Living in a mansion

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We recently took a tour of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It is the largest home in North America. A mansion in every sense of the word. There are 250 rooms filling up 178,000 square feet. It was built by a man named George Vanderbilt and he spared no expense. The architect he used also designed the base of the Statue of Liberty and the man he had design the gardens on the property is the same person who planned out Central Park in New York City. Astoundingly, it wasn’t even Vanderbilt’s primary home but a vacation property he called his “little mountain escape.”

It is an amazing place. From the gargoyles and the huge lions at the entrance to the indoor swimming pool, elevator, and bowling alley, it is impressive. Especially considering it was built at the end of the 1800’s. Vanderbilt’s personal bedroom has wallpaper made out of real gold and a light in his closet that turned on when he walked in. Even the servant’s quarters were cool. We felt like we were in the castle from Beauty and the Beast. Minus the talking candlesticks…

As we walked around we talked about how Jesus said that in His Father’s house there are many mansions and that when He went away He was going to prepare a place for us. When you put your faith in Jesus you have the promise that to die is to leave this old decaying tent and move into that perfect place. We were getting to see the largest mansion on the earth, but our little princess Lenya has been living with the King in a far greater mansion.

As of today, she has been there for 70 days. I don’t know how heaven’s time works. Perhaps for her it has just been a few moments and by the time we get there it will have seemed like we were never apart. What is for certain is that life in that place is much better than anything this world has to offer because, even if for no other reason than this, it is eternal.

On the tour they told us that not too long after construction was finished George Vaderbilt died unexpectedly from an appendectomy gone wrong. His wife and daughter suddenly found themselves in a big, cold house separated from the one who built it. That is so like life. Not even one of the richest men in America could keep himself from death’s icy grip. The good news is that if we have received the free gift of everlasting life offered through the gospel, death will bring us to Immanuel’s land where there is no night. And the mansion that Jesus has prepared for you will blow the Biltmore out of the water.

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Meeting Billy Graham

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Last week Jennie and I were given the opportunity to meet Billy Graham. We traveled to his mountainside home in North Carolina and were honored to sit down in his kitchen and spend some time with him. I’m not kidding when I say that there is not a single person on earth that I would be more excited to meet and talk to. He has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in human history. Hundreds and hundreds of millions have heard the good news because of him. Amazing.

Yet through all the historic crusades, counseling presidents, heads of state, and being considered, year after year, one of the most influential people alive, he has remained humble and driven by the simple desire to focus all the attention on the man in the glory — Jesus Christ. Even more amazing. He grew up the son of a dairy farmer and is a testimony to what God can do through a life that is fully yielded to Him and to His word.

As a young pastor and evangelist I have been greatly impacted by him. I vividly remember getting to attend one of his crusades for the first time. It was on my birthday my sophomore year of high school and I was thrilled to hear him preach in person. All these years later I still watch his messages regularly. It is part of my Skull Church warmup routine. I have many memories of sitting with Alivia and Lenya on those mornings watching grainy, vintage black and white footage that was shot at some of the historic crusades. His booming voice coming through the ages as fiery and powerful today as it was when it was first recorded.

Billy is 94 years old. He has fought the good fight for many, many decades — and he continues to still. He just finished writing a book on the subject of salvation that will release soon. While we were there he was picking out the cover. His beloved wife Ruth, who is a heroine to Jennie, is in Heaven. It was a joy for us to not only talk about Fresh Life and our desire to follow in his footsteps through preaching the gospel at Skull Church events, but to reflect on the hope of the resurrection, the reality of Heaven and the joys awaiting us that Lenya and Ruth are experiencing now. It was very special and an experience that I will treasure all my days. The opportunity for us to meet him came just before Lenya went to Heaven. We leapt at the chance at the time, and it meant even more to us in light of her sudden departure.

I am so thankful to Wil Graham, Billy’s grandson, who is an evangelist and a man of God and has become a great friend. He hosted us at their training center, The Cove, showed us all around Montreat, N.C. and told us so many amazing stories about “Daddy Bill.” It was a joy for our family to spend time with him, his lovely wife Kendra and their kids.

If you are ever in North Carolina, you for sure need to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. It tells the story of what God has done through his life and ministry. It is very well done and so inspiring.

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The O2 Experience // West Coast Tour

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Sixty one days have passed since Lenya’s sudden and unexpected departure to heaven. Now that the dust has settled and I have had some time to take inventory I am realizing how much of a before/after event that day was. I’ll never be the same person I was again. It changed me completely. Certain things I cared about before now seem trivial and unimportant. Other things that I was already passionate about now consume me. I suppose that one of the benefits of passing through fire is finding out what is gold and what is dross in your life.

I find myself more focused than ever on the gospel. Planning skull church events, and expanding fresh life into new cities gives my pain a purpose. One area in particular where I find myself stirred greatly is to take the message of salvation and power through purity to as many as possible through the O2 Experience. For 10 years now we have been putting on these events to bring a fresh look at life, death, sex and romance to a generation that is being ripped off and stolen from by the devil. These days that calling is more of a fire in my bones than ever.

This June we are doing a West Coast batch of O2 dates. We will be traveling from Seattle, Wash., through California and then up to Idaho, ending in Montana. God has opened the doors for us to partner with some amazing churches along the way and we are praying that we will see many thousands impacted and generations changed as a result. If you live anywhere near these cities I hope to see you along the way! Click here for more info.


Arrows

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I love that the Bible describes children as arrows in the hand of a warrior. They are weapons to be launched out as bright lights in a dark world. As parents we are archers and our job is to do all we can to help them hit the target.

The honor of being a mom or a dad is that you are entrusted with one of God’s special little arrows. He wants you to fit each one to your bowstring, aim carefully, pull with all your might and then whenever He calls you to, you must let it fly. Our number one concern should be that while we had them in our hand we did everything we could to help them reach heaven at the end of their mission.

Jennie and I have been blessed by the Lord with four little arrows. Three are still in our quiver and one is now in the target. Lenya flew straight and true. Though her flight on this earth was far shorter than we thought or would have liked, she struck the dead center of the bullseye with great eternal impact.

We are not going to take a second we have with Alivia, Daisy or Clover for granted for we aren’t guaranteed how long we will have with them either. As long as God sees fit to trust them to our care they will be planted in the house of the Lord all their earthly days, and our absolute highest prayer for their lives is that, like Lenya is now, they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, matters more than this.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. (Psalms 127:4 NKJV)


Bread & Circuses

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We are beginning a new series this weekend at fresh life. Be forewarned, it involves scary clowns.

The messages that I will be giving have been in the works for a long time but they mean even more to me now. In the past 49 days since my daughter went to heaven I have been learning so much that has deepened my understanding about these truths. The themes we will be exploring have been brought to a boil in my heart and are raring to be released.

We have put together a page where you can easily post about the series and send e-vites. If that wasn’t enough of a pitch, it does have an animated elephant gif balancing on a ball. Check it out here. As you pray about who to invite I’ll tell you this, the first message is explicitly evangelistic so it will be a really great opportunity to invite and bring people who need to hear the gospel.


A distant shore

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Her pink bike is in the garage with her helmet hung by its strap from one of the handlebars. It has white-walled tires. Just like mine. Every time I walk by it I take a deep breath in and let it out slowly as I think about how spring will come and the snow will melt and we will go on family bike rides in the evenings, but her bike will stay parked in that spot. Her helmet will stay there too, dangling from the handlebars. Lenya will not ride that bike again. Eventually Daisy will use it and then Clover, but not Lenya. Not ever.

She isn’t going to play with her toys anymore. Neither will she wear any of her dresses or other clothes that are hanging in her closet and folded in her drawers. She used to transform all the pieces from this wardrobe into three or four wild and wonderful outfits, and as many messy piles on the floor by lunchtime each day. Her room is far too clean and tidy now. Everything stays as we put it. Her Jesus jar is empty because she brought her tithe to church the weekend before she left us, but the money she saved up in her “spend” jar will not be spent by her.

I know this all to be true because my daughter has gone to heaven. She is on a distant shore. Though we can’t see her she is near. Heaven can’t be that far away because when you leave this earth you are able to be instantly with the Lord. At most it is a day’s journey away because Jesus promised the thief on the cross that, “today you will be with Me in paradise,” and when He said that they had already been on the cross for hours. Maybe it’s extremely close, just unseen to us presently. Doesn’t that seem to be how Stephen makes it sound, in the book of Acts, when, in his final moments, he gave us a description of of glory that seemed to appear before his eyes right before he died? I wonder, and long to find out. Perhaps if we knew how close Heaven was we would be more motivated by it and live to fill it more ardently than we do.

In Lenya’s final moments on earth her mother’s voice was in her ears and she was held by her father’s hands. Those were frantic, desperate and frightening minutes to us as we sought to keep her here through CPR. God chose instead to bring her to His country. A place without sin or pain or fear. No, she can’t ride her pink bike on the cracked pavement of this tired world any longer, but I don’t suspect that brings her much concern as she swims with dolphins or rides down the beach on a horse with a tropical wind whipping her hair up behind her. Or maybe it’s a unicorn. If she has the option I guarantee you she is picking the unicorn.

It is true that Lenya died. It is also true that she is more alive today than she has ever been. More alive than me. I take great joy in thinking about the fact that she is in a place without death. We had to attend her funeral but she did not. She never attended one in her life and she never will. She is in the land of the living.

What anchors us in this storm of our separation from her is the promise that she is with Him and He is in us. The more we are filled with His Spirit the greater our connection to her grows. I would lose heart if I did not believe that I will see the Lord. But I do. Someday soon my ship will set sail for the distant shores of that perfect place, where Lenya lives and laughs and plays, and I will finally be Home.


Alivia shares from her devotional


Alivia was looking back in her daily devotional and re-read the entry from the day her sister Lenya went to heaven. When I got home today she was telling me about it, I was so blessed by her insight and sweet spirit I wanted her to share it.