The Surprise Arms

for December 10th, 2013

Liturgical texts here



IT was a freak snowstorm in the middle of May, 1987. The trees bent so low to the ground under the weight of heavy wet snow that, to this day, some of them remain bowed as though permanently humbled under the hand of God. I was playing guitar in a friend’s basement when the phone call came.

Come home, son.

Why? I inquired.

Just come home…

As I pulled into our driveway, a strange feeling came over me. With every step I took to the back door, I felt my life was going to change. When I walked into the house, I was greeted by tear stained-parents and brothers.

Your sister Lori died in a car accident today.


At the end of the summer, I returned to university. I recalled my mother sitting on the edge of my bed, that day before the funeral. She looked at my brother and I tenderly and said, “Boys, we have two choices. We can either blame God for this. We can say, “After all we have done, why have you treated us this way?”” For you see, my parents were beautiful witnesses of what evangelization is… from the youth group they formed, to the prisoners they visited, to the pregnant women they helped, to the child that was saved from abortion and became their god-daughter.

And now, they were about to bury their only daughter, 22 years old, six feet beneath the snow.

“Or,” mom continued, “we can trust that Jesus is here with us now. That He’s holding us and crying with us, and that He’ll help us get through this.”

As I stared out my dorm room window, it seemed as though the wind had carried those words to me again, words that were like a beacon for me in the darkness of sorrow. “Comfort, give comfort to my people…,” says Isaiah in today’s first reading. My mother, despite her terrible grief, was Christ to us boys that day.

And yet, there was something in me that was now broken. When I began to be confronted with temptation, something inside—or perhaps it was another’s voice—said, “God let this huge thing happen to you. He can handle this one, little sin.” And so, I began to compromise. It was not an outright bonfire of rebellion… just a little flame of anger.

But as time went on, I began to give in a little bit more, especially in my relationships with girlfriends. Pretty soon, the little flame of compromise was burning away my joy. Guilt began to weigh me down, bending me over like a tree crushed under the weight of wet snow. I would cry out, “Lord, deliver me from me…”, and yet, I remained a prisoner of my weakness.

Five years later, after marrying my beautiful wife, Lea, I found that I was addicted to my “little” compromises. I struggled to be pure, and felt helpless and ashamed. Remarkably, it was during this time that the Lord called me into ministry. Like Matthew and Magdalene and Zacchaeus, the Lord called me in the midst of my misery and brokenness!

Still, I struggled. I went to Confession frequently, but it was as if I was chained and powerless to break away. One night, on the way to meet other men in my ministry for a time of prayer and planning, my soul was bent low in despair. I felt nothing but darkness and shame. When I walked into the room, I looked into the faces of my friends, filled with the Holy Spirit, full of joy. I felt like the “black sheep.” They handed out some song sheets, but the last thing I felt like doing was singing.

But as a praise and worship leader, I would teach the crowds that singing to God is an act of faith. We sing and worship Him, not because it makes us feel good, but because it belongs to Him. And faith, even the size of a mustard seed, can move mountains. And so, despite myself, I picked up that song sheet, and began to sing.

All of a sudden, I felt this tremendous love come over me. My hands began to tremor uncontrollably. Then I saw in my mind’s eye myself being lifted up, as though in an elevator without doors, into a huge room with a crystal glass floor. I knew I was in the presence of God; I felt His incredible love for me. I was so stunned. I felt like the prodigal son, covered from head to toe in the pig slop of sin, and yet here I was, enfolded in the loving arms of the Father…

And here’s the icing on the cake. When I left that night, the power of that sin over me was broken. I cannot explain how God did it, I just know that He did. I was living the words of Isaiah:

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.

I was that lost sheep whom Jesus left the “ninety-nine” for. He gathered me “in His arms”, took to me the “bosom” of the Father, who pressed me to His heart, saying, “I love you. You are Mine. I will never forget you…”

Up to that point, I could barely write a spiritual song. Several months later, the Lord poured out His Spirit on me in a profound way. I began, as the Psalm says, to “sing a new song to the Lord.”

I want to share one of the first of those songs here from my debut album Deliver Me from Me. This is the title track:





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