A Letter to My Sons 4.0

INTRO: In 2012, I wrote a letter to my sons, for them to receive on their eighteenth birthday. A pastor friend of mine, a former Marine, told me how he had started the tradition annually because he was often on a tour of duty and missed their birthdays. Even after retiring from the Marines, he kept writing them letters. What would you put down in on paper if you could share with your son or daughter what you wanted them to know, about your relationship and the way you believe? Considering the answers to that question has driven me to consider what I am teaching with my words and what I model with my actions. So here is the fourth letter I’ve written in the last ten years — with an eye to the world we live in and the way I hope my boys will continue to grow. 

Dear Adam and Andrew, 

This is the fourth time I’ve written to you both since 2012. I figured since Adam was 5 and Andrew was 1, it probably stood to be re-iterated for you to hear now, and to read when you turn 18. Of course, at this point, you’d probably prefer I texted it to you – but your dad is old fashioned, so I’m going to write it all down in a letter. In fact, what you’re about to read is probably the fifth version – I can’t seem to find all the words I want to capture what needs said. 

Let me start with this: I love you. I love you more than you’ll probably ever understand until you have a child of your own. I have loved you since I first saw you, maybe even before that. I love you with a joy that soars and a concern that keeps me up at night sometimes. I love you unconditionally, with a love that will never end. I hope that you know this. 

As I write this, we’ve survived three months of the first pandemic in a century, and a movement in our country to throw off the chains of racism that have polluted our country since white people first arrived in America and thought they’d discovered it. There is so much that could be said about the way that people have or have not responded to the challenges. The truth is that this could be a time when folks look back and see all the problems, all of the difficulties, but you know that your mom and dad tried to make the most of the time. I’m thankful for the walks, the conversations, the nightly rounds of Dutch Blitz, the family movie nights, the way your Mom kept us happy and fed. I’m thankful for the way you both have bonded with your grandparents (and hope that you’ll continue to nurture those relationships). I’m thankful for the time I was able to spend being your dad, even while trying to pastor a church from home — and experiencing what it meant to change churches in the middle of a crisis! I hope that you both will constantly shine as examples of gratitude for the way that God has blessed us and shown us love. Let gratitude be your attitude. 

Thanks to all of the things going on in the world, we’ve talked about many things that I never expected we’d deal with while you were 9 and 13. But it has filled my heart with joy to know two young men who recognize that racism is evil and that the church should stand as a place for all people, regardless of age, race, sexuality, gender, class, education level, whatever. I hope that you will bear the stance that when Jesus came to save the whole world, that he signalled once and for all that all really means all. 

There’s no better example of that than in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. You boys have not been prodigals because you have grabbed onto what your mom and dad taught you, and shared it with other people. I want you to know that the attitude of the father is how I feel about you. There is nowhere you can go and nothing that you could do that would make me stop loving you. You will always be welcome wherever your Mom and I are; you will always be safe there. Even when you make mistakes, never ever imagine that we won’t love you unconditionally. Be quick to admit your mistakes because it’s the right thing to do, and because it shows your character as people who follow Jesus. 

God loves you so much because you were created in God’s image and because Jesus died on the cross for all of the things you have done wrong, all the sins committed knowingly or unknowingly. While the world tends to paint churches and pastors into a corner with a list of rules, that’s really my non-negotiable: I believe Jesus was God Himself, who lived as fully human with us, taught and showed us how to love, and died on the cross for our sins before God raised him from the dead so we’d know we have life forever with God. I am sorry for the times when I’ve failed to convey that love to you because I’m a human and I make mistakes. I love you, and your Mom may be the only one who loves you more 🙂 Don’t forget to call her. 

It’s weird, the first time I wrote this letter, when you were five and one, respectively, I wanted to give you lots of do’s and don’ts, a lot of practical advice. 

Things like don’t forget to eat breakfast, don’t forget to brush your teeth, don’t forget to say your prayers, don’t throw yourself into the wrong relationships or hang out with the wrong people, don’t forget to vote because your voice matters. 

Things like, Don’t be afraid to say no. Sometimes, not doing something is the best answer. I’m still working on that.

Or when you get a job, tithe, because God gave you the skills and the opportunity; and save too –I wish I had started earlier. Tip big. Someone worked hard to bring you that meal.

But as you’ve gotten older, I find myself more focused on painting the broad, wide picture, because I know you’ll make mistakes and that’s okay. Your dad has made plenty of mistakes himself, even in how I’ve helped raise you, and God has clearly had a hand in how you have turned out. God made you uniquely, to be who you are, for the plan God has just for you. 

That said, I’m passing this on from Mom: When you have a choice about making the right decision or the wrong one, Do what’s right. She says that we’ve taught you the difference between right and wrong. You know the difference, so make good choices. Pray about it, get good advice – not just the advice that agrees with you, and move forward. Don’t trade in your own expectations for yourself just because someone does something unkind to you. It’s not fair but it’s the right way to live. Your Pepaw always used to tell his swim teams that we couldn’t control what people were doing in the other lanes of the pool during a race, only the person (us) in the lane we were in. It’s still true out of the pool, and letting go of worrying about what others are doing will free you up to be yourself. 

I don’t think I’ve always done a good job at this, but take your time. Enjoy the ride. Every stage of your life has prepared you for the next stage, so don’t worry about being ready for what lies ahead. Relax; don’t take yourself too seriously. You’ll find that there are plenty of laughs to be had when you can laugh at yourself. 

Know that the road you walk is full of ups and downs, forks in the road, pitfalls, safe havens, and obstacles. I know that God has a plan for each of us but worry less about staying on the path, and focus more on following Jesus moment to moment. Your path might take you somewhere no one else has been before, or somewhere no one else expects you to go. If you’re following Jesus, none of that will matter. 

Boldly share grace with the people you meet. The outcast, the stranger, even your enemy. Most of us think we have more enemies than we do – recognizing they’re just a stranger we haven’t made into a friend yet will soften the hard edges, and keep you from wasting time on controversy and grudges that are unnecessary and unhelpful. Life is too short to stay angry, so let it go. Grace is free to give but the return on investment is an abundant life of love. You don’t need to agree with someone to show them grace; you don’t need to impress on people how right you are. Learn from the people you don’t agree with. 

Be for serving others. Serve in church, serve out of church. Serve people you know and people you don’t. Make service an earmark of who you are and what you’re about. You should because it is what Jesus would do, but you should want to because you have for your early lives, so why stop now? Be the light be sharing with those in need. Don’t settle for sitting and watching life go by when you can stand up and make a difference with your hands, your feet, your voice. Mentor someone who needs someone to listen to or an example of how to overcome a problem. Share your time, as well as your money and talents. You’ll end up building relationships rather than just making connections. People aren’t commodities; they’re the imago Dei standing before you. 

Stand up for the underdog. Be the kinds of men who refuse to watch while someone else suffers. Use your privilege as educated white men to stand for the things that you know are right. Stand up for those who are persecuted. You don’t have to agree with them, like them, or believe what they believe, but it’s not right when the majority holds someone down. The majority can be a group of people, or just the bully on the playground. There are bullies everywhere, but they run screaming into the night when people stand up to them. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is a good quote to keep in mind. No one seems sure who said it first, but I know Batman said it, and it’s true. Boldly pursue Jesus. You don’t need to be a Methodist if that’s not where you’re called. God will lead you where you need to go as long as you’re listening. Listen for the still small voice of God in Scripture, from your friends, in church and outdoors. 

Speaking of friends: choose good ones. Good friends don’t always tell you want to hear, but they tell you what you need to hear. They will stand with you when you would otherwise feel alone; they will correct you when you are out of line. Your Mom is the best friend I have ever had, and I pray for you two that you will find a friend like her to spend the rest of your life with. People ask me how you can know when she’s the one, and I know in my own heart that you will know for yourself – and other people will see that beauty in your relationship. You are worth so much because you have God’s image on you, so don’t rush it. Enjoy the ride and when you meet the one, I can’t wait to meet her, too. 

As you take off, to celebrate your birthday with your friends, and get ready for whatever comes next, I want to remind you: call your Mom, she misses you. 

It’ll be on speaker phone, because I miss you too. 

I love you, buddy. 


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Letter to My Sons 3.0 (2018 version)

Now that you’ve turned 18 and are preparing to head out on your own, here are a few things I want to remind you of. I’m proud of you and who you are becoming, and hope that these things, which I’ve tried to teach you as you’ve grown, will stick to you and guide you as you enter adulthood.

Speak softly and allow for God’s voice to guide your words. Words carry so much power, and yet we fail to use them well. Compliment others, be kind to others, and help them to be affirmed that God loves them and you, so much. Someone’s mom, might’ve been Eve, said a long time ago that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It’s still true.

Remember that God has a plan for you. In Jeremiah 29:11-14, it says that if we seek God with our whole heart, we will find him. I hope that you will always seek after God and see that the plan God has for your life is awesome!

Be yourself. You are a child of God and made in His image. Don’t obsess over how you look. Don’t worry about what other people say. Don’t try to fit in. You know who and whose you are. You were born to stand out.

Whatever you do, do it well. Pursue joy and not happiness. Find something you love to do and embrace it. Make it your calling, not a job, and you will go to work happy more days than not. Your mom and dad will be proud of you regardless of what job you choose, so do it well.

Form relationships, not connections. The world is full of people who are either givers or takers. Break the mold. Be compassionate and gracious, and show others that they are important. Your Pepaw taught me that it was important to recognize every person’s worth, regardless of their place in the world—from those serving you, or taking out your trash, or your bosses, or your enemies—God loves us all the same.

Be a good friend. Find people who will challenge you to be better and support you when things fall down around you. Don’t worry about who looks cool but who is full of the things you know you want to be. Speaking of cool, don’t sweat that either. It changes. Remind me to tell you about the white neon pants I had in the eighth grade.

Be trustworthy, honest, patient. With your friends AND your enemies. Hopefully you got your Mom’s personality.

Remember who you are, and whose you are. You are my sons, and you are God’s sons. I have prayed over you since you were little, “Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, and God loves you. May you grow up to be a man after God’s own heart. You’re a good boy buddy.” No matter how big you get or where you go, I will be praying that over you.

Speaking of which, call your mom. She misses you.

Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry. You’re not always right. I’m not either.

Eat your vegetables. Drink lots of water. Try to not get addicted to caffeine. It’ll save you money and health later.

Exercise. They told me my metabolism would slow down. I didn’t believe them. They were right. Get up and go play something. Just not yet… I’m not done.

No matter what happens, love your brother. He’s your family, and you guys should always have each other. I know you guys want to wrestle all the time, but remember that when push comes to shove, he’s got your back.

Read something. Sports Illustrated is fine, but try a book sometime! Yes, it’s okay to read comic books—let the story move you.

Read your Bible. Pray. When you don’t know what words to say, SING! If you can’t sing, hum.

Find a church where you can hear the word of God, and know that you are loved by the people there. Don’t worry about finding the perfect church- none of them are- but find a church where you know God is there and you get fed. Get involved with church- serve in whatever way you can. Don’t just be a taker!

Speaking of getting involved: don’t just coast. Whether you’re in school or working now, get involved. Make your world better. Your Memaw always said I was happier when I was pouring my life into other people, and she was right. This life isn’t about you, or me, or someone else. It’s for all of us to share together.

Wash your clothes. Don’t put the red clothes in with the whites. You’ll end up pink. It’s no good.

Get a haircut. Take frequent showers. Don’t forget to brush your teeth. I’m supposed to tell you to floss…

Give more than you get. Give away time. Give away clothes. You will always have what you need, and if you don’t, your mom will buy it for you.

Speaking of which. Call your mom. She misses you.

Say thank you. Hold the door.

Do what’s right. We taught you the difference between right and wrong. You know the difference, so make good choices. (That’s from your mother– I asked her what one piece of advice she’d give you one you turned eighteen!)

Be a good listener. People want to know you care. Listening shows them. Your dad is trying to learn to talk less—he’s been trying for 30 years.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. I know that’s tough, but aim for never holding a grudge. Never lose a friend over something dumb, even if it was their fault.

When you get a job, be friends with the secretary. They know what’s really going on. If you don’t believe me, ask Gram what she knows.

Go to church, or small group, or something. We all need accountability. Your dad has been in a small group for years with guys who call me out when I’m being an idiot. We all need that. Especially guys.

Know that God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for you, and raised him up three days later. Treat others like Jesus died for them too—he did! All that other stuff? Worry about it later.

Have fun. Enjoy being outside, playing games, being on a team. Play hard. We play like we practice relates to sports, to work, to life. Do your best.

Have what everyone else thinks is a bad sense of humor—you got that from your mom.

Stand up for those who are persecuted. You don’t have to agree with them, like them, or believe what they believe, but it’s not right when the majority holds someone down. The majority can be a group of people, or just the bully on the playground. There are bullies everywhere, but they run screaming into the night when people stand up to them. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is a good quote to keep in mind. No one seems sure who said it first, but I know Batman said it, and it’s true.

Laugh a lot, just not at other people. Laughing at yourself is still the best. It’ll keep you humble, and you’ll always be entertained.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Sometimes, not doing something is the best answer. I’m still working on that.

I don’t have any regrets, which is strange because I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I should’ve eaten more vegetables and drunk less Coke; there are plenty of times I should’ve kept my mouth closed. But I’ve learned that being ashamed of what I’ve done or hanging onto what could’ve been doesn’t really help: what you do right now, tomorrow, when the opportunity arises, that’s what matters. Win right now.

Be punctual. (I can only hope you learned this from your mom.) Whether it’s school or work or for a date, someone is counting on you.


When you get a job, tithe. God gave you the gifts and skills and opportunity you have, and it’s the right thing to do to give back what’s His already.

When you get a job, save. Your dad wishes he would’ve started earlier. You’re going to want to do something and need the money, and you’ll have it if you saved up. By the time you read this, your mom will probably have already reminded you five times… and used me as an example.

Tip big. Someone worked hard to bring you that meal.

Dream big. Dare to do the impossible. Believe that you can do anything. Sometimes you’ll fail, but where you’ll get to while dreaming is pretty amazing.


I hope you find a woman who you love as much as I love your Mom, and that she loves you back. Don’t force it. Your dad took plenty of wrong turns—but in the long run, they all led to your Mom. Be okay with getting it wrong, but guard your heart for the right time. You’ll know. Don’t worry about finding the perfect person, but find the perfect person FOR YOU. And when you find that person, make sure that you tell her what she means to you. She’ll be the person who drives you crazy and makes you wish you were a better man. She’ll love you even though she knows what you’re really like, and she’ll encourage you to be the man God wants you to be. You won’t be able to imagine your life without her. Propose. Marry her! But until then, guard your heart and your affection– you are a great gift from God, not to be taken lightly or wasted. Getting married is no walk in the park– it takes hard work and commitment– but dating should be fun.

Society seems to think that might makes right, but I have an admission to make: I’ve never regretted not throwing a punch, or not sticking it to someone. But I’ve wished I could take back something I said, or someone I hit. Just because you don’t fight back doesn’t mean you’re wrong or weak or a coward. You don’t have to be proven right when you’re right – you need to be comfortable enough in your own skin to just know. Sometimes, it’s the stronger man who doesn’t have to settle things with his fists, or have the last word.

Remember that hope never fails. I’ve always told you that the good guys always win. It’s true. Sometimes it just takes awhile. Go watch Star Wars or The Princess Bride. Maybe Spiderman (the Tobey Maguire one). We know already how our story ends—Jesus already won.

Live to please an audience of one. I don’t mean me or your mom, but if you’re going to please one of us, make it her. You should be living to please God with who you are and what you do.

You will be someone else’s example, somebody’s hero. Are you setting an example you’d want them to follow? No pressure.

Speaking of being an example: I did my best. I’m sorry for the times that I failed at that, days I didn’t have enough patience, or didn’t show you the best way I should have. I thank God for the gift of you, and pray that we’ll continue to grow up together as you enter into your own.

For the days when you don’t want to go to class or work or to get out of bed, remember these things. Remember that God has a plan for you, and if you don’t know what it is, keep searching. Remember that your mom and dad love you unconditionally, and that you will always be our boy. (Even though by now, you’re probably taller than I am.)


I’ll never get tired of saying this: I love you. You are a great son and a wonderful person. I will always be proud of you, and I am always here—a phone call or car ride away. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you love them. Ever.

And one last thing: call your mom. She misses you. It’ll be on speaker phone. Because I miss you too.



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Coronavirus Diaries: Phone a Friend

“Is that your final answer?”

Two weeks ago, ABC unleashed the first episode in an eight-episode miniseries of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with Jimmy Kimmel replacing Regis Philbin as the host of the show. Celebrities Eric Stonestreet, Will Forte, Nikki Glaser, Jane Fonda, Anthony Anderson, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, Ike Barinholtz, Catherine O’Hara, Will Arnett, and Andy Cohen play for the chance to win a million dollars for a charity of their choice. (One twist: this time they’re able to bring a buddy along for the first ten questions!) Each of the contestants answers a series of multiple-choice questions, advancing in financial value as they answer correctly.

My favorite part of the show continues to be the lifelines they’re issued: 50/50, which cuts out two of the four answers, leaving one incorrect answer and the correct answer; “Ask the Host,” which replaces asking the audience for their optimum answer; and “Phone a Friend,” which allows the contestant to call one friend and ask them their answer to the question.

Somehow, phoning a friend has never quite meant the same thing as it does right now.

Right now, we need our friends; we need to stay connected to each other. While so many things are working the way they should, thanks to the advances made in technology since the last pandemic, I find myself most concerned by the potential for us to lose sight of each other as this drags on. Seriously, how many people wrestling with their own introverted nature, their own anxiety, their own concerns and to-do list are sinking farther and farther into a world that only they occupy?

Every week or so, I call, text, or message my parishioners. (Throughout the week, they’re receiving emails with devotions like this one, and we’re weekly doing worship online.) But sometimes, you need to make contact one-on-one. I hope that they’re reaching out to each other, to their family members and friends, and to their neighbors individually, connecting. Friends, we need each other, in community, #bettertogether. And yet, it’s amazing to me the number of people who let on that they’ve not spoken to anyone since the last time we chatted! None of us were meant for isolation — the Scriptures tell us so.

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Romans 12:4-5 “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

And then there are the words of Jesus, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” from Matthew 18:20. Given that Jesus said God the Father was sending the Holy Spirit to be with us, and Paul wrote so prolifically about the Spirit being in us, we know God is with us even when we’re by ourselves. Our being together, in person or through technology, draws us into the Spirit deeper, through community, as we recognize that God is bringing us into the body of Christ, for each other, and for the worship of God.

Friends, don’t try to answer the questions all alone. Don’t fight through the insomnia or the anxiety or the isolation or the long afternoons alone. Phone a friend, make the connection. If not for your sake, for theirs.

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Coronavirus Diaries: Sung Theology

A month ago, I asked on Facebook, “If you could only have music or books for the rest of your life, which would you choose?” Of course, discussion broke out — and I watched as arguments for one or the other surged ahead of the other. My initial response was books, thinking of the way that writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Geoff Johns, William Goldman, C.S. Lewis, Mark Waid, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Max Lucado, Lee Child, Christopher Nolan – writers of novels, comics, movies – have impacted my life and formed me, let alone those people who wrote down the stories of the Old and New Testaments. But then, preparing for the worship services of Holy Week, my heart broke editing in the organ music hitting the notes of “Up From the Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” And I don’t even prefer organ music! But the songs, without the words, moved my heart and made me realize just how much I missed the gathering of church, the commune of the saints, the joining together in mission, the breaking of bread.

As one of my colleagues loves to say, “We Methodists have a sung theology.” Consider hymns that Charles and/or John Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement, had a hand in writing:

“A Charge to Keep I Have”
“And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today”
“Come, Sinners to the Gospel Feast”
“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

Frankly, those are some good ones stretching from the birth of Christ to Jesus’ suffering and death, and ultimately, our faith as we live out what Jesus taught and God has ordered. (I’ll assume by now that one or more of these songs is rattling around your cranium!) But just for the sake of a personal study here, consider the lyrics of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

“Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!”

“Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”

“King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy pow’r to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!”

In half of a song, the Wesleys have covered that Jesus died, rose, and conquered death; that we have been freed from our sins; that we have the capability to go and do what Jesus did as we are made in God’s image and freed to be like him by his death and resurrection; that God has placed all of what we see and even what we don’t see under Jesus’ feet. One might not know and memorize chapters and chapters of Scripture, but thanks to a tune, the Wesleys have provided us the means to know (and memorize) core elements of our faith.

Beyond knowing it or memorizing it though, there is also this: by melody and more, music has the means to lift our spirits, carry us to places we can’t currently get to (take me to church!), and remind us that there is hope in the midst of impenetrable darkness. Music becomes the prayers we need, even when we don’t know the words to say.

Sung theology, indeed.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV) “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

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Coronavirus Diaries: After God’s Own Heart

Every night, for as long as I can remember, I’ve checked on my sleeping children right before I head to bed for the evening. One reads as long as he can until his eyes fail him; the other nestles into a new position every night, stockpiling stuffed animals and pillows at differents spots on his bed to create a different sleeping position each night. But the prayer I lift over both of them is the same, night in and night out, for both boys. 

“God, I pray that he grow up to be a man after God’s own heart.” 

The phrase comes from I Samuel 13:14 (and recounted by Paul in Acts 13): “But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” It’s a condemnation of Saul by the prophet Samuel and the blessing of the shepherd boy David. 

For those keeping score, that’s David who is the least and last of the line of Jesse elevated by Samuel’s blessing like discovering the servant boy is actually King Arthur, the only one who can draw the sword from the stone; 

That’s David who slays Goliath with a rock from the brook and a slingshot, against the mighty warrior from the warmongering nation of Philistia outfitted with the best armor and strongest weapons known to man; 

That’s David who escaped the treacherous, murderous assassination plots of King Saul; 

That’s David who played music that moved kings and God;

That’s David who raised up the only remaining heir of his best friend from destitution to royalty, even though doing so would mean he had a family line who owed him death;

That’s David, whose son Solomon built the Temple that God had longed for humanity to build. 

Pretty sweet, right? 

But there’s a flipside here, too. 

That’s David who slept with a man’s wife, then had him killed to hide up the affair; that’s David who treated the Ark of the Covenant like a lucky rabbit’s foot; that’s David who banished one wife for her disdain, even after she’d been traded around as a tool for power.

Suddenly, God’s own heart isn’t about the great stuff David did but the way that God worked through David, as David himself recognized his faults and cried out to God for forgiveness. David is a man after God’s own heart not because he was good (or great) but because David knew he couldn’t make it on his own, without God. 

“Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2, NIV)

I pray today that you would let God use this time to examine your heart, to right the wrongs of your inclinations, and to clean out the corners that have been left dusty for too long. May we be people after God’s own heart. 

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Coronavirus Diaries: Are You an Overachiever?

William Christopher Swinney was a decent football player, and he proved to be a serviceable coach as an assistant at the University of Alabama. He ultimately found himself out of football for two years, and it wasn’t until his old position coach at Alabama offered him a chance to coach again in 2003 that the legend of Dabo Swinney really began. When the head coach – and the same man who’d recruited him in college and again back into coaching – resigned, Swinney became the head coach six games into the 2008 season. The underperforming Clemson Tigers began to turn things around, culminating in two National Championships in 2016 and 2018.

Some people would say that Swinney overachieved, that he made something out of nothing. Swinney has always been clear that what he was solidifying for Clemson football wasn’t Xs and Os but culture, morale, and … belief. He was clear that who he was mattered as a person and a believer in Jesus Christ, and that he could share that with his players. But as he told author Jon Gordon, Swinney doesn’t consider himself an overachiever – he considers himself an overbeliever.

That’s classic Swinney, to those who’ve followed him, or listened to his post-game interviews. But it’s also a solid challenge to the rest of us. What do we put our “stock” in? What’s our expectation of what success and failure look like? I have a friend who quotes Mother Teresa all of the time: “We’re not called to be successful, but we’re called to be faithful.” Are we taking what we’ve been given and working ourselves into a sweat with it, or are we believing in faith that God will do more with our efforts than we could ever do on our own? Are we measuring ourselves by who we are or what we produce?

Jesus spoke to these things quite a bit, but in one particular parable, he focused on the smallest particle his audience would’ve known: a mustard seed. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed: “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’” Later, in Matthew 17:20-21, Jesus adds, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Friends, what we do in times like these won’t ultimately be remembered for reflecting our great creativity, our endless resolve, our ridiculous talents. What will be remembered when all of this fades is that smallest of incremental ideas, immeasurable by the world’s standards because it takes up no actual space, held in the grain the size of a mustard seed.

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Coronavirus Diaries: You Just Never Know

Do you remember your first concert? I do. It was The Temptations and The Four Tops. While that’s not the concert that’s been on my mind lately, it’s still memorable. Seriously, I grew up in a Motown household, not a rock’n’roll one, so that impacted the kinds of music I’ve gravitated toward. But I digress… I want to talk about the time I went to see PFR (Pray for Rain) and how I saw something completely unexpected instead.

The concert was in Grove Avenue Baptist Church, a church that locally has a reputation for providing its services via television each Sunday and putting on pageants that people travel from all over to come see. But on one fall night in 1995, the church was set up for a concert by PFR, a band I’d never heard of but which college students I knew were super excited about. I don’t ever remember buying a ticket, but I agreed to go and off we went to see PFR – a band that would fade from the national consciousness within years, if not months, of that concert.

We arrived early, settled in, and heard an up-and-coming band who was getting paid pennies on the dollar compared to PFR settle into their set, playing songs that resonated through the building, including one that would actually merit airtime on mainstream radio and climb to No. 37 on Billboard’s Hot 100. After Grove Avenue, they’d open for acts like Sting and Matchbox 20, extending their stage life for another twenty years.

The band was Jars of Clay, and their crossover hit was “Flood.”

“Rain rain on my face
It hasn’t stopped
Raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become
One with the mud.”

“But if I can’t swim after 40 days
And my mind is crushed
By the crashing waves
Lift me up so high
That I cannot fall
Lift me up
Lift me up when I’m falling
Lift me up I’m weak and I’m dying
Lift me up I need you to hold me
Lift me up and keep me from drowning again.”

The song still comes back to me all these years later – a reminder that no matter what we feel stuck in or by, that God comes through like God has so many more times. It’s a song, a poem, a prayer, and a powerful cry to God as the only source of our strength.

It’s also a reminder that what you go expecting isn’t always what you get. Maybe Forrest Gump’s mother was right.

2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Rev. Jacob Sahms

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Coronavirus Diaries: Scars Remain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot out of us. Some people have had their lives stripped away; others have been immobilized by the disease, or the threat of the disease. I realize that even those who survive don’t return to normal unscathed and without scars. I know that, and these times are teaching our children that, too. Just like Jesus rose from the dead, we will, too. Emerging from our homes after the quarantine will feel like a victory, a mini-resurrection of sorts. But Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in John 20, including our skeptical buddy Thomas, included the holes from the nails which had held him to the cross. Jesus rose again, but not without scars.

John 20:24-27 says, “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

The scars proved what had happened.

The scars proved what he had survived.

The scars proved the love which had driven him to the cross, and which had raised him from the dead.

The scars proved that he died. But the scars also proved that he’d been raised from the dead.

Our scars, and Jesus’ scars, unite us together in the suffering, and remind us that Jesus was fully human out of God’s abundant love for us.

The lyrics of I am They’s song, “Scars,” says this perfectly:
“Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll use

“So I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars.”

You have scars. I have scars. We know what Jesus’ scars did.

What will our scars prove?

Rev. Jacob Sahms

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Coronavirus Diaries: Angel Investor

Four hundred dollars.

Depending upon where you’re sitting today, four hundred dollars may not seem like a lot – or it may be groceries for several weeks or half a month’s rent. All of that seems relative. Twenty years ago, four hundred dollars was what stood between me and finishing seminary a semester early, instead of engaging in class for another six months.

Enrolled in a week-long summer class on spiritual growth, I received a message that I needed to report to the financial aid office early one morning. There, I was told that my financial aid was short by four hundred dollars and without that payment by the end of the day, they would be forced to dismiss me from the class. I was devastated, as I walked over to the classroom building. I had no more funds to pull from, having drained the savings I’d acquired through working for the small town’s water and sewer branch (drained! Get it?) and four hundred dollars could have well been a million dollars.
I sat through the class’ first half in a fog. At the lunch break, the instructor asked us to stand and go around a prayer circle to share any needs that were on our hearts. When it was my turn to speak, I just said, “If I don’t get $400 to the business office by five today, I can’t finish the class.”

We went to lunch break, and I forced myself to eat. When I returned to my seat, I found a college ruled single sheet of paper folded up there.

Inside the paper were twenty $20 bills.

And a note that read, “God loves you.”

It’s been nearly twenty years now and I still don’t know who left that money. But that person (or persons, because I really have no idea) reminded me that day that I wasn’t alone, that I was heard by God and my community, that even in the midst of other people’s struggles that they saw my struggle and were moved to help me. They really were an angel investor in my life, someone who saw what I could be and what I could do, and paid so that I could do those things.

Don’t we all have moments sometimes where we could be that for someone else? Sometimes, even anonymously, sometimes directly, we’re put in a position where we can help someone else be who they’re supposed to be. Maybe it’s because we remember when we were invested in by someone else, or maybe it’s because we realize that God’s been investing in us all along.

Galatians 6:2, NIV: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

P.S. If you don’t see someone in your life who you can help and feel called to help someone today, message me and we’ll find a way to meet someone’s need.

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Coronavirus Diaries: Porch Pictures

In different places around the United States, professional photographers have walked up and down their neighborhood street, taking family portraits of people sitting on their porches. Practicing social distancing, they’ve taken snapshots of the households that exist today in our siloed self-quarantining, reminders of the togetherness in the midst of isolation. Someday, those pictures will serve as a visual memento to whatever period of time the history books will call the lost spring of 2020. It’s ironic, seeing these families on their porches, because that’s just not how Americans in general act today.

Flashback a month, or however many days you count backward to find the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, and mentally walk your neighborhood. How many people were sitting on porches, rocking in chairs, drinking sweet tea in the cool of the evening? How many neighbors looked up to wave, while they were weeding, mowing the lawn, or shooting baskets on the driveway hoop?

I’m betting my neighborhood isn’t too different from yours, and the answer that came to mind was “not many.”

I’m sure that a scientist could explain the way that air conditioning is changing the climate, something about CO2 and chemicals and such. But air conditioning certainly changed how much time people spent outside, relaxing and exchanging stories with their neighbors, as the opportunity to go inside and cool off became enticing. And then the coronavirus happened.

Maybe it’s because we were all hunter-gatherers at some point; maybe it’s because we were nomadic tribes before we were societies and cities. But there’s some innate pull to be outside that tugs at all of our hearts, and the forced nature of being stuck inside draws us back… outside.

What if we’re not SUPPOSED to be outside? In nature, pollen or not. Trading jokes and observations with the middle-aged neighbor pushing their kid in the stroller around the culdesac at night who needs to be reminded the child will get older and sleep through the night, or the younger neighbor walking their dog who lives by themselves and now works from home and craves just the simple acknowledgment that they exist in real life, or the elderly neighbor whose walk to the mailbox to get their junk mail is the sole outing they have to get them out of their house every day and realizes that saying “hello” on the way is their lifeline to a society that’s left them behind. Or maybe it’s just because YOU need to be outside so you can contemplate the beauty of the birds singing, or the stars glowing, or the gentle reminder of a rainbow after the rain.

We’re not alone, and we were never meant to be.

Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

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