Mount of Olives Jerusalem

A Seat at the Table

Easter

I loved this holiday growing up. We’d always have an Easter basket with candy, a couple of toys and that colorful Easter grass. Our parents would also hide hard-boiled eggs we had decorated around the house. There was more than one occasion where we couldn’t find all the eggs. And of course mom and dad couldn’t remember where they hid them. Only after a few months did we find them… Not because anyone found them because we saw them. No… we eventually found them by following the foul odor of a rotten egg.

As fun as Easter was growing up. It’s so much more than just eggs, toys, Easter grass and cute little bunnies. Check this out:

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:15-17

Easter. Jesus didn’t go the the cross for “good” people. God didn’t send His Son to die for “perfect” people. The Messiah didn’t rise from the dead for people who don’t have a “past” a “history” or a “current reality.” You see, it was the “perfect” people… the “good” people… the teachers of the religious law… the pharisees who were looking from the outside in at the table of Jesus. It was the people who were hated… people who were despised, people who had terrible reputations… in the words of the “good” people, it was the scum of the earth who had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus.

In other words… it was me. It was you. This isn’t a one-time deal with Jesus. He was known to spend time with people like this during His life. And, just before He was to be betrayed, He held one more meal where He invited His friends to eat with Him. The people who spent the most time with Him during His ministry were invited to the table… His disciples. The very people who traveled with Him. And…

The one who would betray Him.

And Jesus knew this. He knew that Judas would, the very next night, hand Him over to be murdered. But that’s the very heart of Jesus. To give His life… even for the very ones who we think don’t deserve His love and grace.

After He was betrayed and taken for trial, He stood before Pilate and next to a man named Barabbas. Now Barabbas was in prison for a reason… he was involved in an insurrection and had committed murder during the uprising. Pilate, not wanting to make what he knew to be the right decision, asked the crowd whom they wanted released… Jesus or Barabbas. Like any mob, there were bad actors who stirred up the crowd… the chief priests… who called for Barabbas to be released. There was one huge problem with this though. You see, just before the Lord was going to take the Israelites into the promised land way back before Jesus came, God wanted to remind the Israelites of the priorities of God. One of the legal requirements for the Israelites to follow was directly related to Barabbas. Check this out:

Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death. Numbers 35:31

The chief priests hated Jesus because He didn’t follow their laws. They wanted to kill Him because He was/is the fulfillment of the law. And now, they wanted to break a law that the Lord had spoken to them through Moses. A law that they knew the Lord had spoken. But they didn’t care. Their hate had overcome their minds and hearts. Talk about hypocrisy!

Jesus knew all these laws as well. But He kept silent. He could have spoken up and defended Himself. But He didn’t say a word. It was God’s purpose… It was Jesus’ purpose to go to the cross for the chief priests, the pharisees and Barabbas too. And so Jesus willingly went to the cross, hung between two criminals and died what some call a death without dignity. Execution from crucifixion was the cruelest form and was usually only for the worst criminals. Death from asphyxiation usually took many hours to possibly days. For Jesus to willingly die by crucifixion is not a death without dignity… No… it is the most dignified death… because He willingly died for you and me and Barabbas and the pharisees… for the best of us and the worst of us.

And then, three days later, what we now celebrate as Easter, He rose from the sentence of death… From the grave.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the  Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Mark 16:6-7

You see, Jesus willingly died a horrible criminal’s death. Beaten beyond recognition before being nailed to a cross. Was laid in a tomb. And rose three days later. When Jesus invited the tax collectors and “sinners” to His dinner table He knew He’d be sacrificed and killed. And when He hung on the cross, He knew that He was dying for those same people... and for me and you.

It’s because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that we too now have a seat at His table. This Easter, right now, in the midst of our past and our current reality, Jesus calls to each of us to come and take a seat with Him. It’s my prayer that you’ll accept His invitation to…

Have a a seat at the table… the table of Jesus.

Happy Easter


Lola the dog

Chasing Your Tail

As the kids were younger, I had thought a lot about getting a dog. I mean, I had a dog when I grew up… actually, we had several dogs when I was growing up… at least five. Jami had a dog when she was growing up. So after a while, I knew that we needed to get a dog for our kids. As Jami and I were discussing the idea of a dog, someone let us know that there was one that needed to be given away. A six month old Havapoo… half Havanese, half Poodle. It was the perfect dog when it came to shedding and playing with the kids. And it made our family Christmas cards cuter too.

But seven years into having Zoe, I felt the need to have a “real” dog. When I thought about the idea of having a dog years ago, I always pictured a Labrador Retriever… You know, a real dog. Plus, as we took Zoe for a walk, all I could think about was the neighbors laughing at me as I walked a six pound dog down the street… I know. I have problems. But in my mind, I wanted… no, needed a real dog.

So towards the end of 2019, we purchased and picked up Lola, our charcoal Lab… you know… our real dog. Now I can take the dogs for a walk with pride. Jami has her dog. And I have mine… a real dog. I joke all the time that Lola has the street smarts and Zoe has more of the scholastic smarts. Lola is all dog. And Zoe is… well… I’m not sure… maybe part dog, part cat? Lola can do dog tricks. And Zoe… well, Zoe knows how to sit. That’s about it. One of the things that Zoe has never done that I totally forgot that dogs do until we got Lola, is the whole chasing their tail thing. I don’t know why, but it’s always funny to watch Lola chase her tale. Around and around and around. Trying to grab it with her mouth. 99% of the time she can’t grab it. But there’s that one percent of the time that she does grab it and she treats it like it’s a miracle. I don’t know why I laugh when I see it, but it’s hysterical to me.

And then, as Jami and I were talking about our kids and parenting, it hit me. There are many times where we feel like we are chasing our tails. Like when we tell them over and over again…. take out the trash, do the dishwasher, put the toaster back, clean the top of the oven, clean your room… basically clean up after themselves and take care of their things. And then there’s the… practice your sport, do your school work, get out to the bus on time, read your bible, memorize our family bible verse… you know, the things that should be priority in their lives.

And we find ourselves getting super frustrated telling them… reminding them… telling them again to do these things… you know… chasing our tail only to have them not do what we’ve asked them to do. If only they just did what we told them to do then they’d be perfect little human beings.

We’ve tried everything, from nagging to harping to removing privileges to other consequences to get them to do what they’ve been asked to do in their lives. While that temporarily works… for like 24 hours… we find ourselves once again chasing our tails wondering why there hasn’t been permanent life change. And then we remind ourselves…

It’s not just about changing their behavior. It’s about building up their heart. Instead of getting frustrated focusing on simply putting away the toaster. It’s about teaching them how to serve. It’s about teaching them how to prioritize what’s important in their lives. It’s about thinking about others above themselves. It’s about thinking ahead and being able to see how doing a small task could be so helpful to someone else. It’s about teaching them to follow Jesus and what all that looks like.

You see, it’s really all about their heart. And once their heart changes, then their behavior will follow. Which makes this all the more harder. Because it becomes all about us and less about them. It becomes about how we respond to their perceived failure. It becomes about what we chase in our lives. It’s really about our vision for what’s important and where we place our focus. And it’s really all about our hearts.

Once we realize this, then we can finally stop chasing our tails.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24

When we hear this verse we think about spanking our children. It’s not about correction through pain. Jami’s parents actually had a paddle with this verse on it. But this verse isn’t really about spanking your children. You see, shepherds use a rod and a staff to direct their sheep. The rod is used to gently prod the sheep on the right path. And the staff is used to strongly exert his authority and to gently, but firmly pull the sheep back to the herd moving them in the right direction, away from harm. You see, this verse is all about direction and protection.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

It’s all about directing our kids and protecting them…

So if we look at parenting as guiding and shaping and molding our children then we become more intentional about helping and guiding our children in the way that God would have us and them to live. Then, doing the dishes, putting the toaster back, cleaning the oven becomes an act of service and practicing their sport and doing their schoolwork becomes using the talents God has given them.

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Changing our children’s behavior is super important. But it’s about so much more than that, it’s about their hearts. Which means that parenting and training up our children really starts with our hearts. It’s a perspective shift in our thinking and how we parent. Once our perspective changes, only then can we be free from chasing our tails.


Baseball Dugout

Fear Is A Liar

There are some things that you try to block from your memory.

Things that are so painful that it shakes you at your core and makes you question everything. I had this happen to me 20 years ago. I was a youth pastor at a small local church in Michigan. It was my first job/church out of college. This particular Sunday we had a parent visit us during our Sunday school hour. Not just any parent, but a parent who was a long standing member and one of the deacons. To say I was nervous was an understatement.

We worked through the lesson I had worked hard on that week and thought it went as well as it could have gone. We finished Sunday school and sat through the church service. After church got over, I stayed around to talk to the kids and other adults. Once we were finished talking and ready to head out, I looked up and noticed that this parent was making his way up to me from the back of the church.

I don’t know what I expected to hear. But what he said destroyed me. “Todd, I feel like God is telling me that you need to quit. Your message was awful. I just don’t think He’s going to use you as a youth pastor.” Then he walked away.

I stood there alone. Crushed. I wish I could tell you that I called him a week later to remind him that we took over a youth group that had five kids and built it up to over 65 kids in a matter of a year. I wish I could tell you that I called him up to remind him of the kids we built relationships with, some of whom we ended up having contact with for over ten years.

I didn’t. The words he spoke to me shook me to my core.

I wish I could say that was the only time I came across someone who has spoken words of hate and hurt to me. But it’s not. And I’m sure there are a few of you that can relate.

Or maybe you can relate to this story. I struggled with self confidence about my weight growing up. When you hear about a story of a kid growing up struggling with weight issues, you might think of a kid who might be massively overweight. You see, for me, I was super skinny… tiny… not strong… sometimes Skeletor-like.

Little League Dugout

This is a photo of me when I was about 12 years old (I'm the one on the left.) My nickname on my high school baseball team was Keebler… you know, like Keebler the elf. Growing up a super skinny kid was just as hard as growing up as an overweight kid. I wish I could say that being made fun of didn’t affect me. But it did. And I’m sure there are a few of you that can relate.

Maybe you’ve been exactly where I am… either as a kid or as an adult. And whether you have or you haven't, I want you to see this because it has the power to change your life… check it out:

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
1 John 4:16

The verse above is the foundational truth that we need to keep in mind as we read the next few verses…

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. 1 John 4:18-20

Love and Fear. They simply cannot live together. The two cannot co-exist… ever.

Maybe you’ve been where I’ve been. You hear and remember the voices of criticism, of hate… things you’ve tried to block from your memory but fear comes creeping in and starts telling you lies about yourself. Lies like, “You’re not good enough. You’re not strong enough. You’re not beautiful. You’re not loved. You’re not worthy.”

If you’ve been there, or you’re there right now, hear this…

This fear is not from God. It’s from the devil himself. Check this out:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Revelation 12:10

The devil would love nothing more than to devour you. He hates God and therefore hates mercy, and grace, and love, and truth. Every fear that you feel and hear in your head is a lie from the father of lies. Check this out:

He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

Don’t believe the lies. God says you are beautiful. God says you are worthy. Loved. And enough. You are made in the image of God Himself.

I wish I could say that I don’t go back to the dark places of the words that were spoken to me 20 years ago… or even to words that were typed in a message to me three months ago. But every so often I am tempted to dwell on the fear of maybe I’m not good enough… maybe I shouldn’t be following the call of God on my life… if only people knew how messed up I am… they would know for sure I’m not good enough.

And then Jami reminds me "that the enemy uses the lies in our head to try to keep us from doing what we’re called to do." You see, God gives each of us gifts out of love. And when we think of that, we can cast our fear into the fire as we remember that He loves us… He is love… and fear has no place in us as we call on the name of Jesus to save us and live within our lives.

The reality is that I’m not good enough. But thank God that He is. Thank God that it’s no longer I that am living… but the very Spirit of the living God within me.

And that’s enough. Because God tells me I’m enough. And He is telling you that you are enough. Fear is a liar. The father of lies is the father of fear. But God… God is love and there is no fear in love.


Jeep Wrangler - The presence of God

In the Center

Teaching a child how to drive is one of the most challenging parenting experiences I’ve ever faced.

It’s also one of the most fun too…

Jami and I have been teaching Carter how to drive for the last year and a half. And as I began to ride shotgun while Carter got behind the wheel to drive, it became very clear to me that I make what seems like hundreds of little decisions almost simultaneously as I drive.

For instance, when you change lanes you aren’t simply getting over to the right or the left. No. You are quite literally…

Initiating the thought about changing lanes, deciding on when/where to change lanes, checking the rearview mirror, checking the side mirror, checking rear view mirror, looking over your shoulder, putting on turn signal, beginning to turn the steering wheel, watching the traffic in front of you and end the change of lane in the lane that you needed to be in.

All of these things are happening simultaneously… all at once. Like any kid, learning how to drive doesn’t happen overnight. There’s so many things going on around them, and that can be overwhelming. It’s at the very least distracting.

There was one time when I was learning how to drive when I was a kid. (I’ve never told this to anyone.) Mom was in the passenger seat. I was driving on the south side of South Bend and pulled up to a four-way stop. As I pulled up, I was sure that it was my turn to go. So as I started to pull away from the stop sign, the car to my left started to pull away as well. I didn’t see the lady until she blew her horn at me. As I was in mid-turn to my left, I looked at the lady as we passed by and…

Flipped. Her. Off. With. My. Mom. Sitting. Right. Beside. Me.

To make matters worse, instead of keeping my focus on the road, my focus had switched completely to this lady and the bird to which I was flipping as I continued the left turn just past the lady’s rear bumper nearly missing the curb as my mom screamed, “Todd” which snapped me back to where my focus needed to be... on the road.

There are so many distractions while driving. I guess I completely forgot about them until I started teaching Carter how to drive. It’s really a great analogy to life too. And God knew this as well… check this out:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.” Numbers 2:1-2

Israel had been on this Exodus journey for more than a year and had assembled just about any way they had pleased. But now, ready to enter into the Promised Land, they had to take the next step in organization: Ordering themselves. At the center of this order was the tabernacle itself. The tribes would arrange themselves to the east, south, west, and north in relation to the tabernacle. Since the tabernacle was symbolically the presence of God with them, this meant all order in Israel began being centered around God Himself.

The way they were instructed to camp became a visual reminder, each time they put up their tents, of what should be at the center of their lives... the very presence of God.

And as we read God’s Word, and see His Truths, we can get a glimpse at what should be at the center of our lives. You see, when we place our camp around Jesus… around God’s Truths, the camp of our friendships, the camp of our work, the camp of our family and home… our focus can remain on what is right and good. When we camp our lives around God and keep our focus on Jesus, it makes it less likely that we’ll veer off to the side of the road nearly crashing into a curb and oncoming traffic, and possibly destroying our lives and the lives of those closest to us.

The other interesting thing about this passage is this… it isn’t only talking about individual people… it says,

“…each man under his standard with the… Banners. Of. His. Family.”

Guys. Where you camp your life… what and who you camp your life around, you will take your family with you. Ladies… you’re not off the hook. Where you camp your life… what and who you camp your life around, there will be your family.

There’s a lot of things that we can center our lives around… but there’s only one person who provides hope and love and grace if we camp our lives around Him.

I pray that we all camp around the presence of the Almighty God… Yaweh.


Wilderness Rock Church Israel

How Do You Find God

A couple of weeks ago, we were driving back from one of Morgan’s Penn Competition Poms competitions in St. Johns, Indiana. To get there, we had to use Apple Maps. Without a GPS… or if you’re as old as I am, a traditional map, we would have never found where Morgan and her team were competing.

While we were driving back home, we turned on one of our favorite YouTubers, podcasters and musicians. During his podcast, he was reading questions from his listeners… questions about music, family and life in general. Then he read this question from a soldier who had fought and killed people for our country. The question?

“How do you find God?”

My heart jumped. I literally sat up in my seat. One, to hear how he would answer. And two, because this is a question that has been getting me excited over the last few months. And as he was talking, I was yelling in my mind… “Tell him about Moses! Tell him about Moses!”

Most everyone has heard of Moses. Leader of the Israelites. He led the Israelites out from under the hand of the Egyptians. Was the communicator of God to His people. Brought down the Ten Commandments to Israel. If you asked people to name someone from the Bible, his name would surely be one of the firsts.

But I didn’t think of Moses because he went out specifically looking for God. No. Quite the opposite. And his story isn’t “clean” either. Check this out…

After Moses had grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them work. You see, Moses was a Hebrew who was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. So he didn’t grow up with or live with the other Hebrews. While he was out, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. After checking to see if anyone was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian. Not only did he kill him, he actually hid his body in the sand.

Unfortunately for Moses (or fortunately… depends on how you look at the story), he wasn’t as slick as he thought he was and Pharaoh found out and green lit a hit on him. Everyone knew what Moses had done and Pharaoh wanted him dead. So Moses decided to do what anyone of us would do and go on the run. While he lived in Midian, he came across some girls who were being hassled by some shepherds while they were trying to get water for their father’s flock of animals.

Like any guy might do, he decided to step in to help and not only rescued the girls but also watered their animals… a real mac daddy move. The girls went back home, told their father what happened and the father not only invited him to have dinner with them, but also gave his daughter, Zipporah, to Moses in marriage.

They had a son, and after a while the Pharaoh who wanted Moses dead had died. And now, the Israelites cried out to God because of their slavery in Egypt. And. God. Heard. Their. Cries. Check this out…

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Exodus 3:1

God is often times found in what feels like the far side of the desert... the hot, dry land… in the far side of our struggles and our guilt and hurt and pain. But if we keep going, we will see the mountain of God.

It goes on to say…

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush… When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, Moses! Moses! Exodus 3:2, 4

And after God told Moses that he would be the one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said…

And God said, “I will be with you.” Exodus 3:12

You see, Moses didn’t go looking for God. God went looking for Moses. And this isn’t the only time this happened. It happens all the time in the Bible. God looked for Adam and Eve in the garden after they sinned. Jesus went looking for Saul, a murderer of people who followed Jesus. God looked for Hagar. He looked for and found Jacob. Jesus looked for, found and called the 12 disciples.

And God is doing the same for you. Calling your name, reaching out to you even as you read this. The reality is, is that you don’t have to find God… He is looking for you. You don’t need Apple Maps or a GPS to find God. He’s right in front of you, calling your name. And the God who is looking for you can be found in the Bible. In the book of Exodus. The same God who called Moses, a murderer, is the same God who is calling you.

And if you’re in what feels like a desert right now, keep going. God is in the far side of the desert… the far side of our struggles and our guilt and our hurt and our pain. Keep going and you will see the mountain of God.

So, how do you find God? Have eyes to see Him and know He’s already looking for you.


Galilee, Israel

What Are You Facing

I’m the oldest of three boys.

Being the oldest means a few things. One, it means you get to test the waters in every area of life and how far you can go before you get in trouble with mom and dad. It also means that your the child whom mom and dad are the most strict. There are also some fun things like getting to be the first to drive and stay up the latest.

Being the oldest growing up in my family also meant that I went before my younger siblings in school. I can’t tell you how many times I had drilled into my head that I was setting the tone for when my brothers went to school… elementary, middle and high school. Everything I did, everything I said, would reflect on how the teachers and administrators looked at my younger brothers. If I acted a fool, then my two younger brothers would automatically be labeled a fool as they stepped foot into the place I had walked before. And so, I walked through life ahead of my brothers doing my best to prepare the path they were to walk in each of their schools.

Another time when I went out ahead is while we were in the Grand Canyon. I would walk ahead of my kids as we hiked and climbed, taking their hand as they took their next step. Were they scared? Sure. Were they nervous? Absolutely. But their dad went ahead of them to help them deal with and overcome their fears and to let them know that what is unknown to them is known to me.

This idea that someone has gone before us is a powerful one.

Jesus knew this. check this out:

… ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ Matthew 28:7

Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking and feeling? Their Rabbi had just been killed on a cross between two thieves. The Messiah, Jesus, had just been murdered. Not because of any crime He had committed. A riotous crowd filled with anger called for Jesus to be put to death. Were they scared? Were they nervous? Two women who went to see the tomb of Jesus are now telling the disciples that Jesus isn’t there and that an angel said Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee.

You see, this isn’t the first time they heard that Jesus was going to go ahead of them to Galilee. On the night that Jesus was arrested, He told the disciples that He was going to go ahead of them into Galilee after He had risen from the dead. Matthew 26:32

Were the disciples worried about what would be waiting for them in Galilee? Jesus’ trial was brutal… people screaming… they came and arrested Him for no reason… the people were angry and wanted blood.

There were so many unknowns that they were walking into. But Jesus promised that He would go ahead of them into Galilee… into the unknown. That’s what Galilee stands for to me.

This idea that someone has gone before us is a powerful one.

What are you facing right now? Maybe you have children that are struggling academically, socially or with depression because of the separation they find themselves in from their friends and other kids. Maybe you were just laid off from work and now you don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills. Maybe the marriage you thought could last anything is now on its last leg and you don’t know if it can be repaired. Or maybe you’re waiting for test results from a biopsy or scan and you’re left wondering what you’re walking into.

This idea that someone has gone before us is a powerful one.

And it’s been a promise of God that He has fulfilled time and time again.

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

I don’t know what your Galilee is, but I do know this… Jesus has gone ahead of you there. You see, it’s not that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle… it’s that when we call on the name of Jesus, we can be assured that He has gone before us to our Galilee and has promised to be our strength as we walk into our Galilee together.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3


Dead Sea - Dead things aren’t necessarily dead with Jesus.

Dead Things

Dead Things

I hate watching anything on the Animal Channel. But especially chase and kill scenes like when a tiger is chasing its prey and then pounces on it to kill it. I can’t do it. Can’t watch it. Can’t even talk about it… especially if I’m eating.

I know. I’m weird. Especially since I’m a guy. My kids think I’m weird. And I guess I am. I don’t like dead things. I remember a time where I was driving to get our favorite Chinese food. On the way back I noticed a dead “something” in the road. I say “something” because I don’t look at whatever the dead thing is in the road. I put my hands at 10 and 2, look straight ahead as I drive over whatever it is that is dead. This time, because of how it was lined up on the road, I couldn’t put my car centered over the dead thing. And as I drove over it, hands at 10 and 2 and staring at the horizon, I felt my tire roll over the dead thing.

My gag reflex immediately started to kick in. My mouth and eyes started watering. And it was all I could do to not throw up as I was driving. To make matters worse, when I got home I couldn’t eat my food. Instead of thinking about my favorite Chinese food, all I could imaging was the feeling of my car’s tire rolling over the dead thing in the road. I couldn’t stomach eating my chicken with garlic sauce. Each bite I swallowed went down in a lump and almost came back up. My eyes are starting to water as I remember this story… and it happened years ago!

Laugh at me. I give you full permission. It really is funny. But it’s true. I can’t do dead things… at all. I can’t talk about them… can’t think about them… especially when I’m eating. It’s juvenile I know. But it’s true.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, there’s a reference to laughter and a dead girl. Check it out:

When He arrived at the house of Jairus, He did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at Him, knowing that she was dead. But He took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Luke 8:51-55

Jesus was first approached by the girl’s father when Jesus arrived back at Galilee and told him that his daughter was dying. As Jesus was on his way to this guy’s house, He was swarmed by enormous crowds. At one point, he stopped to speak with a lady who was desperate to meet Jesus. While He stopped to heal this lady, someone came from Jairus’ house to let him know that his daughter was dead.

Instead of giving up hope, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” Can you imagine all the emotions running through this father’s head. The anguish. The frustration with the crowds stalling Jesus. The feeling of desperation thinking he, as a father, didn’t do enough to save his little girl.

But with Jesus, dead things aren’t necessarily dead.

When Jesus arrived to Jairus’ house, he encountered people outside who were wailing because they believed all hope was lost. They knew that the girl was dead. And when Jesus said that she wasn’t dead and that there was hope…

The laughed at Him… because they “knew” she was dead.

But with Jesus, dead things aren’t necessarily dead.

Jesus took three disciples and the girl’s parents into the house where she was, took her by the hand, told her to get up… and her spirit returned and she immediately stood up.

With Jesus, dead things aren’t necessarily dead.

I don’t know who you are in this story. Maybe you’re the dead girl. And you feel like there’s no hope for you. You’ve done things that you’d be embarrassed if anyone found out. You feel dead inside because of the sin that’s eaten you away, like a tiger chasing down and devouring its prey. Choices that you’ve made that have made you feel like all hope is lost and you feel empty and dead.

But with Jesus, dead things aren’t necessarily dead.

Maybe you’re the people standing outside of the house wailing because you’ve lost hope… you’ve given up on your friend or your spouse, or your child or on humanity in general. Maybe you’ve laughed at Jesus in your actions by not believing in the power of Jesus to change the hearts of those around you to raise humanity out of the despair and death of sin.

Or maybe you’re the father in this story. Who’s heard of Jesus. Who’s searched for Jesus and has found Him. You believe that He is the One who saves and raises lives and relationships from the depths of sin and death. Don’t lose hope.

It doesn't matter if you’re the girl. The people outside. Or the father. Know this…

Dead things aren’t necessarily dead with Jesus.

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Romans 6:1-11

When we call on the name of Jesus, dead things are not necessarily dead.


Photo of a gate

Gate of Heaven

Ghostbusters.

It’s in the top ten of my favorite movies. Not the sequels. Those are trash. The O.G. Ghostbuster movie. Bill Murray. Dan Aykroyd. Sigourney Weaver. Rick Moranis. Ernie Hudson. It was a great movie. On a side note, I wrote alternate lyrics to the Ghostbuster theme song about diarrhea… it was hilarious.

In any case, one of my favorite parts of the movie is when Louis is running around the city asking anyone and anything he can find is the “gatekeeper” to entryway to the evil dimension. At one point, he runs up to a horse, announces he is the key master and asks the horse if it’s the gatekeeper. Rick Moranis is hilarious.

As I was reading a few weeks ago, I ran across a reference to a different kind of gate and it gave me chills. Check this out:

‘He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place? This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”’ Genesis 28:17

Jacob, on the run from his brother and on his way to find a wife, stopped for the night to sleep. During his sleep God came to him full of promises, not the corrections he deserved for taking his older brother’s blessings. Jacob didn’t go looking for God. Instead, God looked for Jacob.

And after waking up from this dream, Jacob declared that the place he was standing was none other than the gate of heaven and named the place, Bethel.

The gate of heaven.

Can you imagine standing there in that place with Jacob? To experience the awe and wonder and majesty of God. To literally be standing at a place where it had to be labeled, the gate of heaven. That must have been crazy…

Except, it isn’t that crazy. It’s something that can happen to each one of us. It happened to Jacob. He didn’t deserve the promises of God. He had just stolen his older brother’s blessing from their father. Instead of receiving a beat down from God, he received blessings. Jacob was far from perfect. He didn’t look for God. God looked for and found Jacob.

And He will do the same with us through His Son Jesus. And instead of making a plot of earth where the gate of heaven is found, He is able to make our very life the gate of heaven, if we let Him.

The choice is ours. Each day we have a choice to have our life be the gate of heaven, or not. And that choice lies in what we allow to flow out of our mouth and our actions. Check this out:

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean. Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what makes a man unclean…” Matthew 15:11, 17-20

In other words, your heart is the gate… the gate of heaven or the gate to everything else. I don’t know about you, but without Jesus, my heart would be filled with everything else. My life would be a giant mess. And instead of my life being a gate to heaven, it would be a gate to destruction.

But with Jesus, man, with Jesus my life and your life… our hearts are the gate of heaven. And this is what the gate of heaven lets out… check this out:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25

This world, this community… your community… needs another gate of heaven… to bring the goodness and faithfulness and grace and promises of God. The question is, will your life be a gate to destruction, or… will your life be a…

Gate of heaven.


The Wilderness in Israel He knows your name

He Knows Your Name

It’s funny how certain stories burn into your brain.

This one that I’m thinking of took place 23 years ago while I was at college. Jami, myself and some friends were hanging out at the student center. As we were heading out, a couple of people came in and introduced themselves to the people I was with. One of the guys came up to me, shook my hand and asked me my name… something I wasn’t expecting. You see, this wasn’t the first time we met. It wasn’t even the second time we met. My response back to him as I was shaking his hand and looking him in the eye was simple… “‘Johnny,’ (we’ll call him Johnny to keep his name anonymous) since this is the third time shaking hands, I would have expected you to know my name by now. I’m sorry that you don’t.” Then I walked away.

Names are important. The desire to be known is great. We spend a lifetime trying to be known. As kids, we long for our parents to know and love us. We look for and hope for the popular kids to simply notice and acknowledge who we are. Many of us as teenagers and adults desperately look for and want someone to simply love us. We work our butts off day in and day out at work for those who are in charge to notice the effort we put in, the extra hours we work.

We work. And we try. And we work some more. And we beg. And we do things just to… Never. Be. Noticed. And it’s exhausting. It’s maddening. The anger. The sadness. The hurt. The despair. It’s overwhelming. And the questions come. Why does nobody notice me? Why can I not find love? Why does the boss not see my efforts? Why am I not known… by anyone? And you work some more. You try harder. You look for another love. You look for other attention. And you’re left feeling even more exhausted and overwhelmed.

Names are important. The desire to be known is beyond great. And there is One who does know your name… my name… our names. Check this out:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. Genesis 43:1

I don’t know where you’re at in your faith journey. I don’t know if you even believe in God. But I’ll tell you this, the God who created the earth knows your name. He has numbered the hairs on your head. God knows you. He knows your name and you didn’t even have to do anything to make that happen. He knows you and you didn’t have to do anything to be accepted. And the God who created the earth wants you to know…

You are enough. Not because anything you can do. Not because of anyway you look. You are enough because Jesus is enough. When God looks at you, He sees you through His Son, Jesus. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Genesis 16, verse 13…

And she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

Yup. Hagar. Sarah’s maidservant. Abraham’s baby mama. Who, while pregnant with Abraham’s child, was sent away from them because of Sarah’s relentless jealousy. And while Hagar was on the road of misery, the Lord met with her broken heart, heard her sadness, satisfied her needs, and secured her future in Him. The Lord saw Hagar for who she was and revealed Himself to her and gave to her unrelenting mercy and grace.

And He does the same thing for you and I. He meets us on our road of misery. He meets with our broken heart, hears our sadness, satisfies our needs and secures our future in Him. And He sees us for who we are and still accepts us as we are and calls us by our name.

If you’re tired at working to be known, come to Jesus in whom you will find rest and joy…

Because He knows your name.


Your story loading computer screen

Your Story Is Not Over

Story.

We all have one. Have you ever compared your story to someone else’s? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought, “I’m not where I really want to be in life?” Have you ever gone on a long walk and thought, “What more can I be doing with my life?” Have you ever sat in the quiet of your mind and thought, “This can’t be it, can it? There’s got to be more.”

We all have a story that is being written with our lives. A page being written each day. And whether we like what is being written or not, it’s our story. Page after page until it fills up a chapter. Then on to the next page. Each one of us has a story that we’re writing. For some, the story is just beginning. For others, it feels like halftime. And still for others, it feels like it’s toward the end of the book.

And no matter what chapter you find yourself in, it’s easy to get frustrated where you’re at in your story right now. But you’re not alone. There are others who have asked the same questions, who have felt the same feelings, wondering what God is doing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been there. I’ve asked the questions above. I’ve had the same thought. I mean, I’m 44. I want to have a bigger impact. And then, in my reading the past couple of days, I come across these folks in Genesis, and it gave me some hope for my story.

Check this out…

Just after the destruction caused by the flood, God chose Abraham to be the foundation of the new humanity that God would build by promising to make Abraham into a great nation. Check this out:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you… Genesis 12:2

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Genesis 12:7

For years Abraham lived on this promise, this covenant between him and God… the promise that Abraham and Sarah would have children. But for the next 10ish years, Sarah and Abraham could not get pregnant. Can you imagine the deep sadness between Sarah and Abraham? The frustration. The desperation. Feeling like their story is almost over.

Instead of continuing to wait for God’s promise, Sarah and Abraham decided to take their story into their own hands and have a child their own way by having Abraham sleep with Sarah’s maidservant. In other words, they settled by having a child outside of the way that God intended. This settling caused Sarah to despise her maidservant and caused trouble down the line for years to come. Talk about drama!

Nine months later, Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, and Abraham’s baby mama, gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Abraham was 86 years old at this point. We don’t hear anything else about this situation until Abraham is 99 years old. Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings and hurt and pain and questioning that might have been going on… for thirteen years!

Then, when Abraham is 99 years old, God appears to him again. In addition to giving Abraham instructions on keeping the covenant between him and God, God tells him that He will give Abraham a son with Sarah. And Abraham fell facedown laughing. And when Sarah heard of this, she laughed to herself because she knew that she was past the childbearing age.

Then, at the age of 100, Sarah gave birth to Abraham’s son, Isaac, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham… 25 years later.

I don’t know where you’re at in your story right now… If you’re comparing your story to someone else’s. If you’re questioning God about what’s going on and the hurt and pain you’re experiencing. Or if you’ve felt like the promises of God aren’t coming through. Or maybe you’ve made some mistakes or gone down a road that would be contrary to God’s Word.

If you’re thinking any of those things, I want you tell you three things…

First, God’s timing is not our timing. You see, God’s timing wasn’t the timing of Abraham or Sarah. They didn’t receive the son that God promised until 25 years later. In this world, we want things now. Fast. Immediately. Sometimes God wants you to wait. As hard as this is sometimes, God’s timing isn’t our timing.

Secondly, don’t settle. Abraham and Sarah settled. They didn’t wait for God’s promise. And that caused them problems, and hurt and frustration and pain. Even though you may not be where you want to be in your story, don’t settle.

Thirdly, be faithful during the waiting. It’s easy to get mad at God. It’s easy to get angry at the situation. It’s easy to get frustrated in your story. But don’t lose faith in God. Don’t lose the commitment you have to Him. Keep his commandments. Stay close to His Word (the Bible). And keep your ear open to him as you pray.

Lastly, I want to say this… God accepted and chose Abraham not because he led a perfect life. No. It’s because of Abraham’s responsiveness to God’s promises. Check this out…

Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6

No matter where you’re at… no matter what you’ve done… as long as you're breathing, your story still has time to be written.

We all have a story. And no matter where you’re at in your story, it’s not over.