Category Archives: Heroes

Requiem for a Warrior…Russ Calvin

photo_20150609_AL0068019_0_russcalvin_20150609A requiem is a lament—the wailing of a heart broken—a song of sadness that emanates from deep within the soul. Throughout human history these songs have accompanied the death of a warrior. Russ Calvin was such a warrior—a man who battled and wrestled in spiritual realms so that we might enjoy God’s blessings in the physical one. He was my friend, Worship Pastor, and brother-in-the-faith. And today I choose to put my sadness in words to encourage others on their own journey. Perhaps it will push you farther, higher, or deeper in your own excursion through life.

Russ was a gentle giant, whose passionate pursuit of God leaves deep footprints to follow for those of us still chasing after God. Russ finally caught the Savior whom he had run after throughout his short lifetime. Thirty-seven years seems so young—so brief, yet Russ accomplished more in that limited span than most of us will in a long lifetime. He made time count, knowing that none of us is promised tomorrow.

Russ was soft-spoken, not loud and boisterous. But when he spoke, the volume, tenor, and depth of what he said often rang like a clap of thunder. When he spoke of Jesus, it was not the platitudes of a preacher or the clichés of a theologian, but rather the experience of a lover who had experienced the heart-to-heart connection of genuine intimacy with God. Russ knew God, not facts and figures about God. They were on a first name basis—a beloved Father and his treasured son. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake what it’s like to have been in the intimate presence of God. Russ knew—he’d spent long spans of precious time in that secret place.

Russ was also a man who knew and understood God’s Word. His grasp of God’s promises was not a shallow one. No, he staked his life, his marriage, and his ministry on the fact that God cannot lie. In the midst of the suffering he endured as he battled heart and kidney issues, Russ refused to let go of or give up on any of the promises God had whispered into his spirit. He tenaciously hung onto those promises like a bulldog. He stood faithful when many who were treating him gave him no hope. Russ believed God, and he acted on that faith. He spoke it. He prayed it. He shared it with doctors, nurses, technicians, strangers, and friends. He obeyed the words God had given him—he acted on the revelation whispered to him by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is the outward sign of an inward belief. Russ heard the Word—then he acted by obeying the Word—the promises given to him by the God who cannot lie!

Russ was a spiritual warrior. He understood the battlefield and his ancient foe. His calling was a simple, yet profound one. He had been commissioned to enforce the victory of Calvary, to destroy the works of the devil, and to be a vessel God could use to set the captives free. Spiritual warfare was not a theory to discuss for Russ. No! It was a daily life and death wrestling match to engage in. He knew what it took to snatch souls from the jaws of the hounds of hell and he was willing to engage those demonic mongrels if it meant freedom for another person. He was feared by hell and empowered by heaven.

Russ did what he could do with what he had to work with. His complaints were few—just a wish that he could do more, serve more, share more, or worship more. He was limited by the weakness of his heart—but not anymore! He fought through debilitating pain, weakness, discouragement, and frustration—but not anymore! He was limited, constrained, and unable to do many of the things he longed to do—but not anymore! Russ is now free—free to worship without restraint or limit. He is free to dance. He is free to lift his hands like an eagle spreading its wings to heaven. He is free to run, to jump, and to spin in utter unbounded joy. And best of all, Russ is free to sing with an unrestrained voice that cannot be silenced by disease, death, or even the devil.

I could sing a sad lament, a wretched requiem, but if I did it would have to be about someone other than Russ. Yes, we are separated from Russ for a time, but Russ is not dead. No he is more alive than he has ever been. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living according to Jesus. You see—God cannot lie! Russ is alive and he is enjoying the literal presence of the One whom he chased after so hard.

In the meantime, all of us need to get after it while we still can. Pursue God with all your strength. Russ did! Love people with all your heart. Russ did! Don’t worry about those things you can’t do—do the things you can. Russ did!  Worship the Lord with total abandonment. Russ did! Trust God’s promises, walk them out, and enjoy every one of them. Russ is!

Family Matters! A Tribute to More Than a Friend

Stunned describes the way I feel today. A phone call early today knocked the breath out of me and it seems almost impossible to catch it now. Late night or early morning phone calls are never bearers of good news. This one wasn’t either.

As a pastor, most people expect you to say the “right” things at the “right” moment so that those who are suffering might feel “right” once again. But there are no words to say that can make anyone feel “right” once their life has been marred by death.

Today, I am not the pastor with the “right” words (I never have been because those guys really don’t exist)—I am just another human being struggling with my own emotions at the loss of a dear, dear friend. I’m processing the reality of the moment and not getting very far. Shocked is another word that expresses my state of mind. All those questions we are afraid to ask, like why? and how? are relentlessly pursuing me, clamoring for an appointment in my mind, intent on way-laying my faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore I choose to write the words I can’t seem to formulate with my tongue or lips. Words come hard at times like these. They seem cheap if they come too fast. This morning I just hugged my friend’s mate and cried…there are no words that will make the moment better. But perhaps these words will remind others who knew Johnny well of the sort of stuff he was made of.

The memory of his smile has illumined my day today. Every time I thought of him—I could see his pearly whites. He was not a somber, gruff man as so many are. His smile disarmed you—made you willing to take another look. It was not phony smile of someone hiding something or the bogus beauty queen smile we all know so well. That million dollar grin mirrored the state of his soul. His smile emanated from the inside; it was not just window-dressing on the outside. It was genuine—real—one hundred percent sincere. Johnny’s smile was capable of knocking walls down and reaching into the hearts and souls of those who needed a touch of compassionate attention.

That smile was often followed by a laugh. If you knew Johnny you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t—well it was laced with a certain kind of joy and echoed a grace that is sort of indescribable. Let me put it this way—if Santa ever needed a day off, Johnny could have slid right it, taken the old guys job, and none of us would have known the difference. That laugh put you at ease. It took the edge off tough situations with its disarming tenor. It made you feel comfortable and confident. It lifted you up and made you realize that he was a real guy in a real world doing the best that he could. Perhaps that’s the best word to describe his laugh—real.

In fact, real describes Johnny the best. There was far more to him than what meets the eye. He was far more than a pretty face. Johnny had a servant’s heart. He had trouble telling others “No.” It was a word I don’t ever remember him using. If you needed something and he knew it, he made himself available to do whatever needed to be done and more. If you asked him for help, you could count on him.

Johnny loved people, kids, and animals—and not necessarily in that exact order. He treated all of them with love and respect, and in most cases the kids and the animals responded. I can still see him riding his horse Colonel in the local Christmas parades—blue jeans, big gold buckle, boots, Stetson, and having the time of his life or training his Blue Healers with their bandannas tied smartly around their necks.

My mind is alive with memories of driving through Tennessee Amish country looking for good deals on syrup and horse tack, loading trailers on a Sunday morning at the birth of a new church or chuckling together in the aftermath of rabid raccoon bite and its subsequent pain-filled treatments. I will especially treasure my memories of Johnny willingness to do whatever was needed on Sunday morning as we struggled to put together a credible worship service that would not embarrass God.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say with these inept words that keep filling my mind, but failing mightily, is Johnny was far more than a friend…he was family. And family matters!

Revolutionaries Wanted: Apply Here!

“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The answer to this poignant question asked by Jesus over two centuries ago has stoked the unexplainable, uncontainable, and undeniable growth of His Body the Church. Fueled with a message of salvation, forgiveness, and hope, men and women from every strata of society have sacrificed their lives for the opportunity to see another person embrace this liberating truth. From Pentecost onward the delivery of Christ’s message has been more important than the life of any one messenger. Called to imitate heaven’s Deliverer, Christians have willingly embraced the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives to insure that “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)would be passed on no matter the cost.

Today, we as believers stand in a regal line with a long heritage of spiritual ancestors who were willing to pay the price no matter the outcome. Their sole intention and purpose was to deliver the answer to Jesus’ question. And yet today acceptance, tolerance, and diversity are the buzzwords of a culture intent on bending God’s word to fit its own self-destructive destiny. Many parts of Christ’s Bride have waffled, wobbled, and ultimately capitulated the uniqueness of His message and embraced both a foreign and frightening fabrication as their message. A contaminated message diluted with little truth and fortified with a lot of lies has paralyzed her ability to take a stand and weather the ferocious but temporal onslaught of the enemy.

The Western Church is quickly losing her ability to proclaim the message because she no longer understands the message. Other things have taken the preeminent position that her Bridegroom once occupied. Her prophets have become pastoral maintenance men continually occupied with satisfying the egocentric bleating of overweight sheep, while their clarion voices are systematically silenced by an impotent inability to articulate the pure message of Christ’s Lordship and His call to die daily to self.

“Sacred” programs, which have been dead for decades, are petted, propped up, and canonized rather than accurately assessing their worth and burying them when they no longer accomplish their original intent, if that can even be discerned. Church programs are temporal tools for reaching the world not trophies to line the walls of denominational mausoleums.

Church politics – the games “little” men play to make them feel bigger—has decimated the purity of the Bride’s dowry. In exchange for the world’s power, the Church has committed adultery and idolatry and has forfeited her ability to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. She has soiled her pure white garments with the hellish dirt of compromise and immorality. Instead of putting on the royal armor of the crucified and risen King, she has dressed herself unashamedly in the filthy rags of a prostitute.

To regain the single focus of our spiritual heritage, the church must once again embrace not reformation but revolution. Make no mistake about it, when Jesus died on the cross a revolution began. This revolution was and will be marked by passion—a single desire for the personal presence of God; by preaching—a bold clear declaration of “thus says the Lord,” by prayer—an unapologetic position of total dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit; and ultimately by persecution—a faithful surrender of one’s life to become a voice that even hell cannot extinguish.

The battle cry of this revolution is the message – the word – for which millions who have willingly given their lives as martyrs for the Kingdom. Let the cry go forth! Let the gates of hell once again give way to the ferocious assault of a pure Bride, who once again will shout with a clear triumphant voice, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Hey Homer Listen Up?


Frustration is the frequent companion of a father. His may be the most misunderstood and misrepresented privilege on the face of the earth. He is constantly ridiculed in the media and entertainment industries as a bumbling idiot, an arrogant jerk, an over-sexed deviant, or an inept psychopath. And yet the length of his shadow and the tenor of his words guide and shape his children for a lifetime. His role defines masculinity for his son. He validates femininity in his daughter. His influence is powerful but His presence must be gentle and tender as he shapes fragility into potency.

The privilege he is given comes without roadmap or instruction. Oh there are some snippets here and there of what to do or not do, but most he simply learns on his own or by repeating what he witnessed in his own father, which almost always dictates the results will be mixed, both good and bad. To multiply the degree of difficulty—every child is different—no two are alike. Just when he thinks he’s figured it out and is ready to swing for a homerun, he gets a curve ball with the next kid low and inside. It totally messes him up. Frustrating does not even begin to describe it.

He retains an almost god-status in the life of his toddler, but soon becomes the buffoon who knows absolutely nothing about anything by his teens. How can anyone go from divine genius to dumb goober in the span of just 13 years? His wisdom from years of experience often go unheeded and seem wasted as they bounce off the force field surrounding the superior intellect of a 16 year old prodigy who thinks he know everything but has little or no common sense.

And then he enters that period where there are brief moments of joy in seeing his progeny excel in the things he has taught them—only to see them take a different direction and pursue another cause. They may acknowledge his wisdom but politely say no thank you to his ways. Their ears are enchanted by the beat of another drummer and the siren’s enchanting diddy seems to be one you can dance to. So he patiently waits and prays and eventually helps pick up the pieces of Humpty Dumpty after she falls off the wall. His counsel may have spared her the fall since he himself had already seen that ground up close and personal in the not so distant past. Frustrating?—yeah a little.

Ultimately, he witnesses the echoes of history as his own repeat the cycle in the lives of their little ones. He must now quietly watch being careful not to interfere but knowing secret formulas and schemes that could make life easier for everyone. He may be revered but seen as old fashion—loved but endured—remembered but only at the last moment. In a few short years he has made the short journey from essential to extinction—from the warrior-king of the castle to a white-haired stoic in the recliner. Frustrating?—you bet!

And yet, if a father is paying attention—it will dawn on him sooner or later that the feelings he is experiencing are similar to the ones God must feel as the Father. For you see, every human father bears a strange spiritual resemblance to his natural children. Their experiences are or have been experienced in his relationship to His heavenly Father. And yet the testimony of God as Father is this: For God so loved…that He gave.

Perhaps the solution to the frustration is to ultimately recognize as a father that your job is no different. You are called to love without condition and give without measure. In doing so, you mirror the perfect Father and if that is the heritage you leave—you have been successful even if you are portrayed on TV as an over-weight bald imbecile named Homer.

The Victory

For the past three hours, the earth had been bathed in an eerie black darkness. The awful smell of death hung thick in the dark silent air as the man hanging on the middle cross struggled to gasp small gulps of hot dry air. With each desperate gasp, the muscles in his taunt legs knotted in excruciating cramps. The nerves of his feet and wrists, exposed and ravaged by the Roman spikes that held Him impelled on the executioner’s tree, sent searing pain not only through His dehydrated body, but also through His tortured brain. The pressure in His chest continued to build as the fluid collecting in His lungs slowly and methodically smothered Him. The hollow rapping of death’s knock was becoming clearer and closer.

In this sunless gloom, another transaction was transpiring. Experiencing for the first time in His eternal existence the awful aloneness of total separation from intimacy with His Father, He drank deep from wrath’s cup. Now under the cover of creation’s shame, He bore not only His own body’s crushing weight, but also the suffocating shame of all humanity’s sin placed on His back by the unseen hand of Heaven’s Great Judge. “It now pleased the LORD to crush Him, to bruise Him, making Him sick” with our sin (Isaiah 53:10). The struggle was so intense that all heaven bowed its head and looked away in horror.

And then, in a moment it happened, without warning an abominable change occurred in the face and the broken body of the Son. Pure, holy, and undefiled, the Beloved One ceased to simply bear man’s sin; He now became sin. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin…” (2 Cor. 5:21). Unable to bear the utter despair of that solitary moment, the only begotten of the Lord, cried out for the first time not “Abba,” but “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken, broken, bruised, despised, and fully crushed, the Son bore our deadly iniquity alone on the cross.

As the eternal seconds slipped slowly into history, with the last ounce of His waning strength, His regal body straightened and with arms outstretched like a conquering king instead of a dying criminal, His voice, rich and deep, rolled forth into the depths of hell’s abyss and up into the heights of heaven’s paradise with one defining word, “Tetelesti.” It is finished! The eternal transaction was paid – paid in full! And then His head dropped, His body sagged, and He died, alone on the cross.

Three days later, Jesus Christ would emerge victorious from death’s fist with the keys of hell and death. No longer would sin reign unchallenged as king. Today we celebrate in reverence the grace, the mercy, the righteousness, and the life purchased in the pain of Golgotha’s Cross. Today we celebrate the Risen Savior who took our forsaken place in the darkness and so that we could live forgiven in the Light.

Honoring a Fallen Hero

Reality has a way of shaking all of us out of the lethargy of the comfortable life of freedom we all experience here in the good ole U. S. of A. Turning onto Highway 80 on the way back from lunch I noticed a fire truck sitting in a rather unusual location. “That’s odd,” I thought, but then it dawned on me why. Today, a hero was returning to town, but not in the way everyone had planned. Crowds of people were parking on either side of the four-lane and hurrying to their positions along the grassy shoulders with American flags of all sizes in hand.

Police cars were positioned at every intersection, ready to move into position and block off the traffic on command. They were awaiting a hearse bearing the flag draped coffin of a fallen warrior on his return from an unpronounceable battlefield located in a foreign country halfway around the world.

The feeling that overwhelmed me at that moment was one I had experienced only once before almost 18 years ago, as the small navy skiff pulled up and I stepped out onto the U. S. S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Now, like then, I was overcome, almost choking on the surge of raw emotions. Tears filled my eyes, and for a moment I couldn’t get my breath, as waves of grief washed over me and I struggled to keep my truck on the road. As quickly as it had welled up it was gone, and a peace descended marked by a deep and distinct sense of gratitude, pride, and humility.

I am grateful for the men and women who have and are serving this country. Everything I enjoy on a daily basis has been purchased by their sacrifice. That selfless attitude I’ve seen expressed as mommas and daddies kissed their sons and daughters goodbye and watched as these brave soldiers go off to war elicits a deep sense of pride in the heritage of sacrifice woven into the very fabric of my country. And…I am humbled that any person would willingly put their life on the line so that I might enjoy the abundance and joy of freedom. On days like today, its staggering cost is a weighty reality. Freedom is never free, and its fee is eternal vigilance and the sacrifice of blood.

No feeble word of human tongue can lessen the grief or pain of this family. Only the Holy Spirit’s intimate ministry of healing comfort, the love and support of family, church, and friends, and the passing of time will bring solace to the pain they are experiencing. Though one thing is evident by what I witnessed today—this precious family will not suffer alone. This community has joined them with their prayers, love, and support.

I was struck by the sincere and simple ways the people of Brandon honored Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers along the road today. Those solemn resolute postures, the crisp salutes, the gentle waves, the fluttering flags, and the tear-filled faces all communicated the same message: “Thank you!” There are moments in life when the silence speaks far more than any words can ever say. Today its shout echoed its gratitude for a fallen son of Mississippi—a hero who has paid the ultimate price. Semper Fi!