The Singing Priest

The Singing Priest

I recently encountered a singing priest.  He burst into a John Legend song right in the middle of a wedding Mass.  At one point he was giving his homily with the bride and groom sitting quietly listening, and then suddenly he started singing, “All of me, loves all of you…give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you.”  You’ve probably heard the song on the radio a time or two (or a hundred).

As you can imagine, everyone was slightly surprised. I have certainly never seen a priest burst into a pop song, a cappella, in the middle of a formal catholic mass.


copyright © Honey Heart Photography

I confess, my first thought was, “wow, he’s a pretty good singer.” Then I thought, “what is he doing?! How could he be doing this during a wedding ceremony?!” I had a bit of a condescending attitude initially, I must admit.

And then I realized something – I loved it.   I found myself appreciating his honesty, his charisma, and his passion.

This was an intentional expression of joy – authentic, evident joy. And the more of that we show the world, the more the world wants to know the source of that joy. Especially when that joy is intentionally expressed in unexpected times.

Living Intentionally

According to psychologists, the twenties are the most formative, pivotal time of our adult lives.  What patterns and choices we make in our twenties determines our course of life.  It’s called the “Defining Decade” for a reason.  Young adults should not consider their twenties as wandering, meaningless years.  We should all live  intentionally – in both our life choices and our faith.

This applies to all of us, whatever stage of life we are in, though doesn’t it?  What choices are we making? How are we making a positive difference in people’s lives?

Erwin McManus asks in The Artisan Soul, “If your greatest work of art is the life you live, what life will you choose to leave behind as your masterpiece?”

A masterpiece, above all, embodies honesty. Glennon Doyle Melton recently wrote, “Art is not for the talented; it’s for the honest.” That is what the Millennial Generation craves in the church – that is what connects all of us– honesty.

Have a Conversation

So volunteer your time to serve at church or a non-profit.  Have a meaningful conversation with someone. Step out and simply DO something. One step follows another step and another – and before you know it, you’re showing people the love of Christ and living a life that humbly points heavenward.

Let it Spill

I came upon this poem the other day…

They tell me I’m going to die.

Why don’t I care?

My cup is full, let it spill

-Robert Friend

It’s a beautiful image of a man with a full heart at the end of his life.  If I knew I were going to die soon, could I say that?

Could you?

When our hearts are full, we have nothing to fear.  When our hearts are full, it doesn’t matter what happens after this life is over.

The question is – how do we get our hearts in that place? What can truly fill our hearts?

I couldn’t help but relate this poem to Psalm 23 where it says…

…Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

2X9A8717Photo © Gabe Lawson

In this Psalm, there is a direct correlation between being anointed with oil, and having a cup that overflows.

The oil signifies God’s presence. God’s blessing. The good news is that’s available to all. God wants everyone to come to Him and simply receive it.

There are certainly enemies out there. There are dark times and valleys to walk through, for sure.  But it doesn’t matter. We aren’t alone. We’ve been anointed with oil.

When we truly receive the presence of God in our lives, and we choose to live in it, we will find our cups running over with all things divine – love, grace, peace, joy.

Psalm 23 ends like this…

Surely your goodness and love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When we accept divine Love and Grace and let it fill our hearts, goodness and love chases after us closer than a loyal dog.

When we truly accept the Love and Grace that only comes from God, we want nothing more than to have it spill out and splash those around us.


Stories from Colombia

Ansel Adams once said, “Sometimes I arrive just when God wants someone to click the shutter.”

Our little team didn’t go to Colombia for 8 days to click shutters (necessarily), we went to share the Hope found in the Love of God. For three of those days we hit the streets of Medellín, Colombia, partnering with churches and going door-to-door sharing our stories with anyone who would listen. It was certainly uncomfortable and even scary at times.  Despite that, we discovered that God’s timing was and is truly perfect.  Here are a couple of stories…

My friend, Allison, knocked at the door of a tired mother. She answered and Allison shared her story of God’s love, eventually leading her in the prayer of Salvation. After chatting for a short while they got up to leave.  As they were walking out the door, the Mother’s son walks in.  After explaining why they were there, the son was visibly shocked.  “I was just having a conversation with someone about spirituality today – and we were trying to figure it all out” he said. “It’s perfect you’re here. This is what I need.”  He accepted Christ too, right next to his mom. Perfect timing.

I noticed an early teenage boy and a girl sitting on a sidewalk in a dingy alley scarfing down snow cones. After chatting with them about snow cones for a few minutes I told them why I was there. I shared my story of God’s love and asked them this question: “Do you know where you will go when you die?” They shot each other curious looks and said they were just talking with their friends about this very thing not two hours ago – about what happened when we die. “We want to know,” they said. Their friends eventually wandered over and before we knew it there was a little crowd hearing about God’s Love and how He wants Life for us now and for eternity. They accepted Christ next to a puddle of melted snow cones. Perfect timing.

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All in all, 190 people accepted Jesus in the three days we evangelized, to God’s Glory.  There are many more stories to share, from Brandon sharing Jesus in the house of a drug dealer, to Steve Rehner being accused of being a witch (ask him about it), to the amazing Colombian food. Ultimately, we found that we arrived just when God wanted someone to click the shutter, by the grace of God.

On Instagram? #projectColombia2014

God, Donne, & Love

I scarce believe my love to be so pure As I had thought it was…

John Donne is one of my favorite poets. His writing is so deep and rich and real.

His poem Loves Growth is one of my all-time favorites.

It’s a poem about how his love, at the beginning, wasn’t as totally pure as he thought.  Perhaps that’s true of many of us in one way or another.  How much of my love includes selfish motives? How pure is my love of my wife and my friends and my God?

Methinks I lyed all winter, when I swore my love was infinite, if spring make’d it more

When we first fall in love, we think we couldn’t be any more in love.  We think it’s infinite. Perfect.  But that’s not quite true.  The truth is, it grows.

Donne compares Love to the seasons, saying it has it’s hard Winter times, and it’s happy Spring times.  Love isn’t all elation and joy.  Even love has it’s winter times.

Real authentic Love is a complex thing that should grow and turn into something even more beautiful and grand than it was at the start. Even in the winter times, the love is real, because really it’s about the other person more than yourself.

The Christian life is the same.  We come to God broken, full of hurt and covered with scars.  We love God the best we can.  And our relationship to God has winter times too. But the longer we stay in the faith, the more we grow and heal, the more our love becomes more selfless and beautiful and grand. And the longer we stay, the more we realize that God’s love is more beautiful than anything we can imagine. 

And we know that God’s love for us will always be there.  Always remain, no matter the Winter we face, for surely no Winter shall abate the Spring’s increase…001 Photo © Gabe Lawson


For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

Love’s Growth – John Donne

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
   As I had thought it was,
   Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make’ it more.


But if medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
With more, not only be no quintessence,
But mixed of all stuffs paining soul or sense,
And of the sun his working vigor borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract, as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their muse,
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.


And yet no greater, but more eminent,
   Love by the spring is grown;
   As, in the firmament,
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love’s awakened root do bud out now.


If, as water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take,
Those, like so many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in time of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.

Defending vs Displaying

I used to get so caught up in knowing things like scientific and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  I used to worry that I didn’t have all the answers.  I used to practice what I would say to someone who didn’t believe in God, in an effort to sound coherent and logical and philosophical.  Because, after all, It has to make sense, right? It’s up to me to convince people this Christianity thing is legit, right?

In seminary we are taught all of these things and are tested on these things.  I am glad we were.  Anselm is a good guy to read, no doubt. These philosophical and scientific reasons for God are important to know and engage with. I am for apologetics — in an appropriate context.

However, I am convinced of one thing, apologetics should not be the main approach to showing God to others. Lived-out-love must come first.

This morning I read this passage: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. -Colssians 3:12-14

The Scriptures never tells us to argue, defend, convince. The Scriptures never tell us to know the reasons for God, they tell us to be the reason. They just tell us to love people out of the abundance of Love God has shown us. “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” –John 15:12

What if, instead of concentrating on defending our faith, we first focus on just displaying it?


Photo © Mary Lawson

I’ve never heard of anyone who was argued or convinced into the faith, but there are lots of people who were loved into the faith.

You can argue that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is beautiful, but if someone does not experience it, they just don’t get it.  You cannot convince someone something is beautiful and true until they really experience it themselves.


When we forgive people who wrong us and don’t deserve to be forgiven, when we love the unlovable – that’s when people see the Father. Let’s let our compassion and humility and kindness point to God rather than how we argue philosophically about God’s existence.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes,  “The saint is the apology for the Christian religion.”

It’s not about what we say, it’s about how we live our lives, clothed in God’s grace and love. That’s when people can truly experience the beauty of the Kingdom of God and be ushered into the love and grace found there. And this beauty goes beyond comprehension, it surpasses understanding.

13 Lessons from Nehemiah

I’m a part of a really fantastic young adult group at my church. This Fall we studied the Book of Nehemiah. It’s really such a great story.  As we read it we see that, ultimately, it is a metaphor of life in general.

Many of us can relate to this story – We have a project/job/cause God puts on our heart.  We step out and do it.  We run in to a lot of opposition in the process.  We learn we can’t do it alone – we have to work together.  Things don’t go as planned.  We trust God along the way.

So here are 13 Lessons we learned from the Life of Nehemiah…

  1. Fear of the unknown didn’t hold Nehemiah back from doing what was on his heart to do.
    Now I had been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”  Then I was very much afraid. Neh 2:2
    Even though Nehemiah was afraid to approach the King about his desire to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, he did it anyway.  But before he asked the King, the Scripture says he “Prayed to the God of heaven” (2:4.)  We don’t have to be afraid because we know God is with us.
  2. Nehemiah knew the good and faithful character of God.
    “I beseech You, O Lord God of Heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant.”  Neh 1:5-6
    Nehemiah always came back to the good and loving nature of God.  It’s                  what kept him anchored.
  3. People mattered more than things.
    As the cupbearer to the King, Nehemiah had everything – prestiege,                   comfort, money.  He gave all this up for people that he didn’t know.  He                gave up everything, and risked his life to restore the dignity of a city he had          never been to.
  4. Nehemiah took sin and repentance very seriously.
    In chapter 1, Nehemiah acknowledges the sin of his people.  He goes in to              great detail as to what that sin was and, on behalf of the people he’s leading,          repents.  Nehemiah knew that if God were to bless this task, their sin must be acknowledged, and offered to God so he may forgive. When we confess our sins, and repent, we are again made whole by the mercy of God.
  5. He constantly went to God in prayer, first. And always honestly.
    We see Nehemiah do this throughout the whole book. Prayer was vital in his life.  So must it be for us.  He prays to God in…
    Ch 1, 2:4, 4:4-5, 5:19, 6:9, 6:14, 9:5-38, 13:14,22,29,30
  6. He was patient. He waited on God’s timing.  He waited for the right moment to approach King Artaxerxes.
    It says in chapter 2 that he waited 3 months to approach the King with his              request to go to Jerusalem.  He waited for God to open the door.  He                        waited for God’s timing.
  7. Worship was made a priority by beginning with repairing the Gate by the Temple.
    In chapter 3, it says that Eliashib the High Priest arose and built the Sheep Gate.  This gate was the closest to the temple.  They started here first because they knew the most important thing they could do was worship God in community there at the temple.  Worshiping together was made #1 priority.
  8. Nothing can be accomplished without unity.  Humility is required for unity.
    In chapter 3, the text lists all those who were working on the wall.  The text makes a point of describing how they all were working next to each other – from the High Priest, to goldsmiths, regular priests, to governors, to daughters. They all swallowed their pride and worked together.
  9. When opposition comes, don’t conspire to get them back. Let God handle it. God fights for us.
    In chapter 4, Nehemiah comes under some opposition.  They are mocked             and threatened.  He doesn’t take matters into his own hands, he takes it to          God.
    At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.  Neh 4:20
  10. When we are afraid, remember who our God is.  Go to him for Grace.
    In chapter 6, Nehemiah’s enemies send him a messenger, trying to scare                 him into hiding and sinning (it was a sin to use the temple for anything but           worship.)  He didn’t fall for it. Don’t be scared into doing something you              know is wrong.
    But now, O God, strengthen my hand.  Neh 6:10
  11. Don’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Know and remember how God loves you.
    In chapter 6, the enemies of Nehemiah lie to him, saying they have heard              that Nehemiah is plotting to rule.  This was in an effort to discourage them and cause them to abandon their work.  Nehemiah didn’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Neither should we.  As Nehemiah did, we must trust that God truly is Great and Awesome and that He fights on our behalf (Neh 4:20.)
  12. Joy comes when we remember we have been given salvation.
    The people there found themselves in a depressing, desperate situation.  They were being ridiculed, under threat of attack, and living in disgrace.  Yet, they are encouraged to take joy.  They were able to realize this joy because the day of Atonement was coming soon.  They knew they had forgiveness.  Joy comes when we realized we’ve been forgiven, saved, and are loved by God. No matter what or where we find ourselves, it never changes the fact that we are redeemed and forgiven.
    Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Neh 8:10
  13. Joy comes when we are in community with others.  When we are serving others.
    In chapter 8, the Festival of the Booths takes place.  This is a holiday where everyone camps out in tents and re-tells the story of their Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  We were meant to live out our faith together, in community. It’s in community where we find our true identity.


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On Autumn, Beauty, Grace, and a Dash of Keats

We had to wait for Fall a little longer than usual here in Kentucky.  Autumn made a late entrance, but now it’s here and the fiery Fall colors were here for a time. The trees were full of sunburst leaves and rained them down like papers thrown out of a building.


photo: © gabe lawson

This season has me thinking about the miracle of beauty coming from ashes. This is the season where the trees lose their coats and are left barren.  Yet in a short time they have life spring anew, and the leaves grow and bloom and tell a whole new story.  Perhaps it’s my studying of Nehemiah this season as well, but I’ve been thinking about how something amazing, holy even, can come from a barren, ruinous state.

In Isaiah chapter 30 the Lord speaks to the Israelites about how they are seeking the protection of Egypt rather than resting in the protection of the Lord. They got caught up in what they could see.  They got swept up by the tangible riches of Egypt.  They forgot what their God had already delivered them from.

Their reliance on the “worthless and empty” (Isa 30.7) help of Egypt had consequences. It left the Israelites in ruins.

Often times, we too trust more in what everyone else does than what God does and has done for us, don’t we?

The Israelites. turned their backs on the God who rescued them from captivity in order to go back to that same captor. We do this so much too, don’t we?  We continue to go back to the chains.  But we don’t have to.  

Even still, God tells them and tells us, “The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isa 30.18).

This God we serve is a God full of grace.  Let’s leave those chains worthless and empty. 

If we wait for him, he will make blooms spring from barren branches and beauty come from ashes (Isa 61:3.)

I love this poem from John Keats,

After dark vapors have oppress’d our plains    

For a long dreary season, comes a day    

Born of the gentle South, and clears away

From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.

The anxious month, relieved of its pains,    

Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;    

The eyelids with the passing coolness play

Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.

The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves    

Budding—fruit ripening in stillness—Autumn suns

Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves—

Sweet Sappho’s cheek—a smiling infant’s breath—    

The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs—

A woodland rivulet—a Poet’s death.