Just Keep Swimming

The only way to get to victory is to be willing to fail on the way there. True overnight successes are rare. Far more often you have people who kept showing up day in and day out until the hard, unglamorous work added up and paid off. It’s easy to misunderstand what you are seeing when you look at people who are taking a victory lap or receiving attention or promotion. What is happening there in that moment is only the tip of the iceberg. Invisible to your eye is what’s under water —the hell they went through on the road to success.

I recently read a story in the news about Kristen Anderson-Lopez that was powerful. She (along with her husband) wrote the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” As the father of four daughters there are very few Disney princess movies I haven’t seen, and like many of you, we have not only seen this film multiple times but we own the soundtrack as well. (And no, I would not like to build a snowman.) The song “Let it Go” is not just a great song, it is literally the best. It won an Oscar for the best song in a motion picture. It was so good that it changed the course of the movie. Apparently Elsa, a character in the movie who freezes everything, was originally going to stay evil, but when they heard “Let it Go”, the song caused them to rewrite everything so Elsa could sing it and be redeemed.

That’s powerful in and of itself, but the best part of the the article was where it said that Kristen also wrote 17 songs that weren’t included in the movie. SEVENTEEN times her songs weren’t right. SEVENTEEN times she heard “no.” Most of us would consider ourselves a colossal failure to be shut down five or six times. It would be difficult to keep pressing full steam ahead after being rejected a dozen times. But she continued writing and creating and inventing and putting herself out there SEVENTEEN times. Let that sink in. Songs #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,15, 16, and 17 weren’t good enough for the movie. Attempt number 18 was a different story. This time the movie, as it was currently written, wasn’t good enough for the song.

The point is, to envy someone’s success is to completely misunderstand the nature of it. To covet the limelight and the accolades is to focus on the wrong thing. Yes, there are those who are given every advantage and people who are raised with a silver spoon in their mouth, but far more often the recipe for success is simple and unpleasant. You persevere through difficulty, bad ideas, bad days and bitterness again and again and again until something clicks. It’s not sexy, but it’s true. What you were willing to do in secret is responsible, so often, for what happens in public. It would be nice to crank out a hit on your first attempt, but those unlucky enough to do so often end up unable to replicate their accidental success. Far better to be ok with writing some duds and be able to just keep swimming.

1 Chronicles 28:10 “…be strong and do the work.”


O2 Florida Recap Video

2014 is a big year for the O2 Experience as it marks 10 years since we began putting on these events. It was thrilling to kick off this year by departing from our usual rhythm with a wintertime tour in addition to the one we have coming up this summer. We were also stoked to be on the east coast for the first time. We put together this little video to celebrate the great things God did.


O2 in Florida

IMG_5266

We just got home from a very, very special trip to Florida for a series of O2 Experience events. Each and every time we get to look into someone’s eyes and tell them that they are made in God’s image and that they have value and that Jesus loves them and no matter what they have done, today is a new day, and He wants to turn their brokenness into beauty and their sorrow into strength–which is what the O2 Experience is all about–it is special; but this trip was unique. For one thing, 2014 marks 10 years since we first felt the call to start this ministry. Jennie and I had just gotten married and the Lord stirred our hearts to call this generation out to sexual purity. We had no idea what we were in for, but we obeyed. To have reached the 10 year mark and to have done these events all over the country since then is absolutely amazing to me.

Another reason this trip was unique was because we have never done an O2 run outside of the summer. Wintertime presented some unique challenges for a team that is headquartered in Montana. Exposing our pale and pasty selves to the Florida weather we knew there was the inherent risk that some members of our crew might begin worshipping the sun, or never come back home. There was also the 108 hour round trip drive with a 30-foot trailer for the guys who bring the gear…yeah, that happened.

It was worth it. Never have we seen the floodgates opened like we did in these three events. We saw over capacity crowds at two of the events. In Ft. Lauderdale once the enormous worship center filled to standing room only, people cascaded into six different overflows! In Miami we broke fire code (In Jesus’ name) in the sanctuary, turned to an auxiliary gymnasium, then filled every nook and cranny of the building, and eventually projected what was happening on the platform on the outside of the building and hundreds STOOD in the parking lot, many coming forward to the projection to indicate their profession of faith in Jesus!

The Melbourne event was a wild-card. I had never set foot in the city, am not on the radio there, and have no ministry connections that would typically help an event gain momentum and exposure. It was also on a Tuesday night. A school night. Really, the event had everything going against it. Jesus did His thing. Thousands showed up, and there was such a sense of spiritual hunger and the presence of God was felt. In response to the invitation the front area filled up instantly, people literally ran forward, and soon they backed up the aisles indicating they were giving their lives to Christ. We actually saw such great response in Florida that we ran out of New Believer Bibles after the second event and had to have more shipped in for the final night!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the midst of all of this I was struggling with voice problems all week long, spending as much of each day as I could on vocal rest so that I could speak each night. Brutal. But in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect. Regardless of how much it scared me or how difficult it was, the Holy Spirit provided the power that was lacking. We were carried on eagles’ wings. I love all of this so much. Seeing young girls tear up as we tell them they are valuable and precious and worth waiting for, watching people put their signed commitment cards in their wallets, hearing the stories of what God has done, and through it all our dedicated team serving with excellence and passion. AMAZING.

Here is the Florida O2 run lookbook:

IMG_6736 (1)

IMG_5143

IMG_5527

IMG_5020

IMG_5027

IMG_4852

IMG_5164

IMG_5056

IMG_6219

IMG_5624

IMG_5101

IMG_5237
Continue reading…


Seven years of Fresh Life

20140114-094444.jpg

Today is the birthday of Fresh Life Church, but it’s not just any birthday, it’s our seventh. That makes it extra special because seven is a great number. It’s always been my favorite, but like I tell my daughters, I am pretty sure it is God’s favorite number too! If it’s not, it’s certainly up there because He sure uses it a lot in the Bible.

Plus think about this, Fresh Life started on January 14, 2007. On that Sunday morning 14 people showed up to our first service, and it was 14 degrees outside. Now that seven years have gone by since 2007, in the year 2014, we are seven! If that doesn’t make this a special birthday for us I don’t know what would. How about the fact that we have seen just under 7,000 people (6,920) make decisions for Christ in these seven years! That’ll about do it.

But my favorite thing about the number seven is that it is a number of completion. A number of fullness. It’s an ending, and after seven comes eight. A number of new beginnings. Even as eight people came out of the ark, eight signifies the start of something brand new. Fresh. Something bristling with potential. As we enter this eighth year of ministry that is our mindset. Glory to God for all He has done! This is just the beginning.

For our birthday we are streaming the fresh life story (a documentary we made about how the church began) all day long for free here.


That time I went to China

On the Great Wall

One of the standout moments of last year was a quick trip I took to China. There is technically no such thing as a quick anything when travel from Montana to China is involved, but I was only there for a short time. Regardless of how much of a whirlwind it might have been, it was certainly an amazing experience.

The trip was put together by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and lead by Franklin Graham. The purpose of the trip was to encourage dialogue and relationship between the Protestant church here in America and in China. Pastors and Christian leaders from both nations spent several days talking on the subject of reconciliation and the Gospel. Billy’s wife Ruth was born in China and the country has always been a place near to his heart and a focus in his ministry.

I was, by far, the youngest American pastor on the delegation. (I can’t even spell delegation.) Most of the others were not just leaders of individual churches but heads of whole denominations or presidents of seminaries. I assumed it was a clerical error that I was invited to be a part, but I didn’t ask any questions fearing the mistake would be discovered and corrected. Fortunately I have been watching Kai-Lan (basically Chinese “Dora the Explorer”) with my girls so I knew enough of the language to say “hello,” “please” and “thank you.”

We spent time in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. We made our way across the country, in between these cities, on bullet trains that fly along at 200 mph. I have traveled to Asia a number of times but this was my first trip to China and I loved it. It is an amazing country. So cool. The fact that it is home to 1.3 billion people is astounding. Getting to spend time with Chinese pastors was a genuine pleasure. Hearing what the Lord is doing in and through their churches blessed me greatly. There are somewhere over 23 million registered Christians in the state-sanctioned Protestant church. It is estimated that the true number could be over 100 million if you include those who are a part of house churches.

In Beijing, we were hosted for two formal, 14-course dinners. One was put on by the State Administration of Religious Affairs. We visited their headquarters in a building the emperor’s father used to live in (the movie “The Last Emperor” was filmed there) before eating at a hotel that 10 years ago only state guests could enter. The second was at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a place that is their version of Camp David, where we were hosted the former Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations and to the United States. Ambassador Li Zhaoxing told us that he has hosted every American president from Nixon to Obama right there. Amazing. He also told me that he has visited every state in America and he loves Montana.

With our very limited downtime we explored, walking through the iconic narrow Hutong alleyways, watching random groups of people dance in the streets (it would be hard to get noticed doing a flash mob over there), walked on the Great Wall of China, and visited Tiananmen Square. I took advantage of being in these spots and captured some messages that we used for our seven year anniversary at Fresh Life. (Check it out here.) It’s not everyday you find yourself in China on the verge of a new year — the Chinese “Year of the Horse” — but when you are, and you are all about running with horses … well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

More than anything, the trip intensified my desire to get the Gospel to as many people, in as many places as I can before my time on this earth is done. It’s a big earth full of souls and Jesus loves and died for each and every one of them. We must do what we can to share His love and get His Word to the ends of the earth!

Shanghai

Delishy-Fishy

Bullet-Train

Tiananmen Square

Great Wall

Forbidden City

Starbucks in a Hutong

headquarters of S.A.R.A.

Ambassador Wong

Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing

Shanghai


When we stop worshipping, we stop winning

Praise is powerful. Worship is a weapon. We must approach every battle with arms raised and swords drawn. We are to do everything we can do but we must trust God for what only He can do. When we stop worshipping, we stop winning.


The 7th year of fresh life

We just closed out 2013, our seventh year of ministry at fresh life. It was an amazing, jam-packed twelve months of watching God move in people’s lives and bless aggressive steps of faith. At times we were holding on for dear life, but it has been awesome. Check out this year end recap video that we showed this weekend.


My top ten blog posts of 2013

top102013
I enjoy writing. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as speaking but once I force myself to begin it usually flows with minimal psychological trauma. Especially in this past year it has proved to be a cathartic experience as most of my writing has been focused on Lenya and Heaven and grief. Journaling and blogging has long been a discipline I have tried to maintain, if only to have a record of things I have been learning or musing on, even if it all doesn’t end up getting posted.

Looking back on the blog posts from this past year was challenging as there are some very strong emotions and memories that they triggered but they also contain some very powerful lessons that God taught me in difficult times. I picked out ten of them that are some of my favorites and they are presented here.

Thank you for reading this blog and for sharing my posts with other people! Knowing that God has used something I have written to give hope or encouragement blesses me greatly. I hope and pray that God, who crowns the new year with goodness, would shine His face upon you in 2014 like never before.

10. A question I don’t need answered
There has been one question I haven’t asked. That question is, “why?” I have never found my heart bubbling up with that. Even in my darkest moments of unfiltered pain and confusion: “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God let my daughter die?” wasn’t what gushed out. To be honest my lack of thirst for those answers has shocked me a little bit…

9. The honeymoon is over
When you first get married there is a newness to it that causes everything to glow. It is surreal, like living in a dream. No more saying goodbye at the end of the night. No more falling asleep with your mobile phone because after you dropped her off you still wanted to talk as you drove home and got ready for bed, brushed your teeth and drifted off together. (Thanks Verizon.) Now you get to brush your teeth together! …

8. Pastor Chuck Smith: A Life Well-Lived
Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”

7. Good Grief
At various points in the last three months I have wanted to find out whoever came up with the phrase “good grief” and do physical harm to them. Too honest? Sorry. I suppose these are the sorts of thoughts you have when you are grieving. For the record there’s nothing good about it from where I am sitting…

6. A Distant Shore
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…

5. The Pain of Searing Loss
In the movie The Avengers there is a scene where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are having a conversation. Bruce feels as though being the Hulk is nothing but a curse, a nightmare. He feels exposed, like a nerve, and sees no good in it. Tony, on the other hand, views being Iron Man as a responsibility…

4.The Vanishing Point
While on a recent trip to the coast Alivia snapped this polaroid of Jennie and I staring out into the mysterious and gloomy sea on a foggy day. When she showed it to me it seemed to perfectly encapsulate life for us right now. Our eyes are straining to see something that we can’t. The sun is hiding behind clouds and refusing to shine. Life is unfolding in muted colors and in a minor-key…

3. Meeting Billy Graham
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…

2. There’s no such thing as a wireless anchor
The Bible tells us that we have hope as an anchor of the soul. It is both sure and steadfast. Translation: It is unmovable. A permanent anchor that will never budge. We can know this is true because it is Jesus who is our anchor. He is our hope. He has entered God’s presence and has promised to bring us to be where He is. Our hope is not dead either, it is a living hope, because He lives forever…

1. 30 Days in Heaven
It has been 30 days now since my second born child Lenya stepped into eternity. Her last breath, which she took in my arms, was immediately followed by her first breath in the arms of her Savior and Creator Jesus Christ. Scripture promises nothing less than an instant transition to Heaven for the believer–to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In her final moment on the earth…


Merry Christmas from the Lusko family!

We are endlessly thankful for Jesus who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! Merry Christmas from our home to yours.


The Year of the Eagle

Lenya Lion

“I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4

The other night at bed time we were tucking Alivia and Daisy in. We were talking about how we were close to the one year mark of Lenya being in Heaven. Alivia said, “Wait, how many days will that be?” “Three hundred and sixty five days,” I said. She looked surprised and sighed deeply. I asked, “How many days does it feel like it’s been to you?” She thought about it for a moment and then said, “Sometimes it feels like it’s only been two days and sometimes it feels like it’s been a thousand.”

She is exactly right. In some ways time has stood still. It seems like it was just a moment ago that we were clutching Lenya’s hands crying out to Jesus to send her back to us. The adrenaline, panic, hope and peace of that night seared all of that so deeply into my memory I can go there, whether I want to or not, very easily. In other ways it feels like we have lived a lifetime of grief and sadness, faith and worship in the last year and it is difficult to remember ever not having this thorn in the flesh.

As of today, Lenya has been in Heaven for exactly one year. She broke camp on December 20, 2012. Her earthly house, this tent, dissolved and she got to go Home. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. By earthly time, she has been there in Paradise for 12 months. The Bible says that to the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day so whether it has seemed as a moment to her, or an eternity, I don’t know. Perhaps like in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” she has experienced more in this year than could fill 100 books, or maybe we will enter into eternity just moments after her.

There have been moments of unbelievable, incomprehensible pain in the last year. Having to walk into the waiting room and tell Alivia that her little sister and best friend is with Jesus. Standing in a snowy cemetery on the day after Christmas, watching as an all-too-small box is lowered into the earth. Coming across her favorite pair of boots, scuffed and beautiful. Seeing the notch marks on the pantry door where we measure the girls height continue to shoot up for her sisters while Lenya’s stays still, frozen in time at December 15, the last time she put her back to the door and giggled (and tried to get away with standing tiptoed) while we drew a line. I get sick to my stomach and nearly hyperventilate whenever I see someone giving CPR in a movie. Ambulance sirens make me lightheaded too.

But there has been breathtaking beauty too. God’s presence has been palpable. I have never known Him so closely or sensed His Spirit so strong as in this season of sorrow. If it weren’t for this pain I would not understand His strength the same way. I have screamed in the night and sunk to my knees in despair only to rise to my feet with supernatural strength that was not my own. We have felt Him hold us and breathe life into us while our hands were shaking and our hearts were aching. The name of the Lord has been a tower to run to, a shield to hide behind, a song to sing and a banner over us. The Spirit of Jesus has wet cracked lips, dried wet eyes, and defanged our fears.

Added to that is the way we have seen the Lord use our story and Lenya’s life. Our pain has been a microphone. The more it hurts the louder it gets. We have not only been able to minister to many other hurting and suffering people who are facing similar waters, but the Lord has broken us in ways that has allowed us to speak to people who might not have ever listened otherwise. We believe that nothing is wasted. Jesus has put to use what He has put us through and we know He will continue to.

The ramp-up for Christmas has been very hard because all around us are reminders of painful moments, but they are also reminders of God’s goodness and His faithfulness. Yes, when I see a lit-up tree or hear a Christmas carol it makes me remember what we lost one year ago today, the fact that we set up decorations with Lenya for a Christmas that we never got to experience. But I also remember the way He sustained us, anchored us and gave us peace. Besides, the reason there ever was a Christmas in the first place is because of death. That’s why Jesus came — to defeat the grave. I choose to remember that because of Christmas, our life with Lenya is not over, it is just on hold for now. Until we see her again she is with the Prince of Peace, urging us on in this race of faith, reminding us to cue the eagle whenever we grow weak and reminding us to make it count.

If you didn’t have the chance to meet Lenya, the celebration of her life is available to watch online here. Through it you can really get a sense of the amazing person she is and what an impact she has had on so many people.