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.


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.


Lola the Lab

Hair In My Coffee

I love coffee.

I’m not a coffee snob. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Starbucks, Dunkin, or some really fancy coffee. But I really love coffee. I’m pretty sure I started drinking coffee when I was 12 years old. I’m 44 now. But I have to have it every morning and look forward to that first cup.

But every so often, I’ll take a drink of that first cup and it hits me… in that first sip of coffee was a Lola hair. One of our lab’s hair had gotten in my cup of coffee and I hadn’t even noticed it until it was in my mouth. And it’s all I can do to try and get it out.

Of course, then I need to look deep into my cup of coffee to check to see if there’s another one. Sometimes there is, and if I can get it out then great. But there are times when I try to remove it and I make it go deeper into the coffee. At that point, the entire cup of coffee goes right down the drain.

It’s crazy how the smallest of things can affect me. Lola’s hair is super small. But once it gets into my coffee or my mouth, that’s all I can focus on and it ruins the experience and joy of drinking that first cup.

Life can be like that too. At least for me at times. I’m walking through my day, happy as can be then boom, something usually small comes along and it becomes all I can focus on and I let that one little thing ruin the experience and joy of living.

And then after thinking about this off and on it hit me…

My focus is on the wrong thing.

I’m losing focus because I’m focusing on the little things when my focus should be on something so much larger. Check this out…

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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” - Luke 2:8-12

Jesus came. He was born in the countryside in an unknown manger. Jesus came so that we might have, not just life, but a rich and full life. (John 10:10) When my focus is off of Jesus and on the small things of life, it’s easy to lose joy. But Jesus came so that we could put the concern of those small things out of our life and live a life of purpose filled with true joy.

It’s easy to lose focus. It’s easy to let the small things ruin the outlook we have. Disappointment is a real thing. It’s a real emotion. But this Christmas, let Jesus take that disappointment on His shoulders. Give over the small things to Him and have joy that the Savior of the world has been born to you and me.

This Christmas, give your life to Jesus who came to this earth to bring joy and true life to you and me.

Merry Christmas


The wilderness in Israel

It's Not Normal

Man.

To say that these last ten months have been anything but normal would be an understatement. It’s easy to look back to see what “could have been” and get frustrated. It’s easy to look back and think about how “things should have been” and get angry.

Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!

Do you ever find yourself there? In that place? Screaming at the world. Yelling at God. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! None of this makes sense!

Why God!?

I don’t know if you’ve been here… in this place. But I have. Looking back, there may have been another person who found himself in the same spot as well. Check this out:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. - Matthew 1:18, 19

Can you imagine the thoughts that Joseph had? To be in that very situation? I wonder what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He and Mary’s situation wasn’t normal. It was far from normal. It wasn’t typically like this.

A baby? He hadn’t even touched her yet. They were married, but by Jewish custom, they hadn’t made it to the consummation part of their marriage. Did he scream at the world? Did he yell at God, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” Did he scream,

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

The Bible doesn’t say that. But because Joseph was a righteous man, he did consider divorcing Mary because he knew that the Jewish law placed her in a bad spot should the religious leaders think she had broken their law.

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

Because Jesus came into our world to break away from normal.

There was nothing normal about the way Jesus came into this world. A virgin birth? That’s not normal. It can only happen with the help of the Divine… from God Himself. And I think that’s what Jesus wants us to see this Christmas… to realize that He came into this world to break away from the normal…

I don’t know what your life was like 12 months ago. But as our world gains some clearance from this nonsense, Jami and I don’t want to go back to normal. We don’t want what was normal… to let ourselves get caught up in our busy schedules, running mindlessly around trying to make each appointment. Focusing on schedules and task lists.

Sure, our kids will go back to their activities. And that’s a good thing. Business will get busier. And that’s a good thing. But Jami and I don’t want what was normal. We valued our schedules and tasks way too much. If the last ten months has taught us anything it’s this…

The most important things in our lives is Jesus and each other. If everything goes away but we have Jesus and each other, then that is enough.

So as we head into the next year, our family is focused on being Jesus to each other and bringing Jesus to others. Jesus broke away from the normal in this one little birth between two human beings. And Jami and I want to follow in his example by bringing Jesus to the lives of others by breaking away from what we knew was normal.

Jesus came to break away from normal…

Will you? If so, comment how you’ll do this in this upcoming year.


Water and Ocean in Florida

What's In The Water

What's in the water?

We always find ourselves gravitating toward the beach slash water. Doesn’t matter where we’re at really. Michigan, Charleston, Folly Beach, Florida, California… We almost always end up near water.

It wasn’t always like that for me. I didn’t grow up with a pool or going swimming all of the time. I never even learned how to swim until after my 8th grade year in school. And that was only because I had nearly drown at one of my friend’s 8th grade graduation party.

Like kids do when they’re at a pool party, they began pushing others in. I didn’t even see it coming. I was standing near the edge of the pool talking one moment, and the next I found myself at the bottom of the deep end trying to frantically get back to the top and stay there. Had I not fallen in the pool near another kid, I may not be here today.

Needless to say, I made it a point to learn how to swim so I could feel safe and enjoy the time around any type of water, from a pool to a lake to an ocean.

In what I used to fear, I now seek out on a regular basis. Jami and I gravitate towards the water wherever we find ourselves. There’s just something that overcomes our souls as we soak in the water… whether it’s an ocean, Lake Michigan, the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River or in the mangroves on a paddle board.

Water played a huge role in the Bible. It’s mentioned a total of 722 times. It’s mentioned more than faith, hope, prayer and worship. Water was used to heal people. It was turned into wine. And it also turned into a meeting place of sorts…

Check this out:

Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” - John 4:4-14

There’s a lot going on in these passages of scripture. So to break it down quickly, Jesus was on His way back to Galilee. In order to get to Galilee, he had to travel through Samaria. This wasn’t a simple five mile journey. It was about a journey of 125 miles on foot. So it makes sense that He would need to stop to rest, get some food and water.

Now, while at this well, He met a Samaritan woman who was stopping at the well to get some water. In those days, the Samaritans and Jews weren’t on speaking terms. To say they didn’t like each other would be an understatement. But Jesus, knowing this, still asked this woman for a drink of water.

It’s interesting to me that, even though Jesus was probably thirsty, He had an ulterior motive for asking this question. He was more interested in this woman’s well being than His thirst. As they are talking about water, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the water from the well) will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”

It’s not lost on me that, while this lady (who was poor and struggling), came to the well to get her physical needs met, she left having so much more of her life changed… in her everyday life.

I can’t tell you how many times this very thing has happened to me. In my conversations. In my job. In my everyday life. I’m just going about living and Jesus reaches out, speaks to me and changes my heart and my mind.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to meet my physical needs - searching to fill my mental and physical spaces only to be left feeling empty and thirsty again - continuing to fill those spaces time after time after time after time. And it’s in these spaces where Jesus meets me and offers His living waters - grace and mercy, love and acceptance that fills every space from heaven.

And just like this woman at the well - just like He’s done with me time and time again - He will meet you in your everyday life, probably unexpectedly and will offer His living water for you… to you.

This is why Jami and I gravitate towards water so much. It soothes and refreshes. It washes and cleans. But most importantly, Jesus used it to bring others closer to Him and to God the Father.

So, what’s in the water? Salvation. Grace. Mercy. Acceptance… to put it another way…

Jesus


Graveyard in Charleston South Carolina

Ghost in the Graveyard

I loved playing in the neighborhood when I was growing up.

Whether it was playing war or cops and robbers, we always had fun. One of the games we played most in the summer after it got dark out was a game called, “Ghost in the Graveyard.”

It was a neighborhood favorite. If you don’t know the game, it started with one person being “it.” The person who was it, would hang at the base while the others would go hide. After a certain amount of time, the person who was “it” would go and try to find the “ghosts.”

The “ghosts” would then try to make it back to the base without being tagged. If you got caught before making it back to the base, then you would join the person who tagged you in being “it” the next round.

It was a game everyone loved playing. It was fun playing outside after dark. It was fun being “it.” And it was fun hiding. It was a great neighborhood game all around.

You know, there was another “game of Ghost in the Graveyard” that took place thousands of years ago… only, it wasn’t a game… and the people hiding weren’t doing it to have fun, they hid because they were ashamed. Check this out:

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” - Genesis 3:7-11

Within this event in the Bible contains one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture…

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

“Where are you?” God knew exactly where Adam was hiding. And then God asks two more questions…

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

God knew the answers to all of these questions. The point isn’t that He didn’t know so he had to ask them. No. The point in God asking these questions is to show that He actually cared for and loved His creation... for Adam and Eve.

He knew where Adam was hiding. He knew that they did eat from the tree they weren’t supposed to eat from. God could have just scrapped these two people and started over. But He didn’t. He pursued them out of love.

The questions weren’t meant to get information. They were meant to give Adam an opportunity for self-examination of what he had done and to give opportunity for confession.

And God does the same thing for me. In my sin and hiding, God still pursues me out of love and asks, “Todd, where are you?” “What’s going on?” And in my bumbling confession, He forgives because of the loving sacrifice of His Son Jesus.

“Where are you?” It’s a poignant question that we all have to answer at some point in our life. It’s a question that can set the tone for years to come. We’re all in different places… and it’s not that God doesn’t know where we are, He simply wants us to acknowledge where we are so that we can move forward with Him in His grace and mercy.

I am no better and no worse than Adam. None of us are. And just like God pursued Adam in the garden, and me in Michiana, He pursues you as well asking…

“Where are you?”


Lake Michigan beach in Ludington, Michigan

Peace Out

Driving 112 miles an hour down the road.

I can still remember this night like it was just last night. Waking up to a loud thud coming from my son’s room isn’t initially something to be concerned about. He regularly would fall asleep reading a large-sized book. But when we opened his door we didn’t see a book on the floor.

We saw our son on the floor.

As we tried to sit him on his bed, it became clear that he couldn’t support his own weight to hold himself up. And as he tried to communicate, his speech was slurred as drool ran from his mouth.

After a couple of seconds of trying to get him to respond, Jami asked if we should call 911. I quickly made the determination that I could get him to the ER faster than it would take to call 911, and wait for the ambulance to get him to where he needed to be.

So I grabbed Carter, Jami grabbed a sleeping Morgan from her bed and tossed her into the car. I then handed Carter to Jami in the backseat and we proceeded to drive as fast as we could to the ER. 112 miles an hour didn’t seem fast enough. But because of the length of the roads and the stoplights, it was as fast as I could get to in our Honda Pilot.

As we flew up to the ER doors I ran in and said with as much purpose as I could two words…

“My son.”

Nurses and doctors quickly reacted and we pulled him out of the backseat and into a room in our local ER. In what seemed like a few seconds, he was hooked up to countless wires. At one point his oxygen levels were in the 80’s.

After getting him stabilized, the next step was to run tests to see if they could find the reason as to what was going on. Waiting on the EKG and blood work results were torture. Not knowing what was going on with our son, whether he would be ok or not was one of the hardest times in our lives.

Worry. Anxiousness. It was awful. We couldn’t eat or sleep. The worry and anxiousness made our stomachs sick. All we could do was sit, rub our son’s head and arms, cry… and pray.

“…The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:5-7

The only thing that got us by while we were at the hospital waiting for Carter’s results was the time we spent praying to God.

God doesn’t promise to help us understand why something happens. He doesn’t promise that everything will be ok. But He does let us know that when we come to Him in prayer, He will give us a peace that will guard our hearts and minds.

If you’re like me, it’s what I need the most. Because I can go crazy in my own mind with worry and anxiousness. Whether it’s family related. Sickness related. Now Covid and/or election related. If I’m not in prayer the worry and anxiousness can quickly takeover and I can spiral down into a cranky depression-ridden dude.

But when I continually run to Jesus in prayer, and I don’t understand it, but the peace He gives me covers and guards and calms my mind down so I don’t go crazy.

God will also guard our hearts with peace. When people get sick… when things go wrong… when people we love get hurt… when we’re anxious and worried… God will also guard our hearts so that anger and bitterness don’t take hold.

God loves each and every one of us. He cares about our hearts and our minds and mental health. It’s not something that we can completely understand. If it was, it wouldn’t come from God Himself.

As we sat there in that hospital room for hours… HOURS, not knowing what the test results would reveal, we ran to God in prayer. And while He didn’t take away the questions, He did cover us in peace.

We finally received the test results back in the morning after the doctors ran test after test after test. They revealed that he had suffered from severe heat exhaustion and dehydration. I’m not going to say that God answered our prayers. Because that would mean that there are times that God doesn’t answer the prayers of others.

What I will say is this… The Lord was near us in that time. the Bible tells us this many times over. In fact, in verse five, Paul, the writer of Philippians reminds us of this…

“The Lord is near.”

I don’t know what you’re going through right now. But I do know this… just like God is fighting for you (I wrote a blog post about that here)… The Lord is near you.

God is near.

With all of the craziness that is going on… in all of our hurts, and struggles, and worries and anxiousness…

God is near.

Like water washing up on the sand. And that’s what I want each and everyone of us to hear and understand and see… in our worries and anxiousness and struggles…

God. Is. Near.


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?


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."