Us vs Them

2020 has been a year of many things... most of all, it's becoming a year of "Us vs Them".

  • Us vs Republicans
  • Us vs Democrats
  • Us vs mask wearers
  • Us vs non-mask wearers
  • Us vs the police
  • Us vs Black Lives Matter
  • Us vs teachers
  • Us vs Fauci
  • Us vs Trump
  • Us vs Biden
  • Us vs AOC
  • Us vs governors
  • Us vs people who kneel for the National Athem
  • ... on, and on, and on we could go.

Us vs Them

It's truly an unfortunate place we are in... the Us vs Them mentality. Everywhere you look, it's Us vs Them. Everyone's been pushing this mentality. I've been guilty of it. And I understand where it comes from... at least with me. You see an injustice. You hear lies. You witness the destruction of people's lives. And it confuses you. Then it frustrates you. As you see more, it makes you angry. Then, as you watch tv and scan the internet and social platforms, you see other's comments. You see more lies and injustice and destruction. And the voices you listen to paint this picture of the Us vs Them mentality.

It's, if you're not for us, then you're against us. The Us vs Them mentality takes us to all out war. That's what you're seeing when you walk through the stores in your community. The looks of disgust at the signs requiring masks. The mask-shaming from those who wear their masks perfectly towards those that either don't wear them how you think they should or even wear them at all. You see it when grown adults scream at little kids in a grocery store and tell them that the person with the mask on hopes they will die. You see it when people who wear masks in their cars get made fun of. You see it when a white supremacist punches a lady. You see it when someone who votes for Trump is called a racist for no reason. You see it when people make posts and rants about those that choose to kneel for the National Anthem. You see it in the debate about going back to school from teachers and parents alike. You see it when people scream racist remarks at black officers at the protests. You see it in our politicians... both left and right. Local and federal. You see it on the "news" channels... both left and right... national and local.

You see it everywhere.

It's no wonder that as we look out into humanity today that very few of us sees humanity as human beings. Instead... we see each other as enemies. It's no wonder that as we look out into our cities, that we see destruction and despair. We've allowed it to be created. You. Me. Each one of us. We've allowed it to take shape and be built into what it was... into what it now is.

The Us vs Them mentality...

It's destructive. And it's not how we're designed to live. Unfortunately, there are far too many people that are pushing this type of mentality. And we need to run far away from those people who are looking to push this crap into our brains.

  • Shaun King
  • Tucker Carlson
  • Joe Biden
  • Trump
  • Don Lemon
  • Pelosi
  • Ben Shapiro
  • ...

The list could literally go on and on. The Us vs Them voices are everywhere on both sides. It's what makes good tv. It's what creates the most shares and likes. And it's much easier to destroy others than it is to build them up. The message of 2020 is quite literally...

Us vs Them

And we need to run FAR from these voices. Refuse to listen. The very people who tell us it's Us vs Them aren't trying to unite anyone. They aren't trying to bring harmony to humanity. They're trying to bring war between neighbors. It's not an agenda of peace. It's an agenda of power. Each one of them.

Socialism isn't the biggest issue in society. Racism isn't the biggest issue in society. Democrats. Republicans. None of this is the biggest issue in our society.

The biggest issue in society right now...

The Us vs Them mentality.

We need to refuse to listen to those that push this mentality. We need to silence them by coming together. It's not Us vs Them. It has never been designed to be that way. It's me for you. You for me. It's being FOR each other. Swallowing our pride. It's listening to each other's fears and scars. It's hearing each other out. It's not assuming someone's a racist. It's knowing that black lives do matter and not having to bookend it with a, "but all lives matter too." It's denouncing violence against our nation's police officers. And it's understanding that when someone kneels during the National Anthem, they are expressing their freedom of speech. It's speaking out against those that are rioting.

It's me. Understanding you. And you understanding me. It's coming together to call evil for what it is. And it's valuing and loving every life as a human being.

It's the first week of August. The second half of the year has just gotten started. Let's redefine this year from Us vs Them to...

Me FOR You... building everyone up together.


Perspective Matters

2020. What can you say.

You were supposed to be a cool year. We had cool New Year glasses made to wear. We made cool resolutions to enter the cool New Year.

2020

It just rings off the tip of your tongue.

Big year. Big expectations. Ready. Set. Go... straight to a screeching halt. Little did we know when we were all ringing in the New Year that two months down the road everything... and I mean EVERYTHING would look nothing like we expected.

Expectations. We all have them. We certainly had them for 2020. And, being a parent for the last 15 years, I know we as parents have them for our children and our family. We expected that our kids would be in school. That the soccer season would take place. We expected to go to nationals for Morgan's dance team. And those are just a few small expectations.

Instead, soccer games were canceled. Dance competitions didn't happen. Everything shut down and we were stranded in our home for months.

Instead of living in fear... Instead of living in disappointment... we chose to look at this experience as a time where we could come together as a family. To spend this time bonding and looking inward together and building up our relationships together. Sure, there was a time when we were disappointed. But we didn't live there.

Having expectations is a good thing. Expectations in and of themselves are good. We should certainly have them in every area of our lives. But there are times, like we're living in now, when our expectations have the potential to derail our lives and our mental health, especially when we have expectations without perspective.

When reality doesn't match our expectations, it's easy to get angry or sad, to stay in the funk of disappointment. That's what happens when we don't have perspective alongside our expectations.

Expectations without perspective leads to life derailment.

It's normal to experience sadness and anger and frustration when expectations aren't met. 2020 might not be what we wanted it to be. It's definitely not what we expected. Fear. Disappointment. Sadness. Anger. Hopelessness. These are all words that have defined 2020.

These words are the definition of expectation without perspective. These are real emotions that we all experience. But we can't live there. Perspective helps us move on. Perspective helps us see to the other side and helps give us the ability to move beyond our circumstances.

Perspective matters. 

How you see the world. How you see others. How you see your life and your circumstances matters. It literally directs your emotions. It directs your life. It's what keeps us on track or get back on a path that leads to hopefulness and joy... even in the middle of chaos and destruction.

Fear. Disappointment. Sadness. Anger. Hopelessness. With perspective, these words can be turned into... Courage. Encouragement. Joy. Hopefulness.

Perspective matters.

What 2020 has taught me more than any year is this...

The only thing I can control is my perspective. I control how I look at my circumstances and the world around me. It's also taught me that I need help in keeping the right perspective.

I can't do it alone.

But, if I surround myself with the right people and pursue God, the alignment of my perspective will be on target.

Jesus had the opportunity to look at his world and humanity and be depressed. He was being beaten and persecuted... He was being called a liar... He was accused... all of it was not justified. They hung him on a criminal's cross even though He didn't deserve to be killed.

But He chose a perspective to look at the world and humanity with compassion and hopefulness.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

There is hope. There is a perspective that we can choose that is only found in the hope of Jesus and encouraged by the people we surround ourselves with.

2020 definitely hasn't aligned with what I expected it to be. I thought it would look differently. But we've chosen as a family to take advantage of our circumstances and fill our lives and relationships with hope, instead of letting our circumstances take advantage of us.

We all have a choice... will we be filled with hopelessness... or hopefulness...

It all depends on our perspective.


Spiders and the Web of Fear

So, I'm driving home the other day...

It was a great day to drive home with my car windows down. Radio was up. I was singing... loudly. The people in the car next to me were staring as I pulled up to a stop light. As I was in the middle of doing a drum solo on my steering wheel, this little thing caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. As it was running across my windshield, out of reach of my wipers, I audibly said, "Noooo," in a slow motion type of voice. (At least that's what it sounded like to me.) At that point, it was a race. A race to see if I could get my windows up faster than a spider could get inside my car. Luckily for me, I won. The spider was denied entrance into my vehicle.

But for the next 40 minutes, on my way home, I chose to drive with my windows up. I really wanted to enjoy the weather. I so wanted to have my windows down to enjoy the fresh air. But I let a fear of spiders win out. I let the fear of something so small prevent me from doing something I really wanted to do.

I've noticed something, I've let this happen in other areas of my life as well. I've let fear be the determining factor in whether or not I do something I know God is asking me to do. I've let fear prevent me from trying new things. I've let fear prevent me from being the person that God's called me to be. I've seen it in my kids, Carter and Morgan. I've seen it happen in the lives of students. And it sucks. Because, in the end, for me at least, I look back in disappointment and sadness. I look back with regret. But, that's what fear does. It traps us in its sticky web and sucks the life out of us.

You see...

I could have crushed the spider had he entered my car. He was a lot smaller than me. It wouldn't have even been a match. But I let fear rule my world for that 40 minutes. And I've let fear rule my world in bigger areas of my life and endeavors.

But, here's the thing...

God can crush whatever we're afraid of - whatever fear that holds us captive. But we've got to open the window and let God do what God does. Because that fear, whatever it is, is a lot smaller than God. It's not even a match.

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified) 

Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:3-4 (NIV)

One last thing... I've noticed that when I'm letting fear rule my life, I'm making it out to be about me. When in reality, this life isn't about me - it's about God. Everything I have... everything I have to offer... talents and abilities... comes from God. And when I turn my focus off of me and focus on God, my fear turns off.


The Right Tool

I've had a couple of cars in my time that needed a "specialty tool" to open things up.

The last car that needed a "specialty tool" was our Honda Civic. It was a great car. It served us well. But I needed a pair of pliers, specifically needle nose pliers, to open the hood to this car.

The thing that you would typically pull to open a car hood had broken. So, if I didn't have these pliers, I couldn't open the hood.

It's a tool that's not typically thought of to open the hood of a car. Yet, it's the only tool that would open my car's hood. I knew this, because I drove that car. It was my car. You wouldn't have necessarily known that you needed to use something different to open up my car's hood unless you looked closely. I only knew how to open it up because I was in it everyday, I knew my car and what it needed to open it up.

And, here's the thing...

This is true when it comes to students... when it comes to our own kids. Each student is different. You can't always use the same tools on every student you come in contact with. Morgan is very different from Carter. I can't talk to them the same way. The words I use. The tone. The jokes. If I want to connect with both of them, I need to find what works with them. How I like to connect isn't necessarily the same for Carter or Morgan.

You have to use what works. You have to work to find connection points. Connection points that are ever changing... because our students and kids are growing up. And the only way to know that, is to get to know your students. To take the time to get to know our ever-changing kids. To look closely into their lives and be with them.

If you do that, you'll discover what you need to open up their lives to you. I can't promise that it will be easy or that it won't take time. It's tough. It's hard. Sometimes you'll be frustrated. But as parents, as youth leaders, it's our job to not give up. It's our job to push forward and to love them through the tough points. Because in the end, everything that is worth it is rarely easy. And if nothing else, take heart in knowing you're not alone. Keep pushing. They're worth it.


The Rosco P. Coltrane Hot Pursuit

I love the Duke's of Hazzard.

Especially Rosco P. Coltrane, when he says, "I'm in hot pursuit!"

The dude is hilarious. But all too often, I find I'm just like him... chasing hard after something I really want.

As I was looking at the 10 Commandments before Covid, it hit me...

"I am so worn out. Just exhausted."

Now this could be the result of a couple of things...

Lack of sleep. Not eating right. Lack of exercise. Work schedule plus the kids' activity schedule.

But more times than not, it's because

I'm

Not

Following

The

First Commandment...

"You must not have any other god but Me." - Exodus 20:3 

More times than not, when I'm exhausted, it's because I'm chasing after other gods in my life other than the One True God.

-Acceptance from my kids
-Success in my job
-Success with money
-Performance in a sport
-Parenting my kids

The list could go on and on. And it's a list of a hot pursuit of "other gods" - Like Rosco chasing after the Duke Boys... I get exhausted chasing something I rarely ever catch.

But...

The 10 Commandments isn't simply a list of do's and don'ts - right's and wrongs - laws... it's a glimpse into the heart of God. God doesn't want me to simply keep Him first (whatever that means) because He's got a big ego, He wants me to pursue Him because that pursuit brings life and not exhaustion.

So what's your "Rosco P. Coltrane" hot pursuit?

Why not switch it up and get in hot pursuit with God?


I Don't Like this Song

Morgan loves riding in the Jeep... like LOVES it.

If it's nice out, she wants to ride everywhere in it, especially to her dance classes. And not only does she want to ride in it, we have to have the radio up loud... especially when we pull up to drop her off.

So yesterday, as we got closer to dropping her off, it became apparent that Morgan "needed" the right song to roll up on. As we approached the last two stoplights, wrong song after wrong song came on. Then commercials. What were we going to do?

As we rolled through the last green light, in my mind I thought, "Well, if we don't have a good song, I'll just drive down the street and turn around... we have time for that." I pushed a button that played a song... "Dad, I don't like that song. It's boring." I pushed another button, "No dad, not that song." As I pushed the third button I realized it was a commercial, so I kept going past her dance studio.

"Dad, you just passed my studio." As I turned in the next entrance, I said, "Uhhhhhhh, I know Morgan. I was trying to pull up with a song on." At which point I pushed the button back to the first station to which she said, "Oh ya! I love this song, let's go." I shook my head, laughed and reminded her that she just said that she didn't like this song because it was boring.

But we kept it on as we pulled up to drop her off... unfortunately for her, nobody was out front as we pulled in to an empty parking lot. It was all for nothing...

We just shook our head and laughed. There really was no other response. It's kinda like when your toddler likes peanut butter and jelly one day, then the next they hate it. I can be like that at times. Everyone can really. Changing your mind isn't a bad thing necessarily. It's simply knowing what you want and what you don't want.

It's ok when it comes to things like this. But when it comes to commitments, not so much. That's one thing as parents Jami and I try to get our kids to understand. When you commit to something, you either finish it out, or you better have a great reason why you need to end the commitment... then end it respectfully. Too many times we try to take the easy way out of the commitments we make... whether it's with work, a sports team, a commitment with a friend or a relationship commitment.

It seems like "changing your mind" is a strength when it comes to commitments. But that's just not true. With where the world is at today, one of the things that Jami and I want our kids to learn, is the honor of following through with the commitments one makes. It's not easy all the time, but it's a legacy that is important to leave behind.


Handcuffed to the Garage

Growing up, we used to stay out late playing in the neighborhood.

I know! Kids actually played outside! At night! Until we were exhausted! Some nights it was Ghost in the Graveyard. Other nights it was Kick the Can. Still, other nights, we simply climbed trees and stayed out talking about anything and everything.

One of the favorite games we played in the neighborhood was, "Guns." There were a lot of kids in our neighborhood. Me and my two younger brothers would go knock on doors to get everyone gathered up. Each kid would bring their toy gun. Some would make noises and some wouldn't. That was ok because it simply meant that the shooting noise would simply be made with our mouth.

Once we got everyone gathered, it was time to pick teams. The three Ruth boys would always be on one team. And we'd have a few more to pick. Once teams were set, each team would part their ways and find their home base. Once each team had their base, the game was on.

It. Was. A. Blast. We felt like we were hunting the enemy. We'd crawl on the ground from bush to bush. We'd hide in unlocked cars that weren't our parents. Hiding under front porches that weren't our homes was just fine too. Then, once the enemy walked by, we'd jump out and... "Pew" "Pew" "Pew." Ok, that's not actually the sound I would make... that's impossible to type here. But we'd jump out and shoot the enemy, then take them back to our base because it just happened to be a flesh wound and not a shot to the head.

During more times than not, out base was our garage that was behind our house and opened up to the alley. It wasn't attached to our house, and it had windows on three sides. Once we had the captured enemy at our base, the interrogation began.

Where are your teammates?

Where are they hiding?

Where is your base?

Unfortunately for this enemy combatant, he didn't feel like answering. So, like any smart (and cold-hearted) soldier, we took his handcuffs off (he was handcuffed with his hands in the back), and placed them back on so that his hands were in front of him. Now you might think we were being nice. You would be wrong. We did that so that he could raise his hands above his head.

This wasn't a move of generosity. No. We needed to be able to hook his handcuffed hands to the garage door. You might be thinking we didn't want him to escape when we left to find the other enemies. Again, you'd be wrong. You see, we asked him very specific questions. Easy questions. Questions he refused to answer. So to get him to tell us where his base was, we hooked his handcuffed hands to the garage and began to slowly lift the garage door up.

"Where's your base?" No answer? Ok. Raise the garage door. "Where's your base?" Nothing again? Ok. We raised it again. This kid's feet were nearly five feet off the ground before he told us where his base was. After he told us, we lowered the garage door but kept him hooked up until we were able to confirm it was true. Once we did, we took the base and won that game.

That kid didn't speak to us for some time. But it was worth it, we won that game. And when we captured someone else and asked where their base was, they answered right away after that game.

Looking back on those times is fun. We didn't really hurt anyone... badly. But remembering stories like this gets me thinking a little bit...

You see, this kid could have been released from the handcuffs right away if he would have simply answered the questions we had for him. How many times in my life have I handcuffed myself by the decisions I've made. Because I've been stubborn. Because I've been selfish. Because I wanted things my way. Sometimes, we handcuff ourselves in life. Sometimes it's our fault. Handcuffs like when we fight with our spouse or our children.

We've all handcuffed ourselves at some point or another. But the beautiful thing is, as long as you have breath, you still have a chance to remove those handcuffs by God's grace. While people may give up on us, God never will. He can free us from the handcuffs we've placed on our own wrists when we place our faith and trust in Him.

"He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness and broke away their chains." Psalm 107:14


Stone Pillars

I love pillars. Pillars on homes. Pillars on buildings. Pillars on monuments.

It's one of the many reason's I love going to Washington D.C. There's just something strong and beautiful about them. When you look at the Jefferson Memorial, you can't help but notice its pillars. I had the opportunity to chaperone Carter's 8th grade trip to DC where I captured the photo above of the Washington Monument... side note, if you have the opportunity to chaperone your kid's trip, do it... it's time well spent for sure.

But Washington D.C. isn't the only place where you will find pillars. Check this out:

"I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of truth." 1 Timothy 3:14-15

There's deep meaning in the word, "Pillar."

Pillars are strong.

They stand for something.

Pillars are noticeable.

They stand out.

Pillars are beautiful.

They're majestic.

There's deep meaning in the word, "Pillar."

Paul, the writer of 1 Timothy, tells us that the church of the living God is a pillar of truth.

My question is...

What are you a pillar of?

At your job.

In your marriage.

In your relationships with your friends...

And kids.

What are you a pillar of?

Truth? Love? Peace?

The world... your coworkers... your children... my children... need us to be pillars that are described in 1 Timothy.

We all stand for something. We are all noticed. We're all pillars...

The question is...

What are you a pillar of?


Leave It Better

I got a lot of speeches when I was growing up...

Jami and I were having a discussion while on one of our walks a couple of days ago. And during the discussion, we realized that we haven't hit the topic in question hard enough with our own kids. It's an action that if taken, shows that you as a person cares and that you're thoughtful and mature.

It's easily taught through teaching moments with our kids. I taught it and modeled it every day when I was leading a Boys and Girls Club site. But I've failed to do this with my own kids.

When I was growing up, my dad would routinely model this behavior after each baseball practice or game. My mom modeled it when we went to a friend's home. It's super simple.

Leave it better than you found it.

It didn't matter if it was a park, a dugout or someone's home. Before we left, we always... always left it better than we found it. We didn't just put things back. If there was trash there before we arrived, we made sure to throw it away and leave the space cleaner, better than when we found it.

Today, this needs to apply to human life as well. Now, more than ever, people are leaving other people worse than before they met. I don't want to simply teach my kids to leave physical spaces better than they found it... as important as that is. It's even more important that we, as human beings, leave others better as we interact with them. I want others to say after they meet me and my family, that they are better off for interacting with us... that we've had a positive impact, and to...

Leave others better than before we met


The Slap Heard Around the Plane

I love watching other parents parent their children...

I really do. So when I saw this couple sit down in front of Jami and I with what looked like a five year old boy and a three year old boy on the plane ride back from vacation I was... well... excited.

I know, I know. I was a little nervous too. Because as the family walked down the aisle of the plane to find their seats it was clear who ran the show. But I was hoping that we didn't get the "screamer" type of children. And from the looks of it, I didn't think they were.

From the moment they sat down, the show was on... the dad couldn't get situated and put his things away before the demanding boss of a three year old demanded he get his iPad set up. "Billy," (real name not used), just wait sweetie. I need to put my bag above..." "Ok Billy, I need you to..." Father now leaves his bag in the aisle blocking the path for other passengers. "Is that the movie you want sweetie?" "Sir, I need you to put your bag away." Now coming from the flight attendant. The poor father's head looked like it was on a swivel.

The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful with the kids going back and forth between the aisle to get to the mother who was pretty much hands off.

Then came the landing in Chicago. The line up for landing was kind of bumpy. Seatbelts were supposed to be fastened. Three year old Billy was sitting on one side of the plane with dad and the five year old on the other side with mom. As the plane was getting ready to land, bumps and all, little Billy decided he didn't want to sit with dad anymore. "I want to sit with mom," Billy demanded. "No sweetie, you have to stay in your seat."

Billy wasn't having it. His demands getting louder the second and third time. "If you get out of your seat, you'll get in trouble with the flight attendant," dad said. Well, that only made little Billy angry. Now screaming at his dad, I could hear the sound of the metal clips beginning to unlatch. After unbuckling himself, Billy stands up in his seat and begins to walk towards his mom. His dad reaches out to grab him to pull him back, but somehow Billy escapes and dad gives up.

As little Billy crosses the aisle to mom, he begins to dance and sing, "Nah nah nah. I'm sitting with moooommmm." And the dad did nothing... worse, he just looked defeated. And in my head, I couldn't help but wonder what everyday living looked like for that family.

And I was able to get a glimpse 10 minutes later as we were waiting to get off the plane.

You see, Billy wasn't done. As we were all getting our things together, that family was trying to gather up their items as well. Mom needed to pack up her carryon bag but needed Billy to move. The problem... he wasn't moving. So, mom gave dad a look. And that look prompted dad to pick little Billy up. The problem... Billy didn't want to be picked up. So Billy said no and...

Billy

Slapped

His

Dad

In

His

Face

In my head I thought, "Daaaaaannnnnnngggggggg. Dad just got pimped slapped by a three year old." The slap was so hard that everyone three seats away from this father turned and looked, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Nothing. Nothing happened. He simply put him down and picked up his bag, and continued waiting for his wife to get her things together.

I don't know anything about this family other than what I witnessed on this flight. If I was forced to guess, I would say that their children run the house.

Then I started to think about my own kids, and me as a dad. I would have never allowed my kid to essentially Bi$#% slap me without a consequence (or a bodyslam in return). But I definitely don't have it all together. There are times where I say no only to give in later. There are times where I give consequences and then don't hold to them. Those times are few and far between, but they happen. Watching this reminded me how important it is to correct and hold my children accountable for their behavior each and every time. Consistent consequences are super important for children, and in the end, I need to do my best to help them become responsible adults... one day at a time, even when I get tired.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6