLab Black Box Theater
300 E Main Street, Fort Wayne, IN.  Ticket info Here!

Worship&Love

The other morning, the Christmas tree was twinkling as the darkness slowly lifted.  I had gotten ready for the day and was making a sandwich in the kitchen.  Sara was reading her Bible in the living room while our son played on the floor.  And then I heard it…

“Zion, don’t mess with the Christmas tree…”

Now we knew that the “little man” would want to mess with the tree.  So this year, we purchased a 4′ tree and put it on a full size table.  We also put the ornaments a little higher up the tree so he couldn’t reach them.  However, this doesn’t stop him from trying to grab the lowest branches and lights to put them in his mouth.  I know.  Why would you put pine tree branches and Christmas lights in your mouth?  I don’t know.  The kid is 11 months so…whatever.

“Zion!  NO!”

I put down the Mayo and started walking towards the living room because I knew this wasn’t going to end well.  I arrived in the living room to discover that the “little man” was in a heap of trouble.  He had managed to distract his mom by messing with the Christmas tree, crawl to the other side of the room, where she had left her Bible, and rip a page out of the gospel of John.

This kind of thing happens all the time on a cosmic scale as we mess up God’s world.  Why doesn’t he just destroy us all and start over?  It’s the same reason that my wife cares for her son more than any book she owns.  Love.

Love makes people do crazy things.  The stories we tell in literature and film are full of examples of the crazy things people will do for love…It’s the motive behind a thousand songs and poems.  It’s woven into the fabric of our universe because it’s reflective of the very heart of God.  Love is what sends Jesus into the humble estate of Mary’s womb.  It leads him through his quiet life, his rambunctious public ministry and his agony at Golgotha.*

This Christmas, let’s enter into the love song of Jesus.  It’s a song of suffering as he hung on the cross, but also one of praise.  He invites us to sing this Christmas carol of praise to the God who saves through his sacrificial love.  As we sing in the carol, “What Child Is This?”

Vs2: Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and lamb are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.**

________________________________

*Quote from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper.

**Lyrics by Will­iam C. DixThe Man­ger Throne, 1865.

Worship&…Wilderness

Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service.  It was for a man named Troy.  Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else. He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be.  “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”

Troy has an in-operable cancer in his esophagus and doesn’t know how much time he has.  And what time he does have left, he wants to live for Christ.

Yes.  Worship in the wilderness of our world is hard.

Worship isn’t just what we do on the weekend when we sing and listen to a sermon.  Remember when I wrote that our whole lives should be worship to the Lord?  Here is the reality of worship in the wilderness:   our lives DO reveal our worship, but many times it’s the worship of idols.  As the singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan, wrote,

“It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”

We serve our work…grasping for status and money.

We serve the idea of “love”…with someone who “completes me”.

We serve our kids…hoping they prove our parenthood.

And while those things are good gifts from God, they make terrible idols.  They promise the world and give you nothing in return.

So this Advent season, I’m following the example of Troy.  I want to serve God now.  I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.

So I am listening for another song.  It’s the song of God that he sings over his children.  It’s a song I long to sing…a song I’m waiting to sing…

…but that’s for next week.

Spoken Word Psalm 42

This spoken word psalm came out of the staff prayer retreat a few weeks ago.  We had been praying out of the bible and then took an hour for personal reflection.  I realized that I had been overly anxious about the news headlines and my son’s lack of sleep had expanded that fear.  It was coloring the way I saw the world.  During our prayer time, someone had read a piece of Psalm 42 so I went there and rewrote it to help me process my fear and anxiety.  Maybe you have experienced something like that.  Maybe this psalm will help you ask the same question and come to the same answer:  Why does my stomach churn with anxiety within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will again praise Him, my Savior and my God.

As my son screams for streams of

milk in his 3AM bottle,

So my soul cries for you, God.

My soul thirsts for Jesus,

the living God.

Where can I go to meet

with him?

 

My fears have been my junk-food

day and night.

While headlines fill my news-feed

and seed my mind with questions…

“Where is your God?”

These things I will remember 

as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with your people

leading the vocals and band with

the children of God

with shouts of joy and 

thanks among the

ranks of His people.

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.

 

But seriously, my stomach churns

and my soul still burns.

Therefore, I will remember you

from the hills of PA

to the chemo for 5 hours a day.

Deep calls to deep,

in the roar of headwaters,

all your waves and hurricanes

have swept over me.

But by day the Lord gives his love,

and at night he sings his lullaby over me.

So now, I pray to the God of my life.

So I say to God,

my Rock in the storm,

“Why does it feel I’ve been still-born?

Why must I deal with cancer and death

and a world that crushes thoughts and breath?

My bones ache, my stomach still churns

as the screen taunts me

all day long,

“Where is your God?”

 

Why?  Why are you down, my soul?

Why does my stomach churn with anxiety

within me?

Put your hope in God

for I will again praise Him,

my Savior and my God.