The Name (by Kevin Witte)

Kevin Witte is a dear friend and colleague. He has been a blessing to me and many others with his wisdom, kindness, Christlike example, and in his willingness to go to VIPets to buy a Tarantula as a prank/gift for one of Holland Christian’s beloved student-teachers. But for real…he did that.

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Dear Son,

It is a gift to be writing to you today.

I want you to know that there’s power in a name. You represent something big. That’s a name you can possess. If you are to follow the Dangerous One, let me tell you about the most powerful name there is.

There was once a young man who had gotten himself into some trouble. He was a remarkable young man. In fact, his name means “drawn out.” Without being drawn out, he would have died. The ruler over his people had decided to kill everyone who was like him, but this young man survived as a baby because he was drawn out of the water by the ruler’s daughter. The trouble came when he was older and saw one of the ruler’s men beating a member of his people. In frustration and anger and desperation, this young man attacked and killed the ruler’s man.

The young man fled to the desert to tend sheep and make a living for himself away from the palace life of his adopted family and the slave lives of his original family. But God had chosen him. And God would soon reveal Himself to the young man in a significant way.

As the young man walked one day, he noticed a bush that was on fire but not burning up. He walked toward the bush, and he heard his name, “Moses, Moses.” The bush knew his name! That should not happen. But in using his name, identity was being shared. Moses realized that God inhabited the bush. The ground was holy because God was there. No sandals. Hidden face. There was something different about this moment in time, something set apart.

God gave his plan for Moses in the next few moments of exchange. God’s vision was to save his people, and he was going to use Moses to do it. Moses asked a question that any one of us would have wonder: “Who am I that I should go?” But that’s the thing. Moses’s power and authority would not matter. God’s power and authority would.

And then the next obvious question: “When I go and do this, what shall I tell the people about who sent me?” And the bush said, “יהוה”

The name. The Name. Lots of people in the Bible had important names up to this point. Adam means ground or dust. Eve means living. Abraham means father of many. Israel means struggles with God. But we’ve never known God to have this Name until he reveals it to Moses through the bush. The name is Yahweh, I AM. I AM WHO I AM. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It’s God’s Name that he revealed to Moses and he now reveals to us.

It seems ludicrous even now as I write to you. We know the NAME of the God of the universe. He cares enough about you and me to introduce himself to us, to let us know part of his identity. And there’s power in the Name. God has a Name, a Reputation, to uphold. He has a reputation of love, of power, of authority. He has integrity, because he always has and always will keep his promises.

When Jesus came to this world to be God in the flesh, God gave him a specific name. He called him יֵשׁוּעַ, Jesus. It means Yahweh saves. It is so true to his identity, so true to the actions that he took for Moses and has always taken for his people.

Living under that Name gives us the audacity to claim those promises and live in love. We follow Jesus because he is the Name in flesh-form. Everything that Jesus did makes personal for us the very identity of God. Jesus is God Himself.

Be assured, son, that this same God, Yahweh, calls to you to follow him. How will he reveal himself to you? How will he reveal himself to the world through you? What new name will he give you? Those who will follow this God understand that it is not always easy, but Yahweh is faithful. He is who he is, and he will be who he will be.

Take this gift of God. You know the name of the God of the Universe. Choose to live into the risks God gives you to take. Be dangerous for Jesus.

In the Name,
Dad

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Bigger Than Our Failures (by Tony Pyle)

Tony Pyle is a stud. He became a welcome addition to our family a few years ago when he married my cousin Danielle. For me, one of the hardest parts about moving away from Lansing was missing out on our bi-weekly Biggby meetings (I still miss it!). Tony is an amazing leader, mentor, and friend. Enjoy his wise words.

Future Son,

“I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

Get used to hearing those statements from your dad.

For most of my life, my greatest fear had been the fear of failure. Failing in the tasks that I was given, in the game I was playing, or in the relationships I had. This fear continued in my life and shaped the ways I thought about work, rest, and decisions that I made.

Your life is going to be full of experiences and relationships, and I am eager for that165702_134984283229420_278157_n life to begin. Danielle and I are so excited to be the ones that God has chosen to love you and lead you spiritually. We understand that the responsibility we have been entrusted with is a big one. And that is to “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

As your father, I am going to do my best to love you and encourage you as my son. To allow you to scrape your knees and get dirty. To let the tears run down your face when they need to. To have fun in the beautiful creation that God has given us. To live your life in passionate pursuit of the One who “formed and knitted you together” (Psalm 139:13).

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this day to begin! I feel as though God has blessed me with the experiences I have had in ministry to look forward to my time with you as my son.

But as your dad, I need you to know something.

My best will not be perfect.

More than anything, I wish I could be the perfect dad. To say all the right things at all the right moments that you need to hear it. To do all the things that would empower you as my son.

I have learned something really important in my life that I want you to know.

Jesus is bigger and better then our failures.

All of us fail. We miss the mark. We sin. Daily. And that is why we need Jesus.

Jesus was the only one to live a perfect life. To never fail. And Jesus chose to take our place on the Cross so that we could have a relationship with God. So that we can live or lives free of the fear of failure.

What did Jesus’ death free us from?

Obsessing about being the perfect dad. Worrying about how other people view me. Being consumed by comparing myself to others.

Know this son. I don’t expect perfection from you and I never will. You won’t be perfect as a son and I won’t be perfect as your dad. I understand that I may let you down sometimes. I may push you too hard or not hard enough. I may say one thing and then do another.

And it is in these moments….

“I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

My Favorite Place: The Great Outdoors (by Andrew Russ)

My big brother Andrew is a mix between Tom Bombadil and Aragorn. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m trying to say two things. First, Andrew is more in-tune with creation than anyone I know. His ears are open to the words God wants to tell us about Himself through his world. Second, Andrew is an expert guide. Though he is ahead, he is always looking back to make sure I’m making it okay. Whether I have a gardening question, or am wondering how to find cheap airplane tickets, Andrew always has an answer and is willing to help. I’m grateful to him for writing this wonderful letter.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

Son,
I’m going to share with you my favorite place in the whole wide world, my escape, the place where I go to recharge my battery… it’s the outdoors. I’m telling this to you because you’re DSC_0013probably going to need to escape a lot; as I write this story your sister Grace is 20 months old and your sister Autumn isn’t yet born but should be here in a couple of months. Which means at the very least you’re going to have 2 older sisters, if not more, and my boy you aren’t going to stand a chance! They’re probably going to want to dress you up and make you have tea parties with them, and play house with them and all sorts of other girly stuff and you’re going to need a place to escape to from time to time. So I want to share with you the place I go to escape: the great outdoors.

I’ve always said I think God gave me allergies because if I wasn’t allergic to things outdoors I’d never come inside. There’s just something about being outdoors in nature that I can never get enough of. Whether I’m following a deer trail seeing where it leads, or planting fruit trees in one of my orchards, or hanging a deer stand in anticipation of shooting a big buck that coming fall; as long as I’m outdoors in God’s creation I am happy and at peace.

Before I met your mother I used to live on my own in a house 294837_233409563375252_1969226363_nsurrounded by over 200 acres of fields, woods and even swamps that our family owned. I had free range to manage it as I saw fit and every chance I got I spent working on any project I could think of to make the habitat better for wildlife. I hung tree stands, made trails through the woods with a bulldozer for better access to some of the more remote areas, made bedding areas for the deer and other wildlife, the list goes on and on. Your uncles would call me on a Saturday night to see what I was up to and 9 times out of 10 I’d be outdoors. They’d ask if I’d had dinner yet and I’d say, “Dinner!? What time is it? I had a granola bar for breakfast but I haven’t thought about going in for lunch yet.” To which they’d reply, “Drew it’s 8 o’clock at night! Aren’t you starving?” I’d be having so much fun outdoors I’d lose track of time and forget to eat!

My favorite time of day is in the late afternoon, as the sun’s setting and the cool evening air is starting to descend upon the land. The animals start coming out to feed as the daylight fades; it’s such an exciting time to watch the day end and the night arrive. Every night is slightly different from the last and you never know what you might see. The world just seems so much simpler when it’s just you alone in nature. It doesn’t matter what happened earlier in the day, when I’m alone outdoors all of my worries seem to disappear and I get lost in thought, wondering about things like “I wonder what kind of tree that is?” or “I wonder where this deer trail leads to?” or “I wonder if this will be the year when this tree I planted from a tiny seedling will produce its first crop of fruit?”

I want you to have a place like this where you can just get away from all the busyness of the world and be at peace in God’s creation. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the manDSCN2635 and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” In the beginning, when the world was still perfect and evil had not yet entered the world God gave man one task, “to work it (the land) and take care of it.” I would have loved to be Adam! Placed in this beautiful, unadulterated and pure garden with one simple task to take care of it—talk about perfect! It gets even better, God would come down to be with man at my favorite time of day, and go for a walk with him in the garden. How cool would that be to get to walk and talk with God in his beautiful perfect creation! Genesis 3:8 says “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day”.

This is why I want to share my favorite place with you and hope that you will enjoy it one day as much as I do. I pray that you may grow closer to God by seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, and even tasting God’s perfectness in his great outdoors. It is when I am outdoors in nature, when I don’t hear any cars or see any buildings, when I’m surrounded by nothing but God’s perfect creation that I feel closest to God. The busyness of life seems to stop when you’re in nature just witnessing the plants and animals doing what God created them to do, and by their doing what they were created to do bringing glory to God. So the next time your sisters are trying to get you to put a boa around your neck and have a tea party with them, politely decline their invitation and go outdoors instead and see what God’s trying to tell you through his creation.

Love,
DadIMG_0052

Letter from a Brand New Dad (by Garrett Russ)

My big brother Garrett Russ asked me not to write “some fruity intro.” or else he’d beat me up the next time he sees me. Though he almost certainly will beat me up the next time he sees me, I must say he is an incredible brother who has lived this letter’s advice countless times in protecting his own little brother.

Tough guys.

Tough guys.

Son,

At this point in time there’s no way of knowing exactly how many brothers and sisters you’ll have. But no matter what kind of family God gives you, being the oldest son comes with a unique responsibility: protecting your siblings. When I’m not around, you are in charge of their safety and wellbeing. To give you a clear picture of what this looks like let me tell you a story from my own childhood.

When I was young, my mom and dad sent me to a summer camp with my older brother Drew. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I was really looking forward to some of the cool activities at the camp—the blob, zipline and rifle range are every boy’s idea of a good time. But on the other hand I was pretty apprehensive about being away from my mom and dad for a week. I probably wouldn’t have even had the guts to go if my older brother wasn’t coming along with me. Our ages were just close enough that we could get placed in the same group of campers in the brand new wooden fort style cabins with him being one of the older campers and me one of the younger.

The first night was rough for me because I really missed your grandma and grandpa. I was pretty moody and kept to myself the whole night. My older brother knew what was eating at me but didn’t want to embarrass me so he kept telling everyone that I just felt a little sick and would be fine the next day. He knew it would just take me a little while to warm up to the camp and then I’d be having the time of my life. He was right, in a short time I was having so much fun I never wanted to leave.

One day all of us campers were mulling around in our two story cabin, waiting for our counselors to come pick us up so we could go play soccer. Drew and I were upstairs when I heard the rest of the guys making a lot of noise below. As I walked down the stairs I saw two kids wailing away at each other so I ran over to break up the fight. I separated the two hotheads, but as I was looking at the guy on my left, the guy on my right cold cocked me right in the nose. I hit the floor like a sack of bricks with blood gushing out like a fire hydrant.

At that point I think everyone in the cabin knew that a storm was about to break loose because I remember things going dead silent. That is until we heard Drew’s heavy footsteps coming down the stairs. He took one look at me before calmly walking over to the kid who was responsible for my crooked nose. I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that he picked that kid clean off of his feet by the scruff of his neck and pancaked his face against the crossbeam of the nearest bunk bed. It’s amazing the kid’s head didn’t come clean off. When he was finished flattening the poor guy’s facial features he dropped him in a heap on the floor and walked over to check on me.

We had to spend the rest of the afternoon mopping up blood off of the cabin floor instead of playing soccer, but everyone in that cabin learned a very important lesson: No one touches Drew’s little brother without the wrath of God descending upon him.

Now son, I’m not telling you to go out looking for trouble, but I am telling you not to shy away from it when it comes to protecting the ones you love. This isn’t about getting

Was Garrett wearing that outfit at camp? If so, I know why he got punched.

Was Garrett wearing that outfit at camp? If so, I know why he got punched.

revenge or being violent, this is about loving and providing—after all, love always protects. Your future brothers and sisters will be counting on you to look out for them when I can’t and it’s very important to me that you step up to the challenge. Be the kind of man who everyone knows will fight tooth and nail in defense of his family. Be the kind of brother who’s sisters are treated with respect by every other guy in school because they know disrespect will not be tolerated. Be the kind of brother whose brothers are treated fairly because you’ve always dealt fairly with others.

Live your life in defense of the wellbeing of those you love and you will leave a lasting impression with everyone you meet. Don’t believe me? Well what if I told you that about 10 years after this story took place, Drew was a counselor at this same camp and one night heard his instructor telling the story of his own first summer counseling, where some knucklehead had decided to beat up the youngest kid in camp and in return had been absolutely pummeled by the kids’ older brother. You see, after all those years he instantly recognized Drew as the kid who’d spent his whole week at camp looking out for his little brother.

Drew earned the reputation of a protector every day as my older brother. Now go out and start earning yours.

Love,
Dad

P.S. Editors note: Gabriel Randy Russ was born today!

From Father to Son (by Derek Russ)

Someone once said, “A big man is one who makes us feel bigger when we are with him.” There’s no one this describes better than my cousin Derek Russ.

Derek is passionate, full of courage, humble, and genuinely kind. He’s always been a few steps ahead, showing me the way to go (he is a little less than a year older than I am). I look up to him immensely and asked him to write a “Gift” to his son, Wyatt, knowing that his words and his heart would bless you, too.

Dear Wyatt,

I assume I was like most fathers when they hear that their first born was going to be a boy. I immediately jumped up and shouted, “yes” as I was overcome by a feeling of joy. My response may have made others think that I wouldn’t have been happy with a girl, which was definitely not the case. Having a boy, for me, meant an immense feeling of pride.

1496205_10151966555088743_889474296_oMy mind immediately flooded with traditions passed down from my father; weekends at the cabin, coaching little league, basketball games and of course teaching you the numerous lessons that were taught to me while hunting in God’s outdoors. You see, being outside with your grandfather and uncles taught me to be a man that loves the Lord, as well as, strengthened my faith to withstand life’s greatest challenges. I had no idea that those same lessons were God’s way of preparing me for you.

The joy I felt soon turned to dismay when your mother and I were told that something was not right. You were measuring much too small for your age and the doctors appeared concerned. I was scared to death. Your mother and I ran through tests and procedures that eventually concluded that you weren’t “normal”, a word we’re constantly trying to define. You were diagnosed with a “Ring Chromosome 1,” a genetic disorder that was so rare that a prognosis could not be made. We were told that there were five other reported cases and that you were “not viable with life.” There was a good chance that you would not be born alive.

Your mother and I were overwhelmed…stunned…afraid and angry. How could this be happening? Why did this have to happen to you? We were no longer preparing ourselves for baseball games or hunting trips, girlfriends or driving cars… we were preparing ourselves for the possibility of losing you.

This is when I seemed to check out. Wyatt, I began to lose faith, I didn’t want to hope, I didn’t want to talk, but mostly I didn’t want to feel. In a strange way “facing the reality” meant keeping things realistic and listening to the doctor’s conclusions. I guess this is a typical response from us men, when we feel as though we can’t “fix” things we tend to ignore the problem. I became an expert at putting on a good face and saying the right things, but on the inside I was furious.

All of this news came during the fall and I spent much of my down time, as usual, out in the woods hunting. Only this time I wasn’t focused on the hunt, I wanted answers. I spent hours upon hours wrestling with God, crying out and begging for a solution to a Ring Chromosome 1. Over and over God continued to answer my unending questions with “Be still and know that I am God.” It seemed like He had a bigger plan for you and I was limiting my faith to a conclusion made by a doctor.

The fall came and went with you still making small gains. Your mom was told to count your kicks each day to make sure your heart was still beating. I don’t know how she made it through that, she is so strong. As we approached the end of January the time came for you to be born. After a day and a half of induced labor medication, your mother was scheduled for a C-section as your heart rate occasionally dropped. I prepared for the worse.

The moment they pulled you out of the womb I remember sitting there… starring, wondering if you were ok. Your mom couldn’t see a thing and asked “Derek, is he alive?” At that moment you let out the most wonderful cry I’ve ever heard and we were overjoyed. You were here. You had made it…now what? I wasn’t expecting this outcome, I didn’t plan for this, I prepared myself for the worst and there you were 4 pounds 3 oz. breathing room air and feeding like a champ. The strength you showed gave me back my feeling of hope and my feeling of pride.

You are two years old now and just over 10 lbs. You have so much patience and are one of the most content people I have ever known. Life continues to bring you challenges that you overcome with God’s grace. The experiences I once envisioned us doing together have drastically changed but new adventures have developed in their place. I no longer dream of homeruns or watching you shoot your first buck. I now pray for an opportunity to hear you speak or watch you take a single step. The only gift I’ve ever wanted to give you has been the one out of my control, the gift of Life.

You see Wyatt, you’ve taught me so much about the little joys life brings and have placed into perspective all the 1557560_10202032690673344_1113962946_nblessings I often take for granted. I’ve learned that being a father means to set aside my expectations, desires and wants, to truly understand and appreciate the role that God has entrusted to me. My job is to accept you as God has made you, love you as God has loved me and encourage you to find His perfect will for your life. I pray that God continues to bless you with many more years, days and unforgettable moments. I’ve been blessed to be your father and for that I am proud.

Love,
Dad

I know this article is supposed to be about me passing along a gift, so here it goes. I would like to pass this gift to the father’s reading this passage. I hope that you have an opportunity to see your son’s as I’ve seen mine. I hope that you witness their “imperfections,” their “flaws”, their “shortcomings,” and that when you do, you would display the same mercy, grace and humility that Christ has offered each of us. My initial expectations for Wyatt were performance based, selfish and honestly, shallow. Change your assumptions of what your son’s “should” accomplish and teach them to live a life that longs for an intimate relationship with God. Appreciate every moment you have together as you lead them towards the true “gift of life” that comes from knowing Christ and guide them towards eternal life.