Friday, September 07, 2007
Growing up as a little boy in the coal town of Gillette, Wyoming we had a rough start. Our world was just as rugged as the plateaus that are so common in that part of the country.
My mom and dad played hard and fought hard, literally. Just like most of their friends, God wasn't a part of our everyday life, and while the talk was tough and everyone walked around like they were 10 feet tall, our little family struggled on the inside. We were the farthest thing from bulletproof.
To me, back then, life seemed like one great plateau. Steep and wreckless mountains and valleys, ups and downs that were never ending, just replaying over and over. With our family, things would go right, but only for so long, then level off for just a breath of peace before beginning an unchartered descent into hell. It felt like we were never getting anywhere. And even at that age a kid begins to wonder about his purpose.
My childhood wasn't anything to pity. We were well provided for, and there were more good days than there were bad.
Still, I saw my mom and dad laugh, I saw them drink. I saw the fights and I rememeber the darkest things, things I saw, sounds I heard, even the strong smells of the by-product of that world that will stay with me all my life.
It was my mom who first began to go to church, looking for anything to change our trajectory before our family smacked into another brick wall that we wouldn't bounce back from.
And she found it. Boy did she find it. She was a changed woman when she met Jesus. My brother and I were just a couple of dumb kids, be we could smell it in the air when she'd walk into a room, and all we knew was that we wanted that too. We began going to church with her, coming home and telling my dad all about what we were learning in the bible, and at first I think he thought we'd all been brainwashed. That was until the Sunday came when we all went to get in the car, and he got in too.
Life changed, and I mean it flipped. Like a switch that turns on the bulb in a dim lit room, darkness fled from my family when the light hit it.
It was magnificant. It was strong. It was sweet peace, and it was lasting.
My dad became a pillar in his faith. I'd see him in his bible every day. He taught me what it meant to study the word of God. More importantly, he led by example. I wanted to be just like him.
But, as time wore on, so did life. Our family fell away from the church, away from God, and finally away from the peace that we'd come to know.
One of the greatest things I learned about faith wasn't what anyone meant to teach me, but the lesson is invaluable and worth passing on...
This gift, this blessing from God, your Salvation... you can't have it taken from you.
The bible says we can't be snatched away from Jesus. But we can take that gift and give it back. We can set it down just like anything else in life, get busy and forget about it. It's not taken away because it doesn't need to be taken. We give it up, freely, and without a fight.
That was over 15 years ago. But guess what? Jesus never gave up. He never left my side, even when I left His. Most of those years I spent lost, just tossing whichever way the wind would blow.
Two years ago I called my mom and asked if she'd come up for Lifelight, and last year she came. It was knee-deep mud and torrential rains, and everything we had, from our food right down to our socks, was waterlogged in the first day. It seemed I spent all of my time digging out cars and trying to get a tire changed, and the only real connection I made with the festival was on the last morning, coming over the hill just as Joe White took the main stage. With passion like I haven't seen in a man, with tears and heartache he built a real-life rugged cross, swinging his ax like Paul Bunyan, pounding the nails, telling a story about a man named Jesus and the gift He gave mankind. My mom found her faith all over again, and the flame was fanned.
I remembered thinking, "Wow! If there's anyone that my dad could relate to, it's Joe White!" Rugged, to the point, no-bones straight-talkin' and in your face.
He was speaking my dad's language.
It's been a full week now since this year's festival, and only today am I beginning to form into words what I experienced at Lifelight. I'll give you, and remember this, I'll give you just a peice of the whole story. Just a sliver, because there is too much to tell, more than words can describe.
My dad decided to come, to see what the fuss was all about... Once again, he found himself in a car, on His way to Jesus.
He had two blow-outs on the trip here from Wyoming, but he still made it. He wasn't going to turn back now.
When Joe White came on stage there were distractions all around us, so we went right up to the front. Still people were talking right behind us, talking about anything and everything, not listening to this man speak. So we moved to the center, and Joe White was standing right above our heads, swinging that ax with true determination. Babe the Blue Ox was certainly right behind the stage. Yet, all I could hear was the guy next to me talking about needing to buy some deodorant, how he could really use a shower...and he was telling no lie. The Souled-Out stage was thumping and booming in the background....noise, and more distractions.
I was burning holes into peoples heads with my eyes...thinking if they'd just look my direction they'd be able to tell that I was about to choke them and bring them personally to Jesus, that it was time to shut-up. No luck.
Finally, as some kind of last resort I bowed my head and closed my eyes, and I asked God to please let my Dad hear nothing but this man's message. I asked him to snuff out the rest of the distractions and make it clear. I was frustrated. Disappointed.
I was lacking in my faith.
It wasn't until the next morning when I asked what he thought of that message, and if he could hear anything over all of the people talking, that my dad said,
"What people talking?"
I said, "All the distractions?"
and He looked at me confused,
"What distractions...I just heard Joe White."
Yes... that's him in my favorite picture below, on his knees in prayer.
I realized then that my God had it all under control, and He was meeting my dad, with or without my help, all weekend long. I realized why I was on assignment to cover Lifelight in pictures... it was to get myself out of the way, to let God work.
For as long as I can remember, when my dad would visit a place, he was always ready for the trip back home. Most times he was packing up to leave early, with a list of things to do.
When Monday morning came and everyone began to break camp, it was my dad who said something I've never heard him say in all my life,
"I'm not ready to leave...I'm really not ready to leave...in fact I'll drive all night long if I have to, I don't care. Let's just relax."
We were among the last campers to leave the grounds, in fact they cut the electricity and water as a gentle reminder that it was time to go. :)
My dad called yesterday to let me know he'd found a church. It's the same church that my family first found a lifetime ago. The pastor there knew him and used to be an elder in the church back then. Already, there is a remembered fellowship, rekindled....a fanning of the flame.
On the phone I heard my dad speak words that will stay with me forever...
"It's such an amazing feeling to be in the place that He wants us to be, to find out that He didn't give up on us."
You remember how Christ spat in the dirt and made mud, smeared it on the blind man's eyes and gave him sight? Well, he never did miracles like that the same way twice. He always mixed things up. Kept it fresh.
This time there wasn't any need to make the mud for me to dig out of, but there were pictures to take, a job to do. Something, anything to occupy my time, because I had a lesson to learn too. It's not me. It's nothing I am going to do, nothing I can do. It's already been done. That price has already been paid, and he cares more than I will ever begin to understand.
That gift isn't mine. All we can do is open our arms to recieve what He is already offering to all of us, and tell others about why Jesus Christ deserves our praise.
As for me, I can only tell you what I know. What I've seen.
He's there for me. He's real. He didn't forget. He answered my prayers. Hard, painful prayers, that my family would find their way back to Him. He's still answering them, more than I could ever imagine.
And His word tells me that He is there for you too, and He never gives up...Never.
His message, this flame, belongs to you now. Open your arms. Embrace it, let it warm you over, and watch this wildfire blaze in your life, in your family. If He is true, then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If He is false, you still have lost nothing.
God despises the sin in our lives, and every one of us has sin. If you've lied then you're a liar. If you've stolen something in your life then you're a thief. If you've looked at another person in lust, you've sinned. These things will destroy us. From the pastor right down to a criminal, we're the same.
But when we ask for His forgiveness, when we turn to Him in humility and we acknowledge that gift that He gave on the cross, it's not that we somehow think less of ourselves, or that we become weak. It's that we think of ourselves less, and in doing so, through Him, we become strong.
Remember this childhood melody and take this with you today...
'Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.'
Friends, a child can figure this out. Don't let your self get in the way.
There are more pictures of the festival here. Just click to see them.
Posted by Daniel C. Elliott at 11:26 AM