tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

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More

“Can I have more? Please daddy?!” These words came from my middle child, and they surprised me. She had already had two serving at dinner and she wanted more. The kid doesn’t even weigh 30 pounds herself and she had almost eaten her weight in food!

Okay, she didn’t eat that much but she consistently wanted more food! She knew who to ask and she kept asking! Her plea for “more” made me think about my own relationship with the Lord.

Psalm 42:2 says: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?”

Seeking more of God can mean many different things – the statement itself may even seem too vague. For me, seeking more of the Lord means to purposefully and daily connect with God in my prayer time, my time in the Word, practicing other spiritual disciples like meditation or solitude, staying focused during times of musical worship and participating in quality small groups or Bible studies.

What does seeking more of the Lord look like in your life?

And, what are you going to do in order to seek more from God?

It has to begin with child-like faith. The kind of faith that truly believes and fully trusts. Then, you are in a fully surrendered position to seek more. God wants to develop our faith in Him and He desires that we become His disciples – fully surrendered and fully devoted to Him.

Seeking more of the Lord, it happens when we have child-like faith that positions us in a place of trust and growth, but it also happens when we follow that up with with a longing, a hunger, a thirst for more of God that leaves us crying out for more!

Psalm 42:2 spoke of position and longing. It’s a great reminder of two basic elements we must have in our daily pursuit of God. Daily we must strive to grow closer to God. This means growing in His grace and in His Word, in His truth for our lives. We have to place ourselves in a constant place before the Father where we can ask and seek out a deeper relationship with the Lord! Some of us are starving and cheating ourselves out of a full meal on God. We’ve bought into the spiritual diet plans offered by others, things that will never truly satisfy.

Because of this choice that we’ve made for ourselves, we feel like we won’t be able to do anything to seek more of God. That is a lie. There is room at the table for you. God has provided a way for you to encounter Him and to daily grow in His grace and truth for your life. You have to make a choice. Will you choose to thirst for the living God, the creator of life and the savior of your soul? He longs for you to make this choice and to live in daily surrender to Him, seeking His presence, His healing, His love, and His truth!

Position yourself to encounter God. Choose this above all else. Pray. Serve. Get into the Word. Look for ways to display more of Gods power and grace in your life. Connect with others who are committed to growing spiritually. Do let yourself be distracted from making this the greatest pursuit of your life. Your future and legacy depend on the choice you make today.

the things kids teach us

Recently I experienced something really great with my two girls. There was this moment, with each one of them, that God spoke to me powerfully through them…

A few nights prior to this, my wife and I gathered up our two girls for prayer before bed. We asked the girls what we could pray for them about. Our oldest shared this: I really want to see my friend. Pray that I see my friend soon. I really want to give her a hug. Now this particular friend of hers that she wanted us to pray for, well she doesn’t see very often. This friend that our daughter wanted to see is the grand-daughter of a friend of our girls grandma – so they only see their friend when their grandma does things with their friend’s grandma. But our oldest daughter wanted to see her and wanted us to pray that she sees her soon, because she missed her and wanted to give her a hug. So we prayed with her about this, and honestly, I didn’t think much more of her request…

Fast forward now a few days – we went to hear Francis Chan speak at another church. My anxiety level was pretty high as we drove there. We were late. I never took any opportunity to pause and gather myself that day. Just went from one thing, to the next. I was busy. Arriving late, waiting in a big line, trying to check our kids into the kid’s program. It was all too much for me to handle and I had a horrible attitude. I was a mean old grump for a few moments – to my wife, and to my kids. Not a moment I am proud of – as I hurt the feelings of the three most important people in my life. But rather than stopping, to say sorry, to share how I was feeling – I pressed on. Busy. Gotta go. Gotta get into church…(and oh the irony of that…)

Once into the church, we couldn’t find a seat, so we were sent to the overflow area, which was full. Then, we were sent to the video cafe. After the service we went to pick-up our girls and they had a great time. I had our younger daughter and Melanie had our older daughter. Getting through the crowds in the kid’s center was a bit hectic. I got outside and realized that Melanie and our older daughter were no longer behind us. So we waited. Finally they came out – and guess why they got delayed? Because God answered our oldest daughters prayer: she saw the friend she prayed for and was able to give her a hug.

The look on her face was amazing. She knew she prayed for something special. And God answered her prayers. Neither of our families goes to this church often, yet it was at this place that God answered her little prayer. Just because we get busy, and are surrounded by crowds, doesn’t mean that the Lord can’t still do amazing things. Through her, I saw God answer a prayer – one prayed in simple faith – but one that got my attention and said: stop, and trust in Lord – rest in Him – God is faithful.

As we drove to dinner, I prayed quietly to myself: Lord I’m sorry for my attitude today. I’m sorry for not spending time with you. I’m sorry God for speaking to my family in a harsh way tonight. I then looked at my wife and apologized to her and the girls. I was wrong. I made a choice earlier and it hurt her and it affected my kids. I was wrong and I was sorry.

We drove for a few more minutes, and here was a chance at redemption: my wife expressed now how she was feeling anxious about something. And how did I respond? Not like the forgiven Nick I should have. I responded, again – in such a negative way, and again, I spoke towards her in way that wasn’t loving or supportive. And again, after dinner, I was feeling pretty negative about my actions. I began to share, again, with my wife how I was sorry for how I had spoken to her. And again, I asked for her forgiveness.

Admitting you are wrong is tough – doing it twice in a row, is pretty hard. Learning from a mistake is so important. In that moment, I felt so crummy. I had such an “off” day. I had responded so poorly to so many things. It was embarrassing. I lacked so much joy and excitement. I was ashamed.

The car was pretty silent at that point. I was deep in thought, reflecting on everything. And from the back seat of the car, our youngest daughter told me she loved me. Sweet, right? It put a little smile on my face. But then something amazing happened. She started to sing. The words out of her mouth melted my heart and broke down my shame and embarrassment. She sang: God’s still working on me, to make me who He wants me to be…

God reminded me through the continued forgiveness of my wife what grace does to shame – it destroys it. God reminded me through the prayers of my daughter, a simple prayer of asking to see and hug her friend – that He is faithful and that I can truly trust in Him with every need and desire I have. And, the Lord spoke to me in this breakthrough moment of repentance through a little kids song, sung by my youngest daughter. It was as if the Lord Himself was right there, saying: Nick I love you and I am still at work in your life to make you who I want you to be.

I desire above else to be a great husband and great father. I want to encourage and lift-up my wife in all that we do together. And I want to be a loving and faithful example to my daughters. And seeing God at work through the prayer of one daughter and the song of another, it gives me tremendous joy – God’s desire to work in my life!

And, I hope what I learned about the Lord through my daughters encourages your heart and points you to the truth that God loves you too, and that He is at work in your life to make you who He longs for you to be. This is, what Brennan Manning says, is the furious longing of God that “the God I’ve come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state – grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods – of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow or alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.” (The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning)

Through the tenderness of my children, God reminded me of the amazingness of His love. May you experience this life-changing, furious love of the Lord today…!

waking up to love

I woke up in the middle of night, facing towards my wife who was fast asleep. Saturday, June 6th made it 4 months to the day, of being married. There are times when it feels like we’ve been married much longer then that. Not in a bad way, we both are sometimes surprised that it’s only been 4 months, but its been an amazing 4 months.

Last night when I woke up and saw my wife comfortably sleeping, I reached over and put my hand on hers. And I got that feeling again…that surreal, amazing feeling that yes, I am actually married and to this amazing woman. As I sat there holding her hand my mind flickered through past years events – memories and images came rushing at me as I began to recall the moment I knew we were going to get married, or the time I did ask her to be wife, and the first time I saw her on our wedding day.

Yesterday at church we took communion. We’ve been going through the book of Romans and this Sunday we were at chapter 14 were our pastor challenged us with this: Our devotion to God is debatable until it can be seen in our love towards others. It’s challenging to always show love and to have a genuine heart of love for others. There are tons of people who are easy to love of coarse, and some, that aren’t so easy. As we began to think about the love of God for us, for all of us, as we prepared for communion, the pastor read from John 13.

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love…

My mind quickly recalled the events that unfolds in chapter 13…
…Jesus washes His disciples feet
…Jesus tells them He will be betrayed
…Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him

John, while influenced by God as he writes, is recalling an actual event he witnessed.

I wonder as John wrote, if he too, like I was last night when I woke up, flooded with images and memories of his time with the Lord. Imagine the powerful beauty of experiencing what he writes about in chapter 13, Jesus Christ showing the full extent of His love…

Imagine experiencing that. Imaging reliving that and remembering that.

Shortly after I woke up this morning one of my first thoughts was about remembering God’s great love for me. One of next thoughts was wanting to remember the times where God has shown the extent of His love for me.

First reminder: the Cross. Second reminder: experiencing His grace…and I could continue. I could continue to write and share how I’ve experienced the full extent of God’s love. Sunday morning, someone wanted to be anonymous and sent an envelope up to Melanie and I after church with gift cards to the grocery store we go to. Somehow, we been making it while I’ve been looking for another ministry position. Well not “somehow”…but with “SOMEONE” we’ve been making it.

Romans 14 was a reminder for me of my calling as a follower of Christ to be a man who chooses to communicate the love message of God to others regardless. Regardless. And Jesus primed my love showing pump using someone else’s desire to show us love, regardless of the credit or recognition.

As I laid in my bed last night, holding my wife’s hand as she slept, I was reminded of her deep love for me. Nearly every image and memory I recalled embodied the challenge of Jesus himself: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Because of my wife, I know I am loved and I know of the love God has for me. Because of Jesus Christ, I too, know that my devotion to Him will be debated upon by others until it can be seen by them.

I don’t want my wife, or my family, or my friends to debate whether God truly loves them because I myself am not willing to ‘be love’ to them. I desire to love and communicate love towards others regardless of how messy it may be sometimes, and regardless of how many times I have to swallow my own pride. I can’t stop thinking back to the disciple, John, and I think back to Him writing this part of the story. He already knew the outcome. The disciples in John 13 were confused at the time by what Jesus was saying and doing, but the saw the outcome. They saw the full extent of His love and then, John came back to do what he was commanded, and that was to communicate that love message. I bet as he remembered those powerful moments with Jesus He too was overwhelmed by His Saviors desire to serve and love others.

I choose to love others, because He choose to love me. And I have a great example and constant memory in my life, my wife. I go to sleep next to her every night and I wake up next to her every morning. As surreal as it feels sometimes, its such a beautiful picture and powerful example to me to always communicate my love for her that Christ has woven into my heart.

How will you choose to remember love?
How will you choose to respond to love?
And, how will you choose to act in love towards others?