Meet My Friend Stephen

The other day, I was blessed with an amazing gift. I was given tickets to a concert. Now, not everyone knows this about me, and it may shock some of you. I absolutely love going to rock concerts, especially the ones where I can relax and be myself, the ones where no one cares how you dance or jump or move, just so long as you are having a great time and enjoying yourself. Sometimes, I just like to stand wide-eyed, head bobbing back and forth, totally taking in the experience. Then there are the times that my body is all in; I’m jumping, hands in the air, head banging. Most of the time, I share these moments with my daughter who is not afraid to rock out at all. Our favorite group to rock it out with is Family Force 5, but there are many others like Hawk Nelson, Switchfoot and Skillet, just to name a few.

Before I had Tori to go to these concerts with, it was Chrissy. She likes some concerts, but she’s really more of a listener not a see-er. Most of the groups we have seen are Christian bands, but we have been known to take in a Bon Jovi concert or a U2 concert once or twice. Some of the bands we have seen are mostly ones from our early years in the 80’s, like Degarmo and Key, Mylon Lefever and Broken Heart, The Choir, Rez Band and many more.

So back to the tickets we were blessed with. I decided to surprise Tori with them. Chrissy was going to be away for the weekend, and I wanted to do something special with Tori. So, I asked her if she would like to go on a date? Asking your 22 year old single daughter this question can be awkward, I guess. I  think she thought that I was trying to set her up on a blind date, because she said, “With who?”

Side Note: This was all thorough text messaging. Sometimes things can be misconstrued or not communicated well when texting. This was one of those times.

I said, “With me, who else?”

She replied, “Why are you being so weird?”

I texted, “I’m not. So, will you go with me?”

I almost felt like I was asking for a real date with someone. The struggle was real.

She said, “I guess??”

I replied, “Great! Be ready at 6pm on Friday! I promise it will be fun!

So, I picked up the tickets for the concert from the people who were giving me the tickets. This couple is older, I think it’s safe to say they are senior citizens, but they are amazingly youthful. I love these two people; they always have a positive thing to say and are positively optimistic. Their names are Joe and Peg Leatherman. I had to wonder and laugh a bit when Peg told me that she likes Colton Dixon quite a bit, and really wanted to go see him. The timing was just not going to work for her and Joe to go. She was glad I could use the tickets. She then told me that a friend said that they were shocked that she would want to go to a concert with Skillet. I had to admit to her that I was also a bit shocked that they would want to go!

So I the day came. Tori and I made it to the venue. When we got there, Tori was delightfully surprised at my idea of a date.

Side Note: I may have had it in my head that I wanted to show her what it was like to have a real date with someone who really cared about her.

The concert really was great! As I stood bobbing my head, my mind went back to our younger years and some of those awesome rock shows. Skillet’s stage show reminded me of the REZ Band. The lead singer, John Cooper, put me in mind of another person that never made it to what some would call the “Big Time.” As I watched John move around the stage, I could feel his passion and I couldn’t help but think of my old friend, Stephen Klopp. Steve always sang with everything he had, and it wasn’t for the people, but it was for an audience of one, and that one person was Jesus. When Steve talked between songs he would always bring it back around to who this world needed most, Jesus.

Stephen was in a few bands from when he was a teen, at least that I know of.  First, there was Exodus II, and then he was in another band called Big Ideas. When I first met Steve, I had entered into a lip sync contest for a local outreach ministry. The youth group Steve was in at his church had entered the contest also. After the contest, there was a concert with this local Christian band called Exodus II. Steve was the lead singer and electric guitar player for the group. Two things I remember about Steve was his passion for hard rock music and his intense love for Jesus. If I was asked what other traits this guy would be known for, I would have to say it would be his smile and his laugh. He has one of those contagious smiles that brings joy into the saddest of places.

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I got to know Steve though a youth group we both were a part of called SOS. I have talked about this is past posts. It was group of youth who wanted to make an impact for Jesus and was student led. SOS did all kinds of things, one thing being concerts. For a few years, my singing group opened for Exodus II.

After a while, life changed for everyone. Some went to college, others worked jobs; the bands and groups we were in in high school fell apart. Each one of that group went in their own direction.

Chrissy and I got married, then Steve met Ricki, and they got married. I lost contact over the year with a lot of those that were a part of that youth group. Somehow Chrissy and I were able to stay in touch with a few of the guys. One being Steve and Ricki, both of whom have always been an encouragement and someone to look to for support.

I’m not sure of the details, but the second band I mentioned above, Big Ideas.  Some of those who made up this band were those who were in the first band, including Stephen. They cut a demo and were great together. I’m not sure why, but for some reason they disbanded and went their separate ways. Perhaps, it was just that God had other plans for each of them.

I had a dream years ago to start a music festival that would reach thousands of people for Jesus. I also thought it would be the coolest thing to have those who encouraged me in my faith be a part of this event in some way. I thought it would be great to see some of my friends open for a big name band at a Christian music festival.

I’m fuzzy on how this all happened. I don’t know if if I was asked about it, or if I had the brain child myself, it really doesn’t matter. It just matters that it did happen. The year was 1996. It just so happens that I was, at the time, the founder/promoter of a Christian Music festival called Vision. We had just booked a guy by the name of Michael Row. Before he went solo he played in a few bands, one being the 77’s, and another called Lost Dogs. Both pretty big name bands, and Michael was a big name himself. Then it was a few weeks before the festival, and we had a band back out on us. So, guess who I was able to fill the spot with? None other than Big Ideas—a  reunion concert. It was a great night! They absolutely rocked that night. I wish I could get my hands on some of the photos for that night, but I’m not sure where all the scrapbooks got to.

Perhaps, this was not as big of a deal to others as it was to me, but I felt like God made this happen. Over the years of serving in ministry and life in general, I have these moments where I think back to that night about how God cared enough about some guys that He made them the Rock Stars that He knew they are. It has always brought me a bit of encouragement that God cares about our dreams and hopes. Sometimes, he gives us a little slice of them; it may not last long, but you can always say it happened.

My friend Stephen has been fighting a battle for a long time. His body is just not working, and it’s shutting down little by little. They say he doesn’t have long to be here with us, but as he has said and showed countless people before, we have an eternity to be together. That is because of the message that we have devoted our lives to. I unashamedly say that Jesus is my Lord and Savior and when this body that houses us wears out (and it will sooner or later for all of us) we have hope because of Jesus! You may not agree with me, and that’s okay, but I hope you will someday run into a Steve Klopp and see what it’s like to experience the love of God.

Please join me in praying for my friend, brother, fellow rocker and his family during this difficult time. Steve, Brother, you are amazing, and I have always looked up to you for being the man God asked you to be. Please know that you have made a huge impact on this world for Christ! And you are so very much loved! Rock on Bro here, there, or in the air!

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Brother Ray and the Pearls


Brother Ray and the Pearls
I know that last week I said I would tell you all about “Turkey Breast, not Turkey Roll,” but I’ve changed my mind. That is just going to have to wait; for some reason I feel the need to tell you a different story.
A few years back, our family had started selling “Sandy Candy” to make some extra money and teach the kids about running a business. The tag line was “Art you can eat!” So, it was like sand art, except it was colorful, powdered candy. We traveled around to different kind of events, festivals and such to raise money to go on mission trips to Honduras with our family.
While doing this, we met a lot of interesting people and had some crazy experiences, and well, why not? We’re the Hunter Clan, right?
One time we booked ourselves at an alternative Christian music festival called Cornerstone. We actually tent camped all week while we worked. The kids got to go hear some great music and meet some great people.
Side Note:  This is the event at which Silas, age of 9, managed to crowd surf during a rocking Hawk Nelson concert. One of the band members got scared for him and pulled him up on stage! Here is my parental disclaimer: His mother and I had no idea what was happening.  Silas was “being chaperoned” by his oldest brother, Ben, and the rest of the kids. But that is another story for another time, though it was pretty cool!
Anyway, the best part for this mature 80’s Christian rock fan was that our booth was set up right next to the retro band tent. The retro band tent that featured such artists as oh, Degarmo and Key, The Lost Dogs, The 77’s and more. Some of you older people might recognize these names.
It was great! We discovered some cool bands we’d never heard of, like The Glen Clark Family, which played cool blues-rock, folk music. It‘s a great jam. Chrissy and I obviously fell in love with their music. At some time during the week, we made our way to their merchandise booth.
 As we walked up to their table, we were greeted by an older man. Looking at him you could tell he had lived some hard years. I remember looking into his well-tanned, worn face, as he smiled a partially toothless smile that gave way to soft wrinkles across his face. I was drawn to the sparkle in his caring, icy blue eyes. His shoulder-length, unkempt hair and his clothes reminded me of pictures I had seen of the hippie Jesus people of the 6o’s.
He introduced himself as Brother Ray. He asked how our day was, and without missing a beat, he asked if he could tell us a story? He said, “I love to tell stories, and I have one just for you.
Not knowing what we were getting into, my wife quickly replied that we would love to hear a story as she thoughtfully smiled back at him. We leaned in a bit to hear his words as he began his tale of a little girl and her treasure. It went like this.
There was a little girl who loved her daddy with all her heart. This little girl’s daddy’s work would take him away from time to time, and when he returned he would often have gifts for his precious little girl.
One such time, the father gave his daughter a set of faux pearls that she loved. She wore these pearls everywhere she went; she didn’t even take them off at bedtime. She didn’t allow anyone to touch her special pearls. They were her prize possession. If anyone tried to remove them or even touch them she gripped them tightly saying, “No, no, no!” With resolve in her little-girl voice, she would proclaim, “These are my pearls!”  This went on for months.
Another tradition the Father had with his little girl was when he was home, he would spend time cuddling with her as he tucked her into bed. Saying prayers with her, ending with a goodnight kiss, telling her that he loved her more than anything.
One night the little girl’s father came back from a trip, and he had started their bedtime ritual.
He tucked her into bed, looking into her little eyes, he asked, “Honey, can daddy have those pearls?  Quickly sitting up, gripping her necklace, the little girl exclaimed “Oh, no daddy, not my pearls! I can’t give you my most special pearls!”
The father smiled and comforted her by saying, “Okay honey. Settle down, it’s okay.” He tucked her in and prayed with her, told her “I love you more than anything,” and left the room.
The next night, bedtime arrived. Again, the father tucked her in and looked at her with loving eyes asking her,
“Sweetheart, won’t you give daddy those old pearls?”  With tears welling up in her eyes, she tightly clenched her eyes shut and shook her head, holding tightly to the treasure around her neck. With her voice quivering, she said “Oh daddy no! Please don’t ask me for my pearls. You can have anything else. Take my teddy or my dolly, but please don’t take my pearls”
The father smiled, and calmly said, “Okay, baby, don’t worry, I won’t take your pearls.” He tucked her into bed, prayed with her, told her “I love you more than anything,” and left the room.
This went on for what seemed like weeks. Over and over again, the father was met with resistance from his precious child. Night after night, the father would graciously accept her refusal to his request.
Then one night when the father entered his daughters’ room to tuck her into bed, he found his darling girl sitting knees to chest on her bed.
With one glance at her daddy, the tears burst forth like water from a dam, spilling down her face. Her arm flung out to her daddy with a tightly gripped fist holding her treasured necklace; through sobs he heard her trembling little voice as she mustered.
“Take them, daddy, please take them! I can’t take it any more! Please take my pearls, they’re yours!” The father sat down slowly next to his little bundle of joy.
He took his thick finger, placed it under her quivering chin, and he slowly lifted her face till their eyes met. Looking deeply into her eyes, he said, “oh sweet child, thank you.”
Wiping away the tears rolling down her soft cheeks, he spoke again, softly with love and compassion in his voice.  “Honey, because you gave me your treasure, I want to give you something that is more valuable and precious than those old, worn out, fake pearls that you have been so tightly holding on to.
As he said this, he reached into his pocket and revealed a long string of the most beautiful real authentic pearls.  He carefully placed them around his child’s neck and said, “You make them look so beautiful!” She leapt from her bed into her daddy’s arms, kissing his face and squeezing his neck, saying over and over again, “Thank you, daddy, I absolutely love them!”
It seemed like time had stood still as Chrissy and I were intently listening to the old man’s story. Brother Ray looked into my wife’s face and smiled and said, “That is the way our Heavenly Father is, you know? He loves you so deeply; you are His precious child, a child that He loves more than you will ever know.  Reaching out and touching both of our hands, looking intently into each of our eyes, he said with a big smile that lit up his entire face, “He has amazing things in store for you, but you must hand over the old pearls.”
I’m really not sure what took place after this; I can’t remember, but I have never forgotten the story and the lesson that Brother Ray shared with us. I thank God for this brief life-changing experience.
I hope this story has blessed you this week. Lastly, please give up whatever cheap fake pearls you’re holding onto so tightly. Willingly hand them over to the Savior, and let the Father pour His unconditional love out on you.
Next week’s blog title will be a mystery one!