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Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Acts 2:1-21

Dear God, I’m a believer in there being two baptisms–one in the “water” and one in the “Spirit.” I think water can be a relative term, and the important thing there is that there is a submission of heart and will. There is a repentance and a turning.

But then I think there is a time for every Christian that cements the first baptism. It is almost like the mortar that holds the stones of the “water” baptism together. And while the first baptism doesn’t require much work or time, the second one seems to only come when some effort has been put in. When the seeds have started to dig into the good soil a little. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the soil of the heart. That is the key. The baptism of water can find the seeds of faith landing on shallow soil–growing quickly and then dying. But the baptism of the Spirit is the result of the roots from the seeds finding that good soil. The Spirit might munch through some of that rock to find the soil, so it’s not like the seed MUST land on the good soil to survive. But it is about growth. If we didn’t have the Holy Spirit with us–if I didn’t have the Holy Spirit with me–then there would be no depth to any of our faith. This first rushing of the Spirit in this story from Acts is truly a watershed moment, without which the rest of the New Testament would probably not exist.

Father, help me to contiue to live a life that provdes good soil for your seeds to grow. Help my wife and children to have good soil in their hearts and to grow in Spirit and in faith. Be a light to me through others, and through me to the world. Be glorified through me.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2019 in Acts

 

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Acts 20:24

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Dear God, I’ve never thought about this verse in terms of Memorial Day before, but it’s the verse of the day on Bible Gateway so perhaps someone there did. It is still so tragic to me that for thousands and thousands of years, what I’m sure numbers into the billions, people have died fighting each other. You’re born, your parents put uncountable hours into caring for you, you spend uncountable hours learning and growing, and then your life is gone. Just gone.

So many people have died nobly for their country or a cause. In the case of what we honor with this day, women and men of our country saw their earthly lives end to fight for whatever we felt was right at the time. The sacrifice they gave, and that their families gave, is immeasurable. I’ve said before that I tend to have a guilty feeling on days like this because I never served in the military. I admire veterans so much for even the sacrifice they made to take time from a civilian life to serve so that I could live my civilian life.

Of course, there is a spiritual aspect to this passage because that is what Paul was talking about. He knew that he was going to put himself at risk for his faith and what you were calling him to do. As it turned out, he was right. He was arrested. He was imprisoned for years. He ultimately died. But that sacrifice of his life ended up being the catalyst for the spread of Christianity to the West. He considered his life worth nothing to him. Had he considered it worth something–had he given in to the temptation those around him were making to him and not gone to Jerusalem, I might not be sitting here praying to you today.

Father, help me to consider my own life worth nothing to me. Help me to only consider the call you have given me. Help me to hear your still small voice. Help me to not let the sacrifice of Paul, the veterans who died, or even Jesus be in vain. Do it all so that your kingdom will come and your will will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2019 in Acts

 

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Acts 15:28-29 (The Message)

It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!
Acts 15:28-29 (The Message)

Dear God, while I was on a bike ride this morning, I listened to a series of four sermons. Reading this passage from the lectionary today made me think of part of one of the sermons.

The pastor, Andy Stanley, was talking about sexual sin and drawing a line. He said (paraphrasing) that when people go to a counselor or a pastor for counseling and they say, “I have something to tell you and I’ve never told anyone this,” it is almost never about a speeding ticket or cheating on an expense report at work. Instead it is almost always about a sexual nature—whether it was something they chose to do or something that was done to them. Sex is such an important part of the human experience, and one that has been adulterated almost from the beginning, so it makes sense that you (God) would have opinions on it and what is best for us.

Since homosexuality is not an issue for me, I’m not going to try to parse that issue here. But I have plenty of my own. He also said, “If I were to ask each of you individually what your biggest regret is that you wish you could go back and change something that you did, the vast majority would give me an answer of a sexual nature.” That would be me. I certainly have things from my past that I regret and wish I could change. I have people I wish I could apologize to. Sex has certainly been something I didn’t always do right.

It’s made me wonder what kind of person I would be if something happened to my wife. After 30 years of being monogamous in marriage, would I be able to live a life in terms of sex that would be pleasing to you, or would I grieve you out of selfishness? I truly fear the answer.

Father, help me to guard the morality of sex and marriage. And I am sorry. I’m sorry for the bad example I’ve been in the past. I’m sorry that I probably hurt people. I am ashamed. Thank you for my wife. Thank you for the last 30 years of knowing her and growing in my relationship with you through her example. I have learned so much from her. Help me to truly live into that person I’m becoming, and not just live a morality that I think I “have” to.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2019 in Acts

 

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Acts 20:35

Acts 20:35
35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Dear God, this is another Fred Smith-inspired blog today. Fred talked about acts of charity as being “penance for trivial sins.” His premise left me uneasy so I started to examine my heart and try to figure out why. I thought I’d spend some time with you about it this morning.

As I thought about it, I came back to this supposed quote from Jesus (I say supposed because it doesn’t appear in the Gospels, but must have come from another source that Paul used). Why? Why is it more blessed to give than to receive? What is it about giving that blesses us? Is it this notion that it helps to absolve us from our sin? Does it put some lipstick on the “pig” that is the fruit of our human flesh and make us feel better about it? Frankly, I don’t think that is it.

One of the things I learned about faith in studying Job is that the ultimate goal of faith is to get to where I literally do not see my own desires or goals as worth anything, but I get to a point that I can truly give thanks in all things, even suffering. My fortune or my suffering is not necessarily tied to my behavior, but what you happen to need of me and the role I have to play in your kingdom.

Working from that philosophy, I believe there is a blessing of peace that you impart when we die to ourselves and turn loose. I think that learning to give of our time and resources gets us one step closer to that ultimate level of faith. I think that the balm we feel on our souls from performing charity isn’t as much penance and absolution as much as it is that one step we just took into living out the kind of faith you call us to.

In studying Job, one thing that occurred to me is that Paul got to that level of faith remarkably quickly. He was able to suffer greatly and never portray to others any semblance of self-pity. He said in Acts 20:24 that he considered his life worth nothing to him, and then he backed it up with the attitude he took in all of those years of prison.

Father, I’ll be honest and say that I tend to have a little bit of pride in the fact that I live a life that is sacrificial when I compare it to my neighbor. But the truth is that it is not nearly sacrificial enough. I know that because there are time when I still feel very sorry for myself and even greedy. The best way to combat that is to be sensitive to needs and then give generously. That is what will move me one step closer to the perspective on my life that you want me to have. Help me to get there.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Acts

 

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Peter & John — Acts 2:14-41

Acts 2:14-41 NIV
[14] Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. [15] These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! [16] No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: [17] “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. [18] Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. [19] I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. [20] The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. [21] And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [22] “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. [23] This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. [24] But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. [25] David said about him: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. [26] Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, [27] because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. [28] You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ [29] “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. [30] But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. [31] Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. [32] God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. [33] Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. [34] For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand [35] until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ‘ [36] “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” [37] When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” [38] Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” [40] With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” [41] Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Dear God, I wonder what it would be like to take this sermon, outline it, and then preach a version of it today. It starts with establishing Jesus’ authority, backing it up with prophecy, pointing out their guilt in rejecting Him, and then offering grace through repentance.

It’s pretty simple really. I don’t know how much of it Peter planned out and how much was just the Holy Spirit overcoming him. It’s hard to imagine he had those passages from Joel and Psalms memorized. And maybe he paraphrased and Luke filled in with the actual text later. Either way, this was obviously and inspired moment and 3,000 people were converted.

When I am asked to preach I spend a lot of time in prayer while I prepare, but before I go up, my prayer shifts to simply asking the Holy Spirit to flow through me so that people will be able to hear my delivery. One thing I don’t do enough, I suppose, is praying for the hearts of those who are about to hear me. I can still be so self-centered that I care more about what I’m saying than the filters each person brings to the table when they are receiving what I have to say.

Father, move me one step closer to selflessness. Thank you for Peter’s message that morning 2,000 years ago. Thank you for its truth and power. Thank you for the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus. I accept. I repent. I worship you.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John

 

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The Prison Epistles – Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians

Ephesians

  • Ephesians 1:3,11-12 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
  • Ephesians 6:19-20 – Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly. Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

Philippians

  • Philippians 1:7, 12-14, 18b-26 – It is right for me to feel this way about all o you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me…Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live in Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you gain your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
  • Philippians 4:10-13 – I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Colossians

  • Colossians 1:22-29 – No I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
  • Colossians 4:2-4, 10-11 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim it clearly, as I should…My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

Dear God, I had a bit of a revelation a few weeks ago. This might sound silly to some, but I saw it in a new way: Paul had a very mature faith.

In my study of Job, I came across commentary that discussed The Stages of Faith by James Fowler. Here they are as described by him:

  1. Intuitive – Projective Faith: Associated with the child’s faith, based upon fantasy and imagination.
  2. Mythical-Literal Faith: The family faith of the early school years, which is sustained by moral rules and either/or thinking.
  3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith: Adolescent phase that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith it models or rejects.
  4. Individuative-Reflective Faith: The faith of the young adult who is capable of critical thinking, independent reflection, and comparative reasoning.
  5. Conjunctive Faith: A mid-life and old-age faith that integrates self-identity with a comprehensive world view to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served.
  6. Universalizing Faith: The rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.
    (source: James W. Fowler, The Stages of Faith (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), chap. 14.)

He talked about how Job grew through his experience to the ultimate faith–Universalizing Faith. As I looked into it and thought about other biblical characters who had reached this faith, I came up with a few New Testament examples. Jesus was obviously one. But Paul was one of the others.

The passages above actually start with Acts 20:24 when Paul is on his way to certain arrest in Jerusalem and people warning him to not go. Paul’s answer is, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me. The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” The remarkable thing is that these are not just words. While Peter only thought he knew what he was getting into when he told Jesus at the Last Supper that he would follow him to death, Paul actually lived up to his boldness recorded in Acts. How do I know this? Because of what he wrote while he was in prison.

That’s what I’ve recorded from three of the four letters he wrote while in prison (the fourth was a personal letter to Philemon about a slave). He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t try to figure out a way out of incarceration. He has enough perspective to use the incarceration to finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus gave to him.

Imagine if he sat around and complained. Imagine if his letters had started out, “You people need to be grateful you aren’t where I am and you need to be getting about spreading the gospel because I can’t.” Or, “Why is God doing this to me? I was just trying to follow Him and do what is right, and now look where I am. Where is God is all of this?” That would have left us all a completely different example.

But Paul had “the rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.” And he applied that faith to everyone else around him. He didn’t look at them and judge them by their outward circumstances. He evaluated them based on their motivations. He is quick to both praise and criticize in his letters, but he judges motivations and actions only.

Father, I am about to teach all of this to a Sunday school class this morning. Most are seniors who have lived lives longer than mine. They have seen more than I have, and goodness knows I am still learning these lessons. I still evaluate relationships based on what I am getting out of the instead of looking at what the other person needs that I can provide. That doesn’t mean I should allow myself to just be abused and have one-way, co-dependent relationships, but I can conduct myself in a way that considers my life worth nothing to me, if only I can finish the goal and complete the task you have given me. The task of testifying to the gospel of your grace.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Acts, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians

 

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Supporting My Wife Going Catholic – Epilogue

Dear God, back in 2012, my wife was confirmed into the Catholic Church. While I went through the Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) with her, I decided not to be confirmed, but I still continue to worship with her.

We both wrote companion blog pieces back in 2012 about our experience back then (Megan’s series and my series). I read them all this morning–six for her and five for me. But that was six years ago and it was all still pretty new then. I thought it would be interesting to sit and pray through with you this morning what has happened over the last six years.

I guess it starts with the fact that we still attend our local Catholic Church with her being Catholic and me not. Even though I don’t go up for the Eucharist and I silently omit parts of some of the prayers with which I don’t agree (e.g. “ever virgin”), I pretty much feel like a member. While I’m not in any of the men’s groups like Knights of Columbus, we are active members of a couples group called Teams Of Our Lady (TOOL) with six other couples. There are a few people in there who came to the Catholic Church as adults, but I’m the only one who isn’t confirmed Catholic. No one seems to mind. I still stand by my statements from years ago that the people I have found there earnestly love you. It’s hard to ask for much more than that.

Here are some observations that I would now share:

  • One big thing is that we have really seen some personal trials over the last six years, and I am glad that we have continued to worship together. I don’t know how we would have gone through some situations with our children, our parents, or our careers and not be in a place where we are sitting together on most Sunday mornings.
  • We ended up having to find a compromise regarding communion. I am not allowed to participate in the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. I completely understand their logic here and do not hold that against the church. They believe that the Eucharist is something that I don’t believe it is. They don’t want me taking it if I don’t believe it. That’s fair. But I do miss communion, so on the big holidays like Easter and Christmas Eve, we go to a Protestant Church where I can have communion.
  • If she’s ever out of town on a Sunday morning, I will sometimes have a Protestant Sunday–mainly so I can have communion. I have found that our local Episcopal Church is the most reliable in having communion every Sunday and they have an early service which I prefer.
  • I attended an ACTS Retreat. I don’t want to say too much about this because they try to keep the contents of the retreat secret so that there are no spoilers for attendees. Let’s just say that I thought it was incredibly powerful and I really saw the Holy Spirit move in some of the men’s lives. While you don’t have to be Protestant to attend, it is definitely Catholic in flavor and theology. I don’t think I’ll do it again, but I am glad to have experienced it. I’ve found similarly powerful experiences at retreats at Laity Lodge.
  • We changed priests about a year ago. As with ALL leadership changes in ALL churches, there are been some who have been happy and some who are unhappy. The observation I would make about the Catholic Church is that you don’t have church splits and just start another Catholic Church. In 1993, Riesel, Texas, was a town of 800 people and five Baptist Churches. That would never happen for Catholics. People might go to a different Catholic Church in a different town, visit a Protestant Church (e.g. Episcopal) until the current regime leaves, or just stop going to church altogether. I know of people who did that with the last priest and I know some who have done that with this priest. But in the Catholic Church, you aren’t there because of the priest. You are there to worship and take part in the Eucharist.
  • Our children are grown and out of the house. One of them doesn’t have anything to do with church (that I know of) and the other sometimes visits with relatives in the town where they live. My wife and I pray together daily for both of them and have faith that you have them on the path that you have for them. I still can’t help but feel like that whole period of transition for them came at a critical and formative time and they were somehow damaged by not having continuity of church family at that stage of their lives. And the transition had nothing to do with my wife becoming Catholic. We were transitioning before she started attending St. Mary’s.
  • My wife seems to be really happy in the Catholic Church. She has no regrets, and, therefore, I have no regrets either. If she’s out of town on a Sunday she will usually try to visit the local Catholic Church. And I can say that, while I am not 100% lock-step with Catholic theology, the people I have found there earnestly love you and Jesus. I can’t ask for much more than that.

If I were advising anyone going through something similar, I would give them the advice my friend gave me way back in the spring of 2011. I told him that Megan was going to the Catholic Church, I was going to a nondenominational church, and I was feeling disconnected from her spiritually. He told me the words that I would say to someone else in that situation: “You need to suck it up and go to church with your wife.”

Father, thank you for continuing me on this journey. The last few years have been hard, and I hope I haven’t let you down too many times. I know that I’m grateful for you, your love, your help, and your provision. Thank you for my wife. Continue to lead us, to bless us through others at church and to bless them through us. We are your community, one holy, catholic (with a little c) and apostolic church. May we all bring you glory.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

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