Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8

He Will Draw Near To You

I have been learning and growing in Christ so much over the past few months. I have shared some of that via Facebook Live videos and I am still processing through so much more of it. I’ve had requests to share more videos as a devotional kind of thing, but I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for that. Only time will tell. I just want to share what God is laying on my heart at times.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”
James 4:8a (HCSB)

That might seem like a nice Bible quote. You might read it and then go along with your day just as you had planned, but I want you to know that it is The Truth. I believe that The Bible is The Living Word of God. It is true. That is not why I say that verse is Truth. It is Truth because I have experienced it.
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Life Is Pain

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The Man In Black – The Princess Bride

Life is pain. I think most people would agree with the sentiment. Just look around and you will see a broken world filled with pain and suffering. You might see smiling faces and hear laughter emanating from the food court at the mall, but the facade of happiness disappears the moment it is met with dissatisfaction, disapproval or displeasure. There are people freezing on the streets with no homes to warm up in or money to warm their bellies with. Those examples are from only a half mile radius. Look beyond your zip code and you will see problems that far outweigh any hardship that you have or will ever face.

Social happiness can be a coping mechanism for the deep pains that we feel we must handle alone. The images that we portray online and in real life keep protect our vulnerabilities and squelch the prying questions before they are asked. Holding a cardboard sign might bring enough change for a small meal, but it is only a temporary remedy for a surface-level symptom of a deeper pain. We all experience the pain of life, but no one ever wants to share it. We would rather bottle up what is real and hide in the cellar of our being under lock and key.

But life is not all pain. There is real joy in life as well. Over the Christmas weekend, I had the joy of sharing our home with family who traveled in from out-of-town. I have had the joy of seeing my three children born, and I consider it a joy to watch them as they grow into who they are becoming. Some say that joy is fleeting, but could we not say the same of pain. There may be fleeting joy as well as pain in life, but there is also lasting joy. Lasting pain has found its way into our world as well.

I’ve noticed a common thread throughout social media platforms over the past few days. 2016 has been a difficult year for so many people. From racial struggles to political angst, the great divide between many has grown exponentially in the past year. From celebrity deaths to personal health struggles and the loss of loved ones, the pain of loss has been a significant aspect of life in 2016. I was not beyond the reach of loss in the past year. Old friends died in tragic circumstances, and family members of new friends lost their battles against disease. A good friend of mine past away even after there was so much hope in his situation. There is pain in life.

A Moment Of Clarity

I had a moment of clarity regarding life and pain on Christmas Eve and received the gift of heightened empathy that day. As I was driving to church to prepare for our services, I was nearly hit head-on by a pickup truck less than a mile from our home. A deer hit my car in the early morning on the previous day. I was spared by the grace of God in both situations, but overwhelmed with a number of thoughts and emotions as I continued on my way Christmas Eve.

Thoughts of what my family would go through if I had lost my life were the first to fill my mind. I wondered how I would respond to the gentleman in the pickup had we both survived the accident, and the impact of my absence at our candlelight services crossed through my mind. And then my thoughts turned to others. What was that gentleman dealing with that day that had him drifting completely into my lane? Was he numbing his own pain with alcohol? Had exhaustion from the Christmas season set in?

My heart then began to recognize the kinds of people who would be joining us at church that night. Marriages were struggling to make it through the holidays. Addictions had taken hold of people who thought they had things under control. Children would be waking up the following day with only one parent and no gifts to unwrap. It would be the first Christmas that many would be without the love of their lives.

The First Line Of Battle

Five minutes before our first service on Christmas Eve, with tears in my eyes, I shared those things with my worship team. I shared my experiences from the past 36 hours. But more importantly, I shared what God had laid on my heart for the hurting. We were not just praying for ideas of what we thought people might be going through. We prayed with passion for the real people who were already there to sing carols with us. The people who were on the verge of walking out on their families were covered in prayer. Men who had falling back into old habits of addiction were being interceded for. We prayed for healing, deliverance, awakening, passion, nourishment, hope, power, love, and peace.

Since that weekend, I have heard stories from those who came with a heavy burden of pain in their lives. For the sake of privacy, I cannot share specifics, but they are the people who we were specifically praying for. The people whom God had given me a heightened level of empathy for were there that night, and they received the peace, faith, hope, love, confidence, patience, mercy, and grace that we prayed for.

Life Is Not Pain

Life is not pain. There is pain in life, but it is not pain itself. Life is not meant to be filled with pain. Life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These things battle the hate, bitterness, pain, suffering, anger, evil, deceit, anxiety, and loathing that we experience in life. There is hope that greater than the pain of life. There is a peace that can overcome the deepest pain. Love that has already conquered death can defeat the fiercest pain. This remedy is not for sale though. It is free to anyone who will receive it.

Jesus Christ said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” John 10:10b NIV. Life is not pain. Life is life, and Jesus came so that we may have it abundantly. A full life. Isn’t that something that everyone wants?

I can tell you that I have experienced loss. Pain is not a mystery to me. Guilt, shame, regret, fear, and disappointment have all made their way into my life. I may not fully understand exactly what you are going through in your circumstance, but I can listen to you and empathize with your pain. You don’t have to be alone. You can find me, and a number of others who will genuinely love you without condition at 1120 Boyce Road in Pittsburgh. Feel free to stop by on a weekend to visit. We are there during most of the week as well. I also have friends at four other locations around Pittsburgh and Weirton who would say the same thing. You are loved. Come as you are. Dare to bring your pain with you.


2016 Election

A Humble Response to the Presidential Election of 2016

The world of social media is a hard place to hang around today. Millions of people voted yesterday and most of them have extreme reactions to the outcome. Emotions are running higher than they were before the election. Fear, hatred, anxiety, and disgust intermix with relief, love, excitement, and pride. I wrote a post four years ago with my response to Barrack Obama’s reelection. Not much has changed since then. There are sore losers and sore winners. Some people seem to have put themselves in the shoes of the candidates and don’t know how to appropriately respond to the results.

I understand what you are feeling if you voted for Hillary Clinton, and I can relate to you if you voted for a third-party candidate. I get it if you chose not to vote because you could not bear to vote for someone you don’t agree with. You may have wanted someone else to represent you from the primaries. You might have even been backing Donald Trump for the past eighteen months. I’ve been through all of those kinds of scenarios since I started voting. You might say that the stakes are so much higher this time around, but I the stakes have always been high. That’s what keeps people coming back to vote every two or four years.

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Look Up

Look Up

My family and I recently moved to a farm to be closer to the community that we are in ministry with. One of the things I love about it is the stillness and quietness of living in the country. There is still traffic that drives down the road as well as other connections to civilization, but there is also the sound of silence and a lack of city lights reflecting off of the atmosphere at night.

I paused to just look up as I was taking the trash down the long driveway. The dogs across the street were barking as they often do and there was a crisp chill to the air. Those things disappeared in that moment. I gazed into the clear night sky, engulfed in the wonder of my Creator. The stars that we see from the city are only a fraction of what is available in the night sky. Hidden behind the reflected city lights is a universe of awe and wonder.
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I Surrender All

Surrender All In Worship

I’ve had a lot on my mind over the past week. A few big projects kept me busy, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing. My heart and mind were feeling exhausted from the stress of live streaming at Crossroads Church – Boyce this weekend to the wave of emotions from reading the news about Pastor Freedom. I lead worship for a mini-conference at on Saturday morning, ending with I Surrender All. In that moment, I realized just how much I had to surrender as I sang that old hymn.

As a worship leader, I don’t just sing songs and hope others sing along. My goal is to always connect with God at a heart level first and then help others to do the same. I can’t expect to lead anyone else to the throne of God in worship if I am not heading there myself. That’s what it means to lead. You are not leading if you aren’t going somewhere. You’re just hanging out with everyone else.

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hard to pray

When It Gets Hard To Pray

I have a friend who I haven’t seen in over a year who is going through an incredibly difficult season. I, like thousands of others, have been praying for him. I have been praying for complete healing. I have been praying for his family, and miracles. Mutual friends and online reports have given me nearly all of my information about the situation. Sometimes it has been hard to pray, but I’ve still prayed with audacity and expectancy.

Today, I read something that made it hard to pray. It’s not that I don’t know how or what to pray, but the audacious and expectant prayers are harder than ever today. It was just two little words in the update, but those two words nearly crippled me in prayer. Two small words that bring a sense of hopeless to a battle that has been filled with so much hope. Two words that make the future look grim.
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I'm Not That Bad

At Least I’m Not That Bad

Nobody is perfect. We’ve heard it before and maybe even said it a few times. I’ve been thinking about how we tend to compare what we do wrong to others, almost justifying ourselves. We say, “At least I’m not that bad,” and continue on in what we know is wrong. I’ve used the example of speeding in the past, and it is an excellent example here. I may be going 70 in a 55 zone, but at least I’m not going 85 like all those cars passing me. Have you ever rationalized something that you knew was wrong when you saw someone else even more in the wrong? At least I’m not that bad.

We all have a tendency to do what we want the way we want to do it. It’s human nature. We might make sacrifices from time to time, but we generally try to get our way or do what we want every chance we can. And we rationalize away the guilt by comparing to others. Why is half the carton of ice cream gone? At least I didn’t eat it all like the lady on The Biggest Loser. Why are you looking at porn? A least I’m not having an affair like the guy down the street. How many drinks have you had tonight? At least I’m not driving. I’m not that bad.
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how to remove sin from your life

How to Remove Sin From Your Life

Romans 3:23 is one of the first Bible verses that many people hear and learn on their way to accepting Christ as their savior. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That verse sets a standard. None of us has gone through life to this point without having sinned. We see it in others, and even if we don’t recognize it in our own lives, others see it in us. Some are comfortable continuing in a life of sin, but most people want to remove it from their lives. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a guide anywhere for how to remove sin from your life.

I was struck by something as I read from Colossians this morning. We want to know how to remove sin, but maybe we should be learning to remove ourselves from sin. Joseph did that in Potiphar’s house to avoid sin. He got himself out of the situation. Cyclical sins are harder to get away from though; those sins that we find ourselves repeating over and over again. Generational sins that have plagued our families are difficult to run away from.
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Jesus At The Center Of It All

It is the Wednesday of Passion (or Holy) Week and a thought struck me as I was preparing for our student worship night tonight. As I often do when reviewing songs for a worship service, I began singing other worship songs in my head after I put my guitar down. Jesus at the Center.

Jesus at the center of it all
Jesus at the center of it all
from beginning to the end
it will always be
it’s always been You Jesus.

How often do I allow other things to push Jesus out of the center of my life?

The story has always been about Jesus. “In the beginning was The Word (Jesus)…” (John 1:1).

He was there at the dawn of creation and in every situation ever since.

From the fall to the flood to the cross where He shed blood, to this exact moment in time, Jesus is.

But there is so much for us to do, and so much going on, that outside of special times we all try to move beyond.

Beyond complete dependency to rely on our own strength.

Beyond a true heart of worship to fix our eyes on what we want.

Beyond faith that can move mountains just to hear the diagnosis.

Beyond patience for God to move because we don’t have the time.

But from beginning to end, there is one constant. Jesus.
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