Personal Posts

The Spiritual Wilderness

What do you do when you don’t feel like God is there?

To be honest with you, there are times where I don’t feel super fired up, spiritually. I love Jesus, I’ve embraced the gospel, but I’m just having a hard time.

I think it’s easy for many people to compartmentalize. If you’re having a bad day, you set it aside, go to school or work, do your job and deal with it when you get home.

One of the difficulties with being in ministry is you can’t really set aside your faith and then go to work, exchange time for money and then come back and work on your spiritual life, because it’s all so interwoven.

As a pastor, especially, if I’m feeling good or bad spiritually, if I’m having a good day or bad, if I’m doing well with my wife or not, I still have to teach tomorrow. And with my personality, I want answers. I want solutions. I want to fix it.

But maybe God wants me to just sit in it.

Regardless of whether you’re in ministry or not, some days are just tough. When you’re in a wilderness experience with God, when you aren’t feeling it or feeling Him, what would it look like for you to just allow yourself to be with God in the darkness? Just be with God in the wilderness. Just enjoy God there. Because theologically, God is with you. And theologically, even in those wilderness times, God is going to show you things about His character that you would never learn if life was awesome all the time.

What if we could learn to be with Him and abide in Him – in all circumstances?

Living With Intentionality

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Recently I had the privilege of doing my friend Harold Penner’s memorial service. H.P. was a church planter, a pastor at heart, a businessman, and he was a founding advisor of The Well. We built a relationship when I was a college pastor, and I started talking about this church I really felt like I needed to start. I shared a lot of the vision with him, and he really became a Jethro figure to me – a mentor, a sage and a guy who just believed in me.

The week before the first service at The Well, I remember thinking, “Holy smokes. Next week is our first service. This is dumb. This is not a good idea.” My wife was pregnant with Peyton at the time, and Harold was the guy who believed in me and the vision for The Well. He kept admonishing me, “You can do this. God is with you. Go for it!”

Harold was a very unique man. He was godly, full of joy and wisdom, and he had a mischievous way about him. He was probably the finest man I’ve ever met. He loved life and people, and was serious about his relationship with Jesus. His capacity for people was beyond reach; he had such a crazy love for folks.

He was also very intentional about what he did. Most people live for the moment. They simply take what life gives them and then seize the day. H.P. was different. He not only had the capacity to choose joy in the moment but he could snap moments together with intentionality. He moved very strategically. He invested with intent. He planned with the next several steps in mind. And this intentionality shaped those he influenced. Whether it was his business, which he was wildly successful at, or his kids, his grandkids, or his wife, he was intentional.

Having the opportunity to do his memorial service was a highlight of my ministry. It was a powerful reminder of the results of a life lived on purpose. Scanning the crowd I saw the men and women he had influenced. They were there to pay their respects, but they were also a testimony of his influence.

It made me rethink my life. What am I doing to influence others? What steps am I taking today to help point someone toward Christ? Am I setting up strategic opportunities to invest in people and help them live out their calling – with intentionality?

I want to make sure I’m making strategic investments into my marriage. I want to set a plan for my kids and work with them, as they become solid women of God. I want to lead The Well on purpose, making strategic moves and taking intentional risks to better create a culture of influence.

It also made me consider the various seasons of life that are represented in our context and how we could all move toward a more intentional life:

  • Singles: What would it look like for you to develop a theology of relationship of the right type of person? What would be different if you strategically invested your time and energy into becoming that type of person yourself?
  • Marrieds: How could your marriage look different if you strategically invested in your most important relationship? How would your time look different? What rites of passage or marked moments could you capture with your spouse? How could you make intentional deposits into their life?
  • Parents: Children are a gift from the Lord. How could you intentionally steward that gift? What steps could you take to breathe life into your kids? How could you strategically help them grow and develop into men and women of God? What schedule changes could you make to free up your time to be present with them? What would it look like to put away the devices (phones, iPads, computers, TVs) and strategically invest in the lives of your children? We are responsible to steward their growth and development, and we cannot outsource their spiritual growth.

I think the takeaway from Harold’s life is to do life on purpose. Let’s be intentional and strategic, knowing that when we plan we must plan in pencil because God still has the authority to change whatever plans we’ve worked so diligently to create. But at least we’ve planned something. If you draw that bull’s eye on the wall, it gives you a target to move toward versus doing nothing and seeing what happens. Let’s not just accidentally do life. Let’s be intentional and steward well what God has given us.

Princesses & Hard Workers

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One of the dilemmas I have as a father of two girls is recognizing the tension between “you are my little princess” and “you get your butt out there and pull some weeds.” As princess as I want them to be, I don’t want them to be afraid to break a nail.

From the text, we know Ruth gleaned in the fields.[1] We know the P31 woman worked with her hands and made her arms strong.[2] Most of these women were shepherdesses. They were out in the field carrying sticks, throwing rocks, fighting off bears, stepping in sheep dung. That’s what they did. And a callous or two can be a beautiful and a very attractive thing.

I want to feed my girls’ sense of value and of knowing their beauty is on the inside. I work doubly hard and am very intentional to affirm them not for their external beauty, even though my oldest is a knockout and my youngest is close behind.

I’ll say, “Hey, can I tell you what’s beautiful about you? When you’re obedient to Mama, when you speak kindly to people, when you’re humble.” I’m affirming the inside because I know they will pursue what I affirm. If I keep talking about how pretty they are, I’m feeding the monster and I’m not going to do that. Culture is already feeding that, so I try to balance it out.

They don’t need to buy into what the world says. They can be beautiful and that’s okay. God gifts beauty to some people. Great! But what they need to know is that beauty is not merely what’s on the outside. That’s why Peter says, Don’t let your beauty merely be these things, the external braiding of hair, wearing of gold jewelry, putting on dresses.[3] It’s okay to do those things, but that shouldn’t be the focus. I want my girls to know their beauty is and should be something deeper, part of who they are. And I want to make sure I affirm that in them.

 

[1] Ruth 2:3

[2] Proverbs 31:13,17

[3] 1 Peter 3:3

The Girl in the Flannel Shirt

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I fell in love with my wife over the smell of Pine Sol and a dirty mop.

We met August 9, 1995. I remember she was wearing a flannel shirt and jean overalls. How do I remember? Because that’s what she wore every single day. She saw me and thought I was a California pretty boy, and she passed on by. She was not impressed at all.

When I first started spending time with Jen, she was so hippie, no deodorant. And if you saw the girls I dated before Jen, you’d think, oh that’ll never work. And yet there was something about her.

We went on a mission trip and she was out there, literally dirt on her face, wearing that same flannel, just covered with dirt and sweating. I’m talking dirty. She didn’t even care. She just served. She’d be out there feeding the poor and with the kids, working. We’d do inner city ministry, and she’d knock on a door, and boom, she was in somebody’s apartment ministering to the kids, sharing the gospel.

We worked together for three years, and I noticed she’d be the first one there at a party to help set up, and when everyone said thanks and bailed, leaving the house in a mess, she’d stay and clean. She wasn’t scared to get on her hands and knees and scrub a floor. I realized this woman would do anything. She’ll go anywhere. She’ll clean a toilet no problem. She’ll scrub, dig, fix, polish. You name it, she’ll do it. I remember watching that as a single guy, and going, that is really attractive.

I had seen girls who were on the opposite end in terms of the princess spectrum, working out every day with all the fitness stuff, Lululemon whatever. And they were physically attractive. But the more I looked, they were also spiritually shallow. I thought to myself, I don’t think that’s what I want, because as I grow closer to the Lord, I’m going to grow further from that woman. I want a woman that as I grow closer to the Lord, I’m going to grow closer to her.

For three years I watched Jen lead girls to Christ. I watched her disciple gals. And I started to look at her very differently and thought, I want to date her. This girl’s amazing.

Where Is God?

Where Is God?

I’ll never forget the phone call. It was late one night and I was getting ready for bed. The phone rang, which was strange at this hour, but I answered. On the other end was my friend in tears. He said that his son was at Children’s Hospital and wasn’t doing well. He asked if I would pray for his son, and then hung up. Not only did I pray, but I got dressed and headed to the hospital to check in on my friend and his son. As I walked through the doors of the emergency room I saw a group of medical professionals performing chest compressions on my friend’s son. Apparently the little guy had had a heart issue that was now putting his life into jeopardy.

That next morning I drove my friend and his wife to Stanford Hospital. We found out he needed a heart transplant to survive. We spent nearly 40 days together at the hospital, waiting, hoping and praying. I remember spending time in the hospital chapel with my friend who prayed repeatedly for the Lord to spare the life of his son. He even offered to give his own life for his son, if the Lord would be so pleased to grant life back to this 5 year old boy. The Lord didn’t. After a 40 day fight, Trevin went to be with the Lord.

Where was God!?

His mother and father have served the Lord faithfully for many years. They have had a profound ministry to many and even played a key role in me coming to know Christ. Yet the Lord took Trevin home. This doesn’t make sense!

Several years later I was in a staff meeting with a few of our pastors. We were passionately discussing something when the phone rang. Jerrod sent the call to voicemail. We continued our discussion when it rang again. Typically an immediate callback means something important, so he took the call. His face went pale as he listened to the voice of his wife on the other end of the call. He hung up the phone and urgently headed for the door. When we asked what was wrong he replied, “Tyler’s dead.” Our executive pastor jumped in the car with him and I reached for my keys and began to pray. As I followed them to the hospital I couldn’t help but ask God, why!? This family has served the Lord and been faithful to Him in so many ways. As we walked into the hospital room his wife was there in tears. I watched them embrace and searched for words and understanding.

Where is God!?

Years later a friend of mine got a call from the hospital. “Was your husband working out tonight?” the caller inquired. “What was he wearing?” They pressed further. “Why do you ask?” the wife inquired. “We’ve got an unresponsive patient and we need to see if you can come and identity him for us.” So she calls her brother to meet her there and heads to the hospital, not sure what they’ll find, but with a heavy heart, fearing the worst. As she approaches the hospital, her brother greets her. She enters a room and they inform her that they have a “John Doe” and need her to identify him. They lead her into another room and show her the body of her husband. “That’s no John Doe,” she replies. “That’s my husband! That’s Peter Hagenzieker.” Peter had been a teacher and influencer at Kastner Jr. High for years. He took point for the school’s FCA club and was a faithful man. He had served the Lord faithfully.

Where is God!?

What do you say? How should you respond? What words of comfort, if any, can be offered in this type of pain?

Unfortunately these stories are not unique. They come in various forms and to varying degrees of severity, but they come nonetheless. They are common, far too common! A spot on an x-ray, a bad report from the blood work, chest pain that indicates a heart issue, a pink slip at work, a down economy that leads to losing a home, an unexpected car accident, the sting of divorce, the loneliness that follows the death of a loved one, and on and on and on!

So we turn to the Scriptures for answers. We turn page after tear stained page, looking for hope and understanding. And yet answers are elusive.

In these moments, questions fill our minds as we try to understand. Where is God?

I’m thankful these are not new questions. In fact, they have been asked for centuries. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 13, where King David deals with this exact question. These words were written by a man who understood sorrow and grief. He felt the sting of moral failure, experienced the loss of a child, the rape of a daughter, the murder of a son, the rebellion of another son, the rejection of his kingdom and the eviction from his home.

In the midst of it all, he writes these words:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13 (ESV)

How honest. How authentic. How candid. How true! Where is God?

If you notice in the passage, he never gets alleviation of circumstances. The wound is never lanced and the pain is never remedied, yet his tone changes. Not because of a change of circumstances, but because of a gained perspective.

Notice verse 5: “But I have trusted in your loving steadfast love.” His change of perspective didn’t come form a greater understanding of circumstances; that would be an answer to the “why” question. Instead he gets a greater understanding of the nature and position of God. This perspective helps him see that, even in pain, God is sovereign. God is in control. It allows David and all of those like ourselves who would also suffer loss after him, to cry out “Your’e Still God.” David recognizes that God has a past track record of faithfulness. He is not asleep or unaware. He is not distant or callous. Quite the contrary, He is sovereign! He cares! And He is aware! He has a perspective that David will never truly understand. He won’t get why God allows what He does, nor will he truly comprehend the reason that tragedy strikes, but he can trust in the enduring and unchanging nature of God.

When David pauses long enough to look beyond his own pain to see God at work, he can’t help but trust in the faithfulness of an Almighty God. It is his trust in the continued faithfulness of God that allows David to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for who He is, and for what He is doing in David’s life.

So, where is God?

In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
– Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

Aware and present when we call.

So, where is God?

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
– Psalm 56:8 (ESV)

Intimately involved in our pain.

I’m not sure what circumstances surround you at this point. But I know that tragedy often strikes unannounced and uninvited. When it does interrupt your life, I pray that you will eventually gain perspective. Instead of asking God “why?” try asking God “what?” I admit this shift is perspective is not an easy one. In fact, it is often the result of many anxious nights and honest conversations with God. However, healing comes when we can see our circumstances with a fresh perspective.

If you find yourself in the ashes of tragedy, here are a few suggestions:

  1. This world is a crazy place. Our bodies fail, sickness intrudes our life uninvited, and because of sin, people do crazy things that cause lifelong trauma. In the midst of the insanity of life, would you entrust your life to Jesus Christ? This world is not as it should be, nor as it will be when He returns. In the meantime, life without Christ is a life without hope. Only through the person and work of Jesus Christ can there be hope in a fallen world.
  2. Realize that you are not alone. God is aware and listening for your cry for help. Call to Him and He will grant comfort. This process may be messy and there may be some candid and raw emotions that fly when you cry out in pain. God is a big boy, He can handle it. Cry out anyway. As your read in Psalm 13, God has heard good, honest prayer before. In fact, this honest dialogue with the Lord may be a key part to the beginning of a healing process.
  3. Find others around you that you can share life with. Your pain is yours, but you don’t have to be alone in it. There are others who have experienced their own share of heartache. Maybe God can use those He has already comforted in their own affliction to be a comfort to you in yours.

Thank you to the Dilfer, Rumley and Hagenzieker families for permission to share a bit of their stories and help point people to hope in Christ!

 

Originally posted on thewellcommunity.org.

Am I a Racist?

Am I A Racist

Seek first to understand and then to be understood. –Stephen Covey

 

I grew up in Clovis. I went to the rodeo. I had mostly white friends. And then I found the world of athletics. Athletics thrust me into a multi-cultural environment.

When I hear someone say you’re the beneficiary of white privilege, to me it sounded like you were saying I had a silver spoon in my mouth, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It sounded to me like there was an assumption that everything I had had been given to me and by the way, you’re a racist.

And that bothered me. It bothered me for a lot of reasons. I worked my backside off for everything I got. I fought my way through school, my degree, on the football field. I was raised in a single parent home and it wasn’t easy. How could you say I benefited from white privilege?

So I dismissed it before I even really understood what they were saying. Then someone told me white privilege is not saying you’re a racist that’s had a silver spoon in your mouth. Whether I knew it or not I was a part of a system that was biased towards middle class white dudes. I don’t appreciate that or want that, but it’s not about me, it’s about a system that lends itself that way.

To be honest, I still didn’t quite understand it. Then I read an article about “What Riding My Bike Taught Me About White Privilege.” You know I’m a hobby junkie and one of my hobbies was riding. When you ride you know that you are riding in a world that is biased towards automobiles.  Our roads are designed to benefit automobiles. If you aren’t in a vehicle, people don’t even see you. It’s not that that driver is anti-bicycle, he just doesn’t even see you.

And you can’t win on a bike. People are mad at you if you’re on the sidewalk and they are mad when you’re on the road and that’s what I’m learning about white privilege. It doesn’t mean I’m racist, but it does mean there is an unintended bias towards middle class white people. The bias is changing and diminishing, but not fast enough.

Listen, I’m not a civil rights activist and I’m not the savior. I’m a white dude trying to understand the black narrative. From my lens I don’t see it. I don’t get it. It doesn’t mean I’m ignorant, it means I don’t understand, so I need to seek conversation to understand.

When these issues of discrimination and injustice are more than national headlines, when they are stories from your friends, the whole issue gets personalized. These are not simply racial constructs of a bygone era nor impersonal issues of those we have never met, rather these are stories of injustice from people in our community who matter deeply to God. They are right here—where we live, where we work, and where we play.

Unfortunately, injustice is a reality. This side of heaven we will always battle sin and it’s devastating affect. Though the Gospel unites us we must fight to understand one another and celebrate the diversity that God has created.

If we’re going to be serious about helping people connect to God and to each other in every neighborhood, then we need to learn more about our neighborhoods. God has given us an opportunity to provide leadership in our city and allow the gospel to influence how we interact in our community.  And that’s why Hope Fresno is so important to me.

Come with me on a journey, with a teachable spirit, in humility.  You might not agree with everything you hear, but you need to come and hear it all. I need to hear it all.

Will you put yourself in a situation where you can hear? Can you suspend judgment and put opinions aside and for just a moment, listen to what our African American friends can teach us?

 

Hope Fresno-Blog

Hope Fresno- in partnership with Faith in Community (FIC)

 

 

New Year’s Giveaway

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I can’t believe it’s been a year since Walking With a Limp came out. To celebrate and thank everyone who has read the book and supported us along this journey, The Anatomy of a Disciple is doing a New Year’s giveaway.

We’ll be giving away a $100 gift card to Amazon and 5 books that have changed the way I do life and ministry.

 

1. In the Name of Jesus – Henri Nouwen

Few books have challenged my thinking on the Christian life more than this simple yet profound read. Nowen forces you to consider theological reflection as a necessity of Christian living.

2. Getting Things Done – David Allen

For the true type-A list maker this is the best time management resource I have found. The GTD system has helped me manage chaos and stay productive.

3. 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni

This book is repeated in the halls of our staff office more than any other. It has shaped our view of staff culture and brought to light that the greatest asset as a church aside from the good hand of God is a good healthy staff culture.

4. Margin – Richard Swensen

In a hectic world driven by an always on, never off mentality, Margin brings a refreshing challenge to unplug, slow down and create sanity, even in chaos.

5. Spiritual Leadership – J. Oswald Sanders

A timeless classic and a must read for any aspiring leader. Next to scripture, it might be the finest book on spiritual leadership I’ve ever seen.

 

To enter the giveaway, just jump on to Amazon and leave an honest review for Walking With a Limp. We’ll be accepting entries throughout the month of January and will announce a randomly selected winner the first week of February.

 

Submissions accepted from U.S. residents only. Only one original review accepted per person. Review submissions must be made by January 31, 2015 at 11:59 pm pacific standard time.

Training Your Child to Leave

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From their birth until they’re about one year, as their dad, you are pretty pointless, especially if your child is breastfeeding. At least that’s how I felt. You can change diapers and that’s about it. But then your role begins to shift. As your child grows, you and your wife become a team of disciplinarians. You’re teaching your child to obey authority. The hope, of course, is that if they learn to obey your authority, then they will learn to submit to a heavenly authority.

Now that my girls are getting older my role is shifting again. Peyton, my oldest, doesn’t need me like she used to. She doesn’t need me to make her lunch in the morning, because she can do that. She doesn’t need me to wake her up in the morning for school, because she can do that. She doesn’t need a disciplinarian; what she needs is a coach. I encourage her. I direct her. But it’s very different than what it used to be. Though there are still parental boundaries, I’m not micromanaging like I used to. I’m still actively involved in directing her path, but in a very different way.

As parents, our roles are constantly changing. They need to change, because we’re training our children to leave. They aren’t ours to begin with; they are ours to steward and train up.

Sooner than I’d like, my role will shift again. My daughters will need less coaching and I’ll become a mentor who is there if and when they need me – likely one of many mentors in their lives that serve as a go-to when necessary. But they will be driving their lives, they will be the ones making decisions and I have to get them ready for that.

Are You Called?

5 books that have changed my life

RUDE AWAKENINGS

Shortly after I came to faith in Christ, I was talking to a pastor and I said, “It must be awesome to do what you do.”

He said, “You have no idea what we do. In fact, if you can see yourself doing anything other than ministry, do it.”

He told me if you’re called to ministry, God will swallow you like Jonah and puke you on the shores of ministry.

I thought, a little dramatic, don’t you think?

He went on: You don’t try ministry. You’re called to ministry. Ministry is not a career; it’s an obligation. You don’t go into it for the money or the prestige, or the notoriety.  You go into because you have to, because you’re compelled, because there’s a fire in your soul that you cannot put out, and you are absolutely driven by God to do it.

Why is that important?

There will be multiple times throughout your career in ministry where you want to quit, and in those moments you have to lean back on your calling. I could quit. But I can’t quit – because I’m called.

There were many rude awakenings as I got into the reality of ministry that I would have never seen from the outside.

 

THE 5 MISCONCEPTIONS OF A PASTOR

Everyone is going to be my friend.

Ministry is a very lonely road. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study and delivering the word of God. And sometimes those words are well received and sometimes they’re not. As I speak truth into those around me, as I have hard conversations, it makes friendships very difficult. I’m watching my daughter’s track meet and who shows up: a guy on church discipline that I’ve had words with, a parent whose affair I exposed, and his wife who is now a single mom, and next to her another woman who is living inappropriately with her boyfriend.

It’s an 8 to 5 job.

I walk into a grocery store and “Hey, Pastor, can I ask you something?” I can’t go anywhere where someone doesn’t know me. And what an honor that our church would have that kind of influence in our city. But there’s a weight with that. I realize I’m never off – unless I’m hiding in my backyard working on my garden.

I’m going to make a difference.

I start swinging away expecting massive exponential life change. But then I realize, boy, we’re a mess. Life change is subjective, it’s cyclical or seasonal, and it’s one step forward two steps back. I assumed there was a formula to spiritual growth. If I just pray well, preach well, boom – life change. But often, spiritual growth is hard and it’s a slow process and it’s extremely messy, and that can be very discouraging.

Church is not a business.

I thought my staff team was going to be together for 40 years. But as an organization grows, your leadership has to grow and the way your organization is led has to grow. The responsibility of the role outgrows really good people and you have let people go.

And while philosophically, we are not a business – meaning our end goal is not for profit but for life change, and the way we go about doing things is different – but the reality is, from a practical standpoint, church is run very similar to a business. And that, I was not prepared for.

If I had to do it over again: I would get my undergrad in history, I would get my MBA, and then I would go to seminary.

I’m going to just hang out with people.

I’m going to be in the lives of people. I was discipling people face to face over time. I was sitting at Starbucks – listening, meeting, talking about life. But as a senior pastor, it becomes more platform-driven. I become more of an influencer, not a discipler. And I end up leading through other people, not through personal contact.

Now I’m 10 minutes late to everything all day. I never imagined this many meetings. I’ve never been in more meetings in all my life. And people who wanted to meet with me used to call me; now they call my assistant. How do you think they feel about that?

What I Didn’t Understand About Christians Until I Was One

What I Didn’t Understand About Christians Until I Was One

It was the first time I’ve ever cussed at my dad.

I was nominated for the B’nai B’rith award, which to this day I still have no idea what that was, except for a big Jewish award and apparently a very big deal. I’m at the awards thing and I don’t know Jesus from nothing, and when it finishes, my dad says, “We need to go see your grandpa. He’s dying.”

“Why are you telling me now? Why are we here?”

I was so mad at him for making me go to this stupid awards banquet (I didn’t end up winning), and I remember driving, and he’s telling me to slow down and I’m cussing at him. I thought we had somehow missed the death of my grandpa.

My grandpa had a third-grade education from Pond Creek, Oklahoma. He couldn’t read or write, but knew how to work with concrete. He started a company with my uncle; my uncle was the brains and my grandpa the labor. They created a lightweight concrete called Stucco. After working like mad in Southern California, they moved out to a cattle ranch just on the way out to Hume Lake. My grandpa was the typical Depression-era man. He had calloused hands, and he could fix everything with baling wire and a crescent wrench. He never said much, and I never saw him cry, except once.

When I got my scholarship, I asked the recruiting coordinator to come to my grandpa’s home. He was sitting in a wheelchair with a Santa hat on because it was Christmas, and he was probably 105 pounds, just eaten by cancer – bald, emaciated, a skeleton of a man. I signed my scholarship and he cried. I was the first one in my family to ever go to college. And Pop cried.

I remember standing at his deathbed – such a frail man. I’m holding his hand and he’s struggling to breathe. And he says, “I’m going home.”

“What?”

“I’m going home.” And then…gone. He went to be with Jesus.

Who says that?

How could he have such peace, such assurance and such perspective to know with complete confidence how to face death?

I had no idea how to process that as a non-believer.

I wanted to take Denise Riddell to the senior prom. I never asked her. Every time there was an opportunity, I whiffed. And one weekend night, she had gone to a party, had a little too much to drink, and was driving home down Copper when Copper was surrounded by orange orchards. She fell asleep, drifted off the road, and gone. Hit a pole.

You have nothing of substance to fall back to. You don’t know who to blame. You don’t know the purpose or reasoning. It’s just a tragedy, and it comes unannounced and unwelcome. And you’re forced to swallow this bitter pill with nothing to give you any perspective.

As a non-believer you trust in fate. You dabble in a little karma. You might look at your horoscope or think twice about a fortune cookie – anything to give you perspective as to why things happen and/or how to make it through. When you go through tragedy as someone who doesn’t know Jesus, you find solace at the bottom of a bottle. You throw back a couple pills and try to numb the pain. But you really don’t have a coping mechanism. You really don’t have perspective. You’re just left to chance, hoping things might work out, hoping there’s some sort of meaning in all of this.

I did not understand then, but now…I get it.

I understand what it means to walk with Jesus. I understand the idea that God does indeed work all things to the good of those who love Him. He has a plan for our lives. And momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comprehension, while we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are unseen.

The things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal. You begin to see that God has sovereignly ordained everything we go through in this life to make us more like Him. Everything – both triumph and tragedy. And we can delight in both because both are necessary to make us who God wants us to be. Both are required to shape us to be more like Him.