A Father’s Strength

I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day yesterday! Like I said during the service, even if you’ve had a strained or estranged relationship with your earthly father, there’s still a Father in heaven who loves you and will never give up on you! So we all should celebrate the love of our Father and live up to the challenge we’ve been given to follow His example here on earth.

We had Jordan, who was in town from Colorado, play a solo on his saxophone before the sermon. I’ve included the solo on the sermon audio. You can listen to it here.

Twelve years ago, I had the opportunity to spend the summer in the mountains of northeastern New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch. For those of you who are familiar with Boy Scouting, you probably recognize that name. It’s considered by many as the ultimate High Adventure Base in all of Scouting. You know how Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Jews are encouraged to journey to Jerusalem, and basketball fans in the state of Indiana need to visit Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse at least one time in their life? Well, Philmont has that same reputation – that same mystique.

I was one of the few fortunate souls who had the opportunity to visit this Summit of Scouting four times as a Scout and one time as an adult Advisor. Those experiences had a major impact on my life. In fact, if you look in my office, you can still see some memorabilia that I’ve held on to from some of my various treks placed throughout the room. In addition to my camping experience, I also spent the summers of 1995 and 1996 on the staff at Philmont Scout Ranch. As the crews of campers are on their ten-day treks through the mountains of the Ranch, they spend their evenings at different camps along the way. Many are unstaffed, but several of the camps have what are known as backcountry staff. Although I think the amount of staffed camps has increased over the years, there were only 32 staffed camps when I was there. And I was one of the lucky few who got to work in one of those camps.

Many of the camps are set up as working camps, giving the campers a hands-on, living example of what life was like in the area throughout its history. And the history of that region is rich. There were fur trappers, Apache communities, gold mining towns, loggers, and, of course, ranchers. Philmont is still a working cattle and buffalo ranch today.

And so the job of many of the backcountry staffers was to provide a safe, clean place for the campers to camp, but to also serve as interpreters of the lifestyles that make up Philmont’s history. In 1996, I  had the opportunity to spend the Summer showing thousands of Boy Scouts from all across the U.S., but also from Europe and Japan, the life of a logger in the northern New Mexico region in the 1890s. And so I was on the backcountry staff as a Program Counselor with four other staffers at a camp called Crater Lake – which we merely referred to as Crater. We lived in a cabin that was built in the early 20th century and had been visited by some nationally known personalities, including several presidents of national companies, a couple of US Vice Presidents, and Will Rogers. On top of the history that just oozed out of that cabin, the view was breathtaking. There were some evenings where we’d climb up on the cabin roof lay there, watching the stars go by. It was an amazing time.

The primary role of a Program Counselor at Crater was to teach the campers the history of logging in the area and to give them an opportunity to climb a spar pole. Since the spar poles are at least 25 feet straight up, there’s usually a certain level of fear involved in climbing the first time. For most, it’s an opportunity for growth. If they can climb the spar pole, they can make it up a 12,441 foot mountain. If they can climb a 12,441 foot mountain, they begin to understand that they can do more than they initially think. It builds character.

Now, while climbing these spar poles looks pretty intimidating, it was really quite safe. You see, at the top of the pole was a special piece of equipment called a caribiner. Rock climbers use these all the time when they’re climbing. And we used them with the spar poles. At the top of the pole, we had already placed a caribiner. The climber was strapped into a harness with a rope that would go up to the caribiner and then back down. It would go through another caribiner attached to a tree, and the end of the rope would be tied around another person, whom we called a donkey. Now, of course, the loggers didn’t have these safety devices in the late 19th century, but the idea was to get the campers up the pole safely, not to be 100% accurate. With that caribiner and the rope tied around the donkey, the climber was totally safe. It was a lesson in physics, really. I’m sure someone who is more well-versed in physics would be able to better explain the impact that caribiner has on keeping the climber safe, but as long as the donkey was doing his job, the climber wasn’t in danger. When I was conducting my demonstrations of how to climb the spar pole, I would intentionally use a person that was at least 50 pounds lighter than me to serve as my donkey – just to show that the process was safe. When you’re climbing a pole like this for the first time with these spikes on your feet, you’re usually going to slip at least once. But that’s OK, because the caribiner has kept you safe. And once the climber reached the top of the pole, we encouraged him to look around and enjoy the view, because it’s not every day that you get to look at nature from that point of view. Then we encouraged them to kiss the caribiner, which we affectionately referred to as “Carrie,” and then ask their donkey to slowly let them down the pole.

My personal goal was to have every camper from each crew that came through make it up the pole. Not everyone got to the top, but I think we had a pretty high success rate. I’d even offer to get up early the next morning and allow some of the last kids to climb if we had run out of time or had to cancel due to lightning – because getting these campers up that pole was extremely important. Most of the kids would resist even trying to climb the pole. I’d get them to try on the equipment. Then they’d take a step or two on the pole. Then the encouragement would begin like crazy. Out of my entire Philmont experience, there is one moment when a boy was trying to climb that sticks out as probably my favorite.

This teenage boy, we’ll call him Mike – I don’t remember what his name was – anyway, Mike was one of the boys who had a low level of self-confidence. He didn’t want to climb the pole. We finally got him to give it a try. He made it about halfway up and began to panic. This was common. That’s when you realize that you are up above everyone else’s heads and you’re climbing a telephone pole. Mike froze.

Then his Advisor began to shout encouraging things to him.

“Come on, Mike! You can do it Mike! Just take one more step up. Yeah, that’s it! Man, I can’t wait to get home and tell your Mom what you did. Come on, Mike! Keep going. Your Mom is going to be so proud of you when I tell her you made it to the top! Yeah, that’s it! Another step! I’m gonna tell your Mom that you made it all the way to the top, Mike! Keep on going, Mike! When we get home, your Mom is going to be so proud of you!”

After about a half an hour of shouting up encouraging things, Mike’s advisor was still shouting to him with such a passion that everyone else had gathered around and was cheering Mike on. Finally, Mike made it to the top and kissed “Carrie,” the caribiner – the symbolic act of conquering the spar pole. The entire pole yard erupted in applause. Mike was lowered to the ground and his Advisor embraced him and said, “I’m so proud of you, Mike! I can’t wait to get home and tell your Mom you climbed the spar pole! She’s going to be so proud of you!”
What an encouragement! I still get goose bumps when I think about this entire episode. And as we celebrate Father’s Day today, this is an illustration of how we are called to be as fathers and as men in general. If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 2:10. It’s a small book found towards the back of your Bible, following Colossians, and before 2 Thess. and 1 & 2 Timothy. Pew Bible – p. 1029


Paul’s talking here about how he has viewed the Thessalonian church as his children. In essence, he’s their spiritual father. And as their father, his role is to encourage, comfort, and to urge them to live for God’s glory. Regardless of the age of your children, you’re an example to them as the love and comfort that God gives. You’re the encouragement that is given to your children to keep striving to live lives that are pleasing to God and that give Him the glory. It’s a difficult task, but this is the one we’ve been given. And we can keep encouraging our children to live godly lives because they are being held up by the Ultimate Caribiner, who will protect them from falling.

And as our children are living, we’re supposed to be an encouragement, telling them, “Keep going! I can’t wait till we get Home and we can tell your Father what you’ve done – what you’ve allowed Him to do through you! He’s going to be so proud of you for doing what He has asked you to do! Keep on going!”

What if you haven’t had a father like that? I realize there are some in this room who haven’t had a relationship like that with their father. Either your Dad isn’t around anymore, or you’ve had an estranged relationship with your Dad. And so, days like today are difficult, and maybe even painful. Today, I want you to know that regardless of you the relationship you have with your earthly father, you have a Father in heaven that loves you and wants to know you in every way.

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