Now Sings My Soul; Psalm 21

My Lord and My God,

My focus is far from you, the one who sets up Kings and puts them down.

I have been distracted by the choosing of kings rather to place my focus on the King of kings.

It is in you, O Lord, where my strength resides
my salvation is present
my heart’s desire
my soul’s fulfillment.

Be my provision. Be my grace. Be my mercy.

Be my life. Be my zeal. Be my might.

Be my glory.

Bless me, O Lord.

Smile upon me.

Help me to trust in you, your faithfulness, and your steadfast love.

Hold me in your hands.

Protect me from the enemy of my soul.

My life is yours, O God. I love you with all of my heart.

Amen.

Going All In

I was sitting here thinking the other day how amazing you are. That you’ve been a mother for 14 years. In that, you have spent nearly all of your energy and might trying to be the best mom you could be. You’ve spent almost that long as a wife and when you weren’t, you still tried be healed, be made whole and devoted your energy so that you can become the best wife ever.

IMG_3081I just wanted to tell you that you have accomplished what you set out to do. The fruit is in your incredible kids. They are the best bunch of kids I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And by God’s amazing grace and your sweet love, they are my kids too. (Like I’ve done nothing and all of sudden, I get to be in their lives and they are a part of mine. Because of you, I’ve definitely won the parent lottery.)

And if you were trying to be the best wife, you’ve succeeded. The way you have loved me is way beyond anything I could have imagined. When I am trying to learn how to love, you actually live it. And it’s the strength of this marriage is the fruit of your love. We are strong because of Christ in you. It is evident you are a woman after God’s own heart.

There is no way we could be where we are without you. You are my Captain Amazing because you are amazing. Thank you for loving me and us and we. Thank you for saying yes. Thank you for your life.

You have a beautiful legacy.

1604718_10151910241338097_952947029_n

Thank you for letting me be a part of it.

I love you.

– J

IMG_3022

11751863_10153032700898097_3665010056348724993_n11036991_10152959737923097_2722382200935053709_n1966110_10152959672903097_7746337729704938900_o

Scared Shitless

I honestly thought they would have done the right thing.

I honestly thought there would have been justice for Mike Brown and every other person of color who have been gunned down by the police.

But America has made it abundantly clear that we will remain a hateful, ignorant country.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to God for the mercy and grace that He has given me.

May God have mercy on us all.

Protesters in Ferguson approach a police line with their hands up after the grand jury decision. © Adrees Latif/Reuters
Protesters in Ferguson approach a police line with their hands up after the grand jury decision. © Adrees Latif/Reuters

Psalm 51: Confession and Repentance

Psalm 51
 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
  according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

  For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
  Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
  so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
  Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
  Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
  Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
  Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
  Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
  O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
  For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

  Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
  then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

That Satan Himself May Understand

If Satan fume and roar against you, whether it be against your bodies by persecution, or inward in your conscience by a spiritual battle, do not be discouraged, as though you were less acceptable in God’s presence, or that Satan might at any time prevail against you. No! Your temptations and storms that arise so suddenly argue and witness that the seed that is sown has fallen on good ground, has begun to take root, and shall, by God’s grace, bring forth fruit abundantly in due season and convenient time. That is what Satan fears; and therefore thus he rages (and shall rage) against you, thinking that if he can repulse you now suddenly in the beginning, that then you will be at all times an easy prey, never able to resist his assaults. But as my hope is good, so shall my prayer be, that you may be so strengthened, that the world and Satan himself may understand and perceive, that God fights your battle.

John Knox, The Works of John Knox Vol. 4

(ht: Blogging Theologically)

Love Letter: Amber

holdingMy loveliest Amber,

I love you so very much. I have so many words to write and not enough space to write them all.  But write these words, I will and I will start now.

Your beauty takes my breath away. But you already knew that from the first time I saw you. In that moment I was both stunned and quickened. I knew I had to be with you. I knew I had to desperately and quickly get to know this person who has walked into my life. Remember that moment I went up and offered to get you coffee? In that quick second, I was trying to figure out how to ask you out for dinner. True story. I had to be around you. I had to spend as much time as you will give me just in case I didn’t get to see you again. So asking you out to dinner immediately afterwards was a bit quick and forward but I had to risk it. I had to be with you.  Thank you for saying “Yes” to coffee.

At every turn in our little relationship, I kept asking and for some unknown reason, you kept saying “Yes” until you said “I do”. I have a hard time explaining why that amazes me. The best way I could come up with this time recently where we were dancing and I became overwhelmed at this one singular fact: no one but no one has loved me like you do. There isn’t even a close second place. I thought I knew what it was liked to be love but weirdly enough, that doesn’t match up with what I see in God. Yet, in this time that we have been together, I see how you love me and my little bitty Bible brain keeps confirming, “Ah yes…” over and over again. You love me incredibly. You love me big. You love me more even when my heart doesn’t fully trust you. You love me more when you work with me to see where the root lays in my heart. You love me better because you keep working at my heart that doesn’t love you well at times. By God’s power, you love me. Thank you for growing my heart.

Your beautiful big brain of yours is the perfect helper, the perfect partner, and the perfect opponent for my brain. I came into this marriage with a thousand theories and you have systematically challenged every single one of them. Of all the books I have read, all the hours of studying, the volumes of pages I have written, you have had the greatest influence on how I think and what I know. My doctrine, theology, philosophy, and anthropology feel sharp because you challenge me to think through it all. It was almost as though God knew what he was doing in matching up my heart and my mind. For my soul, he gave me the greatest gift on this earth: you. I love how incredibly smart you are. I love how God has blessed with you such immense amount of wisdom. Thank you for challenging me.

Your soul: I love as well. I love how you love music more than me more than I love music. I love how you respond to the beat, to the strings, to the track, and to the lyrics. Nothing is wasted in a song when it hits your ears. I thought I love music especially when I own 100,000 songs. But I admire your love for music. Thank you for sharing that gift with me.

Amber, it seems to me that you have all the incredible gifts. You can speak. You can prophesy. You can bring encouragement. You can shepherd. You can counsel. You can rightfully and Biblically discern. All of these things are in you because you, my beautiful wife, have the fullness of the Spirit within you. I don’t see you chasing after this event or this speaker or this ritual or this class trying to get more of the Spirit. What I see is that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you and you go and walk in the Spirit. I never heard you say, “I need more of the Spirit.” What I see you do is being led by the Spirit. You walk in Him as though the Spirit is the Infinite God who gives infinite might to complete the good works that he has laid before you. I preach and teach this but I don’t walk in it perfectly. But you are my gracious and wonderful example of what Paul lays out in Romans 8. When I write/teach/preach my commentary/devotion/book/sermon on Romans, you will be the example I will get to use. Thank you for being the constant example of what it means to be a son of God.

Babe, this letter falls super short of all the things I wanna say. Ugh. Writing is freaking hard.

But I say that to say, I love you baby. I love you now; I am in love with you.

I love you so much I won’t even quote an R&B song.

You know I love you for life because your love is what I need.

And you also know I will give all my love to you and if you need me, baby, I’ll come running only to you.

It is so great that you and I are one after all. You know that our love is so strong. You and I will never stop. You and I will reach the top.

Just know that we have only just begun and the romance is not over.

Whatever it takes to make you happy, baby

Whatever it takes to make you smile

Whatever it takes to make you feel good, baby

I’ll be around

I feel my soul dancing. I feel my soul moving. I feel my soul grooving to the rhythm that keeps beating out your name.

I am ready to love you forever. Hey lover now, come love me forever more.

I love you, Amber. A million times more. I love you.

 

Love,

Joseph

Love Letter: Griffen

My wisest Griffen,

griff-murricaKnowing you has been one of the greatest honors of my life. It is pure joy being with you, getting to raise you, being in family with you, and getting the chance to love you. In more ways than I could possibly count, you are the best parts of me (and we are not even blood related). I am smart but you are smarter. I have some wisdom but you are wiser. I can think but you are better at thinking.

You are a genius. There is no denying that. What I am the most eager to see is how you will use your brilliant mind for the glory of God. Griffen, you were born into this world, this country, this philosophical mindset of Evangelicalism, and this Christian sub-culture where it is deeply discouraged to think and ponder the deep things of all truths. That boggles the mind since all truths come from God, all matter is held together by the mind of Jesus Christ, and the whole earth is filled with his glory. Why should we battle against the intellect when all truths come from God alone?

In the words of Augustine, “Love God and do what you want.” So, love God and do just that: Politician, Scientist, Philosopher, Theologian, Programmer, Engineer, and/or Professor. Any revelations will come from God. He alone will reveal those things to you. That is why in all spheres of knowledge, He alone is glorious. Since you have access to the fountainhead of all truth through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing you cannot discover.

But no matter what you do, I charge you to think through on all deep things of God. You don’t have to settle for my faith or your Mom’s faith. God has gifted you to think well. You might run into some notions or some Scriptures that might challenge your assumptions. Pray for the Holy Spirit and push through. Don’t settle. No other religion other than Christianity that works itself out logically and rationally. You might face Atheist and Agnostic claims that the Bible contradicts itself. But you would have thought those things through and with great humility, challenge naysayers to complete their thinking and not to give up simply because they arrived at a place where they are comfortable.

This might sound like a great weight. I expect great things from you not because you can but because you will get to depend on the strength of the Lord to do the work He has laid out for you. But work it will be. This work will not necessarily be easy. I promise you that the more work you put into what you like and Whom you love, the more you will get out of it. You know I am not referring to riches or accolades. I speak on the glory of God.

Griffen, you are a man. I charge you like a man. I speak to you as a man. I bless you as a man. Now you know the weight of responsibility. Now you are starting to know what it is like to care for others and love others. Please understand that I do not expect perfection because perfection is of God alone and Jesus Christ completely his life perfectly for you. You might fail but God will lift you up and you get to start again. That is called grace and we are all dependent upon it—

Thank you for your incredibly wisdom and maturity. Thank you and praise God.

Griffen, I love you so much. I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life getting to see what God has in store for you and to get to know you better.

I love you, brother.

Sincerely,

Your Papa Joe.

Love Letter: Yusef

2012-12-26 19.01.46My incredible Yusef,

You are my first child. You are my first born. You are my first son. And for a decade, you were my only kid.

I have been always quick to tell you how much of a father I was not to you when you were a baby but I have never gone into too many details. When you were younger, oh, I was around. I never left to go anywhere. I didn’t abandon you but that doesn’t mean I was with you. I always thought my stuff and my time was more important than you and your mom—stuff like World of Warcraft, watching sports, or feeding into my addiction of pornography. Furthermore, I treated your mom like crap. I didn’t love her. I didn’t respect her. I didn’t love her like a husband should have. I didn’t love you like a good father should have.

You received all this bullshit teaching as soon as you were born. Till this day, I am utterly confused on why the God of the heavens would give me not only a child but an incredible, awesome, little baby boy. In fact, when you were born, I was still working in pornography. That might not blow your mind now but when you figure it out; you tell me why that makes sense.

Yet, if there was any case that God’s ways are higher than our ways and what he sees is infinitely more, nay perfectly, more than what we see, then our testimonies would be the premiere example. God saw fit to give me to you knowing perfectly well I was going to mess it all up.

But God didn’t stop there. He was continuously with me and with you.

When you were around two years old, God started the relentless, active, powerful pursuit of my heart and soul. He gave me a job where I had to work with a man named Christopher Haun who started sharing the love of God with me. I thought I was saved because I said a prayer when I was eight years old. But I did not know nor love God. Chris started planting ideas into my mind on the deep things of God—thoughts that I couldn’t let go. Then when you were about four years old, your God sovereignly and graciously moved me to a job where I worked with Court Simas and Eric Patrick. I tell people I was a Christian but I was not. Court and Eric knew better and they began praying for me and sharing the gospel with me.

In April of 2007, God saved your daddy. He took away my cold, hardened heart of granite and gave me his soft, tender heart of love.

Then I remember, not soon after, the day that you were saved. We were driving back from your house to my apartment in Dallas (where I lived close to my friend Sophia). We were stuck in the middle of traffic going from 121 to 635 east. In the middle of going nowhere fast, you asked me from the backseat, “Dad, am I good?”

That was the hardest question I ever had to answer. On the one hand, you were a great kid. You never got in trouble. You have gotten two spankings in your life. You nearly always behaved. You were always kind and wonderful. I could have said, “Of course you are” and that would have been the end of that. However, that would not have been the truth. You were my son and I could not hold the truth from you. With sadness welling up in my eyes, I calmly looked back and replied, “None of us are good, Yusef. We have all fought against God. We have all made mistakes. We are not perfect. We are not good. And because we are not good, we are going to die. Because of our mistakes, we are going to be punished by God forever.”

Within a few seconds, you cried out, “I don’t want to be bad! I want to be good! How can I be good?” With my heart in my throat and my face hot with tears, I told you, “Then let me tell you about the God who makes us good so that we can be with him forever.”

That is when I shared the gospel of Christ with you. It was in the moment that you believed in and trusted in God.

God has been magnificent. He saved your Grandpa. He saved your Daddy. He saved you. Never forget what God has done in your life.

Yusef, I love you so much. I cannot believe I get to be your Dad. I can’t wait to meet the man of God that you will be soon.

What makes you incredible is the tenderness and the softness of your heart.  Not only do you feel emotions well but you receive teaching well.  Some people might have a hard heart against what God has to say but He has given you His heart and it shows. But because your heart is soft, that doesn’t mean you are always aware of the people around you. I know you grew up an only kid with me as the only one you needed attention from. But now God has overwhelmingly blessed you with a stepmom and tons of brothers and sisters. Your soft heart is ready to love more. If you want to love more, pay more attention to the people around you rather than yourself. I call this out in you because tenderness and compassion for others is what makes a man—not selfishness and focusing on yourself.

Your soft heart is already putting to use with your increased boldness in proclaiming the gospel of God. Son, you will never know how proud you make me when you talk about the gospel and your unflinching instinct to share with strangers and the people closest to you like your mother. You are not scared. You are courageous. You proclaim the gospel. Here is the absolute, unbreakable, unchangeable truth of the gospel. One, it is the power of God in salvation for those who believe. (Romans 1:16) Two, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith”. (Romans 1:17 cf. Habakkuk 2:4) Three, when the word of God goes out, it will not return without power—meaning that the word of God will accomplish what God wants to accomplish. (Isaiah 55:10-11) Fourth, the only way people receive faith to believe in God is by hearing and hearing through the word of God. (Romans 10:17) What are you going to do? Fail? Lose? Not succeed? You can’t fail. You can’t lose. You cannot not succeed when you share the gospel of God. Want to know a secret? You want to win all the time? You want to succeed 100% of the time? Plain and simple, share the gospel of God. Keep sharing and share some more. Not just words, son, but devote your life, time, money and love to people around you. By what you say and do, people will know your love for them. When they do, you will have that amazing moment in time to tell them why you do love them so and how can you love them so much. Answer: because of the love of God for them.

This is my life. This is my calling. “Preach the gospel, die, and then be forgotten.” Likewise, whatever God has called my kids into, he is good and I will forever praise His good name. As your Dad, it is my job to equip you as a saint for the work of the ministry. Whatever you might do with your life, you will be fully equipped to share the gospel. Whatever you might do with your life, glorify God and love one another.

Yusef, my son, I love you. I am always here for you. I am always your Dad. I am always your buddy.

Go and see the glory of God.

 

From your proud Pops,

Joseph

Love Letter: Gabe

gabe-tom_pettyMy great Gabriel,

You know what I love about you? You are completely different compared to your other siblings. You are nothing like your brothers and sisters. Heck, you are nothing like any person I have ever met.

First and foremost, you are marked with intense amount of passion. For art and singing, I could talk on end about that but that is not what I am talking about. What I do know, see and feel every single day is your passion to love and to give love. It is amazing to see you develop the myriad of ways to love your siblings, your mom and even me.

You continuously endlessly play chase with Emma.

You instantaneously comfort Grace when she is hurt.

I love how you are the first to run in from another part of the house just to hug Yusef when he gets home.

I am privy to the hundreds of really late night chats with your big brother Griff.

Then you lovingly, tenderly, sweetly hold Elijah with all the love that a person could possibly hold.

You snuggle and cuddle with your Mom as tightly as you can.

You engage, talk, go deep, hug, and receive kisses from me.

You love us. You love each and every one of us. And you do so passionately.

Every time I see you love, I cannot help and be reminded on how much Jesus Christ each and every one of us. You know all of that passion and all of that love that you have in your heart and you just gotta get out? That comes from Jesus. You love like Jesus. Guess what? If you love like Jesus, just think how much more Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you more than you can possibly imagine. He will always there to heal any of your hurts. He is there when you have a crappy day. He always there to talk with you and hear what you have to say.

His love is infinitely there for you. He will always love you. He will never love you less. He cannot turn away from you. He cannot withhold his love from you.

I also love the way you can express yourself and your emotions. Truth be told, this thing that you so easily do—tell someone on how you feel and what is going on in your heart—is something that I don’t do really well. It was because of you and the example that you set inspired me to work on and grow in sharing what’s going on in my heart. You are one of the greatest examples that I have in seeing the incredible strength in a person and in a relationship that comes with being truly vulnerable with one another. Every time I get scared about sharing my feelings, I think about how you do it, and then I get the courage to share how I feel. Every time I do share my feelings, I only get love in return. Thank you for showing me how to be honest with others.

Your passion, your love, your eloquence, your vulnerability, your eye for heart and your amazing singing voice—all that and so much more makes you second to no one on this earth. You are an amazing person.

That said, I can’t stop telling others on how awesome you are and how I get to know you, live life with you, help raise you, and getting to see you grow up into a wonderful passionate young man. I love getting to speak to your Mom about your life now and your life in the future. I am so thrilled that I get to see all of your life.

I am your number one fan, Gabe. I will always have your back. I will always be your friend. I will always be here for you. I will always pray over you for God to bless you, keep you, shower his grace upon you, give you peace and love you. You are always on my heart and mind.

I love you, Gabe. I love you so much. Thank you for loving me the way that only you can.

 

From your truly honored stepfather,

Joe

Love Letter: Emma

emma-skatingMy beautiful Emma,

You are far more than what people see. Or as the saying goes, you are more than the sum of your parts. When people see you, they may see only your incredible beauty. And as wonderful as your beauty may be, your mind, heart and soul runs so much deeper.

This much I know of you: You are a scholar of the highest rank. Honestly, you are every bit the academic that I wish was. To try to describe just how smart you really are fails in that attempt. To that end, whatever knowledge, intellect, and wisdom that God has given me; they are yours for the taking. I want to do whatever it takes to flame that gift of God inside of your heart—a gift of knowledge and intelligence. Whatever I can do so that you can love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, I will do so. Just because of your incredible mind, I am so honored and privileged to have known you.

Much more than that, from the moment I met you, the one thing you have given me were your warm affections and your desire to make me feel like I belong to you. Anything that we had in common, you were so quick to bring it to my attention.

“Guess what, Joe? You and I are the only ones with brown eyes!”

“You love books just as much as me.”

You always wanted to make me feel welcomed into your home. You wanted to make sure that I always felt wanted. You always made sure that I was loved.

You were the first to ask me for hugs.

You were the first to ask me for kisses.

You were the quickest to show just how much you love me.

You never knew this man from before. You didn’t know his incredible wealth of sin from a lifetime ago. You never knew the darkest and deepest pain that has injured his soul.

All you saw was me. You saw me and you accepted me. You accepted me and you wanted to know me. You wanted to know me and you loved me. I could thank you a million times over and I still would never thank you enough for your sweet love.

I never have known a prettier little girl. I have never met a smarter person. Yet, your charms and smarts are nothing compared to the bold and audacious love that you give to God and that you have given me.

I love you, Emma. I praise and thank God that he made you. I love you. Now and forever, I do.

 

From your brown-eyed, book lovin’stepdad,

Joooooeeeeeee