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Grace

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But God Powered Me Through

The days and hours after my Mom went to be with Jesus in September, 2014 was a very difficult time for me. Nicole and I got the news that she passed away while driving from our home in San Mateo to Bakersfield. We were racing down to see her before she died but didn’t make it in time.  We decided stay and spend some time in Bakersfield grieving with my mom’s husband Mike and his daughter Dani.

I vividly remember being in a Bakersfield Target store some 48 hours after she had passed.  We had just walked in to buy some things and I was walking past a display of Gatorade and I distinctly heard the word “DEPRESSION” and I heard it very differently than ever before.  I felt like the enemy was telling me that is where I was headed.  I had seen almost everyone I love struggle with depression – my mom, my dad and my biological father, Frank. Frank had such severe depression after the death of his mother that his psychiatrist suggested he move from Minnesota to sunny Southern California after spending days and days in bed mourning her death. Even my wife, Nicole, struggled with depression a few years into our marriage. My Dad’s depression had even contributed to my parent’s divorce.

I believe the enemy was looking for the knock out punch.  Could my mom’s illness and passing push me into depression?  For 9 years, the enemy had been trying, unsuccessfully by the grace of God, to blow up my life and my marriage with Nicole.

As I look back now, I see clearly the events that could have derailed me:

2005 — Nicole and I start fighting about money and are terribly miserable newlyweds.

2006 — My uncle Mike dies, unexpectedly from a heart attack. I was estranged from him for several years before his death over a $10,000 dispute.

2007 — My Dad dies, again, unexpectedly from a heart attack while he is alone at his boat in San Pedro. We spent days looking for him only for divers from the San Pedro police to find his body under the marina dock on my 35th birthday.

2009 — My biological father, Frank, dies unexpectedly from a heart attack.

In addition to the deaths of the three father figures in my life, countless financial issues continued to plague me during this time and I realize now I was in the middle of an identity crisis – I was trying to be someone who God had not created me to be.

But God, this almighty God who created 350 Billion galaxies in one sentence, saved me.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”

(Ephesians 2:4-7).

All of the sadness from the deaths of my family members came to a head with the passing of my Mom in 2014.  In the immediate aftermath, my sleep patterns changed and I was struggling sleeping yet I clung to God’s promises like they were as vital to me as oxygen.  I was often up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning pouring over my Bible. I also made it a point to grieve my Mom’s death.  I took part in a Grief Share group that helped me to feel all the horrible feelings that come along with losing your Mom.

For some reason that I yet don’t know and may only learn in Heaven the depression that plagued my parents, my biological father, and my wife did not plague me.   Only God could have saved me from the darkness of depression and brought me into the life that is truly life. I know this is not the case for many who love Jesus greatly yet still struggle mightily with depression. I don’t know why God spared me; possibly the old saying applies to me “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” I don’t know but I do know two things:

  1. God can do what we think is impossible. “But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
  2. Through God’s love, mercy and grace He got me through this time.

I know that depression could still affect me in the future, but I am grateful it has not up until this point in my life.

How has God powered you through the most difficult times in your life?

Friday Inspiration

Have We Slowed Down Like Saul?

Once Saul left Damascus and slipped into Arabia, he began taking inventory. There was no “To Do before Sundown” lists. No “Six Fast Steps to Success” or other self-help scrolls clumped under his arms. He was alone. He walked slower….He considered each new dawn a gift from the Lord, the perfect opportunity to rework his priorities and rethink his motives.

Chuck Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit

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Daddy Day

Most every Saturday, I spend the day with my 7 year old son, Luke. This is a new commitment for me this year, one I have enjoyed immensely.  In the past I tried to have this “rhythm” but it didn’t last.  Despite good intentions, I didn’t have accountability in place to keep me going.  To be completely honest, in 2015 and 2016 I had other priorities that came before Luke.   At the end of last year it hurt my heart to see our relationship was far from where I had hoped it would be.

Just this morning, I believe I got a sign from God that we were at a new level in our relationship as a result of months of Saturday “Daddy Days.”  A few months ago I was asked to speak to the 6th-8th graders at the weekly chapel at Luke’s school, and I was excited to do so.  We’d recently returned from a cross country trip, so this morning it was a little crazy as I got ready for the talk, but Nicole and I agreed at the last minute that although Luke was just in first grade, he should attend the middle school chapel. When we arrived, Luke and I were greeted by the Head of School, the person who originally asked me to speak.  He kindly sat with Luke in the back of the auditorium. The talk went well and afterwards I had planned to drop Luke off at his classroom and head back to the office to start my work day.

As we arrived on the elementary campus, Luke’s class was just leaving for PE.  Luke put his stuff on his desk and then turned to me with this look on his face that I had seen before. I immediately wondered why he was about to cry, as he pulled me into the kitchen that is off of their classroom.  I then heard the words I won’t soon forget: “Daddy, don’t leave me, I want you to stay with me.”

Luke was full of so much emotion it was hard for him to articulate what was going on.  I had heard these words before, but it had been some time ago.  After several minutes of tears and conversations with his teacher (twice) and the school’s secretary, he was able to explain to me what was upsetting him. He simply wanted to hang out more—he usually didn’t get to spend all morning with Dad, and today had been so fun. Possibly the “Daddy Days” are having a greater impact than I had thought? My son actually wanted more of me.

All this makes me ask the question: Are we experiencing regular “Daddy Days” with our Heavenly Father? Are we spending so much time with him that we are crying and asking not to be separated from Him like Luke was with me this morning?

God opened my eyes to three things he desires for our relationship with Him:

  1. We are commanded to love God and Jesus with all we got: “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30).

Luke was not letting go this morning as he was loving me with all he had, and I had a front row seat to this love.  He loved being with me and wanted to stay with me.

  1. We are to live, to “walk” in the same way Jesus lived: “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked”(1 John 2:5-6). We have explored this idea before about what drove Jesus up Calvary’s mountain to be crucified for us. If we are to walk in the way Jesus did do you think this includes loving God the Father as Jesus did?
  1. Our Heavenly Father wants us to have an authentic relationship with Him as Jesus did, expressing our deep heartfelt desires even when it is uncomfortable in the worldly realm, like Luke did when he was sobbing in front of his classmates who were trying to figure out what was going on with their normally joyful friend. “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38).

Our Heavenly Father wants us to have the greatest relationship with Him, like He had with Jesus. He wants us totally ruined with tears and sobbing when we are pulled away from Him. I believe this is part of what was going on with Jesus in the Garden Of Gethsemane when He knew what lay in front of Him—being forsaken and disconnected from the Father in order to bear our sins and forever rectify us with God the Father.

I have never had experience like Luke had with me, but I hope to.

What experiences have you had that resembles what Luke experienced this week?

May we long to be with God the Father and cry violently like Jesus did in the Garden and how Luke did this morning when we are separated from our Heavenly Father.

Friday Inspiration

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29

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Grace

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

What if Peter never denied Jesus and instead travelled with him to the cross? Would he have experienced Jesus’ grace?

What if Lazarus had not died and therefore Jesus never raised him from the dead? Mary might never have received Jesus’ grace and then become so grateful that she was led to lavishly anoint Jesus with oil.

What if Saul had never persecuted people of the Way and allowed Steven to be stoned to death? I wonder if he would have experienced Jesus’ grace on the road to Damascus.

This one word is so powerful it can change a hard-charging man like Saul to become the grateful man Paul who poured out the rest of his life for one cause—spreading the Good News to the world.

I am absolutely blown away how in the Bible there is a pattern that occurs over and over again that goes something like this:

Sin
Awakening/Clarity
Repentance
Forgiveness
Mercy
Love
Grace
Gratitude
Generosity
Contentment

God’s grace and His Holy Spirit are what powered Paul to finish his race well, to keep fighting when things got really really tough and to keep the faith.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

This grace turned into gratitude once he realized what Jesus Christ had saved him from. He plunged deeply in to the sea of grace and was forever changed. It took time, possibly more than the three years he spent in Arabia, but those three years “kick-started” his relationship with God and powered the rest of his life. He savored the new life he had in Jesus. His main priority in the beginning of this new life was not “doing” but instead being still with the Creator of the Universe in order to be filled with God’s grace and the Holy Spirit.

If we believe something is missing in our lives, could it be we have never truly experienced this sea of grace? Have we set aside time to be “kick-started” with God and the power of the Holy Spirit?

Friday Inspiration

A survey of the Scriptures reveals that those God used greatly were often prepared for those exploits during periods of solitude, quietness, and obscurity.

Chuck Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit