Friday, November 15, 2013

Cast Your Net on the Right Side

Recently I was in So. Cal. for session two of the Adventist Community Services Non-profit Leadership Certificate Program that focused on community development. I found my tribe there: teachers who have personal stories of churches connecting meaningfully with their community to the clear glory of God and attendees with dreams and experiences in the same vein.

This is why I came to work with REACH Philadelphia. Deanne and I were so inspired by the vision here that we turned down a more comfortable position out west with confidence God was leading. But after two years in this ministry house in the midst of the community we hope to reach with Christ’s love, things have not turned out as I expected. Why are there only a handful of locals attending sporadically? What have I been doing with the precious time I have here? I found myself reticent to share with the other tribe members what I’m doing because I’m disappointed by the lack of progress I see. We discuss and work and assess but are we getting anywhere?

Today I praise God for His Word that is living and speaks into our lives. In John 21:1-14 NKJV I read about Jesus’s third appearance to his disciples after a fish-less night of fishing on the sea of Tiberias. He called out from shore, ““Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.”

In the Desire of Ages, it says these disciples were hoping to catch fish to provide food and clothing they needed. Jesus asked if they had any food and they couldn’t claim one measly flounder. He told them (against their common sense and current motivation) to cast on the right side of the boat and they netted more than they could haul in. One moment they had none, the next counted 153 flopping future fillets.

I’m sure these pros could have taught effective fishing seminars and boasted some amazing practices, but after a sacrificed night of sleep for empty work I’m sure morale was low. I’d go so far as to say that God kept them from catching fish so that He could show them something more effective, just as God is calling me (a trained fisher of men) deeper still.

Ephesians 6:12-13 NKJV says, “...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God...” It’s not as easy as it looks because it isn’t only about what we can see. This is why I must learn to follow the wisdom that doesn’t come naturally to me from the God who knows and loves all and wants me to be successful and full of stories to tell in this work.

Ellen White says, “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me."”

“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”

I could restate what the paragraphs above say and hammer every point but I encourage you to simply read them again and see where you see your life intersect with the counsel. Does it? How much? God is calling me to stop doing it my way and to build trusting relationships covered in prayer and love, to humble myself and walk His way. I need to spend less time in the office and more time hanging out outside of my comfort zone. How about you?

Since my family has been here in Philadelphia we have witnessed God working amazing miracles and He has taught us so much. We’ve never been part of a church with such a high average of first generation SDA’s. Never been part of a church that has a tutoring center or throws block parties, hires interns to lead out in health or urban agriculture ministries. It’s an amazing place. But I believe we’ve just seen the beginning of what God wants to do just as the disciples, after 3.5 years with Jesus, had only seen the beginning of His miracles.

Jesus wants us to be bursting with excitement over what He’s doing in and through us but we have to follow His simple, unconventional directions/methods that cut across our natural knowledge that CANNOT BE WITHOUT FRUIT, or fish or souls. May we the fishers of men listen to His perfectly wise words.


Monday, November 4, 2013

There's a time to...

Ecclesiastes 3 is a famous passage that basically says there's a time for everything. In my REACH Philadelphia intern's meeting today we were encouraged to make up our own on the fly. I didn't think these through in great depth and they aren't as deep as Solomon's words but here's what I jotted down in the moment.

There's a time to work and a time to rest.
There's a time to speak and a time to listen.
There's a time to correct and a time to soothe.
There's a time to remember and a time to forget.
There's a time to plan and a time to flow.
There's a time to walk and a time to run.
There's a time to be busy and a time to be still.
There's a time to feast and a time to fast.
There's a time to learn and a time to apply.
There's a time to smile and a time to frown.
There's a time to dream and a time to get real.
There's a time to compare and a time to be content.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to make your own list.

Finally, I pray that God will give you the wisdom to know what time it is and for you to allow God space in your life to be present with you in the moment.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Encouraged at El Rey

A few nights ago Deanne and I went to El Rey in center city Philly with our dear amigos the Shaws. It was the first time we hung out as just the couples and we laughed a little after my prayer over the food and for God to be with our kids. Not something I’ve prayed in that same sense a whole lot since they’re usually safely nearby us parents. We both own camera monitors that actually allow us to watch them while they sleep from our iPhones. Handy huh?

The most memorable parts of the dinner were the amazing food, the story of how Tyson and Esther became the Shaws (you should totally ask them about the exotic origins of their love in Spain that could really be made into a romantic comedy), and how being a part of REACH Philadelphia has impacted them.

They are about to move to D.C. and at one point started sharing about how they will miss the church community we have. I know it hasn’t been convenient to meet with us because of having a young daughter, and living 30-40 minutes away. but it was very encouraging to here what they went on to declare.  

They don’t view belonging to a church the same way anymore because of their time here. Looking forward they don’t want to join a church that is well smooth, comfortable and established, they want to be part of another church plant. They want to dive into another growing community focused on the basics of christian faith and discovering how to live all out for God together.

Those were thrilling words for this young pastor. Before I was home for 60 seconds I was already telling Pastor Tiffany (our babysitter for the evening) about it. As a church of mostly young transient members, we must bring in new members frequently to at least stay the same size. This has often reminded me that we must get roots in our community if REACH is to continue to exist. But that conversation showed me that this place really is a training ground for all who experience it before launching into the world as agents of change, building healthy communities wherever they go. 

As Jeremiah 29:11 says, God is always working in more ways than we could ever plan. He has good plans for us,  to prosper and not harm us, for hope and a future. Let’s trust Him and follow where He leads and leave what it looks like up to Him.

In closing, here’s a little paragraph from Ellen White to consider. “Many families, who, for the purpose of educating their children, move to places where our large schools are established, would do better service for the Master by remaining where they are... It would be vastly better for their children, for themselves, and for the cause of God, if they would remain in the smaller churches, where their help is needed, instead of going to the larger churches, where, because they are not needed, there is a constant temptation to fall into spiritual inactivity.”


Friday, September 20, 2013

Going to Church Doesn't Make You Better

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” John 19:1-6a NIV

As I mulled over this passage this morning the thought kept reoccurring to me that Jesus didn’t have to do this. At any moment He could have hit the eject switch and by human standards He would have be justified in doing so. 

Everyone knew He did nothing wrong. Pilate tried Him and found no fault in Him but hoped beating Him would pacify His accusers. Nope! When Pilate brought bloodied and bullied Jesus out and appealed to a basic sense of justice the chief priests and their officials just shouted their demands for death all the louder.

A couple of days ago I spoke with a 89 year old neighbor lady who said going to church doesn’t make anybody better than anyone else. “They’ll rob you just the same.” 

I told her I agreed with her. It doesn’t matter how many sermons we sit through, how loudly we sing or if we regularly make donations to good causes. That doesn’t get us holiness points with God and it doesn’t automatically change the way we treat others. Only inviting Jesus to be closest and letting Him live and love through us counts.

Real love isn’t easy. It is the stuff of real character. It surrenders rights for God’s cause at times and confronts injustice at other moments. It seeks reconciliation and lets people go the way they choose. God’s way of love is higher than our ways and it is only through ceaseless prayer, constant dependence on Christ, that we can know and live Jesus’ way.

There are hard things in your life right now. Some you endure, others you reject. Where you evade the right simply because it is difficult or undesirable you find what John Maxwell refers to as cracks in your character. I often find myself counting up holiness points on an easy path to tell myself I’m alright before the Lord. God help me and forgive me! I need to get off Facebook when I should be working with God to save souls even if it’s something humble like desk work. Everyone of these small decisions lets Christ in and forms a character like His or pushes the eject/reject button.

I praise God that Jesus fulfilled His mission to save all who would believe though it cost Him everything. Following Jesus wherever He leads will bring life to you and to others. Let Him fill in the cracks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Love Does Review

Love Does by Bob Goff is a New York Times best selling story book that kept me coming back for extra helpings. I don’t think a day went by from the time I picked it up that I didn’t read one or more of it’s brief 3-10 page chapters during a really busy week. I bought it for Deanne’s 26th birthday and we both finished it before her gifts stopped coming in...if they’ve stopped coming in. Filled with everything from blunders that actually made me laugh out loud (a rare occasion when I’m reading) and capers inspiring a great desire to go all out in a Jesus style love re-imagined and refreshed, I highly, strongly recommend it. I think God used this book to truly lift the mood in our home. In multiple situations I wondered out loud to Deanne, “What would Bob Goff do?” I see a lot of Christ in this whimsical man. My heart is drawn out and compelled to do because I want to, to dream rather than sleep and to hope in what God is doing in the lives of His children, even in my own life.

I’ve started to respond to this grace with a face book by pondering the question Bob asks in the epilogue. He writes, “[i]f you’re like me, I’d ask myself at the end of a book called Love Does-so what do I do?” I’ve started dreaming again. I’m encouraged to dream dreams beyond what seems possible, to pray and ask what the next step is. I believe the, “out there” is in reach because God has the whole world in His hands. It’s going to require putting one foot in front of the other and pressing on towards the mark of the high calling of Christ. It’s also going to have to involve friends I meet along the way and wonderfully revolve around Jesus.

One thing that really got my attention in the book was the story of his kids requesting meetings with world leaders after 9/11 at Bob’s encouragement. They had no agenda but to make friends with them because they believed that if they could all just talk and share their hopes together there would be a much better level of understanding among them. They were invited and ushered into the presence of the rich and the powerful and gave the gift of friendship to them as well as a key to their home in Cali to let the leaders know they are welcome to visit them at their house in the U.S.  Apparently one actually accepted the invitation.

I’m not sure what exactly people are hoping for when it comes to the marches for justice and what not, but I bet if all the upset people put their efforts into making friends instead of pointing fingers, this nation would actually be changed.  I think Bob’s family was onto something when they offered friendship instead of arguments and solutions. That’s how bridges are built. The two sides have to want to be connected through a love that does.


P.S. If you want to buy the book you can get more info here:  All the proceeds of the book are given to help people in Uganda through Restoration International. Very Cool.

Friday, June 28, 2013

ONLY a Test

Just this morning during the time our housemates habitually meet to pray, I was sharing with Jane Takahashi that I think God is teaching me that I am finite. There are a lot of large events coming up for our church within the next three weeks and I must confess that I’ve been stressed over them. 

On the 4th of July my church, REACH Philadelphia, is hosting our second block party on the street in front of my house. The very next day our church is launching into the “wilderness” of New Jersey’s Belleplain State Park for our annual campout. One week after that our Vacation Bible School program starts. I’ve felt the responsibility primarily falling on me and it’s been heavy. Anxiety has sapped my appetite. I’ve been moody and a high percentage of the breaths I take have been sighs. I’ve been putting long days in to focus on these work priorities and have neglected to take responsibility for my daughter so Deanne could experience more moments of sanity. We had a very important conversation about that last night. God is teaching me and I’m all ears at this humble point.

I promised that I would watch Eden until 8 AM this morning and that I would watch her again from 3 - 5 PM this afternoon. I left the house to have worship at the quiet church building in Chestnut Hill before starting my office work.  This is the passage I read for today. 

...Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward [H]im, [H]e said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for [H]e already had in mind what [H]e was going to do.

Philip answered [H]im, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of [H]is disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,  “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, [H]e said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. John 6:5b-13 NIV

Here’s the part that grabbed me, Jesus ONLY asked Philip where they would get the food to test him. What kind of test is that? I think Philip’s realization that purchasing food for all those people was outside the realm of their human possibilities at that moment was an important one. I wish Philip hadn’t stopped there. I wish he had offered some morsel of faith to Jesus as Andrew did. 

Though it was illogical, Andrew brought a boy and his lunch to Jesus, not because he thought the child’s meal would be enough food to feed a the massive crowd, but I believe he had a small ray of hope that Jesus could do the inconceivable. He brought what was available to Jesus and Jesus rocked the sides off their small boxes of logic.

So much of what rides on me and the limited time and ability I have to get the deeds done this week makes no sense to me. It’s a test I can’t pass on my own. But’s actually exciting to imagine what God ALREADY has in mind for my challenges while looking at Jesus lesson plan for His pupils in this story. They saw that the problem was WAY BEYOND THEM. Jesus showed that it was NOT A PROBLEM for Him. He was much more than enough. There were twelve baskets of leftovers signifying that Jesus is not only enough for the 5,000 men and their families present that day, He’s also enough for all twelve tribes of Israel. He’s enough for all of us!

May I acknowledge my finitude moment by moment while always praising God expectantly for His omnipotent care for me. One with Jesus, there is not test I can’t ace. Bring on the day! Glory to God!!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Let's Do It Again, and Again and Again!

You're gonna like this!

My friend Tyson Shaw showed me this hillarious video last night. What struck me was the amazing object lesson. Observing the pranked, cursing and threatening car salesman's quick and total attitude adjustment once he realized the driver wasn't a two-faced old man endangering both of their lives, but one of the most decorated NASCAR drivers in history is telling. It gives us perspective for when our own lives seem way out of control. When his rage turned to delight, he actually asked if they could do it again. I'm sure the second round was much more pleasurable.

Why is it that we hate the feelings that come when we fear an epic fail or total destruction but we love theme parks? Though roller coasters reach speeds higher than we are legally able to drive, and flip and turn, and rattle our brains, we see people get on and we see them get off with smiles on their faces. We know Jeff Gordon has driven souped Chevy's around the raceway thousands of times at much higher speeds than he test drove that Camaro. We know it's safe enough to enjoy over and over again.

Jesus is better at directing our lives than Jeff Gordon is at driving race cars.  He can also design better thrill rides than Werner Stengel. We hear testimonies of the miracles He performs in response to prayer and can see the awe inspiring account of His abilities anytime we read the Bible or take time to gawk at the beauty of nature.

But sometimes we experience moments that don't occur to us as a good idea. Jeremiah even said that God deceived and overcame him to make him do the prophetic ministry in Jeremiah 20:7. Just six verses later he says, "Sing to the Lord, praise the LordFor He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers," in Jerermiah 20:13 NASB. In the very next verse he goes on to curse the day he was born. So if you ever feel like you are back and forth with your feelings about how God drives when He's behind the wheel in your life, you're in good company with a prophet who probably followed God's direction more than most.

The wise king Solomon said to, "[t]rust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge [H]im and [H]e will direct your paths.," in Proverbs 3:5,6 NKJV. He wasn't famous for doing what God said, but he too knew what was true. If we put our faith in God, we will have no regrets in the end.  

As the parable by Morris Venden below teaches, God will let us take back "control" of our lives at any point. But after driving ourselves into the ditch time and time again in contrast to His sovereign navigation skills displayed with every obstacle and trial we allow Him handle, I pray that we will repeatedly plead for Him to take over. Let's do it again, and again and again. He'll always say, "yes, let's."


2 Chronicles 20:1-30


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Humbled and Honored and Praising God

So today I found out that it was voted by the Pennsylvania Conference Executive Committee that I get to have a Ministerial License in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church...two weeks ago. I guess I should check my conference email more often. 

I then found out from Ray Hartwell, the conference president, that yesterday a special committee officially decided to recommend to that same Executive Committee that I be sponsored to go to the Andrews University Theological Seminary in Fall of 2014. That means they want to pay for me to get my graduate degree and bring me back to Pennsylvania to have a job when I finish. 

It gets even better, my amazing boss, Pastor Tara Vincross, was cc’d on the email and replied to Ray saying, “I must tell you that each week I find new things to appreciate about what God is doing through the life and ministry of Pastor Nick Snell and I know that ADCOM is making the best decision to move forward with this recommendation to Executive Committee.  He is a gifted minister and will continue to be a blessing to our conference.” As I wrote to them, I share with the world now in this blog, I’m humbled and honored and praising God!

Later on PT shared something with me that blew my mind on a whole other level. I am not at liberty to say what it was, but it was even more meaningful to me than all the other things mentioned above. Needless to say, I felt very affirmed today. God knows when we need encouragement. All this was very unexpected today.  I don’t see this as something that means I’ve arrived, but it makes me want to run to my God who made all this happen all the more. I celebrate Him, the God who says that to Him who overcomes, those that invite Him into their lives, He will invite to sit on His throne. What an amazing God that He would promote little ol’ us!

I pray for myself and for all who read this that we will let God have full access to our lives (heart, mind, strength, time, money, talent, EVERYTHING!) Wherever you are, join me in praising this God who humbled Himself to the point of becoming one of us and gave Himself up to death on the cross so we wouldn’t have to suffer what our sins deserve. He is alive. He is exalted. He is available. He is MY God. I’ll praise Him forever!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Even Close

“...See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” Matthew 6:28 NIV

Last night a discipleship class that I was a member of ended.  It was a powerful season where God showed me so much wisdom and invited me closer to Him. I want to share one little lesson here in honor of that blessed class.

Early on in the journey our group carpooled to the Pendle Hill Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation for a spiritual retreat.  We met together early on that bright and glorious spring day.  Pastor Tara facilitated the experience by teaching and pointing us to Scriptures to ponder as we dispersed into the wondrous outdoors. We then had the opportunity to share what we were processing in small groups.  We did this at least three times and enjoyed Indian-ish meal for lunch.  God spoke to me over and over and I saw Him speak to others in life changing ways that day.

What I may remember the most from the day is the story behind this picture...

It was the most unique part of the day. We took a slow walk in nature together ending with a visit to the campus art room.  Before entering PT gave us the assignment to make something that represented what God was showing us.  Throughout the whole day I was intrigued with these little yellow flowers I still haven’t found the official name for. Haven't really tried to hard. I picked one on my way in.

I started out with the intent of painting the little beauty only to find that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to come close to matching its profound matter how long I sat in that chair. In all honesty, nobody could...ever.  Even if they were really good Michelangelo types.  But God just dropped some on the earth once upon a time over 6000 years ago and here they are, still gracing the earth generation after generation. They don’t just look cool, they do cool.  Photosynthesis is amazing.  So much goes on with these little guys.  It’ll floor you if you really think about it.

So I just tried to use my colors as a decent background to the flower.  I hope this little work of mine will always remind me of this...what is so easy for God is impossible for me now and always. Just as I can’t make a flower or even a nice looking replica, I can’t grow myself to be who God wants can make me. I’ve tried and my attempts have ended in utter failure and more damage than good. I’m not getting myself anywhere close to His wondrous ideal.

Can you relate? Let’s entrust ourselves to Jesus, our Creator, Redeemer and Recreator’s care.  Only He will make us into His unfathomably incredible image. Let’s let Him do it instead of trying so hard to force ourselves to be what we think is ideal. May our God of miracles minister to us all today and each step of the way.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Is Heaven To You?

“A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven.” Matthew 18:18 (The Message) 
When people use the phrase, “I’m in heaven,” they are typically vacationing on a sunny, warm island or getting an incredible full-body massage or eating an extraordinarily delicious meal.  What activities would cause me to use that phrase? Definitely all of the above along with some other things I can think of.
In living life, I believe a goal of mine is to bring heaven to earth.  I want my life to be happy, fulfilling, and free.  But when I participate in something, how often do I think about whether this particular thing will be practiced in heaven or not? And how much do the things I spend doing really bring heaven into my life? In this world, the idea of being happy, fulfilled, and free has gotten far off from what God intended.  People turn to alcohol, drugs, food, media, relationships, etc. to try to fill that desire to have heaven on earth.  But if God would say “no” on earth, wouldn't He also say “no” in heaven? 
I was surprised as I processed what heaven is to me that being with Jesus wasn't the first thing that came to mind.  That stung my heart.  Isn’t Jesus the sole purpose of why I can even go to heaven?  Shouldn’t Jesus be the sole reason that I want to go to heaven?  In all our searching and trying different things out to bring heaven to our lives, Jesus is heaven Himself.
My fabulous friend, Jennifer Schwirzer, wrote a song about this very topic called The Strangest Dream.  Following are the lyrics to the song:

Last night I had the strangest dream

An angel carried me to heaven’s gate
Glory flowed out a golden stream
The angel said, “Go right in, celebrate”

But then the angel asked me,
“What if Jesus wasn’t there?
 What if He was still on the cross somewhere?”

What would you say, what would you do? 
Go in and wait for Him in heaven
Or is Jesus heaven to you?

I woke my pillow wet with tears
Oh so happy that it wasn’t real
Still how that dream so filled with fears
Changed the way I think and feel

All of us should ask what we’re really longing for 
Special things for us or the honor of the Lord?

What would you say, what would you do? 
Go in and wait for Him in heaven
Or is Jesus heaven to you?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Wedding Homily for Wesner and Twana

Below is the basic manuscript I wrote for Twana and Wesner's wedding today.  It was a glorious day.  God truly blessed.

Wesner and Twana, the moment you've been looking forward to for your whole lives is here. The day your families, friends and church family has been thinking about for so long has finally come. Now I say finally, but in reality it's only been since last summer that you've been picturing the person before you now in your wedding day dream. 

Time has flown by and a WHOLE lot has happened since Twana's unforgettable birthday when there was cake, canvassing and e-ven-tu-al-ly a ring…but no Caleb hiding in or jumping from the bushes with his hidden camera after all.

I smile about your love story for one, because Deanne and I have a similar experience. We met in August 2008 just before school started and were married the following August with just enough time for a honey moon before another school year started.

It wasn't our plan, but once God got us to understand that He wanted us to be together, He just sped up the process. Now as I look at my marriage, I feel like I'm getting a better and better understanding of why He wanted us to be together and the relationship gets more and more satisfying as time goes by.

As amazing as today is, God wants your marriage to get better and better for you both. But that will only happen as you continue on in the same way you started.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said to, "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." In my relationship with both of you that is the only context I know you in, the context of pursuing and sharing Christ. Only more recently have I seen you pursuing and sharing each other. I love marriage counseling.

Twana, I first got to know you when Deanne and I went canvassing with you and Sierra.  You helped to retrain me into literature evangelism.  At the end of that summer we went with a team to Kenya to preach evangelistically.  I remember the story you told of how the great controversy between Christ and Satan was playing out in the street by your site as you preached on that very topic. I remember how decked out you were with gifts from your listeners that final night in the hotel before we returned home.

Wesner, I’ve got to tell you, you're not the first to ask for Twana's hand in marriage. There were others in Kenya who wished they could have stood in your place, but praise God she refused them, so now she could say yes to you.

I first met you at a group Bible study, and then we studied together one on one and started playing music together.  It was months before I found out that you used to be a professional soccer player because your focus was so totally on learning about the Bible. It just never came up because we talked almost exclusively about the Bible and church and music because that’s what you were into.

One of the highlights of my time here in Pennsylvania has definitely been that gorgeous afternoon at Chestnut Hill when you were baptized. The sun poured in through the stained glass windows to just as the tears are flowing from your eyes.

You have both been seeking God and He's been adding, "all these things." If you look at the previous verse in Jesus’ sermon on the mount you can see that, "these things," refers to what Your Heavenly Father knows that you need and provides for you as you seek Him first.

What a thing we are celebrating today. Could it be today that God is declaring that you need each other in your lives? It was apparently not good for this man to be alone any longer. It is not good for Twana to be alone anymore either so He's brought you together.

God wants to bless you with that love that Lamar read about in 1 Corinthians 13. He wants you to understand His love that is kind, compassionate, humble, honoring, generous, peaceful, forgiving, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering and unfailing. He wants you to understand that love like never before through each other.

God will use this relationship to help you to understand His intimate love deeper than you have to this point. This marriage will stretch you. It will remind you again and again that you must depend on Christ for the kind of love I just mentioned, because no matter how cute she is or how handsome he is, no matter how good of a cook she is or how handy he is, there will be some nights when that's just not enough to keep you from frowning at your spouse who just ate that infamous last piece of chicken. I almost feel like we should have talked about chicken in our marriage counseling after your wedding shower.  It seems like it runs pretty deep.

There may be times when one of you does something to upset the other that makes you feel as distant as New York is from Haiti.  In those times I hope you will refocus on Christ.

Colossians 1:17 (NIV) says that Jesus is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Verses 19 - 20 say, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross." Praise God His sacrificial love is always enough, it can always span the gap and bring His people back together.

As I was thinking about this homily I wondered how many women imagine having their wedding day on Resurrection Sunday? People often say it's the bride's day, but if it's on the same day we celebrate Jesus rising from the tomb doesn't it get trumped somehow? I think your date choice is amazing. It is Jesus' day.  We all know this particular day is about Him.

What's beautiful is that your wedding is so clearly designed to glorify Him.
As I've seen the thoughtful program and way you both have handled yourselves leading up to this moment I just get the sense that it's not really about you.     You have been serving everybody else. It's about Jesus and so are your lives

I look at your relationship and I see Jesus. Relationships with people can help us to understand our relationship with God. But today, in honor of Jesus sacrifice and resurrection, I want to just take some of Jesus' last words and use them to give you some practical advice for your marriage.

In Jesus last prayer with His disciples gathered around Him, He prayed out loud to His Father for His believers, “that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23 NKJV)

Jesus wants you to be one with each other and with Him but here's the practical part. In Dr. Phil's book Relationship Rescue he cites a study and says, "…an interesting statistic…reflects that the divorce rate in America is at a minimum one out of two marriages. But the reported divorce rate among couples that pray together is about 1 in ten thousand." Couples that pray together stay together.

There is no other practice that anybody could suggest that would hold this same kind of promise for your relationship to make it for the long haul, not just surviving but thriving. So, just as Jesus did with His disciples, pray out loud together daily.

When Jesus was crucified between two criminals he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV) Always be ready to intercede and forgive. Jesus prayed for the soldiers who crucified, mocked and cast lots for His clothing. When your spouse does something that hurts you, don't try to fix it yourself by taking it into your own hands for revenge, but pray for them and for yourself.

Remember that God has brought you together, that you love each other, and that you are on the same team.  Most of the time, if your feelings are hurt, it wasn't intentional. If one of you wins the argument, you still lose because you haven't won anything. You've only built distance between yourself and your mate. Being quick to forgive will be one of the most liberating things you can do for your relationship.

Some of the most incredible words at the crucifixion were spoken when one of the two criminals Jesus was crucified between rebuked the criminal on the other cross who was mocking Jesus saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."  He said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." and Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:40-43 NIV) Give each other grace, and practice treating your spouse better than their actions deserve. Love them as unto Christ.
For me the saddest moment for Jesus on the cross was when everything had been covered in darkness for three hours and Jesus cried out saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV) The gospel of Luke tells us that after that Jesus cried out, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." (Luke 23:46 NIV) He trusted His Father was still there even when He couldn't sense Him. Even when you are confused in your relationship just as Jesus didn't understand the distance between Him and His Father at that moment, continue to humbly submit to each other in unconditional love. Imagine where we'd be if He hadn't continued on to fulfill His Father's will.

Just before Jesus died He said, "It is finished." (John 19:30 NIV) He bowed His head and died. You would think that death would end the relationship but Jesus sacrifice did something very different. When He died He won the victory over the sin and selfishness that separates us and reconciled us to God. He made the cross a bridge. When we die to self it takes our relationships to a whole different level, He makes it a connection that cannot be ultimately taken away.

On the third day Jesus rose from the grave and according to Matthew's account the first thing he said to those who first saw Him alive was, "Rejoice!" (Matthew 28:9 NIV) REJOICE!!! Remember to celebrate in your relationship with each other.  Jesus is alive and well and always enough for you. Continue to praise him in song and dance, in cooking and cleaning and everything. I'm looking forward to hearing the music you will make together as you rejoice in Him.

The next thing Matthew records Him saying is, "Do not be afraid." (Matthew 28:10) Let God's perfect love cast out all your fears for the future, Your future is always bright in Him. Satan will be attacking and he will certainly try to use fear.
Always remember that Jesus is near.

Lastly, Jesus parting words to His disciples, "“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV) Let the love God has poured out into your relationship touch the lives of those God directs you to, it will only make your love grow. Finally, know that Twana and Wesner are never just Twana and Wesner, God will always be with you, pouring out His limitless love, presence and blessings into your life. It is His joy to do so.

Who knows what God will decide you will need next in your relationship with Him. Be ready for anything and continue to seek God first in your lives as individuals and as a couple together and He will use all things to bring you back to Him.

Look out though! You never know when God might decide you need your own personal flower girl or Bible boy in your life 24/7. Enjoy every moment you have.

I love you both.