As the rice and spicy green sauce rocketed through my nostrils, and I gagged-wheezed red-faced and humiliated, I imagined your thought bubble: “This is the man God selected for me?” It brought back memories of me bumping my head and collapsing unconscious into the mini-van, you in the driver’s seat thinking I was dead. Or that time when I slipped and fell on the front porch in front of the kids (making them cry). Each time brings about the imagined thought bubbles: “This is the man I love?” “This is my husband?” And amazingly, each time the answer somehow is always the same:
How lucky am I to have you as my wife; to have you loving me now for 20 years? Inconceivably blessed is perhaps a better description than luck. And as we celebrate those 20 years together I have the privilege of calling myself your husband, and I can thank you for your love, support and unwavering patience with the tall bald man who has plenty of problems. Beyond the head-bumping, nostril-spraying, falling down antics, you also put up with the snoring, whining, controlling nature, and every-day craziness that accompanies my presence. Yes, you got the fully-loaded, deluxe model when you picked me out of the crowd.
Thankfully for me you ignored the recall notice, tore up the warranty, shredded your receipt and did not trade me in for an upgraded version.
You have been loving me – warts and all – for such a long time, and I know that I take it for granted sometimes. But please know that even as we walk through trials mixed with the daily mundane I am always looking at you. Yes, I’m watching you, and I’m forever in awe of your grace, patience and absolute beauty. You are more beautiful today than the day we first met, and when you add to your amazing physical appearance the wonderful work that God has done in your heart, well let’s just say that it is safe to tell the world that I am the luckiest guy around. Why should a lug like me have such an amazing woman like you? Like I said previously – I’m amazingly blessed to have you.
Speaking of blessings, one of the pure joys of my life is watching our kids grow up, and raising them with you is something that I cherish. And while the time seems to be flying by – I mean, how is it possible that high school begins next year? – each and every moment that we spend together loving, guiding and parenting Emily and Trevor (even the exasperating times) is simply awesome. And believe me when I say that everything good, sweet, wholesome and brilliant from these kids is because of the amazing Mom that you are for them. I treasure those moments when Trevor reads to you at night, and each time you go for a walk with Emily or have some serious girl talk behind closed doors it reminds me that God selected you to be their Mommy, and they love you so very much.
So, on this day that we celebrate our wedding anniversary, I just want you to know that I love you with all my heart, and I promise that I have a lot more clumsiness to share with you for many years to come. I can pretty much predict that by the time you have read this I’ve likely banged my head on a low doorway and spilled some coffee.
Thank you for loving and supporting me for who I am and for being passionate about the things that fire me up (or at least doing a good job of acting like you are interested). Thank you for loving the kids and being their Mommy. And thank you most of all for loving and trusting God with your life, and being an excellent representation of what it means to be His hands and feet.
In a selfish, weird way I find myself a little envious that fellow victims of sexual abuse have been empowered lately to confront their perpetrators through both legal means as well as the media. A huge component of a lifetime of anguish is that remaining mostly silent for 40+ years has served to protect those who harmed me, while I continue to carry around the assorted bag of pain. We currently have a state of affairs in our country where our politicians and entertainers have brazenly exploited others while many constituents and fans make excuses or choose to look the other way. Worse, Republicans and Democrats, movie-goers and couch potatoes find that pointing the finger of blame at the victims is the bold new way to sweep the accusations under the rug.
Well, somewhere along the way somebody said that enough was enough. I don’t recall who spoke out first, but I’m glad that she or he did, because for some reason people actually started to listen. Of course it was difficult to shout loud enough over the shocking sound of gunfire from Vegas or Texas, but the cry came forth and enough people heard it that it was taken seriously. Then came another wounded voice, followed by still another. There were disturbing stories of groping, fondling, rape, molestation, inappropriate touching. It was a chorus of hurt, pain, suffering and humiliation. It was followed by a symphony of excuses and a choir of accusations aimed at victims, most claiming that these were at best simple misunderstandings, or downright lies, tales spun to take down career politicians or rich entertainers all for a big payday.
Then came the question of why it took so dang long to come forward. “If it happened when she was 14 then why did she wait until she was 40 to say something?” As if time is some sort of magical tonic that removes the pain, shame, remorse, guilt and assorted wounds that NEVER heal from something so evil as having sexual abuse heaped upon a person.
For those who are having difficulty understanding the passage of time from abuse to accusation, allow me to try to explain it from the perspective of someone who was repeatedly abused, and to this point has only said that it happened and pretended to move on.
When I was seven years old there were two older boys who confronted me in the restroom at school. I was taking a pee when they walked in and locked the door. They stood there laughing at me and throwing things at me. They pulled down my pants, pointing at me and laughing at my tiny pecker. One of them then held my arms while the other grabbed my privates while giggling at my muffled cries…
Why not report it then? Sure, I sincerely wish that the seven year old version of myself was a little more vigilant and told the truth to the administrators about what happened, but the shame and confusion felt by a little boy resulted only in tears and a watered-down story of two boys being mean to me in the bathroom. I had to point them out, and I have no idea what their punishment was, but for the rest of my days while they were still on campus I lived in fear. When I was in Little League a few years later I spied one of them in the stands watching our game.
I wet my pants in the on deck circle.
I was just a kid, but in this moment of cruelty I essentially ceased being an innocent child. My world changed, and definitely not for the better. I wish I could tell you that my story of abuse and trauma ended in that restroom, but unfortunately it was simply the prelude to more sinister acts that I would ultimately endure.
When I was a little older I experienced the unwanted advances of a boy from my neighborhood named Eric. This was a boy who beat the living shit out of me a few times, but was also nice to me on occasion. Then came the day when we built a “fort” in his living room, and while in there he pinned me to the floor and took out his erect penis and shoved it in my face. I refused to take it, so he wrestled me more and just started grinding it all over my body, from my chest to my neck. Finally, I just gave up and laid there and he finished his grinding session and I was allowed to leave his house.
I never told a soul.
Sadly, while I was smart enough to never again enter his house, I did witness Eric anally-rape another boy in the fields near our neighborhood. Again, I froze, powerless to say or do anything.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.
As a teenager I spent years fending-off the sexual advances of a family friend named Paul. It started as kind gestures, followed by me trusting him enough to get close to me, then he would put his hands on me and I would recoil. He would let up for a while, but then he would try again. A favorite hunting spot for him was our family pool, where he would play this game with me and my brother that would ultimately result in him pulling one of us onto his lap. Slowly his hands would move up my legs until he would begin fondling my balls. I’d immediately jump off and get away, but Paul was a patient predator. Ultimately he would hold me tightly and grab, tug, fondle, probe and hurt me. After a while – like with Eric – I would just give up and get it over with.
Again, I never told anyone.
And again, for those asking me why I didn’t fight, why I didn’t run and why I didn’t tell someone – anyone – I submit to you the following question: Have you ever been in that position? Have you been there as a seven year old? How about at 11? How about at 13? If not, then you really have no right to even ask the question let alone point the accusatory finger at those of us who have been abused.
I am 50, so basically I have lived a lifetime of pain from these events. Until now I have never named “Eric” and certainly never “Paul” (I have no idea of the names of my initial abusers). Putting the names out there is somewhat liberating, but I also know it to be a source of pain and regret for those who might be reading this now and know exactly who these bastards are/were, and for that I am sorry.
Today I carry around a burden that is a byproduct of my powerlessness to speak out when it happened. I suffer from crippling intimacy and trust issues, that have sadly only gotten worse with age. I recoil in moments that should be sweet and romantic, no doubt robbing my beautiful wife of the closeness that she truly deserves.
So why now?
I’m not altogether certain.
Like I stated in the beginning of this essay, I find myself a tad envious of those who are coming forward now in very public ways because to them, it has to feel as though they are shouting it from way up high for all to hear. The liberation from having their family finally hear it, and their friends finally knowing, and of course speaking the name of the perpetrator ultimately removes the veil of secrecy, cover-up and protection that anonymity has provided these ugly people with for all this time.
I was soaking-in this realization the other day just after we had celebrated my son’s eighth birthday and as I was thinking about the senselessness and cruelty of stealing away innocence, I was shocked to realize that I was basically my son’s age when my personal ordeal began. I actually thought to myself, “I was that little when it happened to me?” Knowing how enraged I would be should someone inflict sexual abuse onto my own children, I suddenly realized that both of my parents passed away not knowing that these horrific acts of cruelty had happened to me on their watch, and I was overcome by a massive wave of guilt like nothing I’d ever felt before. I wept at the thought of them going to their graves believing that my childhood was mostly carefree, that our home and neighborhood provided protection, and that our friends and neighbors were like family. It hurt to know that they were wrong. That for every God-loving Jim Standifer there was a predatory Eric. That for every true friend like Mike Begnaud there was the disgusting Paul. Four houses down the street was a living room with an unwanted penis shoved in my face, and in our own backyard my balls were being roughly manhandled.
There is no silver lining here. Just pain.
I have spent so much time shoving these memories down and feeling bad about myself, and I sincerely wish that I could tell you that pointing fingers of blame at two nameless guys, along with Eric and Paul fixes everything, but sadly it does not. But getting this out there and having friends, family and perfect strangers read about my ordeal does act a bit like a pressure valve being opened ever so slightly. And I have to believe that to be the primary motivation of the other brave and hurting souls who are now sharing their stories of abuse. I don’t necessarily want to live in a society dominated by stories of sexual predators, but if more victims come forward with their stories then perhaps perpetrators will think twice before making their unwanted advances. Maybe the stories will help teachers, doctors, police officers and parents recognize some early warning signs of abuse and be able to step in before it is too late.
As for me, well, it’s too late. But I do get to tell you that I was sexually abused and survived it. Others are not so lucky.
My hope is that if you are on the side of assuming that accusers are in it for money, publicity or are just not telling the truth, well I hope that my story helped to explain why sometimes silence naturally follows being violated. That humiliation and guilt are paralyzing.
And that speaking out and naming names is an important part of the healing process.
Quality alone time is something we all long for on occasion, but the feeling of being alone in our times of struggle and distress is certainly not a good thing, and when we ultimately isolate ourselves from our family, friends and prayer partners it becomes easier to entangle ourselves into old thoughts and dangerous habits. Thankfully we do have Godly family members, friends and prayer partners who gladly walk life together with us, reminding us of God’s love for us and helping us in troubling times. In the Bible we have the wonderful example of this sort of friendship between David and Jonathan. In the book of 1 Samuel we learn of David, fresh from his amazing and victorious battle against Goliath the Philistine, being welcomed and celebrated by King Saul, only to quickly find himself the subject of the king’s raging jealously. So bad was it for David that his very life was in constant danger of the hateful king.
Thankfully David did not have to endure this horrifically difficult time alone. He had the friendship of the king’s son Jonathan to support him in this time of need. From 1 Samuel 18:
As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
Jonathan’s friendship had to be a comfort to David in his time of difficulty, but the pledge of friendship didn’t necessarily remove the danger in David’s life. Let’s read further into the story to see the relationship deepen.
And Saul took him (Jonathan) that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
In this amazing example, Jonathan’s friendship and support of David cost him his relationship with his father, the King.
Jonathan also sacrificed his own well-being and safety by giving David his armor and weaponry: David was now well-armored for battle because of his friend’s sacrifice.
For me personally, I am reminded of a time in my life when I was experiencing a serious life trauma and I hadn’t told anyone. My boss at the time – David Jordan – recognized that I had anguish in my life. It was the worst time of my life, and David sat me down and shared that he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that He was his Savior, and if I ever had any questions about God, heaven or The Bible that his door was always wide open. This simple act of care and friendship literally saved my life. I’m thankful to still call David my friend today, nearly 25 years later. “Friend” almost doesn’t seem strong enough. David is my brother!
Friends, I want to encourage you to pursue healthy and supportive relationships in your life. When you think about your friendships take a moment to consider removing your “armor” and handing it to your buddy knowing that it will make things a little more difficult for you, but in the long run provide the love and support that your friend requires in his time of need. Consequently, examine the friendships that you have and seek God’s wisdom in identifying the potentially unhealthy ones. Be forever blessed by the “Jonathans” you have in your life, but beware of the potential “Sauls.”
The Bible has additional insight on our relationships with our believing brothers and sisters in The Lord, showing us how to encourage one another while making certain to gather often to deepen our relationships. From Hebrews 10:24 –
And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. 25Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
You are not meant to live your life alone. Jesus is walking with you and He has placed amazing people in your life to pray with, support and love. I know sometimes relationships are difficult, but in light of what we have learned today God provides us with wisdom and discernment to choose the right ones and to sometimes walk away from the hazardous ones.
It is also important to utilize the “quality alone time” I alluded to at the beginning.
What we do in our alone time is just as important as the bonding time we spend with our loving and supportive friends. We talked about David’s struggles with King Saul. These were times when his life was literally in peril. In his alone time David prayed and wrote of his fears, apprehensions and desperation. He cried out to God. David’s alone time resulted in some powerful Psalms (take some time to read Psalms 7, 27, 31, 34 and 52 as examples).
Life is a battle some times. Don’t try to fight it alone!
This selection is from a FUEL Ministries (Focused Upon Eternal Living) study that I wrote. I encourage men who are weary from the battle and seeking God’s grace and mercy to examine the study and other tools available through this wonderful ministry.
Please visit them at: http://fuelministries.org/
Yeah, so it’s been awhile.
Days they force you Back under those covers
Lazy mornings they multiply
But glory’s waiting Outside your window
So wake on up from your slumber And open up your eyes
Tongues are violent Personal and focused
Tough to beat with Your steady mind
But hearts are stronger after broken
So wake on up from your slumber And open up your eyes
The above are lyrics from “Slumber” from the Christian rock band NEEDTOBREATHE, and the song is imploring believing listeners to not only embrace the freedom that we have in Christ, but to awaken and lead the lives we are called to live. God wants us to know that we are no longer slaves to sin, to open our eyes to the fruitful calling and plans that He has for us.
I want to explore “waking up from our slumber” and living with an expectation that Jesus will return soon and along the way we’ll seek wisdom from God’s Word so that we can spend our time wisely and effectively. Let’s wake up and see what God reveals to us on the subject.
First, let’s examine Isaiah 60:1-2 and Ephesians 5:14-17 and see if you spot a common theme:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” – Isaiah 60:1-2
“This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
The Isaiah verse is compelling the people of Jerusalem (Zion) to wake from their slumber, that while darkness envelops the rest of the earth their King will live among them – don’t miss Him! Similarly, Ephesians compels us believers to wake up from the dead, to no longer walk in the sin that enslaved us, but to be wise and seek the Lord’s will for our lives.
Let’s make sure that we don’t miss out on all the Lord is doing in our lives. If your personal walk with the Lord is a little sluggish today, or if you are struggling with old problems rejoice in the fact that Lord is gently waking you up and restoring you, revitalizing you and readying you! Psalm 23:3 reminds us that “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
The other amazing thing to realize as we walk through life on earth with our newfound freedom in Christ is that He will return again someday, and then our journey continues with Him into eternity, and God wants us ready for this amazing day! He wants us to know that with every passing day we are that much closer to glory and with that in mind we need to wake up and lead the holy and pleasing lives that were intended for us. Paul writes about this in Romans 13:11-14:
“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
The amazing thing to realize here is that God has already transformed our lives through the blood of Jesus, and has empowered us through His Holy Spirit to overcome the powers of darkness, so we need not struggle! 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” So while the crafty devil may attempt to tantalize us with the old things that once enslaved us we have been made new and those old powers of darkness no longer hold any power over us.
We just need to make sure to wake up from our slumber and realize that we have this hope – daily.
We need to also be very aware that as we awaken daily to our freedom in Christ that a weary and troubled world is watching us. Family and friends who saw us frequently walking in the darkness of our old lives now see us wide awake and strolling in the hope and light of the Lord and they will want to know what is going on. Are you awake enough to talk to them about the hope that you have? Yes! This very concept is discussed in 1 Peter 3:15-16:
“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Personally, I find myself wide awake when I take time to truly see the living God when meditating on the written Word. I am convicted and filled with hope as I see Jesus from the Old Testament to the New, and as a result my prayer life is more active as I seek His will for my life.
I hope this exploration into waking from our slumber has literally been eye-opening for you and that if you were a little groggy and tired in the beginning that you are wide awake now and full of the hope that comes from being a Christian. I encourage you to put your faith into action daily and that you will dedicate time each day to the Bible and recognize that God’s Word is not a collection of static lines on paper, but holy and alive! See Hebrews 4:12-13:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Wake up my friends! You are blessed and loved!
The above is a contribution to FUEL Ministries that I penned a few months ago. I encourage you to explore FUEL to help you discover God’s amazing plan for your life. A life of truth and abundance.
There I was, in that interesting moment when the doctor was about to tell us the sex of our first child. Deep in the dark recesses of my mind, that place full of bad memories of being abused and mocked as a young and awkward boy, I knew one thing and one thing only: I wanted this baby to be a girl.
Hit the fast-forward button by some twelve years and yeah, I have that baby girl, but because time flies, she’s no longer a baby. She’s a teenager.
It’s not so much about a crush or even the fact that my daughter Emily is infatuated with an eighth grade boy, or even the soul-smashing reality that apparently this eighth grade boy is also head-over-heels for her. I mean, who wouldn’t be? She’s beautiful, smart and funny, so it’s a no-brainer that boys were going to come-a-callin’ eventually. It doesn’t mean that I have to be happy about it, I mean, am I selfish for wishing that the only man she would ever love would be me? Not possible. But again, crushes are gonna happen, and while we are prohibiting the ridiculous notion of “dating” at this early age, it is the means by which our young daughter went around some fairly easy-to-follow rules and boundaries that has us disappointed and quite a bit sad today.
It’s all about the lying.
The easy thing to do here is to throw up our arms in surrender, say, “Oh, all kids lie. Heck, I lied all the time!” And we certainly could do that and all of us would be fine, right? I’m not so sure. So much of the struggles that we are experiencing with Emily currently are centered around the fact that we are not allowing her to have a phone, or are we allowing her to have a Facebook account. Oh, and did I mention that there is no Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter in her universe at this current date and time? Yes, you read that correctly. We are bucking the trend of allowing children to have unfettered access to the wild west that is social media. And oh by the way, she can’t text or call any of her friends, because as I mentioned we are not allowing her to have a phone just yet.
She’s simply not mature enough for a phone, and I am not ready to unleash the bondage and sickness of our social media society on her just yet.
Here’s a little story about that.
Emily has her own YouTube channel. All her videos are harmless and completely innocent and they are all private. But there was a day when we forgot to upload one particular video as private, and for about 48 hours it floated around out there, visible to anyone. Upon discovering this problem, I changed the setting and quickly stumbled upon a half-dozen comments that had been left behind. Four of those were completely innocuous, but two of them were ultimately taken down and reported to Google because of the obscene and despicable language directed at my daughter.
So yes, I am a little paranoid about Emily’s exposure to this sort of stuff. My rationale: What exactly is the hurry? The counter argument: You are sheltering her. She has to grow up eventually!
So Emily has lied to us about a lot of things recently, and most of them are the result of her desperate need to be like the rest of her friends and classmates who can call and text from their phones, and view every single funny, and often times inappropriate photo or video that has been posted on the aforementioned social media sites. She has accessed forbidden websites and then attempted to cover her tracks and made calls from Sam’s phone to boy-crush after telling us that she needed to call a friend about a homework assignment.
Those are just the most recent ones that have happened in the last few weeks, and while they may seem very tame to most readers and perhaps hardly seem worthy of punishment, please know that we are bringing the consequences and this time they are very serious. You see, the pattern that is developing now is not an uncommon one for a teenager who is desperate to test boundaries and see how much she can get away with, and we are at a critical juncture in raising her correctly.
It is all about her character.
The window is closing. Emily will be twelve in a month, which is mere inches away from sixteen and then before you know it she is eighteen and our influence will be but a whisper in her college-bound ears. We don’t have a lot of time left to teach and model right from wrong to her, and while punishments and withholding social media rights may seem cruel and unusual in this time of Donald Trump and reality television, we are absolutely doing right by our daughter. We live in a society that rejects goodness, virtue and Jesus Christ, but in our house we embrace righteousness and take the call to be holy quite seriously.
You ever see “Over The Hedge?” Good movie and you should check it out sometime. A main character is a turtle named Verne who is a born leader, but quite conservative and quite cautious in how he proceeds, to the point that his tail actually tingles when he senses that something – a plan, action or idea – is wrong or dangerous. I’ve brought up Verne quite a bit to Emily lately, reminding her that the tingling in Verne’s tail is precisely like the discernment we have from God’s Holy Spirit, who guides us into truth and provides us with the supernatural ability to be holy even when the world is compelling us to do otherwise.
So if my parenting style is a little slow and methodical you can attribute it to Verne.
All kidding aside, we are seriously preaching that character counts in our family, and with that in mind, lying cannot be tolerated, and repeated lying and deceit will result in serious consequences, many of which Emily is now dealing with.
Yesterday was an awful day. It had been an extremely long week of work (one of those where I awoke on Thursday convinced that it was Friday, thus making it that much longer), and faced with a busy Friday night and weekend full of activities, I checked in with Samantha on the way home to see how things were going. Not only was she very sick, Sam had the unpleasant duty to inform me of our daughter’s latest deception and knowing that serious consequences needed to commence immediately, it was my task to drive to Sky Zone, where Emily was enjoying some quality time with her church discipleship group, and take her home. It was an odd and surreal feeling to be one of those families, you know, where the Dad suddenly shows up and drags the wayward kid away from the fun and games, and yeah, that’s pretty much how it went. Banished to the backseat of my car, Emily made several appeals, arguments and justifications for her actions. I listened to each and every one of them – none plausible, yet impressively delivered by my daughter – and then refuted each of them, point-by-point, never raising my voice, yet my blood was boiling.
This was a pivotal moment in our relationship: I could officially check-out from this point forward and hope for the best, or I could strap-in and truly do the parenting I never wanted to do (or felt equipped for). My heart was breaking and aching as I listed the privileges that we were removing from her day-to-day life between now and the end of the school year.
It was all so harsh and oh so painful, but it was all so absolutely necessary.
I arose this morning after a fitful night of sleep. I dreamt of such horrible things that I almost wish that I’d just stayed awake all night watching Fuller House. Yep, it was that bad of a night. Still, I sipped my coffee this morning and played Battleship with Trevor (I won the game and made him cry, which is a story for another day), and greeted my beautiful daughter with a hug. It took me back to that moment at the doctor’s office all those years ago when I silently prayed that we would be told that we were having a girl. Sure, there were all those selfish reasons that were rooted in fear, but God’s answer to all of my prayers – no matter what my motivation – was my smart, beautiful, talented and funny Emily.
She will always be my little Sweet Pea, who sometimes requires extra patience (clothes on the floor, forgot to flush the toilet), a little added guidance (those shorts are too short, and please wash off that makeup) and today, some consequences.
And she gets it.
Emily sees the value in the quality of her character, the reliability of her word and now reestablishing our trust in her. She understands that we are called to be holy and even at this young and impressionable age, Emily is going about the task of working out her salvation with fear and trembling. It is oftentimes difficult to watch and many times more difficult to parent, but in the end I trust in God that it will all be worth it. She is a great kid and I am absolutely positive that her future is bright.
I love you Emily.
Matthew 28:19-20 – Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
“All nations” is what Jesus commanded, not just the places where it is convenient, easy and where the Gospel message is accepted without compromise. But what happens when your missionary parents in India raise you to have a personal relationship with Jesus, you accept His invitation and this blessing provides you with a way out? The door swings wide open for you to leave your impoverished homeland where only 2% of its citizenry acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord, and the vast majority are clinging to Hinduism or Islam. You have to leave and never come back, right?
This was the opportunity given to, and the decision to be made by Paul Rajkumar Gupta, better known as Bobby Gupta.
Bobby is the son of Dr. Paul V. and Devi Gupta. His father, having heard the Gospel message in India from a missionary in 1937, was compelled to spend his life sharing the good news throughout his homeland. In 1952 Dr. Gupta and his wife began the Hindustan Bible Institute (HBI) and its sole purpose was to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. Through his “multiplication principle” Dr. Gupta encouraged his students to share the Gospel message one man to another and it would slowly spread through India and take root.
Meanwhile his son Bobby received his diploma in Biblical Studies from HBI in 1975 and then was presented with the opportunity alluded to above: An escape.
Bobby came to the United States to passionately pursue his Christian studies. In 1977 he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Theology from Piedmont College in North Carolina, followed by a Masters in Divinity in 1980 from Talbot Seminary. Ultimately Bobby went on to complete his Masters in Theology and his Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Seminary.
Finally, Bobby was ordained as a Pastor by the Bethany Bible Fellowship in California.
It is entirely possible with his impressive Biblical resume that Bobby Gupta could have settled in nicely and pastored a church in sunny Southern California, delivering God’s message of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ each and every Sunday morning, and telling people of his escape from his homeland.
But that was clearly not God’s plan for Bobby.
In 1983, Bobby Gupta returned to India after spending ten years in the United States. Possessing the very same passion for the people of his homeland that his father had, Bobby joined the HBI ministries and ultimately took on the roles of President and Director in 1984. He developed HBI International Ministries, which is now known as HBI Global Partners; their chief purpose is to glorify God by mobilizing the North American church to partner with national ministries to fulfill the Great Commission in India and beyond.
Led by Bobby and his wife Linnet, HBI has been a Mission ONE partner since 1992 and they are training up the next generation of Christian missionaries in India through evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training. Their ministry activities include gospel teams, Bible studies, all-night prayer meetings, praying for sick people, open air evangelism, prison ministry, medical camps, hospital visitation, house visitation, youth fellowship, home meetings, literature distribution, fasting, working among women, children and students.
Ultimately, and at the heart of it all, Bobby Gupta returned to his homeland to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, and there really was no reluctance to come back.
“The vision that God put in my heart started to develop,” he says. “By 1987 the vision became clear: It was a church in every village, every colony of every town and city in our nation. Every people group of our country would have the opportunity to hear, understand, respond and be discipled into a worshipping community of people.”
Today as he looks back at the early days of that vision and sees how much God has done he is astounded and humbled.
“It is amazing as I look back now, nearly 30 years later to see how much God has done with a simple call that He put on my life,” he says. “Today almost every part of India is beginning to know and experience the knowledge of the glory of God. Churches are everywhere in our country – not that the mission is done – there are many people groups who have never once had the opportunity to hear – and so the mission is still alive.”
The original mission is very much alive, and as he looks back on the goals that were set, Bobby is thrilled by the results to date. That original goal – to plant a church for every 1,000 people by the year 2000 – originally seemed unattainable, but God has added better than 600,000 Christian churches in India since 1987.
Beyond the actual church walls, Bobby is even more excited by those who are making commitments to follow Jesus.
“We are very encouraged by the number of people who say that they want to know more about Jesus Christ,” says Bobby. “Last year we had over 61,825 people that said they not only wanted to know more, but they also received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and not only did we see people come to the Lord, we saw 51,891 men, women and children who were discipled into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and joined a local church.”
And now Bobby looks to the future.
By 2025 he envisions 300,000 church-planters trained by HBI with the idea of making The Gospel accessible to everyone, which means that they have their work cut out for them in the immediate.
“We would like to see 2,000 church planters who are trained and equipped to do the work of multiplying churches everywhere,” he says. “We would like to move from our goal of 10,000 churches, to actually 20,000 additional churches in our country, and we would like to see two million individuals discipled to the Lord Jesus Christ by the year 2025, and 100,000 homes worshipping God seven days a week.”
And for Bobby Gupta it is not about the numbers, rather, it is about delivering the Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving grace to the people of India – to the people of all nations – who are thirsty for the truth.
“It is so that the glory of God is covering the earth as the waters cover the sea,” Bobby says.
That is a vision and a purpose we can all get behind, and we thank HBI Global Partners and especially Bobby and Linnet Gupta for their tireless efforts.
There was a time when I could make five bucks last an entire day at the Del Amo Mall. No lie, $5.00 and I would be entertained, fed and happy. Steve Berg and I would walk the short distance to the mall from my house and we would go straight to the pinball machines in the arcade (Aladdin’s Castle), and with some skill, precision and quite a bit of luck, would make our quarters last.
These of course were the days when it cost only twenty five cents for a game of pinball, and you’d get five balls per game. Steve was always much better at the games we favored, but I could certainly hold my own, and whether we actually managed to secure a score that would get us a free game, or “match” and get a lucky free game, we always played more games than we actually paid for.
After a few hours our stomachs would begin growling, so we’d make our way to Perry’s Pizza for the special: Two slices of pepperoni, a salad and drink for $2.50 (remember, this was a long time ago). The toughest decision to make about Perry’s was whether we should go to the actual countertop location on the other side of the mall or to the Perry’s cart at the top of the escalator. Bottom line was that it was cheap and it was good. After we were done eating we’d return for another few hours of pinball, buzzing from the soda and covered in pizza grease.
So to quickly summarize our trips to the Del Amo Mall from a lifetime ago: We walked, dropped five bucks, played a lot of quality pinball and ate like kings.
Tonight I returned to the Del Amo Mall for the last time ever.
For those not familiar with the mall, it resides in Torrance California, has been around for a long time and undergone numerous renovations over the years. Most recently it received a mega facelift, with some glamor stores being added and the place just looks absolutely fantastic, as they have made the place an indoor outdoor behemoth that is quite a sight to behold. I do wish the latest attempt to make the shopping mall relevant in this age of online shopping to be a success and certainly hope that it gives a much needed jolt to the local economy, but I’m afraid that they won’t be seeing any of my money.
Today Emily had the pleasure of participating in quite a creative birthday bash for one of her friends, and it took place at the Del Amo Mall. It was something like a scavenger hunt and a chance for the girls to dare each other to do crazy things like try on clothes that didn’t fit or match and see if they could get the clerk to tell them that they looked fabulous. It was great fun for all the girls and they had a great time, followed by some yummy eats at Johnny Rockets.
My sole responsibility was to pick up Emily after the party, and here’s where me and the Del Amo Mall will agree to part ways.
Time it took me to drive from our house to the mall: 8 minutes.
Time it took me to secure a parking spot: 37 minutes.
Thirty five years ago I could walk to the mall in less than 20 minutes and spend a delightful day at the mall for five bucks. Today it took me 45 minutes to pick up my daughter from the same mall.
Okay, in the interest of full disclosure I am rounding the corner towards 50 and I’m getting quite cantankerous these days, but the epic meltdown that I suffered in the Del Amo Mall parking lot tonight had very little to do with my advancing age and everything to do with over-development of a once great suburb, a seriously bad parking lot design and people who seem to have forgotten the basic skills required to park automobiles. I pride myself in being calm, cool and collected these days. I no longer punch trees and throw things in frustration, but I was literally screaming in my car tonight. Screaming. What made it worse was the fact that Trevor was in the backseat, but he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, once we did finally park I apologized for “Daddy having a meltdown,” and he simply said that “It was funny.”
I called Samantha in the midst of my parking crisis and just let her have it. I screamed and threatened and made some sort of promises about the fact that “I wouldn’t even come back here if the Nordstrom family gave me their store” or something like that. I was going absolutely bonkers. All kinds of crazy.
As I mentioned, we did ultimately park, I did retrieve my daughter and now we’re safely ensconced in our cozy home and I’d really prefer to be a shut-in for the balance of my dwindling days. As soon as we walked through the door Trevor ran into our room and proudly proclaimed to Samantha; “Daddy had a meltdown!” I know I have to go back out eventually, but I won’t be returning to the Del Amo Mall. Ever.
I will not, shall not return to the Del Amo Mall.
I don’t care how large or how small.
I shall not, will not ever go back.
For if I do I’ll have a heart attack.
As we take our places in the pews having greeted one another and our hearts settle in for a sweet time of worship, it’s quite possible that we take for granted all of the hard work, dedication and prayer that goes into our worship teams’ preparation for the music that always fits so seamlessly with the messages delivered by Pastors Byron, Shawn and Garrick every Saturday night and Sunday morning.
So how does it all come together?
Clifford Young, one of our worship leaders at Rolling Hills Covenant was kind enough to give us a bit of an insider’s perspective, and his guided tour revealed that there really is quite a bit that goes into the preparation for Cliff and his worship band, Living Sacrifice.
While the congregation may be singing five songs on Sunday, there is meaning and purpose to those five songs and it all starts almost immediately at the conclusion of each weekend’s services.
“The First Noel”
On Saturday morning, Cliff and his worship band rehearsed this song briefly as it was to lead-off the Advent candle lighting at the beginning of the service on Sunday. The song’s selection may seem like a no-brainer given the season, but it, just like every song that is first rehearsed and then played at services, is subject to a contemplative time of prayer and quiet time with The Lord. It is all part of a plan that works for Cliff as he carefully goes about choosing just the right songs for worship.
“There is a general plan for the month and the series being taught,” Cliff says. “The pastors plan their sermons based on the series and particular Scripture, and our (music) plan comes right out of that and the worship leaders plan accordingly each week based upon what the theme or Scripture is. It is all Word-based.”
The next segment of rehearsal featured this hymn of pure joy in The Lord, and it is a completely appropriate one given the next phase of planning and preparation for Cliff, who, after experiencing the joy and rush that comes from leading worship service immediately goes into a time of seeking God’s perspective when putting together the lyrical framework for Sunday worship.
“On Sunday night I seek God and ask what direction He wants to go and I hear from Him,” Cliff says. “And the Holy Spirit reveals the songs. By Monday morning I have what I need for the week. I can focus on it and live with it for a week.”
This is where logistics tend to kick in, as Cliff sends out email messages – a worship invitation – to his bandmates as well as the RHCC technical team just to make sure that everyone is aware of the song list, is available to participate and most importantly, all on the same page and have a chance to review the music prior to Saturday’s rehearsal.
It’s this sort of preparation that is likely taken for granted by so many of us who are privileged enough to worship God together as a church family, yet it is vitally important to the worship team.
And there’s so much more.
“By the time we get to Wednesday we have a worship and technical meeting and review the previous week’s service and preview the upcoming service. The pastors, worship leaders and technical team get together and discuss everything and plan accordingly. The worship leaders will discuss the closing song with the pastors, who often times select the final worship song,” Cliff says.
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
As Cliff and the worship team rehearsed this beautiful song they stopped a few times to discuss transitions, pitch, notes, bars and to the casual observer who is not musically-inclined it can almost seem like they are speaking a foreign language, and it is in that very moment that one realizes just how blessed we are to have such talented worship teams to lead us in songs of praise and adoration. Cliff admits that leading worship is in fact his spiritual act of worshipping The Lord and takes the responsibility of leading very seriously.
“You are not a worship leader if you don’t worship in private. Worship seems to be about music and singing and instruments, but for a leader it is about sitting and receiving from The Lord, sitting quietly and communicating with the Lord. It is sitting before the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit,” Cliff says.
Again, Cliff reminds us that careful planning and consulting with The Lord is the key to making certain that the songs and the music are absolutely right for the weekend’s services and it begins almost as soon as he is concluding the previous week’s worship time, when he finds himself exhausted, yet exhilarated.
“I usually come home on Sunday afternoons and rest, get a little sleep and when I wake up I start working,” Cliff says. “And my work involves listening to God. I get to a quiet place and I talk to Him. I relate to Him about what just transpired and then ask Him what He wants for the coming week. We typically read a Psalm each week and I ask Him to reveal to me some songs to go along with the Psalm, and then I ask Him to show me songs to go along with the sermon series. It is amazingly miraculous that He always provides a bridge between the Psalm and the sermon series.”
As songs and music and message all start to click together, Cliff advises that there is a cohesiveness in all of it that actually permits he and the worship team to wing it at times should the Spirit lead them there.
“There’s a lot of structure behind it,” Cliff admits. “But behind this structure there is a lot of freedom there, so that by Sunday we are free so that it the Holy Spirit reveals a different path for us we are organized and skilled enough to follow Him.”
“Jesus at the Center of it All”
Sure, there’s some playful banter and a very loose and comfortable feeling in the room during rehearsal. There’s a reference to The Blues Brothers and Cliff even quizzes the band on some lyrics from “Guys and Dolls.” It is all very fun, but at the end it takes quite a bit of work and talent to bring it all together and maintain a focus of keeping Jesus at the center of worship.
“I’m a teacher and taught public school for a long time and making it fun in the band room was a part of what I did then and even now,” Cliff says. “The whole focus has to make it not seem like work. It is the same way in worship. But it is work. There is banter and it flies freely, but it is a family atmosphere. It is about having fun. We are a family and we love each other, so I try to not do too much. I leave them to work it out at home through their skill level and relationship with the Lord. Rehearsal is worship unto the Lord, so we open in prayer because we’re not just rehearsing to get to Sunday, it is actually worship.”
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”
The worship experience is one of spending time praising Him, calling out His name and rejoicing the fact that we have a real and personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Leading people in this endeavor can be overwhelming at times, and Cliff confesses that there is a rush of excitement mixed with trepidation no matter how many times he leads worship.
“There’s no place to hide up there, but when you are standing before the people you also realize that you are standing before The Lord and that is the ultimate expression of humility and grace,” Cliff says.
It is perhaps akin to a mountaintop experience of sorts.
“I don’t ski but I have to think the experience is a lot like skiing. You are on the top of the mountain and there is the slope the trees and you are leaving it to The Lord. You are saying, ‘Okay Lord, you’ve got this one.’ And it doesn’t matter if you are standing in front of five people or five thousand people, if you don’t have that feeling, that nervous energy, that passion no matter the size of the crowd then you are not a worship leader and you need to get your heart right because we are worshiping the One True God.”
Thank you to the worship teams at RHCC. Thank you for your talents, your heart for The Lord and thank you for all of the hard work, dedication and prep work that you do before any of us walk in on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
A special thank you to Cliff Young and Living Sacrifice, who granted us access to Saturday’s rehearsal:
Lead: Cliff Young
Keyboard/Vocal Tenor: Maria Soriano
Guitar: Chris Van Duyn
Bass: Errick Robinson
Drums: Eddie Gonzales
Vocals: Laura Savitz and Jan Williamson
A few weeks ago in the main worship center at Rolling Hills Covenant Church, the English-speaking congregation was treated to the teaching of Pastor Nori Terashima. The emphasis on English-speaking is simply to call to your attention that Pastor Nori is the Japanese Ministries Pastor, who typically teaches a Japanese service on the North Campus at RHCC each Sunday at 11 AM.
In the service a few weeks ago, Pastor Nori spoke of a rigid and traditional Japanese culture where the father would tip over the family dinner table if the soup was not to his liking and specifications. This story illustrated the stunning differences between a very cold and strict earthly father – the product of worldly culture – and the love we have from our heavenly Father. Pastor Nori taught from Romans 8:14-17 and reminded us that those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God, and that the Spirit we received does not make us slaves so that we have to live in fear, rather, the Spirit we received brought about our adoption into sonship.
And by Him we cry Abba Father.
Needless to say, it was a message well received by the RHCC congregation, but then Pastor Nori took it one step further, sharing the wonderful message of his own father’s acceptance of the Lord and the trials and amazing circumstances that brought his earthly father to Jesus.
The stern Japanese culture and traditions that Pastor Nori cited in his stories still create difficulties in bringing the gospel message to people in Japan, but he believes that with so many Japanese people relocating to the United States, the message of God’s love for us is making a difference right here in the South Bay.
“It really is very difficult to reach believers in Japan,” he said, “But it is actually much easier to reach Japanese believers and unchurched in the states and especially in Southern California. When they move here they have already accepted that Christianity is a big part of American culture and they are eager to know more. So we just invite those people to church – which is much more awkward to do in Japan because historically there have been many problems when it comes to the church.”
Removing the barrier of awkwardness in an invitation to attend Japanese services at RHCC is made even easier with several programs aimed at helping Japanese families who have recently moved here make the transition. Pastor Nori cites that entire families are often impacted by a dramatic relocation, and his ministry is one of comfort and the love of Jesus in the lives of these transplanted families. Programs at RHCC such as Japanese MOPS, English Conversation Classes, children’s programs and outreach events hosted by the Japanese Ministry greatly assist with the transition and most importantly introduce the families to the Gospel message.
“There are big Japanese communities in the South Bay, especially in the Torrance and Rancho Palos Verdes areas, and many of the people are sent by Japanese companies to work here for a short term period, either for a few months or even five years,” Pastor Nori said. “And coming from Japan, which is an unchurched nation, most of them have never heard of the Gospel in their entire lives.”
Pastor Nori cited his recent message to the English-speaking RHCC congregation to again highlight the difficulties in bridging the Japanese cultural divide when it comes discussing the need for a Savior.
“In my message I talked about the strict family culture that I was raised in, one where you are trained to be very independent,” he said. “So believing in God can be seen as a sign of weakness in Japanese culture, and that is still alive here.”
Still, as he sees more Japanese families coming to the 11 AM service on Sundays as well those who perhaps start with a simple program, Pastor Nori is very encouraged.
“For unchurched Japanese families in the South Bay it is usually moms and children who get connected with our programs, such as Japanese MOPS every week and children’s programs in Japanese bi-weekly,” he said.
“It is delightful to see some of those families starting to attend Sunday worship services.”
Pastor Nori took a look around at the luncheon fellowship that was taking place this past Sunday at the conclusion of their services and he smiled. It is the smile of a man who has made a long journey and who is now helping and guiding others on their own.
He has but one simple request of the rest of the Rolling Hills Covenant congregation.
“Please pray for the many lost Japanese souls to come and meet Jesus here at RHCC.”