Sunday, July 19, 2015


During the course of this summer, I have slowly fallen in love with Center Hill Lake here in central Tennessee.  Yesterday morning, it was just as beautiful as ever.  I was helping out with the teen Sabbath School for family camp at ICC and we were out on the lake with kayaks and canoes.  The sun was shining brightly overhead and there was hardly a cloud to be seen.  Large herons flew inches off the water while little songbirds flitted about the lakeshore.  Everyone was laughing and splashing each other to cool off.  Monique was leading out and she wanted to illustrate God’s saving grace by having us submerge the canoes and then flipping them back over.  I was with two teen girls and one of them earned the nickname of Tippy by the end of our trip.  For her, the goal was to see just how far we could put the gunwale down into the water without actually sinking the canoe.  Honestly, we did quite well but sitting in the water at such an awkward angle is not conducive to long-term floating.  Suddenly, we found ourselves underneath the canoe instead of on top of it.  To further illustrate our helplessness, we tried to empty the canoe ourselves.  The three of us literally got under the canoe and tried to use the buoyancy from our PFDs to get the canoe high enough out of the water to empty it.  It didn’t work.  We tried scooping water out, but every time we flung water over the side, our movement would cause another wave to fill our sunken ship.  So I realized there was only one thing for us to do.  One of the girls slid onto our upside down canoe, grabbed my hand, and through half a dying whisper said, “I’ll never let you go, Jack.”

We called for help from one of the canoes that were still upright.  They quickly pulled next to us and we were able to slide our canoe on top of theirs.  They helped us flip it, empty all the water out, and then successfully get back into our “dry” canoe.  I’d like to say that we stayed dry and got back to the boat ramp without any other mishaps, but then again, I’m glad I can’t say that.  Life’s not about being perfect and staying dry, it’s about having fun and living in the deep end.  We definitely came paddling into shore as if we were just floating in formation with paddles in our hands, since our canoe was floating just beneath the surface of the water.

As the illustration pointed out, life can often be like our canoe adventure.  You may be resting on the mountain of Perfection, living the dream, when suddenly everything goes wrong.  Your life becomes swamped with doubts, temptations, heartache and failures.  You strive your hardest to right the wrongs, to clean up the mess, to empty the baggage that’s holding you down.  Yet you fail.  You fail over and over again.  It is only when you stop struggling alone and call for help that you can be saved.  And that’s when you realize that some of the biggest blessings God places in our lives are friends.  People who are there for us no matter what.  People who can help us piece our lives back together, emptying the water out of our sunken hopes and dreams.   One of my favorite songs by Andrew Peterson contains this heartfelt cry.  “Give us hearts to find hope, Father.  We cannot see how the sorrow we feel can bring freedom.  And as hard as we try, Lord, it’s hard to believe; so give us hearts to find hope.  Give us faith to be strong.  Give us strength to be faithful cuz life is not long but it’s hard.  Give us grace to go on, make us willing and able.  Lord, give us faith to be strong..”  I have personally found that no matter how dark the circumstances, no matter how hopeless the future, God will bring light and joy through it all.  And He’s often done it through my friends.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Evening meetings here at the Kentucky-Tenn campmeeting had finished.  High above us, the moon shone brightly while clouds scuttled beneath its glow.  The night was quiet all around, save for the excited chatter of people heading for their various places of lodging.  There were about four of us gathered together on a porch with our guitars out, jamming to old favorites like “Go Light Your World” and “Give Them All to Jesus.”  One of the guys had graduated Thunderbird Academy and knew a lot of the friends I had made last summer in Arizona.  The other guy is leading out in a canvassing program here in Nashville this summer and I just met him a couple days ago.  The girl we were with I had met three years ago in a class at Southern, but hadn’t reconnected until this week.  But there we all were together, hardly knowing one another and living different stories, praising and worshipping God through our music.  Random people would join us in singing a song or two before heading off into the night.

And that’s when I met Natalie, a young girl who was there with her mom and two siblings.  She was probably no older than five or six and had the cutest little smile ever.  Wanting to play guitar with me, she sat down by my side and wrapped the strap over her little neck.  While she strummed a rhythm on the strings, I continued to play chords with my left hand as we sang “Here I Am to Worship.”  She grinned excitedly as we played and sang the chorus.  “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.”  As I looked at the group around us and then down at the sweet, innocent face of the girl playing beside me, I realized that one of the greatest blessings in our lives is the ability to worship God.  Not because we’re great.  Not because we’re talented.  Not because we have to.  Simply because we love Him with the innocence and fervor of a child.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Simple Fix

This past week has been rather difficult for me.  I’ve landed a really tough job at Indian Creek Camp as ski director for the summer.  So for the past few days, my sole job has been to explore the lake, becoming familiar with the good ski and tubing spots.  Yeah, rough times.  But as much as it sounds like a really unlucky job, I’ve actually enjoyed it quite a lot.  I love adventure and exploration.  ICC is located on Center Hill Lake, right near Nashville, Tennessee.   It’s 62 miles long from top to bottom and takes roughly 4 hours to drive the ski boat from one dam to the other and back again.  Needless to say, that’s a long time to be driving a boat.

I’ve had a lot of cool experiences while exploring the lake.  One time, while cruising around a bend, I noticed what looked like a log floating near the shoreline.  As I drew closer, I could see a wake extending out from behind it and realized it was moving.  Suddenly I saw two ears sticking up with a snout staying just above the waterline.  It was a deer, swimming silently from one side of the lake to the other.  I throttled back to an idle and then cut the engine altogether, watching the deer swim silently to the bank and walk into the forest.  It paused momentarily to look at me over its shoulder, and then leapt effortlessly into the foliage.  Another time, I was exploring an inlet to the lake, following the stream deeper and deeper into the woods.  The “lake” was only a narrow strip of water at this point and I was keeping an eagle eye on my depth reader as it dropped below 10 feet deep.  Suddenly I saw a whole flock of little ducklings waddling down the bank towards the water’s edge.  I cut the engine again and watched silently as the little bunch of squawking feathers jostled each other into the water.  Chirping exuberantly, they plotted their course and swam for a ways down the shoreline before exiting the water on the same side they had entered.

But the animals aren’t the only thing nature has to offer here on this 62 mile idyll.  Watching dark storm clouds rise on the horizon, racing storms back to the boathouse while keeping the nose pointed into the waves and bracing against the rain, experiencing gorgeous sunsets, feeling the spray of the lake on my face and seeing rainbows dance in my wake, it all becomes one glorious symphony of freedom, beauty, and motion.  And the stars.  Oh mercy me.  At night, I’ll take the 22 foot long ski boat into the middle of the lake, turn on the anchor light and shut everything else off, and just lay out under the stars.  So far away from the hustle and bustle of society and with no obstructions to block my view, it’s almost as if I can reach out and touch the sky, picking off stars one by one and placing them in my heart to store as bejeweled memories.

But one experience on the lake stands out prominently in my memory.  I was out with my brother Caleb, cruising around a new section that I had wanted to explore.  After awhile, I ran into cell service (I have AT&T which has terrible coverage around Center Hill Lake; we’re that far out in the TN boonies).  Now, one does not just “run” into cell service without making use of this rare commodity.  So I decided to make a phone call.  While Caleb tinkered around with the dashboard of the boat, learning what different knobs did, I stretched out on the seat and commenced to converse on my cellular device.  After finishing, I went to restart the ski boat before continuing our exploratory journey.  I twisted the key.  Nothing.  I twisted it again.  Nothing again.  Puzzled, I checked and saw that all my dashlights were working, then tried the key again.  Absolutely nothing.  I opened the engine compartment and checked everything in there.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  No wires were loose, no oil was leaking (it was worth checking; maybe the boat had an anti-start mechanism if the engine was leaking), nothing seemed wrong.  And yet, our boat was going nowhere.  Actually, it WAS going somewhere.  The wind was blowing us straight for the rocks lining the side of the lake.  We puzzled for a while, grinning inwardly at our predicament and weighing our options.  I did not want to call back to camp and have them come tow us, because I knew there was nothing wrong with the boat and we’d never hear the end of teasing.  We just needed to figure it out.  But as the minutes dragged by and the rocks became closer, I quickly realized nothing I could think of was working to bring the dead motor back to life.  That’s when a fishing boat went cruising past us.  Seeing our engine compartment open, they circled around and asked if we need help.  “Well,” I said.  “Yes, actually.”  The driver idled up to our boat and one guy hopped in, saying he was a boat mechanic.  “He must be super qualified to figure this problem out!” I thought.  He jiggled the throttle lever, which snapped into the neutral position and suddenly, when he turned the key, the engine purred to life.  That’s when Caleb remembered that he had accidentally knocked the throttle out of neutral.  We thanked the man profusely as he left but he generously waved it off and said he was glad to help.  But I’m sure he had his own thoughts about the two teenage guys in the middle of the lake, chilling in a $90,000 ski boat and not even knowing how to start the engine.  But it happens.

In fact, life happens.  And sometimes life can make us feel like a boat in the middle of a huge lake with so many places to explore all around us, and yet we can’t go anywhere except towards the rocks.  We feel stuck, trapped, unable to live our lives in the way that we always dreamed of doing.  Nothing we try seems to work.  We go to college to get a degree to make money to bring us happiness.  We attach ourselves to a significant other so we can find fulfillment.  We travel to see the world and gain inspiration.  We support and go on mission trips to realize how needed we are in the world.  And yet as we sit in our boats of comfort, viewing all the potential around us that seems just within reach, our lives seem to be going nowhere.  All it takes is a kindly Fisherman to come along.  He’ll show us what needs fixing and suddenly, we’ll realize how simple it all really is.

Stop wasting your time and energy trying to fix your life.  Do you want to truly live?  To explore the world?  To use the potential God has given you to bless others?  To experience life to its fullest?  Jesus is pulled up right next to you, waiting for permission to board.  Give your life to Him and you'll go places you've never even dreamed possible!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Divine Romance

The forest was ghastly silent save for the occasional rustling of a wayward leaf or crackling of a dry twig.  On a rotten log lying next to a primitive path, a young girl sat with mud-stained clothes and wet cheeks.  Her eyes were puffy and her hair was a mangled tassel of dirt and knots.  Just blossoming into the beauty of a young woman, her slight frame seemed tarnished by her surroundings and muddy dress.  A quiet sob shook her frame and suddenly a waterfall of sadness seemed to burst over her as her pitiful cries echoed and then became lost among the heartless trees.  The bare bark and branches seemed only to mock her misery as the chill of Fall settled down into the dark woods.  She was hopelessly lost.  Again.

Suddenly, the pounding of hooves could be heard coming up the path.  Rounding a corner in the trail, there appeared a handsome white stallion galloping stalwartly towards the girl.  His breath was steamy and his sides heaved from exertion.  Upon his back rode a suave young man, dressed in elegant garments and riding with noble bearing.  Small streaks of blood could still be seen around his forehead and on his hands and feet where the briars had cut him during the recent escapade into the forest.  He reined his horse to a stop in front of the young woman, who had now quit crying and was attempting to avoid eye contact with the stately young man in front of her.  He was her Prince, but more than that, he was her betrothed.  As she rose in humble recognition, he swung nimbly off his horse and reached for her hand.

“Young lady, I knew I could find you here.”

He smiled lovingly and a slight twinkle played about the corners of his eyes as he helped her to her feet and dusted off the mess covering her humble clothes.  For the first time in what seemed like forever, she half smiled with relief.  But it only lasted for a moment.

“Supper is ready and my Father, along with the rest of the kingdom, awaits your return.”  The Prince slipped his hands gently around the young woman but she didn’t respond.

“I can’t,” she finally said.  “I can’t go!  I keep leaving you, publicly shaming you, and every time you make me feel beautiful inside, I get so lost and ruined and hopeless that I can’t even love myself.”  She began to weep again.

The Prince quietly pulled her into his arms and brushed back a wet strand of hair.  “That doesn’t matter,” he whispered.  “I love you anyway.”

Did she go with him?  Did she end up being the beautiful princess she was destined to become?  How does the story end?  Only you know, because only you can finish it.  Will you say yes to the Prince’s offer of hope and a future?  The divine romance will long remain a beautiful mystery; how One can love through death, shame, mockery, and ultimate rejection and denial is prodigious.  Often we say no to Christ’s offer of love and acceptance simply because we can’t love ourselves, not because we don’t believe He loves us.  But that’s the beauty of love.  It has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him.

I believe so many people "fail at love" because they have not allowed themselves to be loved.  It takes humility and courage to realize just how dirty and broken and ruined you are, and yet fully allow someone to come into your life and love you anyway.  One cannot truly love until he understands how much he is loved.

Perhaps your parents could not provide the love you sought.  Perhaps your significant other or your spouse doesn't understand how to love.  None of this matters, because there is Somebody who loves you more than anyone else in the world:

For God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son that should you believe on Him, you will not perish but have everlasting life.  How can you resist such love?
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