Worship Is Your Weapon: O Praise the Name

Worship is your weapon.

It matters what and why you sing. Before June 2018 in San Antonio, the song “O Praise the Name (Anastasis)” seemed to be a decent anthem, but after meeting a new friend that week, the song anchored deep in my soul.

You see, my new friend’s story is one of heartbreak and tragedy, leaving him emotionally devastated. After losing his marriage and job within a short span, he felt hollow, hopeless, and helpless. That week, however, a new song seared into our souls as they sang “O Praise the Name,” to which, in the middle of the week, our group experienced something life-giving: a student trusted Christ that week.

My new friend approached me the next afternoon underneath a mesquite tree: “James, my life has been pretty crappy this year, but last night? Last night I was reminded that this is why I live. This is why I do what I do: to help point others to Jesus. And even if this is the only person who trusts Christ this summer, it makes all that I’ve been through worth it.”

Can you see how he’s switched gears to singing from his soul?

“O praise the name of the Lord our God, o praise His name forevermore. For endless days we will sing His praise, o Lord, o Lord our God.”

It’s funny how the songs that drive deep in your soul are the ones connected to a story — be it yours or someone else’s — since each of our stories intertwine somewhere along God’s grand narrative.

What song are you singing with your story?

Mother’s Day: How to Help Your Wife

How to Help My Wife Who’s Hurting on Mother’s Day

Men, if you’re reading this, then one of two things happened:

1) Your wife has lost a loved one in some way, whether it was a child through still birth, miscarriage, or infertility, or perhaps her mother or father recently passed away. Regardless, your wife is hurting, and thinking about celebrating on Mother’s Day just doesn’t cut it. She’d rather close the curtains or not talk to anyone at all, maybe even you.

2) You know someone, maybe a friend or family member, who fits that description, and you have absolutely no clue what to do.

So, what do you do?

As a man whose wife has lost two children and also her own mother, I’d like to write a little bit of encouragement for you today as your heart breaks for your bride.

First, be present. For some, she will just want you to be near her, to hold her, to pay attention to her on that day especially. Although your heart may be hurting due to the loss, know that your role from God is to your wife first, so love her as Christ loves the Church. Put down your phone (literally! Put it in another room. If someone needs you for an emergency, they can contact your wife).

Turn off your TV show so you can listen to your wife, both to what she says and what she doesn’t say. If she wants to watch TV, great! Let her pick. If she wants to garden, put on your work clothes.

If she wants to do any of the ideas my wife posted in her article, then you better make that happen. God gave you your wife, so love her by being present.

Second, buy a present. She may not want a Mother’s Day card. She may not (read: certainly) want a vacuum cleaner or household appliance. She may not even want the traditional flowers.

But you can be thoughtful in the pain to bring a smile to her heart. A thoughtful present communicates “I’m thinking about you, specifically, in our journey.” Maybe the gift is a charm necklace with a charm representing something thoughtful or your child’s birthstone. Maybe the gift is a handmade painting by you. Maybe it’s a spa day gift or some gift cards for you and her to go have fun at a putt putt place or bowling or water adventure. Whatever it is, it needs to be poignant, not pithy nor popular. I’ve bought Mary small poignant gifts. One year, I bought her a locket with Alex’s footprints.

Third, pray. Pray for her. Seriously, when was the last time you prayed for her besides a quick “Lord, give her a good day, amen”? Pray for your wife. She needs it. Also, the opportunity may present itself for you to pray over her. Out loud. You may be saying, “That’s not me. I don’t pray out loud.” Sir, your wife is worth it. She’s going to be with you until death do you part, so you better start praying for her. Lead her as the spiritual shepherd of your family.

If you do at least one of those things, I think you’ll communicate, “I remember, and I care. You matter more than anything else in this world, and I’m here for you forever.”

For more help in the hurt, go to releasingarrows.org.

Mother’s Day: Silent Tears

“Mother’s Day”…

For some, just saying those words are painful.  Mother’s Day is a special day set aside to show just how special mothers are. But what about the mom that just lost her child or the mom who just lost her own mother or the mom who longs to have a child of her own?

I remember my very first Mother’s Day after the passing of our son Alex. I sat in the pew with tears in my eyes because I didn’t have a little one to enjoy Mother’s Day. Then years later after losing my own mother, it seemed to be an even harder day. I had to learn how to go through life’s milestones without those that we love and need.

Mother’s Day can be a reminder of many things. I plead with you this Mother’s Day: look around your church and see those silent tears

…the woman who is reminded of her singleness and longs to have a family of her own.

…the woman that has tried for years to have a baby but for some reason infertility has crept in.

…the woman who has miscarried that is reminded of her loss.

…the woman who had to bury her child (or children).

…the woman who had to bury her own mother.

…or even the woman whose grown children do not call or visit her.

So how can we make the most of this Mother’s Day? How can we find joy in this day? How can we help those around us that are dreading Mother’s Day?

Mom…I see you…I feel your pain.

This Mother’s Day choose joy!

Ideas to help you choose joy today:

-start a tradition. Plant a rose bush, release balloons, send a card to a stranger.

-reach out and be a “mother” to the motherless.

-call a friend and celebrate.

Ideas for you to help your friend who is in the midst of pain of not having her children here to celebrate with her:

-send her a handwritten note/card.

-call her.

-send her flowers.

-acknowledge her hurt.  Allow her to speak of her baby’s name and talk about them.

-simply be present.

Don’t allow the enemy to steal the joy that motherhood brings. If you are hurting this Mother’s Day, I encourage you, friend, to reach out and celebrate. Our God is so faithful. He is by our side walking with us on this journey of life (however painful it may be).

Happy Mother’s Day

PS. Tomorrow, James will post an article on “How to Help My Wife Who’s Hurting on Mother’s Day.” Check back tomorrow for more hope in the hurt!

Thoughts on Passion’s Whole Heart

Is this Passion’s Whole Heart, delivered to us here in 2018?

I’ve followed Passion Conferences since 2000, even writing a review on this blog about one of their albums, and taking any opportunity to bring them before our church or students.

My well-versed and trustworthy friend returned from this year’s Passion conference saying, “Passion was good this year.”

“Oh yeah? But how was the music?”

He replied, “This is easily their best year in, well, maybe ever.”

Can I just take a moment and say what you’re thinking? I hate it when someone tells me what to think, like, “Bro, this movie will change your life” or “Oh my, that person is just the best” or “You’ll really like* that dessert that has milk, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream, and cream cheese. Life. Changing.”

*I dislike milk heavy items, so I’ll never ever believe you if you say this to me.

I digress.

So when my friend told me this, I thought, “I’ll be the judge of that.” I found a track online and thought it sounded weak. Of course, wanting to exert my superior, although somewhat removed, opinion, I told my friend, to which he said, “You should listen to it again.”

Four weeks later, I’ve sang four songs from the album to my daughter almost each night for a week, the life-giving lyrics resonating deeply within as we sing their truths.

“Almighty God,” written by Daniel Bashta (the How He Loves writer) and Sean Curran (side note: a guy in Atlanta once gave me Sean’s number to call if I ever needed a worship leader. Wish I would’ve saved it), has a great message, as any song about God being Almighty is a good song. We don’t have enough of those in rotation, do we?

“God, You’re So Good” is the track I heard online about a month ago. The tracking and mixing wasn’t final which makes a bigger difference than you’d imagine. On second listen, this song speaks to God’s goodness. What is really powerful are the identifying statements in the bridge, where you’re reminded of what Scripture says of you, “I am blessed, I am called/I am healed, I am whole/I am saved in Jesus’ name.”

The best line of “Whole Heart” is “Your love/it comes with no conditions/You give us your whole heart.” The writing is anthematic, shouting declaratively about God’s love.” Also what I love about this song? Louie Giglio has a writing credit on it. Yep, Louie has written songs for Passion since it’s inception, I believe. His songs are sparse, but his lyrics are so deep to the soul.

My favorite song, at the moment, is “More Like Jesus,” pictured above. A couple new to the Passion leadership helped write this, and in it, the chorus gently and prayerfully says, “If more of You/means less of me/take everything. /Yes all of You/is all I need/take everything.” May we be more like Jesus.

His name.

His fame.

Worship music helps orient my heart around what matters most (sure, I listen to 80s and 90s almost every day too, but I indulge on a daily diet of worship songs too).

Maybe we could all be more aware of what music points us toward.

Dreading Headstones

I’ve been subconsciously, and even more recently, purposely dreading writing this, and by the end of this, you’ll feel it too. It started almost a year ago, I guess, and this picture sets this thought in stone quite appropriately:

Not the actual tombstone

Almost a year ago, our son Oliver passed away (no, this post isn’t entirely about that event, but more about the emotions surrounding it). Someone blessed us with money to pay those dreadful hospital bills related to Oliver’s birth and passing, and we even had just enough money leftover for the tombstone.

So, last March, we reluctantly stepped into a local funeral home after consulting several others to compare cost, and the funeral director, giving us a discount, expected us to return and place an order for Ollie’s headstone.

Except we never showed up.

Sure, we talked about it some, every now and then, saying, “Oh, we still have that money for the headstone in our safe. We should take care of that” and things of that sort.

Yet gloominess must have slightly set in, as I chose not to get the headstone. At one point, I thought, “What’s the point?”

In the gray skies of early 2018, I went to the funeral home to have the contract drawn up.

Talking with one of the head guys there, he revealed the reason why many people erroneously wait to get a tombstone and the detriment behind it:

Tombstones provide closure, and some people want the wound to stay open.

Don’t get me wrong: nowhere in my wildest thoughts would I ever want to keep thinking of the searing pain of losing a second son. But, subconsciously, isn’t it easier to deal with pain by stuffing it away, keeping the tombstones of our pain off the growing grass of our hearts?

So, I shared with Mary the reason I had reluctance in acquiring the headstone this whole time… only to wait a couple more weeks afterward to actually pay for and execute the contract.

You and I aren’t too different, you know?

We both stuff our pain, keeping the tombstones away from the grass in our lives.

That’s not healthy.

We should have our sketch back for approval soon, and then the tombstone will be delivered, and there it will sit, right next to Alex’s, our first son, and maybe then I’ll be able to get closure.

Question is, what are you afraid of facing, giving your fears prime property among the grassy knolls of your heart and mind? Friend, may I encourage you today? Let’s lay those fears to rest.

Rest In Peace, fear.