Newsletter – Volume 46


Newsletter – Volume 46

May 13, 2024

This Week

Confessions From the Back of the Pen
Meet Joel...

Joel Salabarria and I have done several ministry projects together. He is an extremely talented musician and worship leader. I love working with him, but beyond his capacity on the platform, I love his heart more than anything else. He plays it real – almost to the point of discomfort – at least for those who are used to typical churchianity. He holds nothing back, and he encourages others to do the same. That is what Worship Society is all about, and it is what makes him a fellow Black Sheep Messenger.

I was born in Chicago, but my parents and extended family are all from Puerto Rico. I was the oldest of four and I was the one who always questioned everything. I was protective and aggressive. I was also in front of people from a very young age. My mom had me singing in church from when I was 6-7 years old. It was during my teenage years, while playing the sax, I realized this was more than something my mom wanted for me. When I was playing, I realized that music allowed me to be me. But only to a point, because there were also expectations about who or what I was supposed to be as a leader in church.

One of the things that I saw over time is that most church musicians (and maybe especially worship leaders) are respected and valued for their gift, but as soon as their personality starts to show in a way that doesn’t fit the culture, that’s a problem. So, it often becomes a game, and sadly it is quite manipulative. If you are good, you will be given a chance, and you will pumped up with praise, which adds to the pressure of having to conform. And in all too many cases it teaches people to get good at hiding, and that is when it becomes truly destructive.

It’s one thing to hide parts of your personality, but when you start hiding what’s really going on in your soul, then you are no longer leading worship. It’s about something else. It’s more about the show. I can remember times when I was not doing well. I wanted to give up on life, my marriage was a mess, but I had to perform on the stage. And the sad fact is that I wasn’t really allowed to talk about it – at least that is what I thought. What mattered was that I quote the right Bible verses and say, “I’m good!” “God’s got this!” I finally came to the point where I couldn’t play that game anymore. I didn’t want to and didn’t think God was asking me to.

Part of the movement I’m trying to create with the Worship Society is that we have the depth of relationship where we go to those dark places with each other. There is such liberation that comes with confessing our brokenness, not as an excuse to continue living in foolishness, but to give people permission to actually stop pretending. Some people can go there. Others resist because the patterns of church life are deeply ingrained. But if we can get to that vulnerable place, then we are not only personally free, but what we bring to the table for God and others is genuine and authentic. And that’s real worship!

Word of the Week


Noun: he action of marking one’s pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity.

Have you ever wondered why God decided to make sunsets so beautiful?  I have a theory.  I believe it’s at least partly a heavenly celebration for all the good that was done that day.  There are always things to lament.  The world is a broken sin-stained place.  But that is not all it is… everyday people are being courageous, standing up for justice, serving unselfishly, loving indiscriminately, giving generously, praying fervently, expressing creatively, listening patiently, and leading boldly – for the good!  God notices, and everyday there is heavenly applause!  Perhaps it would be good to take a break from the self-critique and celebrate the good you helped initiate this week!

A Heartfelt Thank You

Celebrating 67 Years

Backdrop: This past Friday I celebrated my 67th birthday. Our family has always made a pretty big deal about birthdays. It is a chance for both reflection and goal setting. And we had a chance to do some of that this past week.

Because of all the things going on in my life these days – especially with my cancer journey – I feel especially grateful for every passing year. This past year was a year with some high highs and some low lows. I had a chance to do a good bit of travel, we took a cruise with the family to the Caribbean, Carol and I celebrated our 40th anniversary in the Bahamas, we saw the Aspens at their peak in Colorado, I had the chance to serve a congregation in Pella, we visited Lake Tahoe for the first time, and celebrated my youngest son’s engagement. Wonderful memories. Mixed in between all that was the heartache of the return of bladder cancer and the discovery of a new cancer in my right kidney. Life is definitely a mixture – is it not? In the year ahead, I look forward to two things: (1) continued personal healing and (2) the opportunity to help others in this same battle. Lord lead on!

Prayer Focus This Week

Trip To Mayo Clinic

We are headed to Mayo Clinic for the rest of the month. I have been receiving chemo treatments in the bladder for the last 5 weeks in hopes that we can salvage this vital organ as we prep for the surgery this week. In that surgery they will remove the right kidney, ureter, prostate and suspicious lymph nodes. They will take it all out at once, and I will be in the hospital for 4-5 days, before moving to an AirBnB across the street from the hospital. Carol will be with me for the first 10 days, and then we will have various family members who will be joining me to attend to whatever the post-op looks like. Carol and I continue to be encouraged by the level of support we have received. So amazing. For those who would like to be kept abreast on the details of our time in Rochester, our good friend Jenn has agreed to be our communication hub, and she will be sending out updates for those who have interest in knowing those specifics. You can e-mail her at to be put on the list. Thanks in advance for your ongoing prayers for our family!


Pocket Prayer Devotionals

We hit some note-worthy milestones this week that have us celebrating.

  1. We delivered our 500th devotional. When we placed our original order, we purchased 1000 copies and in just 5 months we have sold over half of our stock. We are rejoicing at the prospect of so many people having these daily encounters with God.
  2. This past week we also shipped two cases of books to Texas Silver Rush, a jewelry store in Fredericksburg, that offered copies of the devotionals to moms and grandmothers as part of their Mother’s Day special.
  3. And as a friendly reminder, for those wanting to share the Pocket Prayer devotional with a graduate, we are continuing to run a discount through the end of the month. Just type in GRAD at check-out. To learn more, you can visit the website.
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