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So, as the last days of 2006 approached, Erin and I decided to take some time to pray and think about what we wanted to accomplish in 2007 and what things in our life we wanted to work on…and we decided to pick 2 words that would define our year. It was a great exercise and we had such a good time sharing our hopes with one another.

What were the 2 words?

Rhythm (everything needs a rhythm) and Passion (what is life worth w/out it).

2007 was to be a year marked by establishing a rhythm and kindling a passion. We laid out goals and roled out plans and took off to Nashville at the start of the new year with ideas of change dancing in our heads. Then came January 9th…the day we found out about Owen’s health.

Rhythm and passion turned into chaos and desperation. Nothing has been as we hoped or as we thought it would be. So tonight, on the  eve of what would have been Owen’s 4th month with us…I officially reclaim the fight to establish Rhythm and ignite Passion.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a rightousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philipians 4:8-14)

I can feel the the Rhythm and taste the Passion.

I’ve been gone for a month or two…have you missed me?

Jude –

May the LORD be your counselor all the days of your life.

Even in the night, may the LORD instruct your heart.

May you always set the LORD before you.

May the Lord always be at your right hand, so that you will never be shaken.

May your heart be glad, your tongue rejoice, and your body rest secure.

May the LORD make known to you the path of life, fill you with joy in His presence and give you pleasures at His right hand forever and ever.

Amen!

Friday is for Forgiveness

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If there is anyone who is still bothering to check this blog, please forgive me for my absence. I have thought of you many times and prayed for some of you by name. Many people have let me now through email or comments that the sharing of our struggle has brought them much consolation and encouragement.

I don’t take that lightly, but if I can continue to be honest, the last 2 weeks have been quite hectic…with many large and potentially life changing decisions on the horizon. My mind has been consumed with details that I am not at liberty to share. So, I’ve been silent.

It has never been my intention for this blog to be a personal journal…you don’t need to know about the ins and outs of my daily routine. Those things don’t even interest me, so I won’t bore you with them.

But, there are some thoughts that I would like to share and emotions that I still am processing through after 7 weeks now. So, please hang in there. I’ll be back and together we can peer through the window and get a glimpse of how the Gospel transforms the soul.

I was recently asked to put some of my sermons on a site called sermon cloud. Sounds weird, I know. But here’s a description from their site:

Sermon Cloud is a website for a community to interact with sermons. What are the powerful sermons people are listening to? Who are the up-and-coming preachers of the day? Where are the messages about themes that you need to hear? How can you find a great preacher in your home town? Sermon Cloud was designed to help you with all of these questions. Sermon Cloud users help let each other know which sermons they amen. An ‘amen’ is a recommendation of the sermon. Users can post comments about their interaction with these sermons (even the comments can be designated as helpful or unhelpful).

I posted one up there today for a friend and I’m putting this out there for all of you to see if you like it…not just the sermon (but if you do don’t forget to amen it) but the site as well. There are sermons on there from great guys like Tim Keller also that you should listen to after mine.

So, here’s a link…let me know your thoughts.

And in the words of many an American preacher, “can I get an Amen”?

Phriday is for Photos

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Nags Head

Originally uploaded by cultivatethesoul

There’s nothing like a early morning dip in the icy ocean…a quick nap outside with the warm salt water air…and then a jelly sandwich to kick off a good day at the beach.

Here is a forgotten photo from Nags Head.
(give it a click for a better view)

These Are The Days

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As we pass the 1 month mark of Owens birth, death, and burial…questions remain, hurts remain, memories remain, and hopes remain deferred. What are we to make of all this? Pious platitudes seem quite hollow, even if they are constructed upon eternal truth. My heart craves real, honest reality…real hope…real change, I don’t want to be the same person tomorrow that I was today…I can’t be, I can’t look back and feel like I wasted these days.
God will use children to change you, even the ones who are with you only a short time…if you let them. If you refuse to change, you miss out on one of God’s greatest blessings and instruments of transformation…all the minutes, the hours, the days are will lie wasted.

I came across this yesterday, it brought clarity and hope to these days…it tells of Truth cultivating the soul and lasting fruit being harvested…it’s real hope, right now:

But these are the days that we have been given. They haven’t simply fallen on us, the product of meaningless chance. These are the days we have been given. They are ours for a purpose. They have been given for a reason. We are here because we were meant to be here. We have been given these days for good.

This moment is soil in which something will be planted. If in this moment the seeds of anger are planted, bitterness will grow. If in this moment faith is planted, hope will grow. These are the days that we have been given, not only so that we would learn how to wait, but so that we would plant new seeds, invest in new things, and make fresh starts. But when you have been injured so severely it is tempting to let survival overwhelm investment and questions overwhelm fresh starts.

These are the days we have been given, but they are not meant to be an end in themselves. These days are a portal to new insight, new commitments, and new action. Pray that we would not only say these are the days of questions, waiting, and boredom, but we would also say that these days of pain are also days of opportunity and potential.

I came across this in my reading today:

Difficulty does this, it changes your perspective. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, it alters the way you see your world. Perhaps it causes you to look at your world through the lens of fear and dread. Or maybe it makes you look at life through the window of profound questions that you have never asked before. Or you may look at life through the lens of envy, now even more aware of what others have that you do not. Or difficulty may give you the eyes to be thankful for little things that you wouldn’t have previously acknowledged. Difficulty may lead you to look at your world through the lens of doubt, calling age old beliefs into question. Or it may encourage you to see your world through the eyes of faith as you are now more aware than ever of God’s presence and help. Or difficulty may just blind you, leaving you only able to see your own suffering. Or it may give you better sight, now more able to see and relate to the needs of others.

Suffering will alter your vision in some way. This is both one of its dangers and one of its gifts.

It’s my prayer for my family…really, it’s my plea to God that we not experience significant vision impairment through this process. Instead, I pray that we can see ourselves and our situation through the natural lens of the Gospel…the merciful work of God through Jesus that brings hope into hopeless situations and redemption to seemingly lost causes…and people.

I suspect that for decades, there will be days of the year that we celebrate and days that we mourn.

It’s hard to do both in the same day. Like Mother’s Day, we’ll always celebrate God’s gift to Erin in motherhood and remember the time she did get to share with Owen, though it was only brief…bittersweet.
Jude’s birthday may be a tough one as well. Owen was born just 7 days before Jude…so every year we will remember Owen together and anticipate the time when we’ll be together and then celebrate God’s gift to us in Jude, right here-right now…there may be some funny emotions there for a while.

Or today, May 22nd. Today was the day that Owen was to be born, the 22nd was his due date. Erin had purposed herself to go to the cemetery and pray and probably cry. Due dates are special to us, Jude was born on his due date…one of the rare 3% of kids who are…we hoped the same for Owen. Also, close friends of ours chose to deliver their new baby girl today…bittersweet.

So a visit to the cemetery and a visit to the hospital…only the gospel and the work of Jesus in a sinful heart like mine can make days like these bearable right now. Together these things remind me that the world is not the way it was supposed to be or will be one day. But, that in the midst of tragedy there is great beauty…God is still present, working out His purposes for His glory and our joy. That one day there will be no more babies who live only minutes or days (Is. 65:20).

Anything short of the gospel is incapable of bringing me hope and peace on days like this.

The story is not over, God is not finished. Owen has died and it reminds me that things are screwed up, sin and decay are still present, I’m not to get too comfortable in this place, our hope is elsewhere. Kaiah was born today, even in this fallen world beauty rises from its ashes just as Jesus rose from the darkness of death and defeated it on our behalf…God is still working and He is still so good.

Some days are bittersweet, more bitter than sweet and b/c of Jesus, more sweet than bitter.

The Blessing of a Father..Thanks Dr. Jordan

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On Mondays, I had been posting blessings that I was giving my sons every night…but for a series of weeks I stopped posting them. No real reason, forgetfulness maybe. But it is a habit that I wish to continue again. But, before I post this weeks blessing for Jude, I want to share with you my experience of recently being blessed by a father.

I’m not talking about blessing in quite the same way here, but 2 weeks ago Erin and I had the opportunity to finally sit down with a very special father in our lives…Dr. Glen Jordan. For months, Dr. Jordan was just a voice to us. A kind, honest voice who walked us through some of the darkest and most fearful news that we could ever hear…yet with a love and compassion that could only come from a father who’s heart had been shaped by God. You see, Dr. Jordan lives in Seattle and is the head of a NICU team there. His daughter Laura goes to our church and has become a friend to us and she shared our situation with him way back in January.

Since then he has walked us through the worst case scenarios and has unpacked complicated medical jargon that no one else would help us with. He helped us face what we would not face on our own and he helped us place those fears squarely into the hands of Christ…he has wept for us and he has wept with us…even though we had never met.

That was until 2 weeks ago when he came to Richmond for Laura’s graduation. He and his family took time during the busiest of weekends to sit down with us at breakfast and get to know us. We were nervous, if I’m being honest. He had done so much for us through this that facing him was like facing my family after Owen died…he was now part of our family.

God used him to instill such peace and clarity in our hearts for months…he was and is a blessing.

I Shall Go To Him…

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Bracelet 1
Originally uploaded by cultivatethesoul.

Davids servants asked him, “what is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for this child while he was alive; but when the child died,you arose and ate food.” David said, “while the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:21-23)

I have lived with this text for 3 weeks and 3 days…all day, everyday and it finally became a part of me this week.

Our time in the Outer Banks was very healing for me. There were no profound “moments” just a steady stream of true fellowship, prayer, support, and hope. We spent four days with men I call brothers (Tyler-lead pastor of Vintage 21, Chris-lead pastor of Portico, Jason-lead pastor of Crosscurrent, Winfield-lead pastor of Church of the OBX, Will-lead pastor at Summit 121 and Nate-a true elder of elders at Vintage) and their families…talking together, dreaming together, laughing together and being instruments of God’s mercy in one another’s lives…at least, that’s what they were for me.

For the past five months, much of my life has been weeping and fasting…and a steady slide into a mild depression. So much hope, so much wanting, so much pleading…I have not eaten a lot, maybe once or twice a day, I quit exercising, and my body has suffered for it. I’ve lost 20+ pounds. My mind has suffered for it and my soul has suffered for it…and I have not been able to take off my bracelets from the hospital…I needed them, at least I thought.

He wasn’t in my belly daily for 9 months, he wasn’t in my arms for the whole 8 hours. Those moments are all I have and they were all right there on my wrist and now it feels like so many things try to pry me away from that day…I thought that I needed the bracelets to remember, for people to ask so that I could tell them, I thought they would help me…but they don’t help me, they hurt me, they aren’t my answer or my comfort…Jesus is.
I haven’t been able to take off the bracelets…until now.

My son is gone…I can go to him, but he can’t return to me.

So, the time has come to rise up, change my clothes, anoint myself and like David return to the house of the Lord to worship. (2 Samuel 12:20)

The time has come to take off my bracelets…Owen’s gone and can’t return to me. But, one day I will go to him and I hope to hear him say, “well done dad, well done”.

Remembering the Memorial Service pt.5

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I’ll wrap this 5 parter up with this…The Comfort of Friends.

Like I said earlier, I wanted people to see the comfort of God’s hand in the midst of such daunting circumstances and the two ways that are most visible are through Scripture and through Friends. These kinds of circumstances really do clarify and define things, especially relationally.

It’s one thing to laugh with those who laugh and celebrate with those who celebrate…but to mourn with those who mourn is a special thing. To really mourn means that you felt as though “you” lost something. That’s the way friends feel. So, together they feel the loss and together they reap the blessing of God to the mourning…comfort.

I asked Ryan Burns, my friend, to read a poem…I call it a psalm, that he wrote the night of Owen’s death. He emailed to me and I picked it up in the hospital and cried on my keyboard. Erin and I read it often over the next days and we wanted him to share it at the service. He did…and all in attendance were blessed.

It’s rare in our culture to see people care for another enough to really mourn with them…it’s healing and we’re blessed to have such friends like Ryan and his wife Jennifer (who played a beautiful song she composed for Owen) and others like them.

So, w/out further delay…the psalm:

Robert and Erin,

Never have I met
two people like you
and rarely have I cared
so much as I do.

There are few who have faced
the trials you’ve seen;
thieves, moths, and vandals
and death’s vicious sting.

In all you have faced,
many have watched so amazed
as your hope in the Christ
shines bright through the haze.

And truly that’s why
I love you so much,
for I see in your lives
how to hope and to trust.

To hope in a King
who sits on his throne.
To trust in a God
whose love can be know.

You’re more than great teachers
mother, father, or friends,
you are lovers of Jesus
from beginning to the end.

My prayers through these months,
“God’s glory you’d declare,
from generation to generation,
to Owen your heir.�

This prayer has been answered
and in glory he rests,
before our great King,
so happy, so blessed.

With this joy we still mourn
and Owen we miss.
There is not much in life
that will be harder than this

But our hope is in Jesus
who conquered the grave.
Death is no match
for this king who can save.

It is he who will hold you
and he who will see
that through this great challenge
victorious you’ll be.

And Owen’s short life
will not be lost over time.
Instead it will declare
God’s gospel divine.

Owen will speak
of the God who does care,
of the God who did make him,
and the God who hears prayers.

Owen will speak
of Jesus the king
to a world that is dying
and must hear this one thing.

But how shall he speak
and how will he tell?
It will be through you
and the life that you share.

Owen was well born
and a warrior most true.
He gets that from his parents
they’re pretty tough too.

I close with this thought,
I learned it from you.
To God be the glory
In all that we do.

For from Him and through him
and to him is all.
To him be the glory
and joy for us all.

The glory of a young man is his strength, right?
A while ago I talked about being the daddy of a dude, well….my son has again proved himself “dude” worthy. Let me explain.

Monday night we arrived in Nags Head around 8 p.m. We were waiting for the other families to get to the house, so we decided to take Jude to the beach for the first time. He has never seen the ocean of the sand in real life, just the Diego version.

As we climbed our way up the sand dune leading to the ocean all Jude could say was “daddy, I can’t see it…daddy ocean please”. Then, just as he couldn’t contain himself any longer, we reached the top and a whole new world exploded before his eyes.

“Wow”! “There it is daddy!”…and there he went, with full throttle abandon. No fear.
He ran down that dune so fast that I was still standing there when I realized where he was going. Without a moments hesitation Jude hit the water head on like an hungry linebacker eating a quarterback for lunch. What’s a dad to do but go in after him and get it on?

So, in full jeans and button up…we explored God’s wonderful creation and for 3 days straight it was “daddy…more ocean…please”.

Did I mention that the water temp was 58 degrees?

So not being prepared to document that moment, all we had was the phone on my camera…here we are after we emerged from the surf.photo_051407_006.jpg

Greetings from the Outer Banks

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Sunday afternoon, a good friend asked us to join his family and 5 other families in the OBX for a few days. It is a major blessing. We needed this and didn’t even know it, I’m so glad that God used them to help us.

Good friends, good weather, good conversation…this is the family of God.

I’ll post in the coming days about our adventures here and the remarkable families we are with…all church planters, all great fathers, top shelf guys and they don’t compare to their wives who put up with them.

Some of you may have noticed a surprise author in the past couple of days. Many moons ago, I invited Raymond Goodlett to be apart of Cultivate the Soul and it took him months to actually work up a post. But thanks to Ryan Burns oer at The Daily Burns, Raymond now has his own blog so I had his posts moved over there. (freeloader)
I love Ray, he is one of my best friends and one of the best teachers of Scripture I know. Do yourself a favor and make his blog a regular stop.

So, until next time…I’ll be thinking of you while we’re here at the beach. (hopefully you know I’m kidding).

487014281_f0cb5e96881.jpgthe-kiss.jpg

Phriday is for Photos

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IMG_5740

Originally uploaded by cultivatethesoul.

I though we’d start this tradition off with a photo that was taken by a friend and then displayed at the memorial service.

I’m still working on how to do this stuff, so I’ll put the others up when I can. But if you click on this one, it will take you to the others.

The Comfort of Scripture.

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Ps. 119:25)

In the midst of pain, especially the pain of losing your child…it is hard to see and especially feel the comfort of God in His word. Words seem so small…words seem so distant.

Though sometimes you can’t see the comfort or experience it; it’s there. I needed to be reminded of this, I wanted others to know this. So, we had a selection of passages read aloud during the service and then I did my best to read a reflection that I had been working on.

I don’t remember much of that moment; there was a lot of crying and choking and my tears kept smearing the ink on my pages… but, I pushed on, because I am Owen’s pastor. God gave him to me to steward if for only a short time. I felt it was my responsibility as his father and his pastor to honor God and Owen by pointing people to Jesus through this dark valley.

So, in time I may put a transcript up of my reflection on Luke 11 called “A Friend of God“, but right now I just want to share what I felt the Lord compel me to say as I was walking up the steps to the pulpit.

I feel compelled to clear something up before I read what I wrote this afternoon.

I’m not alright.

Yes I am a pastor and I am up here trying to comfort you with the comfort that I have received…but I’m up here trying to comfort myself.

No matter how big a view of God you have, and I have a big one that I pray only grows larger, it doesn’t take away the pain that I feel…my heart is crushed, my bones ache…what it does do is promise to work it all out for good.
So, I grip that and pray that it grips me.

So just know, I’m not up here b/c I’m alright and don’t let any appearance fool you…look, I can’t bring myself to even take off my bracelets from the hospital.
I’m up here b/c I’m a father who has lost his son who also happens to be a pastor.

I’d like to read you something I wrote this afternoon…if it sounds like I’m preaching, I am…b/c I need it.

I still need it.

Remembering the Memorial Service pt.3

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Structure.

It had to be right…the service had to allow us to grieve and to worship, to cry and to hope, to love and to let go. I wanted the service to have a rhythm, to carry us.
In this time our souls were downcast and there was turmoil within us…yet we are to hope in God; for we shall again praise Him, our salvation and our God. When we are downcast and our souls are in turmoil, God has provided comfort and hope for us in His Word and in the community of fellow believers.

I wanted to feel that and I wanted people who were present to know this…I wanted people who didn’t know Jesus to see the comfort He gives in what looks like unexplainable circumstances. So, I structured the service around the comfort of Scripture and the comfort of friends.
I wanted people…myself really, to be reminded that even when it looks like you’re alone, God’s is in your midst…an ever present help in time of need.

Remembering the Memorial Service pt.2

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Memorial Service or a Funeral?

It may seem odd to have a memorial service for a child who lived 8 months to the day in his momma’s belly and 8 hours to the hour here on this earth…what is there to remember that would bring any comfort?

As I wrestled through this decision it became clear to me, the service was not just an avenue to memorialize Owen, it was a moment in time to memorialize God. Just as He told the Israelites when they crossed the river to take some stones and build an altar so that when their kids asked what that pile was they could tell them for generations about the God who loved them and rescued them.

This night was our chances to pile up stones. It was our moment in time to say with David:

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
Selah

You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Selah

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
Selah

When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.