My heart is so broken right now. Yes, for the loss of my friend, but really for the loss of your friend. You guys should not have to feel this pain. It’s a reminder that all is not right in this world. That sin has ruined everything. My heart breaks when I think of the Jonny-shaped hole that has been left in your group. It’s a hole that no one else will ever be able to fill, and I’m sorry it’s there. It’s not right.

I can only imagine what each of you is thinking and feeling right now, so let’s talk about it for a minute, ok? There are some things I want you to know…

  1. It’s ok to be sad. It should go without saying, but there will be those who will try to tell you that because Jonny is with Jesus, you should be happy for him, and you should be happy that you’ll see him again. While this is true, in the meantime, go ahead and be sad. It’s ok.
  2. It’s ok to be angry. Someday soon, you’re going to wake up and you’re going to be really angry. Angry at Jonny for being somewhere he shouldn’t have been. Angry at God for ordaining that particular day in his life, and really, in all of our lives. Anger isn’t a sin. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sin as we saw sometimes in Jonny’s own life, but in and of itself, it’s ok to be angry.
  3. It’s ok to doubt. Part of growing up in our faith is that flipside of doubt. For some of you, what happened this week will make you doubt God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s kindness, God’s care and compassion for you. It’s ok to doubt, but talk about it together. Don’t hold it in and let it fester. “It’s not doubt that’s toxic, it’s unexpressed doubt that’s toxic.” ~ Cari Powell So if you have doubts, talk about them, work them out. It’s ok.
  4. It’s ok to laugh. This weekend, we’re going to tell our stories, probably around a fire in the Rowley’s back yard. And let’s be honest, with Jonny as the main character, those stories are going to be hilarious! So in the midst of our grief, we’ll laugh, probably a lot, and it will be perfectly ok.

I can’t wait to be with you this weekend. To listen to you, to love on you, to hug you (sorry, Riley, it’s going to happen…), to cry with you. But more than anything, I can’t wait to worship with you. Worship was Jonny’s heartbeat, and it’s going to be awesome! The first time I laid eyes on any of you, that’s exactly what you were doing, and in all the time I’ve known you, it’s what you’ve always done, in spite of some interesting odds.

You guys really are something special. I’ve never seen a group of high school and college “kids” who love Jesus the way you do,

Jonny Big Haus Kahuna Gregoire, Captain of the Football Team, Player of Guitar, Owner of a Pool February 8, 1993 - November 8, 2014 Philippians 1:21

Jonny Big Hoss Kahuna Gregoire, Captain of the Football Team, Player of Guitar, Owner of a Pool
February 8, 1993 – November 8, 2014
Philippians 1:21

who worship Jesus the way you do, and who love each other the way you do. Seriously, I’m in absolute awe of you.

Josh, JD and Nick, you guys have been the public face of our private grief this week, and I am so proud of you. The maturity and composure you’ve shown, but even more, the way you’ve pointed people to Jesus, is a testimony of the faith you’ve all cultivated together over these last few years. Thank you for doing the hard things, thank you for working out your salvation and for helping the next generation at Bethlehem see what that really looks like.

To the rest of you, the things you’ve written on Facebook this week have been so powerful and beautiful. They reveal your hearts for Jonny, yes, but also for God. Every last one of you has made sure that in honoring your friend, you pointed people straight at the Gospel. Jonny spent the last year of his life doing that – thank you for carrying on his legacy.

So with all of that said, I will see you soon. It’s going to be an incredibly hard weekend, but it’s going to be a weekend none of us will ever forget. There will be Chick-fil-A, and fires, and 4th Meals, and Arizonas and of course, Wiffleball in a stadium I strongly suspect will be rechristened with a new name. It will be hard, but it will be good. Jonny will be honored and Christ will be glorified – exactly the way it should be! Love you all!

By His hand we stand in victory. By His name we overcome.

 

For months, it’s gotten harder and harder to pray, to worship, and even to sit through an entire church service. Fear, discouragement, guilt, feelings of worthlessness… Instead of songs of praise or prayers for help, these were my song, these were the thoughts I rehearsed.

I knew why. I knew exactly why, but I felt powerless to fight against it. I was exhausted. I felt completely alone. And no one can fight a battle exhausted and alone. So I gave in and let these evils wash over me like a hurricane-driven wave. And in doing so, I ended up exactly where Satan wanted me: Powerless, crushed, silent.

At a time when I needed to rely on and worship God the most, at a time when we were in the midst of building a new ministry at work and my pastors were preparing for a couple of pretty powerful series, I had willingly surrendered to all the wrong things. I handed myself over, not to the will and direction of my God who speaks Truth, but to the will and direction of the one who only speaks lies.

While I should have been gearing up for battle months ago, I was working too hard, not resting, really at all, and not dedicating myself to prayer, worship, Scripture or daily examination. I was completely undisciplined in the spiritual disciplines I knew I needed. I let my guard down. I invited my Enemy to walk right in, and he happily obliged.

So as usually happens in these cases, I had a little bit of a breakdown this week. I blamed it on things happening with my job, but the truth is that those things were merely the symptoms of the infection I’d allowed to fester. It was no one’s fault but mine, and I knew it, but God is unendingly faithful, gracious and merciful. I never should have allowed myself to get so run down and far away from my Lifeline, but when I did, He provided exactly the weapon I needed to begin to fight my way back.

After some chats with some people who, it turns out, care about me a whole lot more than I’ve ever given them credit for, I’ve spent some time today doing some spiritual surgery, immersing myself in confession, writing, and for the first time in a long time, in worship.

Through worship, I’ve begun to speak truths to my heart that it’s been unwilling to hear or accept:

  • In Christ I have victory over fear, insecurity, discouragement, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.
  • God really does love me.
  • I do matter, and in Christ I have purpose, meaning and a calling for which He specifically equips me every day.
  • The promises found in God’s word aren’t just for other people – they’re for me too.

Worship is a powerful weapon. It’s light and easy to wield. It’s readily available anytime – day, night, at home, at work, in the car, at the gym. It takes many forms, whether songs, psalms, prayers, art, dance, or even just silent awe. We often think of worship as our gift to God, but really, it’s one of His greatest gifts to us.

So, how about taking a few minutes to worship? :)

do overI got to have a surprise lunch with my mother today. And it was nice. Really nice. We ate in a really cool old tavern with really good food just a mile and a half from our house. It’s been on the same corner in the same small town for over 200 years. I’ve been there once, just a few weeks ago, and she’s never been.  (That has me thinking about all the things around me that have been there forever, but which I’ve never enjoyed. Although that’s probably a post for a different day.)

We had a great conversation and got to talking about the fact that I’m unemployed. Again.  She sweetly pointed out, as only a mother can, that I’ve been here before. This is not my first time at the Unemployment Rodeo. She’s right. And she’s wrong. Yes, I have a Last Time, but I also have a This Time.

Last Time was hard. Last Time was incredibly painful. Last Time was terrifying. And Last Time, it was all my fault.

Last Time, I was angry, bitter, resentful and just generally miserable.  But that was Last Time.

This Time is different.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was introduced to this prayer.  The first time I read it, I had no words to describe how it impacted me.  It’s so comprehensive. It’s so powerful. It’s so scary. (What if God answered every part of this prayer every day I prayed it? Would I even be able to handle the things He did in my life? Mind blowing!)

As I started to work through this prayer this morning, I didn’t get far. The second sentence says this:

I honor you as my sovereign Lord, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you.

That stopped me in my tracks. I sat there at the kitchen counter for a very long time mulling over those words.  I thought about everything I’ve been reading lately about the sovereignty of God (I’m on a bit of a Calvinist kick at the moment). The words of Piper, Pink, Edwards, and Stedman floated around in my head.

Do I believe God is sovereign? Do I believe He has ordained each of my days?

And if I do believe that, have I surrendered every aspect of my life totally and completely to Him? Because if I believe He is sovereign, and I haven’t surrendered to Him, I’m fighting against an unbeatable force.

Then I started thinking about Last Time and This Time and how they are so very different.  Unlike Last Time, This Time, as I wait for God to work out details, make decisions clear and move a mountain or two, I’m at peace.

This Time, I have chosen to trust in God’s goodness no matter how long it lasts, or what the outcome ends up being.

This Time, I’m taking regular time to rest because I recognize how exhausting this journey is and will continue to be until it ends.

This Time, I’m using my time wisely – serving others, studying Scripture very deeply, working on some new friendships.

This Time I’m happy.  This Time, I’m able to rejoice in the Lord (most of the time – hey, I’m still human…).

It has been said that we often repeat experiences because God is giving us the chance to do it right. True or not, it kind Do over 2of makes sense.  God sometimes uses trials to sanctify us, to help us grow, and to make us more like Christ. If, as we’re going through a trial we instead become angry, bitter and resentful, it would make sense that God would graciously let us try again. After all, He’s all about His glory, and anger, bitterness and resentment do not bring Him glory (shocking, I know).

The mercy and grace of God allows do-overs. The mercy and grace of God ordains do-overs. Because God loves us and wants us to be more and more like His Son, He gives us opportunities to move toward that goal. If we mess up and move in the wrong direction, because He is merciful and gracious, He lets us try again.

When we find ourselves faced with the same types of difficult circumstances over and over again, it can feel like God is picking on us. But what if He was using those do-overs to bring us to a place of joyful, complete and total surrender to Him and His will? What if those do-overs are a manifestation of His love and care for us?

How would we look at our trials differently if we truly believed that God is sovereign, that He loves us and that He only wants what’s best for us? Would we see do-overs as a chance to trust Him more?

That’s the approach I’m choosing to take This Time. How about you?

[Sidenote: This post reminds me of one of my least favorite movies and I find that pretty hilarious. : ) ]

Earlier this week, I was presented with a ministry opportunity at my church that I am, quite frankly, really excited about.  It was something I wanted to do, and was just kind of waiting for the opportunity to open up.  I knew that if and when it did, I would say “yes”.  Within hours of being asked to pray about it, I had already told my parents and a couple of other people that I was doing it.

So why did I wait more than 2 days after I had made my decision to tell the one person who needed to know?  I asked God about that, and two reasons popped almost immediately into my mind:

  • Pride: This could cover so much, but in this case, I didn’t want to seem too eager and at the same time, I guess I wanted to appear more spiritual. In all honesty, this particular opportunity had already appeared in both the S and T sections of my ACTS prayers the week before.  I knew the opportunity was opening up, it had been suggested that I’d be a good fit, so I’d already started praying that if this was something God wanted me to do, that it would be presented.  So why couldn’t I just say that I had already prayed about it and that it was a “go” instead of waiting and possibly giving the impression that I was still praying about it? The best I can come up with is pride, pure and simple. That and…
  • Unbelief:  By waiting to declare my decision, I was, in essence, giving God a chance to change His mind/take the opportunity away. This turned into a chance for my old beliefs about God to creep back up. Once again, the God in my mind trumped Truth, and I allowed myself to believe, even if briefly, that God is mean and is out to hurt me.

This is not the first time I’ve run head-first into these two issues. Oh no, we’re old frienemies.  In fact, I’m so familiar with them that I’ve become rather comfortable with them.  There’s comfort in hiding behind the lie of pride.  There’s comfort in blaming God when I’m disappointed.

And on the flip side, honesty and vulnerability are downright terrifying sometimes.  Real, genuine, not-backing-down-for-anything faith can be heart-stopping.  Honesty, vulnerability and faith require me to let go. Of my carefully crafted image.  Of my right to complain when things don’t go my way. Of the chance to hide behind a lie instead of being vulnerable.

The truth is, when we let go, there is that split-second of panic, but God always, always, always catches us.  He is unendingly faithful. He knows what’s on our hearts before we know it well enough to put it into words (Psalm 139:4). He knows exactly where we are prone to fail, and He shows compassion and mercy in those places (Psalm 103:13-14). More than that, He provides people who show His grace and mercy to us, just in case His Word isn’t enough.

I can’t promise that I’m breaking up with pride and unbelief, but I can say that I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I used to.  I know that from time to time, I’m still going to hang out with them.  But I also know that every time I realize what I’m doing, God is already there, ready to catch me and ready to forgive me.

Moosen CrossingI’ve also learned to recognize the signs that I’m about to wander off the road of faith and into dangerous territory. Indecisiveness in the moment on something I’ve already firmly decided is a big red flag.  The temptation to deceive by appearing to be someone I’m not is a flashing light.  Pseudo-spirituality is the warning sign of a coming cliff.  I know the signs and I know what to do about them: Put my faith fully and confidently in the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.

When our faith is rightly placed, many of our decisions will seem to make themselves because we know it’s not about us and what we want. It is all about our Father and His glory. Just the way He intended.

What are some signs that tell you you’re about to go off the road of faith?

The more daring the request, the more glory accrues to God when the answer comes. ~ A.W. Tozier

For the last 6-8 weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer.  I say that I’ve been “thinking” about prayer because that’s the best way I can describe what’s been going on, although it’s really been so much more than that.

In October, my church went through a series on prayer that involved writing prayers down, reviewing them, watching for answers, and sharing those answers with others.  The purpose of the exercise was to make prayer a priority, to become more disciplined in prayer and to “practice the presence of God” (great book, btw – you should definitely get your hands on a copy at some point).

In addition to sitting under some great teaching on prayer, my Life Group worked through Bill Hybels’ Too Busyprayer NOT to Pray (yeah, go ahead and get that one too).  It ended up being a very needed opportunity for me to be vulnerable and honest about how and why I pray.

And because that all wasn’t enough, I also delved into Ray Stedman’s book, Talking With My Father (yup, that one too), and started listening to every sermon about prayer by every pastor I follow on Twitter that I could find. (Wow! You people talk about prayer a lot! Thanks!)

So why have I been doing so much research on prayer?  Why has this been where my spiritual energies have been spent?  The answer is simple: Prayer is our most powerful tool, and I wasn’t wielding it.

I have this nasty habit of intellectualizing spiritual principles.  One of the reasons I like Beth Moore’s studies and the reason I love listening to people like John Piper and other high-minded thinkers is because I love the academics of Scripture study.  However, it’s easy for me to get caught up in said academics, and fail to make any personal application from what I’m hearing.

So, for my benefit, and hopefully yours, here are five things I’m working on committing to heart, and not just to mind:

  1. Prayer that starts out focused on God, rather than on my needs and wants, tends to make my needs and wants less urgent.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be chanted. It was meant to be an outline for our conversations with God.
  3. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but it is critical to spend dedicated, intentional time in prayer every single day, and some of that time should be spent sitting quietly, not saying anything.
  4. The most effective catalyst for prayer is answered prayer.
  5. The bigger our prayers, the more opportunity we have to see God do great things.  The smaller our prayers, the more opportunity we have to be disappointed.

I love the quote at the top of this post.  The purpose of everything we do, and of our very being (!), is to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7).  Basically what Tozier is saying is that our bold, daring prayers not only allow us to see God do truly amazing things, but they fulfill the purpose for which we were created.  Our requests, made with audacious faith, allow others to witness the glory of God, and often strengthen others’ faith just as our own faith is strengthened through seeing affirmative and powerful answers to prayer.

All this reading and listening and thinking about prayer really has changed the way I pray in the last few weeks, as much as it has changed my consistency in prayer.  The last two weeks in particular have been a time of incredible blessing in every way possible:

  • I’ve seen God open doors I didn’t even know existed.
  • I’ve seen God provide in ways I never imagined.
  • I’ve seen God build and strengthen some key relationships in my life.
  • I’ve seen God give me opportunities to bless others in ways I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

our-father-in-heaven-matt-6So I write this post today not only to encourage you, but as a memorial to God’s faithfulness, His character and His blessing.  There will be darker days ahead when I will need to remember what He has taught me.  There will be days when I will need to speak words of truth into a friend’s heart.  There will be days when I’ll need to remember why I pray in the first place.

I am in awe that the God of creation, the omnipotent, omniscient God listens to me, and more than that, wants to listen to me.  That’s just crazy! Why would I ever shy away from that?

What has been the most powerful influence on your prayer life lately?

The calendar is running out, and we’re in the final stretch of the year. These are the last days before our weekends start filling up with parties, out-of-town visitors and the craziness that is Christmas in the Western World. This is the last opportunity we have to take some deep breaths and enjoy just a little peace and quiet before time is no longer our own. In some ways, November is cozy, relaxing and comfortable.  november-trees-no-color

But there’s another side of November that is harder to think about. If you’re not in the Northeastern part of the US, allow me to paint a picture of what November looks like: At this point in the year, most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, leaving skeletons against a cold, grey sky. The songbirds have mostly finished their yearly commute to slightly warmer homes, leaving the harsh caw of crows and blue jays to fill the quiet of morning. The clocks have been changed, and darkness falls before many people get home from work. The first snow is still a month or more away. November here is ugly, cold, and unwelcoming.

Our souls have Novembers. Did you know that? We have times when our spiritual lives have grown cold and barren. We struggle to pray. We read our Bibles, but find no “ah-ha” moments. We continue in our spiritual disciplines, but they feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, rather than being wrapped in a cozy quilt. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t a lot of fun.

But here’s the thing about November: After three weeks of plodding through and missing the beauty of October, when Fall was new and fresh and beautiful, we enter what is, for some, the most wonderful time of the year.

Turkey BowlAt the end of November here in the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Those of us who take this holiday seriously (and it’s actually my favorite holiday) set aside a day to remember all the ways God has worked and blessed us throughout the year. It’s a day to enjoy time with family and friends, to eat amazing food, watch a whole lot of football, play games, and enjoy being in relationship with others.

At the end of a cold, dark month, we intentionally pause to give thanks.

Our souls, weighed down by our personal Novembers, need Thanksgiving. When we’re feeling cold and dark and distant from God, giving thanks is an easy way to bring back the warmth, light and closeness we crave. Remembering God’s blessings, worshipping Him for who He is, and looking for reasons to be grateful in every circumstance can refresh our souls and lighten our hearts.

Thanksgiving ushers in the Advent season – that season when we look forward to Christmas and all it symbolizes. Thanksgiving begins the reminder that every promise of God was fulfilled when a tiny baby was born and the heavens erupted with the praise of angels.

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances changes our mindset, and focuses our attention on Him. Giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done can make even the coldest, cloudiest day seem bright and warm, and can rescue the human soul from despair. Thanksgiving brightens the November of the soul and prepares our hearts to receive the blessings Christmas makes possible. On those days when our hearts feel cold and hard, giving thanks is a simple way to bring back the warmth and softness we need.

What are you most thankful for today?

Have you ever woken up in the morning and just known that it’s going to be one of “those” days?  Before your feet even hit the floor, you’re already frustrated and grouchy, and your to-do list or something from the day before is threatening to trip you up all day long.  You’re ready to cry and you haven’t even had breakfast yet.

And then when you finally talk yourself out of bed, it just gets worse.  You drop a fork on your foot while unloading the dishwasher.  You forget to put sugar in your coffee and then spill it all over the front of you.  You have a bad hair day.

Lots of other things contribute to “those” days: car trouble, financial trouble, a disagreement with a friend or family member, uncooperative children or pets or computers, etc., etc., etc.  It’s never anything big on “those” days, it’s just all the small things that make you want to scream, cry, throw things, or simply go back to bed and hide all day.

I’m having one of those days today.

So what can you do with these days that, no matter what you do, just don’t seem to want to go right?  In some cases, you can change your circumstances, and so, naturally, you should do that.  But sometimes, you’re just going to have a bad day, and you just need to deal with it. Sorry.

On days like today, I pull out one of my favorite verses in the Bible and do everything I can to do what it says:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5

On days when little, compounding frustrations can so easily overwhelm me, I make some very intentional efforts to take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.  Here’s what I do:

  • Listen to some really good worship music.  This morning, I have this song floating around in my head:
  • Thank God for every tiny thing I can think of, especially things that relate to what is frustrating me (Thank You that the fork just bounced off my foot instead of going through it. Thank You that I have coffee to drink in the first place. Thank You that the garage is within walking distance and it wasn’t raining that hard.).
  • Go for a walk and take that time to rehearse God’s attributes.  Praise God for who He is because He is so much bigger than today’s little frustrations.
  • Pray for someone else.  There’s nothing like focusing on someone else to take your mind off yourself.

And once I’m done with those things, I take a deep breath and dive in.  It may still end up being a frustrating, tear-inducing day, but at the end of it, God is still in control, and my eyes have been on Him throughout it.

How do you make bad days a little better?

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