Dickinson, Texas

It’s been one month since 21 strangers from Crossroads Church left Pittsburgh to help with the relief and recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Three groups of flyers, a pair of 3-day drivers, and a 2-day caravan of seven guys embarked for Dickinson, Texas, without much knowledge about what we would be doing. We knew we were helping people, but that’s about it.

We had a great time getting to know each other during those 20 or so hours of driving. I only knew 3 other people on the trip, and had met 3 others before the planning stages, so we had plenty to talk about on the journey south. We made sure to have some fun along the way as well with a stop at B.B. Kings in Memphis for some live music and dinner.
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More than a task

More Than a Task to Accomplish

Almost every Thursday night, I gather with a group of musicians to rehearse the music for the weekend worship services. Like many other worship rehearsals at churches across the nation, we are normally focussed on the task of working through the songs to make sure we are all on the same page and ready to go for the weekend. It is not all about the task of preparation, but that is often the main goal. We pray together. We worship. But there is always that goal of being prepared in the back of our minds. It’s actually at the forefront of my mind most weeks if I’m completely honest. But worship rehearsal is more than a task to accomplish.
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value others

Value Others Above Yourselves

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in The Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV)

Three hurricanes, an earthquake, and a mass shooting have left a wake of destruction over the past month. I truly believe that there is power in prayer, and I ask you to pray with me for all of those effected. Without discounting the power of prayer in these situations, I know that I can do more. To value others above myself has been instilled in my life since I was a young child, and true empathy is an area of my life that has been growing in significant ways over the past several years. I can do more, so I need to do more.
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Deeper Issues

Deeper Issues

Social media, sports talk radio, and news outlets have been mostly filled with polarized perspectives of the NFL, the national anthem, the flag of the United States of America, respect, honor, equality, and our military. Articles and posts about hurricane relief needs, the volatility of North Korea, and satirical pieces about the happenings of the weekend are intermittently dispersed among the rest of the noise. That’s really what a majority of it is right now. Noise. Arguments and debates over surface emotions. You might occasionally find someone who wants to have an actual discussion about the deeper issues, but those discussions are lost in the noise.

If you happened to find this post through all the noise, allow me to pose several questions to you before you take to social media with your own opinion (any more than you already have).
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You're Doing It Wrong - Bread of Life

You’re Doing It Wrong

I think I give off a vibe of “You’re doing it wrong.” I have to consciously make an effort to not jump into projects that others are working on without being asked for help. It’s not that I think I can do everything better, I just notice little things that can help streamline processes and I have a desire to maximize results. I have a wide range of talents. Chalk it up to undiagnosed ADD if you want. I’ve just always had a desire to learn as much as I can about as many things as I can. I also have a tendency to jump to the next thing that comes along, often before I’ve finished what I was already working on.

I don’t share this to make myself look good. A number of people have told others about my diversified talents in front of me, and I usually feel awkward and brush it off as nothing.

Now I know, that may sound incredibly arrogant, but that is not my intention. I realized last night that I am the one doing it wrong. I spent much of yesterday working through a timeline of where I thought things may have been missing the mark in our church. Let me say here that I don’t think anything is truly wrong, and I know the leadership of the church is on track with the vision that God has placed on their hearts. I had a sense that something was amiss, but I could not put it into words. That’s where the timeline came in, because that’s the only thing I could make sense of. The problem is that I was doing it wrong.
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What is truth?

What Is Truth (Finally Following Up)

I said that I would write a follow-up about The Shack after reading the book for myself. Fiction has not been on my reading list for quite some time, and it was not the easiest read for me. I found myself pressing through to read it because I said I would. I took notes to reference back to when writing this post. It did not take me long to read through the book, but after nearly two months it seems as though I have misplaced all of those notes. That’s no big deal though because they largely supported what I wrote in The Most Dangerous Lies as well as the other reviews that I linked there.

I do, however, want to touch on a few things that I think are important to keep in mind if you’ve read the book, seen the movie, or choose to do either of those things in the future.
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Dangerous Lies - The Shack

The Most Dangerous Lies

Sometimes it is easy to tell the difference between the truth and dangerous lies. Other times, it takes practiced discernment to see the difference. I do not claim to have a highly tuned gift of discernment, but with the help of Scripture and others who have gone before me, I can recognized when truth has been tainted with lies. The most dangerous lies are the ones that we cannot tell where the truth ends and the lie begins. There are elements of truth that draw us in, often followed by distorted truth that still sounds good. The problem is that distorted truth is not truth. When you look into a curved mirror at a carnival, is the reflection you see a true image of yourself?

If you want to understand truth, you have to start with a standard to base all other truth on. If there is no standard of truth, then there is no agreement on what truth is. The standard of truth on the road is the law concerning motor transportation and highways. It states that driving in speeds over the posted limit is illegal, and that is the truth that speeding ticket are based upon. The fine you are required is a true fine, not imagined, and it traces its roots back to the law that is the basis of its truth.

The Bible is the gold standard for truth. If you do not believe that The Bible is true, then we are not likely to come to any form of agreement beyond the above paragraphs. I wrote a blog post in 2011 that focused on my belief in The Bible as fully true, and you can read it here. There was even the beginning of a discussion around it. Since I believe The Bible is the gold standard of truth, I think it’s a good place to go to understand lies and deception as well.
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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.



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