Pumpkin Guts

The fall season is officially here.

And with it brings Halloween. I loved this holiday as a kid. I mean, who wouldn’t like going house to house begging for candy and ripping the guts out of pumpkins.

Growing up, our kids have loved this holiday too. One of the many traditions we keep is the annual gutting and carving of pumpkins. If I’m honest, it’s more stressful for me than fun. Not because I’m scared of cutting fingers off. It’s because I’m terrible at carving pumpkins. They just never turn out how I intended for them to look.

One of my favorite memories of the gutting of the pumpkins happened 11 years ago according to the upload date on Youtube. Carter, who’s standing on a chair at the table declares that he’s going to dive into his pumpkin to tear out the guts.

Just before he dives in, he yells, “Timberrrrrr.” And as he dives in, the chair that he’s standing on pushes out from under him as he falls to the ground.

It. Was. Hilarious.

He was fine. And he got back up and proceeded to tear out all of the gross guts of the pumpkin. After carving the pumpkins, the kids always want to place a candle inside to light them up for all the world to see… to them they’re beautiful.

It doesn’t matter that they’re not perfect. That wasn’t the point of carving the pumpkins. It was never the point. It was about spending time with their father… and their mother. The point was and always will be to spend time with and build our relationship together.

You see, as imperfect as the pumpkins are, the point of us placing a light inside for all the neighborhood to see isn’t to show off how perfect and beautiful the work is… no… the point is to show the relationship that was built through the transformation of two pumpkins.

I don’t know where you’re at today mentally. If you’re like me, you have days where you struggle with and hate and stress over how imperfect you are. You look at others and wonder how do they have everything together. And you start to doubt and wonder why anyone should stop to look and listen to you.

That’s a struggle that I have more times than I care to admit to. “If people only knew…” and then the stress and hate comes creeping in over how imperfect I am.

Then Halloween comes along and reminds me again that it’s ok to be imperfect. The goal of life is and was never meant to be lived perfectly. It is designed to be lived in relationship with our Father… to build that relationship together with Him.

Jesus can and will take all of the nasty pumpkin guts from our lives and design our imperfect life into something new for all to see.

Check this out…

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” - 1 John 1:1, 2

This life… this relationship with Jesus was never designed to make our lives look perfect. No, it’s designed to change our souls from the inside out… to build relationship with the Father… so we can show others and change the world one life at a time.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” - John 1:4

My prayer for you today, is that you open your life up to Jesus.


What Do You See?

What do you see?

People? A stone floor? A giant stone wall? Backpacks? Shoes? Cameras?

I’ve seen this place on the news… on tv many times.

The Wailing Wall. Some call it the Western Wall.

What do you see?

The first time I saw it in person was at night with a small group of people. Everything all lit up, the giant stone wall climbing to the pitch black night sky. It was a sight I will never forget. Amazing and awe inspiring doesn’t come close to describing it.

The next day we came back with the whole group. There’s actually two areas to approach the wall. One area for the guys and one area for the women. Regardless of what you believe or feel about that, it’s the way it is.

For guys, you can’t approach the wall without your head being covered. If you don’t have a hat, there are yarmulkes that you can grab and place on your head. I had a hat, but I took one to wear anyway… I may or may not have given it back like you were supposed to. I know I know… I’m a horrible person. I still have it somewhere around my house.

Like many places in Jerusalem and Israel, the place that I was standing, the Wailing Wall, was and is holy ground. It’s not like Disney World where kids are running around and people are laughing. There is a weight and sense of reverence for this place that is within the walls of Old Jerusalem.

The ground that I was standing on was and is considered holy.

As I walked into the area that you can see in the photo, it was clear that this place was 100% different than the area just 15 feet behind me. Towards the back there were Jews who were studying the Torah… sitting at a desk, memorizing and literally taking in the Word of God.

As I walked closer to the wall, I could see people praying silently. Some were placing paper into the cracks of the wall. That was something I was prepared for. I remembered seeing that on the news as I was growing up. We were also prepped beforehand so that we could write a prayer to God and place it in the wall. As I stood at the wall, and placed my paper prayer in the crack, I could see the Orthodox Jews out of the corner of my eye.

The Orthodox Jews don’t just stand in silence to pray at the wall. The guys that I saw were rocking back and forth and were physically and audibly crying out to God. As I stood there and watched, it was clear that they so desperately wanted the presence of God and wanted God to hear their prayer.

As I looked to my right, there were others, non Jews, tears streaming down their faces as they cried out to God and stuck their paper prayers into the wall.

Jews. Non Jews. People from all over the world. Standing at the Wailing Wall (Western Wall) crying out to God. Asking for God to hear them. Desiring God to move.

As I stood there, I no longer simply saw stones and walls. I not only felt the presence of God, but I saw it there in the holy place and in the very people I was standing next to.

It’s now been over a year since we’ve visited Israel. But the lessons of that trip, the lessons of specific areas keep seeping into my life… into my mind.

This place, the Wailing Wall, has not been more applicable to me than right here and right now.

When you look at 2020 what do you see?

When you look out into our country, what do you see?

When you look at those that sit on the opposite party as you, what do you see?

These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. And it’s a question that we all must answer.

As I was beginning to write this post, I could hear my kids arguing and fighting upstairs (my office is in the basement.) The words that came out of their mouths toward each other broke my heart. After talking with them, I took Lola on a walk to clear my head.

As I was walking the dog, two things happened… each song that I listened to was centered around the presence of God. This wasn’t a 10 minute walk. This walk took 40 minutes. It’s not an accident that each artist sang about the presence of God. Secondly, God placed this question in my mind… “What do you see?” And then it hit me and I started to wonder… What do my kids see when they are arguing with each other?

As I thought about it those 40 minutes, it became clearer and clearer that my kids only see whatever it is that they are arguing about. This morning it was cold brew coffee. It was all about what they perceived to be “theirs.” They didn’t see each other as a brother or sister. They didn’t see each other as human beings. They didn’t look at each other and see the very presence of God in each of them… that they are made in the image of God. They didn’t see any of that… They simply saw each other as the enemy to what they wanted.

Guys… People… It’s the same thing with our country. It’s the same with those who are on the right and the left. Those who are red. Those who are blue. It’s the same for me and for you. Ohhhhhhhhh. That rhymed… totally didn’t mean to do that, but I’ll keep it.

What do you see?

When you look out at our country… When you look at those who are on the opposite aisle… when you look at those who have wronged you and those whom you disagree with… when you look at those people, do you only see the issues? Do you only see red? Do you only see blue? Do you only see the perceived wrongs? Or do you see the presence of God in their souls. Do you see the image of God that they have been created?

What do you see?

You see, when all we see are the issues…. When all we see is red or blue. When all we see are the perceived wrongs and disagreements… It’s easy to hate the other side. It’s easy to be enraged with anger towards them and sling hateful words. It’s easy to look at them with disdain.

But when we begin to see the presence of God in others… When we begin to see the image of God within their very being… we will begin to treat them with love and kindness. We begin to see the intrinsic value they have... not because of who they are, but because of who's they are... because they are God's creation.

But how can we begin to possibly see differently?

Check this out…

“I asked them about the conditions among the Jews there who had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem. They told me, 'The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.' When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-Heaven. I said, 'God, God-of-Heaven, the great and awesome God, loyal to his covenant and faithful to those who love him and obey his commands: Look at me, listen to me. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I’m praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you.” - Nehemiah 1:2-6

It’s hard to argue where our country is at. It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t resemble what Jerusalem looked like back when Nehemiah walked the earth.

But what Nehemiah saw and what we ultimately see is defined by what our heart sees… It ultimately is determined by where our heart is… When Nehemiah received a verbal picture of Jerusalem, it didn’t enrage him… he didn’t lash out and attack the people responsible… No.

It broke his heart… when he received the verbal picture of Jerusalem, the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept… that he mourned for days… and that he fasted and prayed before the God-of-Heaven.

You see, it’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

Nehemiah also knew something else… He also knew that he himself had sins to atone for… He knew that he also had a hand in the problems of Jerusalem…And he took responsibility for his sins and confessed them to the God-of-Heaven.

So… What do you see?

Do you only see the issues… The colors… The disagreements… The hurts… which enrages you.

Or,

Do you see what Nehemiah sees? Do you see the very presence of God in people. Do you see the image of God in those you may have differences with?

Nehemiah’s heart broke for the people of Jerusalem. If we want to see people how Nehemiah saw people, it starts in our heart. It starts with seeing ourselves for who we are and praying and confessing our sins to the God-of-Heaven. It starts with our hearts breaking for the wrongs that we have committed… Taking responsibility and calling on God to ask for forgiveness.

Then, and only then, will we see like Nehemiah saw and have our hearts break for others… to weep for our nation.

It’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

So the question remains…

What do you see?


In the Everyday

I love this photo.

It’s probably one of my favorite photos from the time we went to Israel.

If you look closely, you’ll notice the group is walking away from me. As I stood there to get a different shot, the entire group ended up way around the curve.

I don’t know how many people visit Jerusalem a day, but there were a ton of people all over the place. For the entire trip I would hang out in the back and/or wander off to get the photograph I needed to get. At one point, someone asked Jami where I was at… to which she replied, “I don’t know, I’m sure he’s somewhere nearby.” Sheila Beeson heard the question and she quickly replied, “Don’t worry about Todd, he’ll catch up and be fine.” I’m sure she’s had the same experience with Mark many times over.

Time and time again our guide, Mitch, would be asking where I was, or would call me over the radio to stay up with the group, or tell me to get down from wherever I had climbed. At one point, as we got off the buses, Mitch pulled me aside and said, “Todd, I have eyes all over this city (Jerusalem),” then laughed… then said he was serious. Another time he saw a billy goat on the side of a cliff and exclaimed to everyone on the bus, “Look, there’s Todd!”

I couldn’t help it. To get the photos I wanted, I had to leave the traditional, normal path to get the view I needed.

Visiting Jerusalem was an interesting city to see. On one hand, you had all of these groups specifically coming to walk where Jesus walked.

Then you had the native Israelis who live within the very community that Jesus lived. They go to school. They go to work. They play. Drive their cars… they literally live their everyday lives in the very place that Jesus lived His.

As I walked around and took photos, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these people walk around and miss the fact that they are walking in the very place that Jesus walked. How many of these people are walking around, missing Jesus… not even aware… they’ve grown so accustomed to their place that they miss Him. Day in and day out, it’s the same view… same schedule.

And then, as I think about my own life, I can’t help but realize that there are times when I’ve grown so accustomed to my own life, my own way of living that there are times that I miss Jesus in the everyday.

The schedule. The activities. The day-to-day living can get so jumbled together that I miss the fact that Jesus is walking with me everyday.

The days become the same everyday.

Jesus knew this, it’s why He withdrew himself to get away and take a different path from the people He was with. Check this out…

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. - Luke 5:16

Listen to this…

Sometimes you need to remove yourself from the normal path to be able to explore and get a different view of Jesus.

Jesus knew that. It’s why he often withdrew to lonely places… so that he could focus and get a different view of life and a different view of God.

Just like I needed to get away from everyone and get off the normal path to get a different view for a different photo… our lives are the same. In order to get a different view of life… in order to get a different view of Jesus, we need to get off the normal path we usually take.

Life can be busy. Life can get muddy. Especially now with the election drawing near. Our nation’s leaders just flat out lying to the people they have sworn to serve. It can get frustrating and if we’re honest, depressing.

But Jesus has given us a different way to live. He’s given us a different path to take.

I don’t know if you’re missing Jesus in the everyday moments. If that’s the case, take a different path that you’re used to. Change things up.

Get away by yourself. Pray. Ask God to reveal himself to you in the everyday moments.


Horshoe Bend

The Great Divide

The Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

It was one of the best spring break trips we've ever taken. Honestly, growing up and reading about it in school books, I never thought I'd get to see it in person. So, when we arrived there, I was in awe with how majestic and vast the entire canyon really is. Then, after five minutes of wooooooow, I went into explore mode.

Soon Daryl and I and the kids were climbing anywhere and everywhere. Down the mountainside. Onto rocks. Jumping over gaps. And climbing up to the very edge to get a better view... and to frankly have more fun.

Was it risky? Sure, some of it. At one point, as Jami stayed back and watched us, a group with a guide walked up near where she was standing. As the guide was talking, Jami overheard what he was saying...

"You see that group of guys with their kids... you're gonna read about them on the news tonight because someone fell off the mountain."

As Jami was listening, she quickly realized that the guide was talking about me and our kids. When we got back, she told us what the guide said. To which I replied, "Well, if someone would have fallen, he would have been right. There was an 800 foot fall off of that edge we were walking."

Fear.

It's an interesting thing. In one circumstance, like in the Grand Canyon, it will keep people from experiencing and seeing something more beautiful by venturing out and exploring a bit... it's a motivating factor for them. For me and my kids (and our friends), we don't let fear keep us back. Rather, the rewards of the process of exploration motivates us to push farther.

Today, while we aren't at the Grand Canyon, fear is still a motivating factor for many people. And the media, politicians and regular folk know it. Just watch tv for five minutes, jump on social media, listen to the radio or even talk to a few folks face to face, and you will see that the end of the world is near if you vote for "so-and-so." I have never in my life listened to so many speeches that are written to take advantage of people's fears.

The message is clear... You need to fear Covid. You need to fear Donald Trump. You need to fear Joe Biden. You need to fear... and the answer to your fear is provided by whomever is speaking.

Fear.

Fear keeps us from living life how it's meant to be lived. It divides us. If we allow it to take root in our lives, it keeps us from seeing life as something more beautiful and we see others as our enemies. Jesus knew this and instead of preaching fear, He said something completely different. Check it out...

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

It's interesting to me that Jesus talks about living in peace and not being afraid in chapter 14. Then, in the very next chapter, He talks about love, and tells people to love one another. Even though I went to seminary, I'm not a bible scholar. But it's not lost on me that, at least in the book of John, loving others comes after living in peace and not in fear.

One of the MANY lessons that 2020 has taught me has been this...

It's hard to love people when you're living in fear.

I've witnessed it on the news. I've seen it on social media. And I've experienced it myself in my own life and mental head space. What I've noticed is this... When you live in fear, when I live in fear, we are focusing on our circumstances and what we need to do to control our circumstances at any cost. This is why it's hard to love people when you live in fear... fear makes things to be about YOU and YOUR circumstances. Fear is the great divide between you and others. But when you live in a spirit of love, it's NEVER about you. And love is able to bridge the divide.

But fear is a powerful emotion. It can sprint into your life and take a hold quickly. We see this with Peter when, in the middle of a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, he asks Jesus to call him out onto the water with him. And when Peter got out of the boat, He took his eyes off of Jesus and was concerned about the wind and waves and began to be afraid. In other words, he started to focus on his circumstances.

It's the same thing for us... and there are a lot of circumstances we can be focused on right now. Covid. Politics. Riots. Lies. Job security. Money problems. The election. Government mandates. Social injustice. While we aren't on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, if feels like we're in the middle of ONE BIG STORM. And Jesus still says the same thing He said to Peter...

"Come."

It's a simple word. Four letters. But it's also a powerful word. In the middle of our storm, in the middle of our fear, Jesus calls to us and says, "Come." Because He knows that we can't overcome our fear and love others without His help. Only when we answer the call of Jesus on our life, trust Him as our Savior, and live in the Holy Spirit can we truly overcome fear, live in peace and love others genuinely.

Fear is the great divide between loving others. But Jesus... Jesus is the bridge to fill the gap because Jesus is love. And He's calling to each of us...

"Come."


Sea of Galilee

Play Dough Faith

Play Dough

I used to love playing with play dough. It was great. I mean, first off, the smell of play dough was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Secondly, it felt good to play with because it was so soft… unless you left the lid off the play dough, then it became hard as a rock… and, well, that wasn’t good.

Thirdly, you could make almost anything out of play dough… and with the right colors, you could make food like eggs look legit… well, to a six year old.

When I was growing up, we had a play dough set that, with the right colors, you could make what looked like fried eggs. So one day, as I was playing with the play dough set, the neighbor boy came over to see what I was playing with and told me he was hungry. I told him that I was making eggs and that he should try one.

After a bit of selling him on the idea that these were in fact real eggs, he tried them… he took a bite, started to chew and then spit the bite of play dough right out of his mouth. He obviously hated the fake eggs that he ate.

Yes. I fed the neighbor boy play dough eggs. I don’t know why he actually took a bite, maybe his vision was blurry.

The next day, when I told him I could make him bacon and pancakes, he simply walked away without saying a word.

I didn’t have compassion on this kid at all. It was about me.

There’s another feeding that took place. This one, much bigger than the feeding of the play dough eggs… check it out:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. - Matthew 14:13-21

You see, Jesus had just lost his cousin… his friend, John the Baptist, because King Herod had just given the order to kill him. Yet, even though Jesus left to be alone, once he saw the crowds the Bible tells us that he had compassion on them. He originally went across the sea to get away, to be alone. Instead, He had compassion on the people and healed their sick.

Hours later, in the evening as it was getting late, the disciples wanted to send these people away to have them find their own supper. But Jesus says something they weren’t expecting…

“They don’t need to go away, you give them something to eat.”

The disciple’s responded by telling Jesus that they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus told the disciples to bring them to Him. It’s like the disciples were saying, we can’t get this to work Jesus.

As a parent, when our kids couldn't get something to work, my response was... "Here, give it to me. Let me take a look." And immediately I got it to work and gave it back to them because the father knows what he's doing.

Jesus, then takes the loaves and the two fish, looked to heaven and gave thanks. Jesus knew that His father knew what He was doing and made those five loaves and two fish work.

This act of feeding these more than 5,000 hungry people was another display of compassion. It would have been easy to dismiss these people to find food on their own. But Jesus was filled with compassion.

When Jesus told the disciples to feed the people, he in essence was saying, “have compassion” on them. Don’t send them away hungry. Feed them.

Compassion. It’s an interesting word. It was also part of Jesus’ character. The origin of the word helps us grasp the true breadth and significance of compassion. In Latin, “compati” means to suffer with. Compassion means that someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Someone else’s suffering becomes your suffering. Another’s hunger becomes your hunger.

The Bible tells us over and over to be compassionate.

Ephesians 4:32 - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.

1 Peter 3:8 - Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

Zechariah - This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another…

True compassion changes the way you live. It’s not a once-in-a-while event. It’s a lifestyle. Having true compassion means having true faith in a true God… it’s not play dough faith. It was part of who Jesus was and is. And with the help of Jesus Himself, the Father and Holy Spirit, it can be a part of our character as well.

So the question is, how, in our own life, can we be compassionate with others? How can we show compassion and to whom do we need to show compassion to? God will give us opportunities, it’s up to us to be in a place to be able to see those opportunities and act.


Not What I Expected

Expectations...

We all have them. Last year, Jami and I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel with a group of amazing people. Before the trip, we had multiple meetings to go over all of the logistics and what we could expect each day to relatively look like. These were all very helpful and necessary meetings to make sure we understood the expectations of everyone.

Expectations.

Once we were in country, there were other expectations that Jami and I had that were met and, well, different... For me, the Sea of Galilee was what I thought it would look like. Tiberias, the first city we stayed in, however, was different than what we expected. As we walked the city away from the "tourist" area to find a place to eat, we started to see more and more cats roaming around. Now, in Mexico, it's widely known that you'll see a lot of dogs roaming around. And as we moved farther into the town, we noticed that there were cats everywhere... If you used the word, "infestation," you wouldn't be wrong. As we sat down to eat we noticed that the cats would even come up and either take the empty chair next to you, lay under your table or climb up on your table and sit with you while you ate.

I. Kid. You. Not. Cats. Everywhere.

More times than not, however, the towns that we visited were largely what I expected... until we got to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was an interesting mix between old school Middle East, and suburb-like shopping/dining areas. The "Old City," as it is called, is behind giant-like walls. The Old City looked literally like a Disney backlot. There were many things about Jerusalem that I didn't expect. I didn't expect to go out at night, into the local areas to eat and hang out, and see people walking around with M-16's. I didn't expect to experience how segregated Jerusalem felt... to literally walk by people and looked at with hatred.

Expectations

Then, there was a time where we went to visit a location near Bethlehem that was talked about in the Bible.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:8-11

The shepherds fields. It's part of the Christmas story. I've read it many times. It's been told to me many times. In my head, as I pictured it, I expected the shepherds fields to look like something I'd see in the States. Green grassy fields. Instead, what I saw is in the photo that you can see at the top of this blog post. Across the trees. Across the construction area. The brownish, yellowish area is the shepherds fields.

It was totally NOT what I was expecting.

And in the same area, thousands of years ago, the shepherds experienced something they didn't expect. Imagine that you are one of the shepherds. Night after night you watch over your sheep. It's what you do. Night after night after night after night. No city lights like we know today. Just stars shining in a darkened night sky. The shepherds, living life... doing the same thing they've always done.

Expectations

"Then out of nowhere, an angel of the Lord stood before them. They weren't expecting this to happen. The Bible says that the shepherds were terrified. And the angel says to them, "Do not be afraid."

God's like that. He'll show up when we're not expecting it. We're living life. Working. Running kids to and from activities. And God shows up. Maybe we're in a spot where we're terrified. Covid. The coming election. Riots. Fires. Cancer and sickness. And like with the shepherds in the fields, God shows up and says,

Do not be afraid.

God has a habit of showing up when we least expect Him. He showed up to the shepherds in their fields. He showed up in a manager in Bethlehem. He showed up to Moses in a burning bush. He showed up to Peter after Jesus was crucified on a cross. I don't know what's going on in your life, but God wants to show up to you in a time and place you may not be expecting... in your marriage, your job, your family, your relationships, your health... your life.

God has a habit of showing up when we least expect Him and looking like something we weren't expecting. As you are... have eyes to see Him... Have ears to hear Him...

And do not be afraid... God will show up before you at a time you might not be expecting Him.


Not Yet

Coffee

It’s the one drink that I HAVE to have in the morning. Brewed. With caramel macchiato creamer… latte… and in the summer time, cold brew.

With the hot coffee, other than a few minutes, I can start drinking it almost right away. But with cold brew, I have to wait. You see, with cold brew, it takes approximately 24 hours to make. From the time I put the grounds in the cold-brew pitcher, to serving time, is 24 hours.

This last batch, Morgan wanted some. So when she asked if she could go get it from the fridge , I said, “Not yet.” It wasn’t ready. It still had time to brew left.

Life can be like that too.

“Not yet,” God says.

You had life all planned out. Your dreams all dreamt up. Maybe from the time you were a little kid…

The type of job you’d have. The type of guy or girl you’d marry. The amount of money you’d make. The family you’d start.

Dreams. Plans. Ambitions. Goals. And… then… God says,

“Not yet.”

Our dreams. Our plans. Our prayers. They’re often what we live our lives by. But too many times, what we are living… our current reality… is far from what we’d wish it were.

“Not yet.”

These aren’t words that I wanted to hear as a kid. And still, as an adult, these are not the words that I want to hear from the lips of God either. Our goals. Our plans. Our dreams. Our desires. We want them now… because we really believe that we are ready for them now.

To become the leader. To start that business. To build that ministry or career. To get married and/or to start a family. We want all of these things so badly… right now. And in the quiet, even dark-like moments God says, “Not yet.”

And you’re left wondering… “Why?” “Why God?”

There was another guy who I’m sure felt the same way. Joseph, in Genesis chapter 37, he had a couple of dreams… dreams from God. And he told his brothers,

Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine. Genesis 37:5-7

And like any great brothers would do, they said, “So you’re going to boss us around!?” And the Bible tells us that they hated him more than ever because of his dreams. Not taking the hint, Joseph told them another dream. This one he said that he dreamt that the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. His brothers became more jealous and after he told his father, his father reprimanded him.

These dreams that Joseph had… to be a leader of a great nation. A dream from God. What did God say?

“Not yet Joseph.”

Joseph’s dream was put on hold. He had to wait. Not only did he have to wait, he had to do it in a cistern first after his brothers threw him in there. Then he had to do it from a jail cell. Year after year after year after year Joseph had to wait.

“Not yet”

From 17 to 30. Joseph had to wait. God had a different road for Joseph to travel. It wasn’t a road that Joseph planned on taking. It wasn’t one that he ever prepared for. Joseph could have lost hope. That would have been the easier option. But Joseph didn’t lose hope. Instead, he persevered and served God. And when he was able to face his brothers, the very people who sold him into slavery, he said,

“So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.”

Even though God said, “Not yet,” Joseph still held on to the hope that God offers. God’s “Not yet” aren’t meant to crush our dreams… our hopes… no, His “Not yet” allows us time to grow more before we have what it takes to fulfill them.

God’s “Not yet” isn’t there to discourage us from our hopes and dreams. It’s there to make us depend on God and develop our faith in times of unknown and struggle.

Joseph came out stronger, more humble and with greater faith because of God’s “Not yet.” He was tested and tried before his dreams were fulfilled. And God does the exact same for you… for me.

It’s never easy when God tells us, “Not yet.” But that doesn’t mean that we should lose faith… that we should lose hope. Instead, we can do the three things that Joseph did…

Continue to Wait on God and His timing. (Psalm 27:14)

Continue to Trust God and that His timing is better than ours. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

And Stay on the right path that God has for your life. (Psalm 17:6)

Just like the cold brew I make, if we take it out before it's ready, it isn't as good as it could be if I would have simply waited the appropriate time. God's plan for our lives is the same. He says, "Not yet," because He wants us to be fully ready for the blessings He has in store for us.

Don’t mistake God’s patience for His absence. His timing is perfect, and His presence is constant. He’s always with you. Deuteronomy 31:6


Dusty Souls

I love sitting around the fire pit at night.

The whole process. Scavenging for kindling. Setting up the wood. Placing the paper and fire starters in the pit. Me and the boy doing it together. Lighting it up and working it till we have a good fire going.

There’s something about being around the fire. Sitting there. Eating S’mores. Laughing. Talking. It’s a special place of communion together. Where we experience the presence of each other. Whether it’s with family or friends, you can always tell when you’ve sat around a fire because you are covered in the smoke.

It doesn’t matter if it’s blowing directly on you or not. When you sit close to the fire, you are eventually covered in the smell of the smoke.

It’s unavoidable really. It permeates your clothes. It gets all over. Your shoes. Your hat. Your hair. Your skin. When you’ve been sitting at the fire, the smoke covers you and anyone who comes around you that hasn’t been sitting at the fire knows it immediately.

There’s another thing about sitting around a fire pit… the one who makes the fire invites the rest to come and sit around it.

There’s an invitation to sit and commune and to be covered in the smoke of the experience.

Moses had a similar experience where he was invited to communion around a fire… communion with God. In Exodus, chapter 19, the Bible tells us that Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because God descended on it in fire. And what does God say to Moses?

God sends out an invitation to Moses.

God invites Moses to the top of Mount Sinai to meet with Him in the smoke… to commune with God Himself. And I bet, when Moses returned to the people in the camp, the holy smoke of that mountain had permeated everything… His clothes. His skin. His hair. Everything.

It was clear that he had met with God.

Let me explain it a little differently…

Fast forward a few hundred years…

Rob Bell said it like this… Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, living in a first century Jewish world. The Jewish people where Jesus lived believed that God had spoken to Moses and had given him the first five books of the Old Testament… they call these first five books the Torah. Torah was the foundation of their lives and was the focus of their education.

Most Jewish children around the age of six would go to school for the first time to start to learn learn the Torah who was taught by a local rabbi. This first level of education would last until the children were around 10 years old. Most kids would memorize the Torah and by age 10 would know it by heart. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy. All memorized.

By 10 years of age, most children would end their education and begin to learn a job… maybe the family business or how to manage a household. But the best students would keep going in their education. These kids were the best of the best. In this next level of their education, these students would memorize the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures… Genesis through Malachi.

By the end of this next level of education, most of these students would be learning the family trade or another business. But the best of the best of these students would try to continue and would have to go to a rabbi and would apply to that rabbi to become one of his disciples.

When we think of disciple, we think of someone who simply knows what the teacher has taught. To learn what the teacher has to teach us.

But being a disciple is much, much deeper than that.

A disciple doesn’t simply want to know what the teacher (rabbi) has to say. A disciple in the first  century wants to be like the rabbi and wants to learn to do what the rabbi does.

So the rabbi would grill these students who would come before him to see if they had what it took to be his disciple. And if the rabbi thought the student had what it took, he would say to the student…

Come, follow me.

So at around the age of 15, that student would leave everything… family, friends, village… and would devote their entire life to being like their rabbi… to do what he does. This is what it means to be a disciple.

Now the rabbi’s in the first century didn’t just stay in one location. They would travel from village to village. From town to town down these hot and dusty roads. So as a disciple, by the end of the day, as you try to keep up with your rabbi down these hot and dusty roads, you’re filthy. So a saying developed that you would say to a disciple of a rabbi…

May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.

As a disciple, what covered your rabbi covered you. Whatever your rabbi walked through, you walked through. The dust that your rabbi kicked up, landed on you. It was evidence that you were your rabbi’s disciple.

I wonder… how many of us… really don’t want to smell like smoke or get dusty.

Sure, we want the S’mores. We want that marshmallow. We want to hang out in the house or the yard. We want the benefits, but we don’t want to smell like smoke. We want peace. We want grace. We want blessings. But we don’t want the smoke of the fire. We don’t want to get dusty.

You see, the burning of the wood gives off energy and light. It’s getting rid of what was and gives light to what’s new. God says come around the fire and commune with Him. And when we do, the evidence of meeting with Him will be in our lives. We want the benefits, but we don’t want the smell of the smoke of what God is getting rid of in our lives.

When we walk with Jesus and follow Him, but we don’t want the dust that He kicks up to land on us. But when Jesus moves, He certainly kicks up dust.

Here’s the problem, and I’ve done this too many times… we try to live our lives and add faith to our life. We try to make it a simple mathematical equation… we try to add faith and maybe subtract something else.

We try to add God to our life when He wants TO BE our life.

We want to add God, but we don’t want to live a wholly sacrificial life to God that makes us smell like smoke as we give our lives over to Him. We don’t want to be wholly devoted to Jesus and follow Him so closely that we are covered in His dust.

We don’t want to smell like smoke or be dusty… but what if that’s where Jesus really is. Just like the disciples in the first century, when you’re walking that closely with the rabbi, you’re gonna get dusty. There are things in our life that need to be burnt up and dusted up. There are things that we’ve gotten comfortable with that He will kick up. And our lives will begin to smell like smoke because God is working and moving in our life.

The question is,

Will you sit by the fire with God?

Will you walk so closely with Jesus that you’ll be covered in the dust of the Rabbi?

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16-18


The Battle Isn't Over

I. Love. History.

There. I said it. If you know anything about me, you know that I absolutely love history. It was my favorite subject from elementary school to seminary.

Math? Not so much. But I love history. From reading about it in books... to watching documentaries... to walking in the very places that existed hundreds to thousands of years ago.

Over the last year, I've gotten to walk in the steps of some historical places. From Fort Sumter in South Carolina, to Mount Vernon in Virginia, to the Valley of Armageddon in Israel, which is where this photo was taken.

As you look at the photo now, what you see is a fertile land where crops like wheat, corn, tobacco, cotton and millet are grown. It's hard to believe that over 200 battles have been fought on this very land. But there is a weight to this land. The first reported battle on earth took place here in the 15th century BC. From there, Jezebel and King Josiah were killed in this valley. Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Ottomons here in 1799. There was even a World War One battle fought in this very valley.

But you wouldn't know it by simply looking at the surface without knowing the history.

There's another thing about this valley. Megiddo is a place where people have built upon ruins for generations... at least 26 layers of civilization make up the "hill" dating all the way back to 4500 BC. 26 layers of ruins.

There's one more thing about this valley. It's the most notable. Armageddon is synonymous with the end of days. Even if you have no knowledge of the Bible, people think of Armageddon as the events that take place when the earth ends.

"Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed." Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!" Revelation 16:15-17

This isn't just a battle to end the earth. No. This is a battle where God fights for His creation. In a final battle God is getting rid of the old to prepare for the new. Getting rid of all the evil... all the hurt... all the pain. It's God fighting for His creation.

I don't know who needs to read this today... God knows I need to be reminded from time to time...

God. Is. Fighting. For. You.

He has fought FOR you in years past. He will fight FOR you in the future. And, read this... He is currently fighting FOR you right now. Many of us are walking around looking like the Valley of Armageddon today... all green and beautiful. But what can't be seen, are the 26 layers of ruin that our life is built upon... the hurt, the pain, the harmful decisions, the choices that hurt other people...

And God sees that, and says "I'll fight FOR you and make you new again."

God says I see all the wars you've fought. The battles you've encountered. The layers of ruin. And He wants you to know that He's still fighting FOR you.

The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as He did in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. Deuteronomy 1:30, 31

I don't know what wars you've fought. I don't know that battles you're fighting, or the layers of ruin that's been built. But I do know that God is fighting FOR you... hear that today and trust Him.


False Sense of Safety

We love driving our Jeep with the top and doors off.

There's just something about riding in a vehicle and watching the pavement speed by. I used to drive a delivery truck for Ziker Cleaners when I was in college for extra money and would drive with the door open so I could hang my foot out. There's just something fun about it.

The other week we hung out at our friend's house after a leadership conference. As we were walking out to our Jeep, their then seven year old daughter followed us out, walked through their front yard and proceeded to climb in the backseat. She didn't say a word. Just climbed in and buckled her seat belt.

"Well, I guess you're coming with us," I said, as we proceeded to drive off with her in our backseat much to this little girl's surprise. "What!? Where are we going?" As we drove away I told her that we needed to pick Carter and Morgan up from their practices and then we would bring her back home. (I don't think she really thought we'd take off with her in the Jeep... but we did.) 😂😂😂

As we were driving she was throwing out questions while she was trying to keep her hair from whipping her in the face.

"What happens if we get into an accident?"

"Well, we have a roll bar so you'll want to keep your hands up by your shoulders... kind of like if you hug yourself."

"How fast are you going!?"

"100 miles per hour..." Her response... "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!? 100 miles per hour!" (We really were only driving 45mph.)

Then Jami jumps in... "Todd, she's only seven."

Then there was a bit of quiet as she tried to keep the hair out of her face.

Then she asked one final question...

"What happens if they start shooting at us, I don't feel safe!?"

"What!? Who's shooting at us? Who are "THEY?" And why are THEY shooting at us? You're seven? Who's shooting at a seven year old? What type of work are you in? SHOOTING AT US? WHAT?"

Her response... "There's no doors!"

What? Doors won't stop bullets I tell her. Which blew her mind. She thought she was safe in a car from people shooting at her because of the doors. But doors don't stop bullets. When she thought she was safe, she really wasn't. Sure, she could duck. Or not get involved with people who would need to shoot at her in the first place. She could make choices that would help make her more safe. But believing that car doors would simply stop bullets isn't true. It's a false sense of security and it took a ride in a vehicle with no doors to make her realize that.

I still don't know why this seven year old would think someone would be shooting at her... is she pushing cocaine? Is she working for the mob? Is she a spy? Needless to say, we picked up Carter and Morgan and returned this girl back to her parents safe and sound... with no shots ringing out.

But this Jeep ride got me thinking a bit... well, the seven year old got me thinking.

How often do we run through life thinking we're safe? We're in control? And then BAM...

Covid hits.

We get laid off of work.

Kids start school at home on the computer.

We or someone we know gets seriously sick.

And we realize that we've been living in this false reality that we might be in control... in a false sense of security... like car doors would actually stop bullets. When in reality, there's a lot that we don't control.

I don't know why bad things happen... why some people get sick and others don't... why life is really hard sometimes. Sure, sometimes it's because of the choices we make and we bring it on ourselves. But there are things that happen that are outside of the control that we thought we had. 2020 has shown us all and given us plenty of examples.

It's easy to get caught up in life... when things are going well... when things are going as planned... "We've got it all under control" we think. And then boom... you get in a car with no top and no doors and you start to wonder "what happens if they start shooting at us" only to find out that even if you have doors, the bullets will still impact the inside of the car.

For a lot of us, 2020 has been kinda like riding in a car with no top or doors. We've fully come to realize that, as human beings and parents, that most of what happens to us is out of our control. Sure, we can make good decisions and place ourselves in better positions... but in the end, those are just doors. Ultimately, we don't and can't live in total, complete safety.

So the question is...

Where does your hope come from? What do you place your hope in?

Our hope comes from God. May  He fill you with joy and peace because of your trust in Him. May your hope grow stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

When we put our hope in our leaders, or our relationships or our health, we will for sure be let down. People will let us down. Our health can fail us. Money can run out. Safety in our eyes won't stop bullets from penetrating our cars. But there is one who won't let us down. There is one whom we can trust. Jesus is his name... it's in him where our hope should be... the giver of life. I pray this for my life... and I pray it for your life.

Will this make our problems go away? Hardly so. But it will change our outlook on life's circumstances. This isn't a rose-colored glasses kind of outlook. It's an outlook of hope IN SPITE OF the circumstances that we face. It's the kind of hope that changes what you post on social media. It's the kind of hope that changes your words. It's the kind of hope that fills you with hope and peace. And it's this hope that I'm praying that will impact my life and yours.

There's one more question I want to ask my already believing friends... where does your hope come from regarding those you disagree with? It's a question I had to face. Those that I really, truly disagree with regarding everything that's going on in our world and culture today. It's a question that will be answered by simply looking at how we interact with the very people I was just talking about.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we can see what hope really looks like regarding those that we disagree with. The very man that would betray him, Judas, had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus the night before his betrayal. The man who would deny Jesus three times had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus.

Do the people whom you disagree with, maybe even dislike, have a seat at your dinner table? Are they welcome?