Yearly Archives: 2013

Jeff Knapp: Don’t Sleep Through The Celebration

Posted by in Brotherhood | May 30, 2013


Editor’s Note: Jeff has attended a lot of graduations over the years as the President at IRON and FIRE Ministries. He’s been in the stands cheering, and in the pictures congratulating, but never had the opportunity to turn the tassel himself. Until now. And while reflecting on what it means to graduate, with his own graduation from seminary looming, Jeff gives us some real insight into the value of celebration.

Graduation isn’t a day or an event; it’s a life-long process.

On Wednesday, I will walk in my own graduation ceremony for the very first time. My story includes a lot of bumps, bruises, scrapes, and screw-ups. One of those was dropping out of college 19 years ago.

I left high school early, by passing the G.E.D. test, and enrolled in college with a 10th grade education. I had only been in college for six weeks when I realized that walking out on the college placement exam to go to a Steely Dan concert turned out to be a really poor choice. What seemed like a great idea at the time severely affected my class assignments and landed me in the most remedial classes available. Since I failed the math portion of the exam, I was stuck in a math class that began with an introduction to the decimal point. On top of that, I had the wild idea that a full time job at Waffle House, making money now, was better than having to wait four years to move out of my mom’s house.

My idea of graduation at that time was very low; I viewed it as unimportant. I wanted to grow up fast and get on with living my life my way. I didn’t view the ceremony or the achievement as valuable, in fact, I thought I was pretty slick cause I would be making money and living the grown up life way earlier than my peers.

Fast-forward almost 20 years, and the guy who used to think graduating was a joke is now walking around the house in a cap and gown acting like he’s the guest of honor. I think I might have slept in them if they didn’t get wrinkled in the process.

Now I get it. Now I understand the value of the graduation celebration. It’s not about the pomp and circumstance or the important speakers. It’s not about the turning of the tassel, the receiving of the diploma or the pleasing of the parents. No, it’s about the journey that it took to arrive here. It’s about the hardships you endured and the little victories that kept you going. It’s about the lessons learned outside of class as much as the ones learned inside. This graduation ceremony is more about the last 19 years than it is about anything I did in class.

Yes, I worked my tail off to get that degree and I can’t wait to receive it. But this ceremony is about all the graduations I forgot to celebrate over the last 36 years.

Life is a series of graduations. The question is, “Were you invited, or did you sleep through the celebration?” Nothing in life that is endured and learned is void of a reason to celebrate. A very good friend of mine once explained how we often train and fight really well, but do a terrible job of resting and celebrating.

The truth is, you’ve graduated from the school of hard knocks; your G.P.A. has awarded you the honor of valedictorian; and you’ve earned a master’s degree in being you. Have you ever celebrated it? Do you consider making it through the terrible twos without strangling your kids, a graduation worth celebrating? How about getting your driver’s license, or losing 20 pounds? Do you view persevering through a failed adoption or a divorce as celebration-worthy?

What you believe about the things you’ve graduated from will greatly determine whether you celebrate them or just skip out early and go to Waffle House. Don’t quit and miss hearing your name called. You’ve worked too hard to miss the celebration.

Everything in your life has joined together to knit you into an amazing specimen of value and purpose. You have graduated from some of the hardest schools in the world. Do you understand how valuable your experiences have made you to the ones who have yet to walk that path?

I do.
Jeff Knapp

Heroes Don’t Get to Take Days Off

Posted by in Brotherhood | May 27, 2013


Editor’s Note: Today, while many of us are relaxing and enjoying our freedom, soldiers are serving, fighting, or even dying to protect it. Some of them will never see another memorial day. Fewer still will have the ability to enjoy this day without thinking of fellow soldiers who paid the ultimate price. Memorial Day is especially hard on the grieving family members who are still paying the price of having their loved one taken away for the cause of freedom.

All across the world, brave Americans are on guard so we can take the day off. They are losing sleep and even their very lives in order to grant us the blessing of a relaxing day at the lake. This country isn’t free by choice, by vote, by victory, or by chance. No, this country is free by hardship and death. God has blessed this country for sure, but it has not come cheap. Great men and women, who chose to give themselves away to the cause of liberty and freedom, have paved the road for us that leads to peace. Let us honor them today, through prayers and parades, and make sure to enjoy this extremely expensive freedom.

Never forget that on any given day there are people on guard so you don’t have to be.

Anonymous: Jolted Reality

Posted by in Faith | May 20, 2013


Editor’s Note: Our first anonymous post, Jolted Reality deals with the pain and inner struggle we all face to varying degrees. Thanks to our brother for baring his heart and encouraging us with the empathy and tender words of encouragement for anyone else who has found themselves in the clutches of numbing depression. It’s true after all, at some point in our lives, we all just need to feel something.

“I’m standing alone in the shower as the hot water is washing over my body and my mind is flooding with old memories of past mistakes. It’s always around this time of night that I feel like I just can’t handle life. I want to be the nice, happy boy that I pretend to be on Sundays, but I just can’t find the strength to manipulate my life/mind Monday through Saturday to conform to such a reality. Why is it that every night around this time I find myself thinking of suicide or more practically, how to simply feel something.

Every night at that point in my life I would crave affection and love. What could it hurt for someone to just say that they love me and mean it? I had no answer for that. It caused me to dive deeper and deeper into depression where suicide was on my mind and my body was in a state of constant numbness. This numbness drove me to experiment with cutting. What a simple thing. All it was was taking a sharp blade and moving it back and forth along the skin. What a feeling it gave me as I would see the red blood pouring out of my flesh like a geyser gushing from the ground. For a week I could feel something. Even though it was pain, I could still feel normal. That was all I wanted.

I would cry at night alone and pray to an invisible God who never seemed to change anything. I thought to myself, is this really what my life was meant to be like? Was I meant to be sad, lonely, and depressed for the rest of my life? Is this what it will be like at the end of my life?

BUT GOD! These are my favorite two words to be put together. And this is where God decided to show up in my life. You see, I was trying to live my life my way, for my pleasure, when I should have been seeking God’s plan for my life. Because it really is not my life! God simply gives me a chance to play in the game.

As I began to bend my knee towards Christ and His love, I started to understand why I was sad and lonely all the time. I was sad because I did not truly know my savior. I was lonely because I did not have Him as a friend. I went through this trial in my life because He wanted me to. He uses this story in my life to encourage those around me. He let’s me share His love to others because He gets the glory for it. If this is God’s will then who am I to backtalk God? I am nothing.

I know that you who are reading this story might be going through a tough time, and you really don’t want to hear about God’s plan for your life. I understand what it is like and I know how you feel towards God. The anger and isolation you feel from the world. Like you are no good and that you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Let me just say that you are right. You and I are nothing in the grand scheme of things but God is. We cannot change the world but God can! We have nothing to offer Him but God chooses to use us! He uses our weakness so that He gets the glory because this world is all about him!

I do not write this story so that you feel bad about yourself; but I write this story because I want you to know that you do not struggle alone! You are not the only one being told lies by the devil and believing them! We are a band of brothers who must come alongside each other to build each other up for His glory. Let me encourage you to talk with a brother in Christ about where you are in life and how you hurt. Because when we are at the end of our rope, we find the Cross of Christ! It is at the Cross where we find rest, peace, comfort, joy, fulfillment, and Love! That is where true healing comes from, at the foot of the cross.”


Jeff Knapp: A Death that Inspired Life

Posted by in Faith | May 14, 2013


Editor’s Note: This week, Jeff Knapp is contributing to the blog personally. He was moved beyond words by the passing of Beth Russell, the mother of two of the young men in IRON and FIRE’s brotherhood, and a board member for the ministry. Jeff was very close to the family and was at her side at the very end. Reflecting on that difficult time and the lessons he took from Beth as she struggled over the last 10 months, Jeff found the words for this blog post. Thanks Jeff, for the incredible investment in so many families’ lives and your ability to soak up wisdom, even in the darkest moments; And thanks Beth, for never failing to inspire us, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

“Last week I had the privilege of witnessing an incredible woman die gracefully. In severe pain and struggle, she taught me more about perseverance and success than any of my mentors ever have. Her name is Beth Russell and she changed my life.

Beth has a wonderful husband and two amazing sons. I’ve had the honor of investing in her boys, who are now young men, for about 5 years. In that time, I have observed grace, received encouragement, and experienced love that seemed to grow in adversity as opposed to shrinking back. Yet as much as I’ve learned over the years from her encouragement and faith, Beth taught me the most in the last 10 months of her life.

In June of last year, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At that time she stepped off of my board of directors at IRON and FIRE Ministries in order to give all of her efforts to fighting the disease. Because I was uniquely invested in her sons’ lives, I was very close to the struggles and pain of the process. Through many procedures and 8 rounds of intense chemo, Beth continued to be thankful. Yes that’s right, thankful. Not for the cancer, but for the many incredible things that were happening in spite of it and for all the years of blessings she had lived.

Beth wanted to be healed; yet she also wanted God’s best for her. And she considered life or death a win-win situation. You see, she had an appreciation for the good being done even amidst the bad. She focused her energy on appreciation and love instead of frustration and loss.

People from all over the world were hearing about Beth and being inspired to press on and not give up. They were finding encouragement through her hardship. Her attitude was affecting nurses, doctors, pastors, teachers, children and especially me. In the middle of incredible physical pain and ongoing side effects from the chemo and the multiple surgeries, Beth kept smiling. She kept asking how everyone else was doing. But most compelling to me was how she never complained, not once in 10 months.

You see, lately I’ve been complaining a lot. I’ve been frustrated that things aren’t easier in my life. My wife and I have a 22-month-old boy and a 6-week-old girl and we’re just tired. I’ve been fighting hard to invest in over 60 young men who will change the face of our world, but it’s exhausting. I’m in school, I run two organizations, and I am trying to raise thousands of dollars for our mission in a bad economy. My attitude had begun to get pretty cranky. That is, until last week.

I watched Beth smile the day she died. It wasn’t a smile born out of good circumstances. No, her smile was born out of a deep belief that her life was bigger than what was happening to her, it was more about who was with her.

Today, let’s take some time to consider the hard things in our lives. Then let’s commit to looking around at those we are blessed to share life with. Your life doesn’t just affect you and neither do your struggles. How we perceive hard things and how we react to them directly affects those around us, to their benefit or their detriment. So let’s seek to consider how we might encourage others to press on, as we ourselves press on, maybe even with a smile. Blessings.”

Jeff Knapp

With Heavy Hearts, We Ask for Prayer

Posted by in Brotherhood,Faith | April 30, 2013


Editor’s Note: It is with a heavy heart that I bring you this news. One of our first brothers, JJ Russell, is gathered with his younger brother Chad and the rest of his family at the hospital. Their mother is on her deathbed, and never have the prayers of the saints meant more to our brotherhood. May we honor our brothers JJ and Chad, and their beautiful mother Beth Russell (who has valiantly battled cancer over the past year), with prayers of comfort and sorrow and a spirit of peace and thanksgiving. The family needs will be many in the coming days and months, but nothing will replace the need to be with her. We take comfort in the fact that one day we too will join her to walk the streets where there are no tears. JJ and Chad, we love you. You and your family are a treasure we boast of and a joy to everyone you meet. You have our hearts and our hands, our ears and our prayers, tonight and in the difficult days to come. Friends, please pray. Our family is losing a mother and a friend; her husband Terry is losing a wife. We know that God will welcome his daughter with open arms, but we wish it wasn’t so soon. And in times like this, our purpose is so clear. To be there for the Russell family and to cover them with prayer. We believe in its power and we claim it as our own.

Jesse Vaughan: Do You Believe in Evolution?

Posted by in Faith | April 22, 2013


Editor’s Note: Too often, most humans spend a disproportionate amount of time defending their initial conclusions instead of thinking critically and pursuing a convincing encounter with the truth, even if it’s outside of their comfort zone. Unfortunately, this goes for most Christians as well. However, as Jesse Vaughan, a freshman in high school, reminds us, challenging what is being taught and accepted without question will usually bring you both persecution as well as opportunity. And Jesse has gladly embraced both. May we all be so bold.

My name is Jesse Vaughan and I am a freshman at Norcross High school. I am a member of the freshman group and went through the 20 weeks of boot camp and combat training with IRON and FIRE. This group was a huge encouragement for me, and it prepared me to be more of a warrior for Christ.

At my school we had started studying evolution in my biology class. As soon as I heard the topic, I knew this could give me the opportunity to share Creationism and the power of God. The wednesday before we started this section on evolution, Jeff had given an analogy explaining how macro-evolution is impossible. Seeing that this topic had come up in the classroom, I turned to my friend and just asked, “Do you believe in evolution?” He said, “Well yes, it’s what I have been taught my entire life.” So I told him, “Oh I don’t.” And he says, “Ok, what do you believe.” This then gave me the chance to say, “Devin, I believe in creationism and that God created this universe,” and I also shared the analogy Jeff had shared with me.

After that, five kids in my class must have been listening because they turned around and said, “Wow! That makes a lot of sense!” I then pulled up the Bible app on my phone. I went straight to Genesis one to show my friend and this other girl in the class said, “Oh, is that the Bible app where you can set it up to where it emails you a verse every day or something?” I said, “I think so but I haven’t set it up.” Devin said to me after that just jokingly, “I guess you’re not a good Christian without that app.” This gave me the chance to look up Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast.” I said after that to my friend, “You see, that would be a work and my salvation is not by works but is the by the grace of God. After that the girl was saying, I really need to write that one down and Devin just seemed very curious but did not say anything else as the lesson then started.

About twenty minutes into this class, we started a worksheet which required us to answer questions true or false to see prior knowledge on this subject. I saw the questions and then asked my teacher, “What if we do not believe in evolution?” She said, “Well, what do you believe then?” I said, “I believe in creationism and that there has to be an intelligent designer, which is God.” I stated that the evolution theory seemed illogical to me based on the fact that nothing cannot become something, and that something which came from nothing could ever turn into the world we live in today. I also stated in Genesis 1:1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” My teacher then said, “Jesse, just put whatever you believe; but in this class it will not be right.” After this first day of evolution, to my classmates in biology, I am now known as the Christian kid; and I am also trying at every chance to debate this theory in order to share more about Christ. God has showed me I am a light into my school and am there for a big reason.

The week after this, my baseball coach had invited the whole baseball team to go on this retreat at his church called D-Now. Out of many players only seven agreed to go, and I was one of them. God had spoken to us all and now on wednesday mornings we are having a Bible study. Two of my main targets at Norcross have shown interest and will start coming to our BIble study including Devin, the kid I had talked about before. The original seven guys and our amazing baseball coach have recognized we are starting a movement at Norcross High school, and I cannot wait to see what happens!

Jesse Vaughan