Father and son – A Voice in the Darkness

Father and son – A Voice in the Darkness

Last weekend, I took my 9 year old son (Nelson) for an overnight camping adventure at our ranch.

I had three objectives. First, to invest time into my son’s life. Second, teach him practical outdoor skills while feeding his sense of adventure. Third, each activity was designed to point him toward authentic manhood. All the while, pushing him outside his comfort zone surrounded by God’s amazing creation.

Upon arrival, I gave him a gift. It was a small field med-pack with a headlamp (red light), a striker, one chem-light (aka: glow-stick for all you ravers), a multi-tool, a small LED light to illuminate the inside the bag at night, a zip-lock with several cotton balls soaked in Vasaline petroleum jelly, a small first aid kit, a wrist compass and a two-way radio. I instructed him to keep the pack with him at all times.

Before sunset, our first lesson was to learn how to start a fire without conventional ignition, like matches or lighters. We gathered rocks, tinder and wood. Then I demonstrated how to ignite a tinder ball using a striker and a cotton ball covered in Vasaline.  Nelson practiced a few times before dinner.

Night came and temperatures fell. Stars filled the clear sky. Nighttime noises in the country surrounded us – crickets, frogs, locusts, owls and coyotes

We dawned our packs and made our way down to the pasture gate in the darkness. I instructed him to turn on his red-light head-lamp and close the pasture gate behind him. I prayed and read Bible passages about loyalty, leadership and humility over him. We turned on our two-way radios and tested our comms. Loud and clear.

“What are we going to do, dad?” he asked with a great deal of uncertainty.

As I put the compass on his wrist, I said, “Son, I am going to walk 250 yards down the path. You will stay here until I call on the radio. When I call, you will begin walking on a southwest heading, keeping on the path. Do not wonder off the path. As you know, there are cactus, snakes and trip hazards out here.” I continued, “Down the hill, there is a tree with a green chem-light hanging in it. I will meet you there.”

Coyotes were howling all around and the moon was not quite high enough to give much light. The red headlamp only emits enough light to illuminate the ground a few feet in front of you.

With his voice a little shaky, he uttered the words I expected, “Dad, I’m a little scared.”

I replied, “Son, there is nothing to be afraid of – this is just a new environment for you.”

I continued, “You have your radio and red light. You will be able to hear my voice and talk to me on the radio. You won’t be able to see me. But, I will be able to see you. Stay on the path, use your radio and your compass. I’ll meet you in a few minutes at the tree. I love you.” I shut off my headlamp and made my way into the darkness.

You will be able to hear my voice and talk to me on the radio. You won’t be able to see me. But, I will be able to see you.

When I arrived at the tree, I made the radio call to Nelson. I could see his red light up the hill begin to move toward my position. He radioed that he was still afraid. I encouraged him to keep walking down the hill. “I can see you. You are doing a great job son. Keep going!”

As he approached our meeting point under the tree, he couldn’t see me in the darkness. So, I called out to him without the radio. Nelson trotted over to me. He was so excited, I was too. Hive-fives and hugs around the board. I congratulated him and read Bible passages on purity, honesty and self-discipline to him.

After a drink of water and another radio check, I told him we had a second objective – further into the pasture. The terrain is rocky with a little creek running through it. There would be another tree with a chem-light hanging in it. I walked ahead into the dark to the meeting place and called him over the radio to begin walking. He could hear my voice but couldn’t see me. But, I could see him.

He arrived at the tree excited and confident. I instructed him to take off his pack, get out his striker and fuel. “Are we going to start a fire here?” he asked. I replied laughing, “YOU are going to start a fire!” We cleared a small space and he gathered tinder. With minimal guidance from me, he assembled a small bundle and put the petroleum jelly soaked cotton ball in the center. After several minutes of failed attempts, he produced a giant spark that landed in the center of the bundle. We had fire!  The boy had built his first fire.  I could see his self-confidence and satisfaction on his face.

As we hovered over the tiny flames, I read scripture about excellence, integrity and perseverance over him and I prayed. He was so excited. We put out the tiny fire, put on our packs and headed back to the pasture gate where we had begun.

This time Nelson would lead the way and I would follow. We talked and laughed as we walked in the darkness. Looking forward to building a camp fire and roasting some marshmallows. We would sleep beneath a blanked of stars.  Nelson had conquered fear, learned something about listening to the father’s voice in the darkness and learned perseverance through fear and adversity.

 

Further consideration…

Maybe you are in the darkness right now. The darkness can be a dreadful place. However, our heavenly father can see us and we can hear his voice in darkest night. You can call out to him. He will answer.

Special Note: The ideas for this activity with my son originated with a book called “Raising a Modern-Day Knight” by Robert Lewis and operations with Ironcenturion. Thanks guys for your creativity and leadership.


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Three strikes and you’re NOT out – comeback from failure

Three strikes and you’re NOT out – comeback from failure

In his book on leadership Lieutenant General Hal Moore said,

In the game of baseball, three strikes and you’re out. Not so in the game of life. Three strikes and you’re NOT out.”

I can tell you from personal experience that “failure” properly understood is a set up for a comeback.  When we fail, we tend to give up.  But, is “giving up” the right thing to do when we strike out?

You only strike out when you decide to give up on yourself.

15 years ago, I gave up on myself. I was at the end of my rope after living a selfish and self-destructive life. I had decided that I had struck out, my life was over. Years prior to meeting my wife, I had been a willing participant in the abortion of my own child. I was a liar, used people and I turned to drugs and alcohol to sandbag the shame and pain. I was one step away from quitting. I believed the only way out of my despicable life – was death.

I believed that everyone had given up on me, I was living a lie, I had nothing good to offer and I had given up on myself. It was over – I could hear the umpire shouting, “Strike three, you’re out!”

Early one morning in 2003, I had descended into the darkest moment in my life. I saw death as the only way out.  However, in a blink of an eye, I was reminded that someone very important had not given up on me.

God – He hadn’t given up on me. In fact, he loved me and could transform the destruction and chaos of my life for good. In the midst of darkness there was a point of pure light – that light was hope. And like a lifeline from heaven, I held fast to that tiny glimmer of hope and God pulled me out of the dark tempest and set my feet on solid ground.

God reminded me that I was far from being out of the game. He gave me more hope. I could be forgiven. I could be used by God. A murderer could be transformed into a missionary.

“Three strikes and you are NOT out!”

15 years later, I have learned to boldly step up to the plate and swing for the fences because I am a redeemed and restored child of God. He loves me and wants me in the game. Why else would he send his only son to die for a wretch like me?

John 21 is my favorite chapter in the entire Bible. Previously, Peter had denied Christ three times before his crucifixion. Peter believed he had struck out as a failure. This wasn’t true. The risen Christ called Peter to himself and restored him and affirmed him. He put him on mission. “Three strikes and you’re NOT out Peter … Follow me.” And Peter did and we can too.  Peter’s failure was a set up for a historical comeback!

What does this mean?

It means It’s not too late. Jesus Christ invites us into a personal relationship with him that has NOTHING to do with our past, present or future performance. In the final analysis, It has everything to do with accepting his grace gift, trusting him and following him. When you blow it in life, remember three strikes and you’re NOT out.

  • How do you feel about people who have failed, including yourself?
  • How do you think God feels about people who fail?  The Bible is full of human heroes who failed.
  • Do you desire to get up to bat and take a few swings?

In closing, I want you to take some swings and so does God. He is the God of second, third and forth chances.

Forget what the world and culture say about failure. God will not be mocked. Ask Jesus into your life. Trust what he did for you on the cross. Believe that he can transform and renew you. He will enable you to swing for the fences in his game for his glory.

God has a plan and a purpose for your life no matter how you have failed. Get off the bench and get into the batter’s box and take a swing for God’s sake!

Want to watch a message by one of our team on this subject?

Link: “It’s not too late” – Dr. Cody McQueen


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I gotta fever and the only prescription is more JOY!

I gotta fever and the only prescription is more JOY!

The following originated from an email I sent to my fellow team members at Christ Chapel on January 8, 2018.

Good morning team,

On December 31st, I set about my morning bible reading asking the Lord to give me a passage of scripture for the new year. Up to this point, I had been journeying through the Psalms. At eventide of 2017, my foot set upon the golden shores of Psalm 16.

As I considered the entirety of this magnificent passage, I discovered a treasure I could hold in my heart at dawn of a new year…

 

“In your presence there is fullness of JOY.” (Psalm 16:11)

 

Unbeknownst to me, Pastor Ted Kitchens would announce on Sunday that the staff’s “theme” for 2018 would be ‘JOY’!

I too thirst for Joy! We all do. It’s been tough and trying year for many of us, and the only prescription is more Joy!

As I studied Psalm 16 again today, I couldn’t help but reflect on Jesus’s words in John 15: 1-11 (the True Vine). I encourage you to set both passages side by side and ponder them. One can’t help but be awe struck by how God has woven his word together. So, I pulled a couple threads I hope will encourage your heart as we embark on our voyage this new year.

Where do we begin?
Begin with the end in mind: Joy!

“in your presence there is fullness of Joy….” – Psalm 16
“that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full (or complete).” – John 15

How do we find this ‘Joy’?
Set the Lord before and abide in Him – the Vine

“I have set the Lord always before me…” – Psalm 16
“Abide in me (Christ)….” – John 15

By intentionally yielding our will in humble obedience, we enthrone Christ in our hearts to rule and reign. In turn, we yield fruit (which brings the believer Joy to the Father’s delight!). We are running to our Father shouting, “Father, father, look! Look at this beautiful fruit that you planted in my garden!” And the delight of the Father’s smile begets Joy in the hearts of his beloved children.

Can we find Joy apart from Christ?
The answer is ‘no’.

“I have no good apart from you.” – Psalm 16
“apart from me (Christ), you can do nothing” – John 15

So, Where do we end?
End with the beginning in mind: Joy!

Everyday – “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord’… in your presence there is fullness of JOY!” (Psalm 16)

Who’s Joy?
His Joy… our fullness of Joy!


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Pondering Glory – For on this world the Creator has stood

Pondering Glory – For on this world the Creator has stood

Originally posted in December 2016

I have been reading Charles H. Spurgeon’s (1834-1892) collection ‘Christ’s Glorious Achievements’. Last night I awoke around 2am unable to sleep. So, I quietly made my way to my study and decided to read a few pages of Spurgeon’s book. My hope was that I would become sleepy again and wonder back to bed. I eventually did. But it was not until God put an impression on my heart and mind that I wanted to share with you.

I won’t go into details but 2016 has been a trying year for me. It has been a year of transformation and refining. As I wrote a few days ago, there has been grief around the passing of my father. Thank you for your love and support.

 

Today, I want to shift the gears from Grief to Glory.

My prayer for this Christmas is for the Lord to deepen the meaning and allow me and my family to experience His presence in a special way.

Below are two verses I’ve pondered many times in the past. However, this morning, I have treasured them in my heart. And now, I hold them out for your consideration.

“And, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

The first verse states the Incarnation of Christ, Immanuel – God with us. The second verse states His mission then and now.

Consider the words of Spurgeon:

“You have often thought of it, but have you ever worked your mind into the very heart of it – that God has actually visited the world in human form – that he before angels bow has actually been here, in fashion like ourselves, feeding the hungry crowds of Palestine, healing their sick, and raising their dead?

 

I know not what may be the peculiar boast of other planets, but this poor star cannot be excelled, for on this world the Creator has stood. The earth has been trodden by the feet of God, and yet it was not crushed beneath the mighty burden, because he deigned to link his Deity with our humanity.

 

The incarnation is a wonder of wonders, but it does not belong to the realm of the imagination, or even expectation, for it has actually been beheld by mortal eyes…

 

From Bethlehem to Calvary he has traversed life’s pilgrimage. Thirty years of more yonder canopy of sky hung above the head of Deity in human form… for a thousand joys lie close compacted in the word ‘Immanuel’ – God with us, ‘The son of man is come.’”

Now imagine the power and humility involved with such an act of grace. Would you trade your home, comforts and lifestyle to be born into a shanty town to a poor family – from a people ridiculed by the world only to die for those who hurled insults at you? I wouldn’t.

Christ is come and Christ remains. Why?

To seek and save the LOST.

Spurgeon said, “Proud men do not like us the preach this truth.” I completely agree with him as a man of former pride in being lost. Are you too proud to consider yourself as ‘lost’? By ‘Lost’ I mean the depraved condition of your being, your thought patterns, your selfish motives, habits and addictions, secret envy and hatred toward good – maybe you attempt to exist under a shiny veneer of ‘imaginary holiness’ or comparison to others who overtly behave worse than you. Only God’s spirit can make you understand you are in fact ‘lost’. Otherwise, we all continue being lost in our lostness and without hope. We are like blind men grappling in darkness on the edge of the abyss we refuse to acknowledge exists.

But, think of it. “God with us.” God is come in the humble form of an infant babe whose mission in life and death is to seek and save the lost. Our finite minds cannot fathom the depths of this grace. But, dead men see the light and He makes them live. Everyday for 2000 years, the lost have been found. As the Lamb of God trods the pathways of time, do you feel the earth tremble beneath His glorious steps?

For on this world the Creator has stood… “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

No human could possibly contrive such a revelation of a personal God condescending to his creation to save it, thus revealing his ultimate Glory.

Merry Christmas!


Read previous post: Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

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Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.

On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.

My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”

 

That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.

Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.

58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.

“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”

A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.

“In your light do we see light.”

I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.

This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.

Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

 

In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.

 

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”

Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.

I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.

“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

F.W. Boreham

Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.

Originally posted December 14, 2016


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The art in the ordinary of life

The art in the ordinary of life

There is an art in the ordinary in life.

I was reflecting on Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ this morning and remembered something important.

Our actions and attitudes during the quiet moments of the ordinary tell quite a bit about our character and spiritual life.

We live in a culture and time when ‘you only live once’ has become the motto of daily living. As a culture, we have chosen to define quality of life on the basis of ‘epic moments’.

We’ve decided that a row of exclamation points (!!!) is more important than the preceding sentence. It is evident, some have gone so far as to stop writing sentences and strive to create meaning with only “!!!” (exclamation points).

A microwave cannot create great art.  An ‘epic moment’ cannot create a beautiful life.

A beautiful life is created and sustained by learning to live in the ordinary. Learning the art of walking in the ordinary leads to a beautiful life well lived.  Small brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives express depth, balance and richness. The broad strokes of flashing color from epic moments have no meaning without the lines, shadows and delicate detail of the ordinary backdrop.

An approaching thunderstorm’s beauty is found in the deep blues and grays of the sky. Lightening is simply an explanation point at the end of the sentence.

Read “Getting into God’s Stride” – by Oswald Chambers


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