“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. It makes colors fade to gray, food taste like ash, your stomach sink, your heart burn and your eyes sting with hot tears. In the thick of grief it is very difficult to keep your thoughts collected, and all but impossible to keep your emotions at bay. Besides drugs or alcohol, it is probably the most powerful mood/mind/body altering state you can be in, especially in the initial trauma of it all.

No, in my opinion, grief isn’t good. It is brutal and painful. Very, very painful.

However, like any bad thing, God is able to bring good out of it. The cross is proof. For one thing, grief causes you to focus. I found that it pulled my thoughts away from things that are superficial. The flood of sorrow blasting it’s way through your soul wipes out attention previously devoted to trivial things. It’s impossible to confront such powerful emotion and care about a Super Bowl commercial.

It also enhances your spiritual senses. Being so near to eternity causes you to almost be able to taste it. The unseen spiritual world becomes more vivid and more apparent than ever. There are moments when I can sense its nearness in a way that I have never in my life experienced. It’s as though God’s whisper is amplified in the deafening roar of death and loss.

There is also the good of being at a place where you are trusting God not day by day or hour by hour but literally minute by minute for the strength to go on. When you are grieving you ball up your fists but have no one to fight. You feel the impulse to run but there is no where to go. I have never felt so powerless, so weak and so desperate in my entire life. In the midst of it all, God was there. He was the rock that was higher than I. The tower to run to and be saved. The One who lifted up my head. He has upheld me marvelously with power from on high these 84 days since Lenya left this earth.

I am thankful for all these things. It is with gratitude that I look at God’s faithfulness in the midst of such confusion and pain. It is with a great sense of expectancy that I look forward to what He desires to bring out of it still. More than anything I am thankful for the fact that Jesus “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;” (Isaiah 53:4 NKJV)


Easter is on its way

blog_01

The ground is still cold and frozen. It has been a long and difficult winter. Fortunately, spring is coming and it carries with it the greatest celebration on the calendar — Easter. The ground will thaw, the days will lengthen and flowers will blossom. Life that has been held hostage by ice and frost will emerge and begin to bloom. The crown comes after the cross.

I have never been so excited in all my life to celebrate the resurrection as I am this year. Easter has always meant a lot to me, (and in the life of our church they have been historic times of outreach) but now it is more personal than ever. The grave is brutal, merciless and uncaring. It swallows everything it touches and it is never satisfied. It will not stop until every last person has been consumed.

The good news is that death has been devoured by the life of Christ and it can’t fight back. Jesus’ tomb is empty and because of that fact, we don’t have to be terrified by the grave anymore. Death’s power has been undone. Those who fall asleep in Christ become greater after death than they were before and they can never be touched by it again. Paul said, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (II Corinthians 5:1)

I am writing these words about a subject that is raw and a wound that is still fresh for me. Seventy five days ago we faced the grave as a family after Lenya went to heaven, but we faced it with hope. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the power of the gospel are the only reason I am full of faith and not despair as I sit here. There are tears in my eyes, but peace in my heart. And I am, with every fiber of my being, driven to communicate the truth of this message to as many people as possible (people who will all have to die one day) until my time on this earth is done.

We are going big this Easter at our worship experiences that will be happening all across the state of Montana. For King & Country, Phil Wickham and The City Harmonic are going to help us celebrate. Our prayer is that many will rise, from being dead in sins, to life in Christ. Check out the Fresh Life Easter site for all the details by clicking here.

blog_03


Living in a mansion

20130228-104944.jpg

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.

20130228-105042.jpg


Meeting Billy Graham

20130224-133934.jpg

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.

20130224-222808.jpg


The O2 Experience // West Coast Tour

20130219-081818.jpg

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

20130213-083846.jpg

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)


A distant shore

20130206-164548.jpg

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.


The Vanishing Point

20130201-031015.jpg
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.

It has been six weeks since Lenya left this world. She is not gone, just out of our sight. In his book Heaven Randy Alcorn compared it to standing on a dock watching a ship sail away and head to the horizon. Though it seems like it is gone, when it finally disappears from sight, it is not. The ship hasn’t actually vanished, it has just gone somewhere else. To those at the port the vessel is heading to, it is just the opposite. The ship appears where you lost sight of it and grows as it draws near.

That is how we see this through the lens of faith. Our daughter set sail for Heaven 42 days ago. Though we can’t see her, we know that she is with the Lord. Her departure was also an arrival–a Homecoming.

Our eyes are teary and red, standing on the dock where we last saw her, struggling in vain to see even a small speck of her on the horizon. It feels like each day she is drifting further and further away and I hate the passing of time for it. I dread the thought that tomorrow it will have been 43 days since we snuggled and laughed and it seems she will slip away. In one sense that’s true, time is taking us away from our past together with her. But in another more real sense it is doing just the opposite. The day is quickly approaching when we will embark on the same voyage that she did and set sail for Heaven ourselves. As the hours and minutes pass we are getting closer and closer to our future together. Time is our friend, not our foe.

So even though it feels like “goodbye,” it’s actually, “see you soon.” And that brings great comfort to our melancholy hearts.


The happiest place on earth

20130127-085015.jpg

One of the girls’ Christmas presents this year was a visit to Disneyland. We were supposed to fly to California the day after Christmas and spend a day riding rides and meeting characters, and if Lenya had her way, eating lots of cotton candy. Things turned out very different. Our airplane took off without us as we stood shedding tears in a snowy cemetery.

A smaller, stunned and broken-hearted version of our family eventually made it to California. We hadn’t kept the trip a surprise so they had all been talking about it for several months and had mapped out which rides we should go on while we were there and in what order. Though she wasn’t with us, we headed to Lenya’s first choice and rode it right off the top. It was all bittersweet. We have terrific memories of her all over the park, from previous trips, that we cherished and were stung by as we laughed, smiled and cried our way through the day.

One of Disneyland’s nicknames is, “The Happiest Place on Earth” and, even though adults love to bag on this title because of the long lines and dollar signs, I think it is pretty fantastic. Especially when you experience it through the eyes of your kids. The sights, smells and sensations are all carefully crafted to be warm, bright and exciting. That was Walt Disney’s whole idea, to build a utopia for children of all ages, a perfect little world where fantasy is reality and dreams do come true–if you wish upon a star. Of course it’s all fake. There is a dude inside the Mickey costume, you can’t live in the castle, and it all closes at end of day.

The good news is that Jesus said that there really is a place like the one Walt tried to create, where every dream comes true. It’s not the Magic Kingdom, but the Messiah’s Kingdom. It’s called Heaven. He promised that there is room for us in His Father’s House and that He would bring us there one day. My daughter Lenya is there with Him right now. The Bible also promises that the day is coming when all of Heaven will come down and be permanently fused to the new Earth. When that day comes there will be no unhappy places on the planet. All of earth will be as cheerful as It’s a Small World, but much less creepy.

What gave us great joy as we waited in line for Dumbo, one of Lenya’s very favorite rides, ate six dollar churro’s, and took photos that have a conspicuous absence in them, was the thought that Lenya is in the place Disneyland is trying to be. Paradise. Though we wished desperately she could be there with us we held on to the comforting reality that she was not missing out on the fun. We were. Our sadness was for us and not for her. We wanted her there with us to laugh at the silly faces we made for the camera at the end of Space Mountain, to meet Ariel and to spin furiously in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups because it would have been better for us. But returning to this fallen earth would not mean more fun for her but far less.

The reality is even the happiest place on earth, on it’s best day, can’t hold a candle to Heaven. Disneyland is like a cross between the DMV and the Dentist compared to the slightest sliver of what Heaven will be like. David said that one day in God’s courts are better than a thousand elsewhere. She is with the Lord in a perfect place and she has been made perfect too. In the Kingdom she is in there really are princesses living in the sparkly castle, and she is one of them. And maybe just maybe the animals really do talk where she is. We miss her with all our hearts and I have no doubt that she is looking forward to the day when we will see what she is seeing and experience what she is experiencing. I can’t wait. Until that day I want to reach as many people as possible so they can go there too.