Thursday, November 30, 2006

Review of Cincinnati's Crossroad Community Church

Whenever I'm off from the Sunday morning pastoral duties of my own church, I really enjoy attending other churches to see what they're doing and how they do it.

Last Sunday in Cincinnati I had the chance to attend Crossroads Community Church, located in the Oakley neighborhood. Crossroads is a ten-year-old, non-denominational fellowship whose mission is, "connecting seekers with a community of growing Christ-followers." For this review, I'll use the format of the "Mystery Visitor" in Outreach Magazine.

Getting There: Crossroads' website quickly answers all the questions of a first time visitor--who they are, where they are, and what to expect. Getting there was easy. A+

Outside the Church: I attended the early service, so there was more than enough parking. From the moment we entered the huge lot, someone was directing us to a space. A+

First Impressions: Greeters welcomed us at the door. The lobby was huge. Plenty of comfortable chairs, but I expected to see a few more. This church is serious about coffee! They must have had 6 different kinds available. Glad I didn't stop by Starbucks on the way! For a moment, I couldn't find the auditorium, but that wasn't a problem. The building is a newly renovated old factory. The sleek silver-black design retains that factory "charm" (if there is such a thing!). A+

Inside the Church: Nearly all the people there were Caucasian. I did see a few blacks. Most appeared to be upper-level income folks, but I did notice several who definitely were not. During the service, the lead pastor mentioned that since the church moved into their new space, the church has seen a greater spread of economic diversity amongst its attendees. However, I don't think the racial diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding Crossroads was reflected in the service. B+

Service Experience: On stage was a huge 30 foot ladder and in the big letters, "The Joneses." The hour-long service featured 1 song (a creative interpretation of "In the Secret") performed at the service's beginning and end, and two artsy videos. The flow of the service went well and could have been further enhanced in a couple of ways. First, I would have switched the order of the two videos. The B&W 1960's-feel video (featuring two people on split screen competing to keep up with one another) did a better job of introducing the day's theme. Then, I would show the artsy claymation video second (light shining and then dimming out); it would have been good at the end of the message because the audience now knows the day's application; we can now "feel" it through a video experience. Or, I would have cut one of the videos and replaced it with another song. Second, the audience was told in the introduction to both videos, "Here's what this is about." That's like telling me how the story ends. Instead, let me experience it first; then afterwards, help me interpret my own judgments. The atmosphere was comfortable and laid back. B+

People Connection: The auditorium lights over the audience was dimmed almost the entire time, except for the service's few moments where people were asked to introduce themselves to their neighbor. Since the attendance was low, my Dad and I sat in a place where we could maintain space between ourselves and others. My Dad said afterwards he thought the dark room was intended to keep people comfortable with not having to introduce themselves. But as a first time visitor, usually you just want to comfortably slip in and out. B

The Message: The theme of the message was getting honest with others about your money. 3 Scriptures were briefly mentioned. The pastor did a sit-on-the-couch interview with a couple who got honest with their more well-to-do friends about their spiraling debt problem. The interview format was a good and gently persuasive way to talk about a challenging subject--the pressure we feel trying to "keep up with Joneses." The topic was an A+. But if I were to grade the reason why I should get honest with my friends about my money (here, I'm talking about where the source of the authority's application comes from), I would give a C- (now the pastor in me is showing). It was hard to discern how the application was arising out of Scripture. The 3 Scripture passages were mentioned only very briefly, not shown on the video projection screen, and not explained in any way. The testimony of the couple was incredible. Being shown a more direct connection of how their decisions arose from what the Bible teaches would have enhanced their testimony even more.

Spiritual Response: Kind of hard to gauge--especially considering the topic of the day. An offering was passed during the service, so that was an opportunity to put your money where your heart is. I can't remember if the audience was told we could talk to someone afterwards if we wanted to talk. My traditional church kind-of-guy Dad felt like he was sitting in a live TV show--Oprah or something. B

Visitor Touchpoints:
We walked around in the lobby afterwards, picked up some brochures, and got another coffee. My Dad jokingly asked a church volunteer, "Did I miss the cappuccino?" A

Return Visit? Definitely. Crossroads' seeker sensitive approach is touching a lot of lives. As an established Christian, I'd be interested in learning about their "Next Level" ministry. A

Overall Experience:
I'm glad I went! It's a whole lot different than ministry in rural Kansas. A

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Obama Outta the Saddleback?

Columnist Kevin McCullough is leading a controversial campaign to get US Senator and United Church of Christ member Barack Obama removed from the list of speakers at an upcoming AIDS conference hosted by Rev. Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church in Orange, California.

McCullough accuses Warren of abandoning biblical principles by allowing Obama to speak at his church, since Obama supports no restrictions against abortion, special rights for homosexuals, and condom distribution as a way to fight AIDS.

Several prominent conservatives have signed McCullough's petition against Warren and Obama, including Phyllis Schlafy and Tim Wildmon.

In an email to participants of, Warren said that while Obama is speaking at his church, McCullough is misrepresenting the nature of Obama's visit:

"Another blogger claimed I´ve invited Barack Obama to preach in my pulpit to the Saddleback congregation. Of course that is untrue. I´d never invite ANY politician to speak from the pulpit to our congregation. Never...the Global Summit on AIDS and the Church will be held on the Saddleback campus. It is not a church service, but an international summit for pastors and world leaders. Leaders from churches, denominations, health organizations, NGOs, Christian organizations, governments, businesses, and entertainment will meet together to discuss how they can work with and through churches to end AIDS."

McCullough's original article, "Why is Obama's Evil in Warren's Pulpit?" is guilty of skewing the facts about Obama's visit to Saddleback. He's not speaking in a worship service, but a church conference. There is a difference and McCullough should have been more clear about the nature of Obama's visit to Saddleback.

Furthermore, McCullough inappropriately highlights Obama's views on abortion and other issues around sexuality when he should have focused on Obama's views about the primary topic being addressed at the Saddleback conference--AIDS.

However, McCullough raises some important points for Christian conservatives. If Obama believes that condom distribution is the best way to address the AIDS crisis, should or can that message be given weight at a church conference where most in attendance believe that sex activity outside of marriage is immoral?

Last, McCullough fears that Obama will use his appearance at Saddleback to boost his future presidential ambitions--giving conservatives the impression that since he spoke at Saddleback, he then holds conservative views, when he actually does not.

Obama probably will misuse it, but hey, that's politics. Not everything appears as it actually is--just like McCullough's article.

UPDATE: Good comment from Scot McKnight: "Evangelical Christians must cooperate with anyone and everyone on the AIDS issue; cooperation on AIDS does not mean agreement with the moral and theological and political stances with everyone with whom we cooperate; refusing to cooperate with someone like Obama to stamp out AIDS indicates, not careful theology, but infective ideology."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Church Decides to Stay in UCC

Peace United Church of Christ (UCC) in Alma, Kansas--shaken by General Synod 25's decision to endorse same-sex marriage in July 2005--has decided to remain in the denomination.

The ballot vote, counted Monday evening, was 67-43.

The vote concludes a discernment process that lasted several months and was guided by Pastor John Austin and church's leadership.

Conflict is never easy and it always holds the potential to do more harm than good. Pray that what Peace has experienced will ultimately strengthen her. The UCC and the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference need churches like Peace. Their local and foreign mission work has been an exemplary example of what a small church can do in God's kingdom.

Pray too for our church as we will eventually be making our own decision about staying or leaving the UCC.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving in Cincinnati

Just got home from a five day trip to my childhood stomping grounds--Cincinnati.

What started the odyssey was my two sisters organizing a surprise birthday party for my mother's 70th birthday. My wife suggested I go, so I did. Glad she did. I owe you one hon.

Hearing my mom proclaim, "Theodore," when she first saw me Wednesday and then seeing her reaction Friday night when she was surprised by 50+ friends at her party made the time and travel well worth it.

On top of all this, I got to eat Skyline chili cheese coneys twice, enjoyed Graeter's ice cream, watched the Bengals on TV with my sister, played and hung out with my cousins, teed it up 9 holes with my Dad, attended the church founded in the late 1800's by my great-great grandfather, drank coffee with a lifelong friend, and oh yeah, ate Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

Wednesday night as I was talking with my family, we reminisced about our grandmother inviting us over to her house and ordering Frisch's takeout. My "Grammy" did that a lot, but I hadn't thought about it in years.

You have to leave home, but it sure is nice to go back once in a while and recapture your past.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turkey Brine Recipe

Make your Thanksgiving a happy one.


By brining your turkey! (Now wouldn't it be nice if Thanksgiving was that easy?!)

After eating a tough, dry turkey, I came across this brine recipe last year in USA Weekend. It definitely does the job of transforming your turkey into something special--moist and full of flavor. Give this a try:

1 small onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

3 bay leaves

1 Tb. black peppercorns

3 springs each of rosemary, thyme, and sage

6 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley

1/2 cup iodized salt

3 gallons of cold water

You need to start on this brine recipe one day before baking your turkey.

In a large pot, prepare the brine--combining all the above ingredients. Then, with your (defrosted) turkey in a large pot or container, pour the brine over your turkey.

Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours (the longer the better I think)

Remove turkey from brine. Dry off turkey with paper towels. Discard brine.

Then, prepare your turkey as you normally would for baking.

If you've never done this before, I think you'll be real pleased. As for me, I'll never make another turkey without doing brining it first.

P.S. Dont forget the jellied cranberry!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Smart Birds

These birds know where to go when they need a little care!

Quotes of Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley's 2006 Drive Conference for church leaders took place earlier this month at NorthPoint Community Church near Atlanta and Tony Morgan took great notes--saving me $2,500 in travel and conference expenses (ha!). In one, two, three, four, five installations, Morgan lists 73 "smart things" that Andy said. Here are my favorites:

2. We all do ministry in communities where people think church is for church people. That's the type of world we live in. People care about God. People want to connect with God. There's a hunger for God, but the church is in the way. "I'm giving the rest of my life to change that."

4. Sinners liked to be around Jesus. They liked him, but they were nothing like him.

5. Leaders are very dissatisfied unless there's progress.

15. When a local church gets off-mission, God gets uninterested. God says, "They don't need me."

18. Are you willing to take a critical look at your organization or ministry team and determine whether or not you're unintentionally making it harder for people to take steps toward Christ?

19. God works through systems. For example, your body is a complex system designed by God. It's systematic and predictable. God created systems. That doesn't make him small. Likewise, God works through systems in our ministry. Systems aren't secular.

32. Anytime you hear, "our people just won't," you're listening to someone who doesn't understand systems. They're blaming people instead of addressing the systems.

34. What's rewarded gets repeated.

47. Connect the dots. You need to figure out a way for every single volunteer in your organization to understand what they contribute to the whole.

48. The very best people are busy people. Because of that, you need to define the terms of service. What's the commitment required?

54. Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.

56. Learn to fight your battles on your knees.

63. The question we need to ask is this: What is the problem that won't be solved if we don't do what God has called us to do?

72. You capture a person's heart, you'll get their hands.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hawk at Sunset

I finally shot me a bird last night.

No, I'm not a hunter, but I was excited about shooting this picture of a hawk. They're all over this area. I've been wanting to get a snapshot of one, but they're difficult to get because they fly away whenever they see you.

This was taken again with my Fuji E-900 and cropped slightly with Picassa (a great photo organizer for your computer). That's all.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life As It Is

C.S. Lewis once said, "After you read a new book, read an old one next."

Not long ago, I found an old book, but I doubt it would qualify as old in Lewis' mind, since this particular book is only 23 years old. But it looks old. The paperback binding is falling apart and the pages are stiff and brittle. The book is, "If I Were a Pastor," by the late W. McFerrin Stowe, a man who once was a pastor, but wrote it after he became a Bishop in the Methodist Church.

Each short chapter begins, "I would..." Some of things Stowe says he would do is try to love everybody, tell them about Jesus, do the hard jobs first, and strategize, not criticize.

One chapter I like is, "I would talk about life." The description is very life like:

"If I were a pastor, I would tell my people of life's refusal to stand still--of how success can end up as failure, and failure may be the royal road to success. As long as there is life, there is great hope, for no one need stay the way he is. Often a miracle takes a minute, but usually a whole lifetime.

"Ernest Hemingway, the superb storyteller, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. During the presentation, his novel The Old Man and the Sea was cited. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, who for 84 days had gone without a catch. On the 85th day he went out further, and a giant marlin took his deepest bait. Then comes the struggle of the fish and the fisherman, who with his small skiff was pulled night and day until on the third day the exhausted marlin surfaced and the old man, with hands torn and bleeding, his body aching with pain, won the battle. He lashed the 18 foot giant to the boat, raised his sail, and began the long trip back.

"Then the sharks came--first one, then a pair, then more. The old man fought them until he had nothing left to fight with. They tore the meat from the fish until, when shortly before daylight the fisherman landed in his harbor, all that was left of the magnificent catch was the skeleton. His victory ended in defeat.

"It was almost a autobiography of Hemingway himself, who seven years after receiving his Nobel Prize, committed suicide. His success ended in failure. When we look around, we see how often this happens--finally only the skeleton of some fine victory remaining.

"But it can be just the opposite. Jesus tried so desperately, but the crowds left him, and we hear him almost plaintively asking his disciples, "Will you also go away?" Then, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he pled that the cup might pass, but it didn't. Then he was arrested, tried, beaten, spit on, and crucified. No one looking on could have given any opinion of his effort except failure. But on the third day there was sunshine and proclamation, 'He lives.' Failure from human perspective had become the world's magnificent success. What happened? So much--but it was all wrapped up in his final statement, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."

"I would tell my people about the old fisherman and the about the young carpenter--about the success and failure of our little enterprises and about how one never knows until God's final touch. I would tell them, but I would listen very carefully myself. As a pastor, I would need to understand this.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Harp Hands

My oldest daughter is taking harp lessons. Dad takes her to lessons every Saturday and Dad also supervises her home practice.

At each lesson, our harp teacher Jane Hawkins emphasizes the importance of "pretty hands." At first, I thought it was purely for aesthetics. But now, I know that "pretty hands" is actually good hand position that enables you to properly pluck strings and maintain good tempo.

Playing with "pretty hands" looks easy, but after four months of practice, neither Dad nor my daughter have yet to master it. The difference in ability and motivation between student and teacher is like the NFL commercial I've seen on TV: "Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they never get it wrong."

Interestingly, Psalm 33 encourages musicians to master good fundamentals, for in doing so it inspires worship:

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Whatever you do--at home, at work, at school, or at church--strive for excellence. God appreciates it. And you will too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Yesterday I met for lunch Jim, a friend and church membership.

As we were leaving his shop, someone told him, "You're always in a hurry."

Jim replied, "The day I'm not in a hurry is the day the preacher says a few slow words over me."

Hurry is the order of our days. Our society has cell phones, text messaging, e-mail, bluetooth, and more, but none of these modern advances has made life slower or easier. Rather, it's given us the illusion that we can complete more work.

Even in praying yesterday, I was struck by how many needs there are around me--in my church family, in the circle of missionaries my wife and I support, in my community, and in the world. As I prayed I remember thinking to myself, "Can't spend much time on this. Got to move on to another need."

Yet as I read the Gospels, I'm struck by how Jesus never appears to be in a hurry. Busy, yes. But in a hurry? No.

I've always puzzled over God resting on the seventh day after creating the world in six. God doesn't get tired, so why does He need rest? I guess He doesn't need to, but He chose to.

But there's another aspect to rest than just "recharging the batteries." There are times when I don't need physical rest, but I do need to stop, sit still, and look back on my work. It's pausing long enough to get some perspective on what I've done and what remains to be done.

With that thought, I'll put this entry to rest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kansas Sunrise

Instead of rushing to church early Sunday morning, I went out and took some pictures of the sunrise. It didn't do anything fancy. I simply pointed my Fuji E-900 at God's masterwork.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Getting Christ to the Core

After thinking about Ted Haggard's fall, a friend's problem, and my own daily struggles, I've been asking myself:

"How do you get effectual life changing nature of Jesus down to the core parts of our life?"

Miroslav Volf, from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, writes of two culprits that keep the transformative power of Jesus from changing us and the world around us--idleness of faith and oppressiveness of faith.

It's a good article. You can read it here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

1937 Gibson Advanced Jumbo

Recently I had the privilege of laying hands on a very rare 1937 Gibson advanced jumbo acoustic guitar. By the "laying on of hands," I mean that I got to play it; I don't own it!

The guitar features that classic Gibson tone and clarity and was surprisingly loud. I flatpicked several hymns and found its playability wonderfully smooth.

Gibson made only 300 advanced jumbo between 1935-1940. One of its unique features is the diamond and arrowhead inlay, found on the fretboard and peghead. The sunburst top, considered an added feature on today's guitars, was standard back in the early days. The straight flamed pickguard is pretty cool.

The guitar was recently restored by Gibson's repair and restoration shop in Nashville. They fixed significant cracks in the neck and body. The original top, which was bowed and nearly pulled off the bridge, was replaced with a new old wood top. Gibson did a masterful job. The guitar plays beautiful, but still retains that old look and feel.

One person owned this guitar for its entire life. Back in 1937-38, the man's parents bought it for $49, a pretty high price in the depression days and quite a sacrifice for mom and dad. During the late 1940's and 1950's, the man played and sang on dozens of country music shows during the golden age of live radio. He played the guitar throughout his life and now its been passed down to the family.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Black Tuesday for Republicans, Value Issues

It was Black Tuesday for Republicans and value issues.

In the House, they lost at least 27 House seats and won no seats previously held by Democrats. It's the exact opposite of what happened in 1994, when Republicans won back the House. Among the Democratic winners, Minnesota is sending the first Muslim to congress.

In the Senate, Republicans lost at least 4 seats--including Jim Talent in Missouri and good guy Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. So they've essentially lost control of the Senate too. In Kansas, Attorney General Phill Kline lost handily to Paul Morrison, 58%-41% (see previous post).

On the cultural values front, South Dakotans rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions (56%-44%), Arizona became the first state to defeat an amendment to ban gay marriage (51-49) and Missouri approved a measure backing embryonic stem cell cloning (51-24).

However, 7 states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man and one woman: Idaho (63%-27%), South Carolina (78-22), Tennessee (80-20), Virginia (57-43), Wisconsin (59-41), Colorado (56-44 and 53-47 on no domestic partnerships), and South Dakota (52-48).

You win some and lose some. That's democracy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kline, Tiller, and O'Reilly Battle in Kansas

Human life is a key issue in the Kansas election today as Attorney General Phill Kline faces a tough reelection battle against Republican turned Democrat Paul Morrison.

Earlier this year, Kline won a court order against notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller and a Kansas City Planned Parenthood clinic--making them hand over medical records so Kline can investigate whether these abortionist violated state law by not reporting suspected cases of child rape and whether they violated state law by performing late term abortions on women whose lives were not in imminent danger.

On Friday, Bill O'Reilly revealed that he received records indicating that Tiller performed late term abortions on women who were "depressed"--clearly a violation of the late term law. And, these clinics have performed abortions on girls 10-15 and didn't report these cases to authorities--clearly a violation of child rape laws. Kline appeared on the next segment to substantiate O'Reilly's evidence. Immediately, Tiller's lawyer claimed that it was Kline who illegally leaked the records to O'Reilly and went to the Kansas Supreme Court yesterday to take the records away from Kline's office.

I can understand why Tiller's lawyer is expressing outrage. He needs to divert attention from his client's shameful, evil, illegal activity. Sadly, this case shows how abortion advocates want absolutely no restrictions on abortion and will defend abortion under any circumstance. Tiller's lawyer can point the finger at Kline, but there's three fingers pointing back at him and his client--along with thousands of dead babies who cry out for justice.

Meanwhile, Dennis Boyles at reports that Missouri billionaire James Stowers--the man behind the deceptive campaign to make human cloning legal in Missouri by adding an amendment to the state's constitution--has pumped $12 million into Kansas' campaign to ensure abortion access remains unfettered and to pave the way for embryonic stem cell research (which requires killing a fertilized human embryo).

Is there a lot at stake in today's Kansas election? You bet. Be sure you vote.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard Bombshell

As an evangelical, though not associated with the National Evangelical Association (NAE), I was saddened and surprised by the bombshell events this past week concerning Ted Haggard, NAE President and Pastor of Colorado Springs' New Life Church.

Early last week, a man on Denver radio claimed he had sex with Haggard for three years and sold him methamphetamine. Initially, I didn't believe the charges. First, no evidence to corroborate the charges was made public. It looked like the media was an irresponsible and willing participant in a politically motivated attack. Second, the charge of Haggard buying meth seemed outrageous and over-the-top.

But then, Haggard admitted buying meth from the man (but throwing it away) and getting a massage from him in a Denver hotel (but no sex). Suddenly, the outrageous became credible and the irresponsible became responsible. Haggard's admission to some facts raised suspicion that he was hiding much more. To his credit, Haggard has now confessed. His letter to the church, read Sunday, humbly seeks forgiveness.

Some might say this incident shows why Haggard--and others like him--should be honest with themselves (and others) and not be ashamed of who they are. I think everyone should admit who they are--but then look to Scripture (and God's people) to see if who we are lines up with what God calls us to be. And--as Gordon McDonald writes at Out of Ur--if we can't admit what we are, God will lovingly arrange the events and do it for us.

What Interim Senior Pastor Ross Parsley told the New Life Congregation on Sunday was good:

"Listen," he said, "we all feel worse than we did a week ago. But we were worse off a week ago. Today, we all are more obedient, more repentant, more transparent than we've been in a long time."

God have mercy on Ted Haggard. I sure do.

UPDATE: Opinion from Jon Swift and advice to pastors from Mark Driscoll

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nursing Home Humor

Yesterday me and my friend Warren visited the local nursing home. I led the weekly worship service and then we went around to individual rooms to visit people.

One of those people was 96-year-old Dorothy, a dedicated, long time member of our church. She's lived at the nursing home for about four years now. I played guitar while Warren and I sang her favorites, "Little Brown Church in the Vale," and "The Lilly in the Valley." After a few more, it was time to say goodbye.

I told Dorothy, "It was nice to see you."

And Dorothy replied, "Well, at 96 I'm not much to see."

Her humor illustrates why she's one of the most beautiful Christian ladies you'll ever meet.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Questionable Sign

What do you think about this sign?

Oops, since it says questions don't matter, I guess I shouldn't have even asked!

I saw this on Kansas Highway 400, heading west into Wichita last weekend.

I wholeheartedly agree with part of the sign. Jesus is the answer. He's the answer to our troubles. He's the answer to our joys. He's the answer to our confusions.

But questions do matter.

In fact, the way I've drawn closer to Jesus, the way I've realized that Jesus is the answer is through my questions. Questions like, "Why is life so hard?" and "Does God really care about me?"

So what questions have helped you discover that Jesus is the answer?

BTW--if you haven't seen the sign that everyone is talking about right now, click here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Grieving the Loss of a Baby

Today is the birthday of Julia, our first daughter who was born ten years ago and unexpectedly died at four-days-old from severe hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The following is an article I wrote for the local newspaper soon after her death.

Thankful, Even in Loss

One morning while doing laundry, I opened a brand new box of detergent, only to find no scoop in the box. Eager to protest, I called the toll free consumer hotline and was immediately soothed with the promise of a coupon for a free box of detergent, hopefully one with a scoop in it.

This is what we've come to expect in our consumer world--a guaranteed promise when we've been inconvenienced.

I couldn't wait to show off that free box of soap to my wife. However, with coupon in hand at the grocery store, I had a rude awakening: They didn't carry my size box! I felt betrayed. I had a guaranteed coupon of comfort, but I couldn't use it.

This is how I painfully felt with God after our four day old daughter died unexpectedly. I walking down the aisle of sorrow, unable to redeem the coupons of God's love and reassurance. But this is when we especially need God's promises!

In desperation, I turned to Job, a man whose very name reminds us of suffering. Upon his own great loss he uttered, "The Lord gave the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21).

How the Lord gave! Seeing Julia born and holding her dearly in our arms was awe-inspiring. We were so thankful to receive her.

But just as the reality of parenthood was setting in, Julia died. The Lord had taken away. The pain of losing a baby sure makes you wonder if God really is good or if God really is all powerful. Why would He allow this to happen? I don't know. I've spoken with some who've tried to make sense of their own tragedies by walking these winding, mystifying roads and I've been urged to not take the trip; it's a wasteland with no relief, only bitterness.

Not knowing where to turn, I went back to Job's peculiar declaration, "May the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21b). Give thanks during sorrow? It seemed impossible, but giving thanks to God in the middle of loss brought great comfort.

I thanked God for the four heaven-filled days we had with Julia. I thanked God for the secretary at the doctor's office who gave me an appointment instead of my request to simply talk with the physician over the phone; for this reason, Julia would not die at home. I thanked God for all the prayers, hugs, and food people gave us; such an outpouring of love upheld us.

In giving thanks, I saw that whatever God brings into our lives, for whatever amount of time, it is all a gift from God.

My friend, praise over in dedication to the Lord everything you hold dear. Begin with your own life. For as Job says, we come naked into this world and leave the same way. All that we receive in-between is an unearned gift from the loving and sovereign God.

The sting of loss will still be there. However, amid the sorrow will be gratitude. Amid the pain will be comfort. And amid the tears will be hope.