Baseball Dugout

Fear Is A Liar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little League Dugout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Galilee, Israel

What Are You Facing

I’m the oldest of three boys.

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

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

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

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

Jesus knew this. check this out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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."


Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

Give it away. Give it away. Give it away now...

Sing it with me... I loved singing this song as I was growing up. It's written by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I honestly can't remember any other song that they wrote. But I remember this one. It's stuck with me through the years. And as I'm singing this song in my head right now, I can't help but think of a few things I need to give away today. So, with that said...

Here's a few things I need to give away...

  • The need to always be right
  • The feelings of anger at myself
  • The feelings of anger at others
  • The need to be in control
  • The feelings of inadequacy
  • The feelings of bitterness towards people who hurt people I love
  • The need to be liked
  • The need to appear to have it all together
  • The need to look religious
  • The fear of what others think about me
  • The fear of failing

Sometimes, the things I hold on to above get in the way of how I parent and they can affect my relationships. So, if I'm being honest, those are just a few things that I need to give away today.

What about you? What are some things you need to give away?

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7


We Have A Dud

I've wanted a lab for quite some time.

What I would call a real dog. A big dog. So we finally jumped and got Lola, a charcoal lab, just over six months ago. She’s been amazing. She goes pretty much everywhere with us… on walks, to the park and to the beach. She absolutely loves all of it… or so we thought.

So a few weeks ago we went to spend the afternoon at Warren Dunes Sate Park in Michigan. It’s got a great beach and they allow dogs as well. We thought that since Lola loved the creek water in the other parks, she’d love the water at Lake Michigan. So we got our things set up, put our blankets and chairs down, and Carter and Morgan took Lola down to the water and threw the ball. Lola ran up to where the water met the sand and as soon as the wave crashed ashore, Lola went running the other direction.

The kids threw the ball a few more times, and each time Lola ran away and wouldn’t go after the ball. After about the seventh time, Carter came back to us and declared,

“We have a dud!”

And to make things worse, just 25 yards down the beach there was another lab that was running into the lake to chase down its frisbee. It was comical, sad and embarrassing all at the same time. What if we really did have a dud!?

Lola loved the water everywhere else. But she was super afraid of the sound and crash of the wave coming ashore. She just couldn’t push past her fear. But Carter and Morgan weren’t done trying.

As I looked towards the water, I could see Carter carrying our 70 pound lab out past the waves and into the lake. It was one of the most funny, ridiculous things I have witnessed. A 15 year old boy carrying his 70 pound lab into the lake all while the other lab was doing its, well, lab thing of running into the water to play fetch. I didn’t think this was gonna work. The first time the kids took Lola out in the water, she freaked out and ran back to the shore. But Carter and Morgan followed her back to where she was, picked her up again, and carried her back into the water. This time, they sat down in the water with her and petted and comforted her. Lola played for a couple of seconds then ran back to the shore. They tried to throw the ball again, but no luck. So, Carter again, picked her up, and walked her into the water. This time he walked her to her ball. She grabbed her ball and ran back to the shore.

The kids followed her back, grabbed the ball. This time, as they threw the ball, Morgan ran out into the water after it and… Lola followed her… past the waves, into the water to retrieve her ball.

Success! “We don’t have a dud!”

The rest of the afternoon was more of the same… Lola living her best life, chasing her ball out into the lake. I don’t think she has ever had as much fun as she did after she conquered her fears with the kids help.

Parenting can look super similar to this situation. There’s been countless situations where Carter and Morgan have been fearful of something. At times, they have stepped past fear and have overcome to do what they really wanted to do. Other times, they’ve given in to fear and have lived with regret for a short time. It’s painful to watch them live with regret. It’s painful to watch them give in to their fears knowing that what’s on the other side is great. But that’s life. We can only be there to hold their hand and carry them whether they overcome their fear or give in to it. The choice is completely theirs and theirs alone.

As parents… as adults… we have our own fears. And while we have friends and relatives to help us through. The ultimate parent, Jesus, is there to carry us through the fear of the crashing waves sometimes called life, just as Carter carried Lola. We just celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday. And with parenting, there are countless fears that we have to walk through. I don’t know what fears you are facing, but know this, Jesus will carry you through them. Check this out:

For I am the Lord you God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

If you allow Him to carry you, Jesus will never drop you. He will help you through your fear to overcome. Because with Jesus,

There are no duds!


The Ruth Tooth Extraction

This was Carter when he was seven years old.

For a week prior to this video, I was coaching and bribing and coaxing Carter into trying to pull his loose tooth out. I’m not sure why he was so fearful of pulling his tooth out. Maybe it was the fear of it hurting. Maybe it was the fear of it possibly bleeding. Maybe it was the fear of change. I even told him that I would tie a string to his tooth and attach it to my car and hit the gas to rip it out. But that didn’t work either. (Actually, that probably made his fear worse.) Whatever it was, Carter would not even attempt to try to pull his tooth out.

So, each night, for seven straight days, I would ask him… “Are you ready yet? Do you think your tooth is ready yet?” And for seven straight evenings he would reply with a, “No.” No follow up questions. Don’t pass go. This tooth ain’t ready. Carter knew the tooth was going to come out. He had lost two teeth before… two teeth that literally fell out on their own because the adult tooth pushed them straight out. So he knew that, at some point, the tooth was going to be “lost.”

You see, he wanted this one to be different. He, deep down, wanted to pull this one out on his own. He wanted to be the one to pull the tooth out and not let it simply be pushed out by the adult tooth coming in. But, he was scared. He knew that what he wanted to do was good. It was natural. And it was needed for the next step to occur. But still, night after night… day after day he was scared and wasn’t ready…

Until the night of the video.

That night, he said… “I think I want to try dad.” And, like any good dad would say, I said, “Wait, let me get my phone to record it coming out!” The video that you watched is just one minute and 11 seconds. The actual time the it took from start to finish to get the tooth out… just over two hours. Two hours of coaching. Two hours of encouraging. Two hours of making jokes to ease his nerves. Two hours of standing by his side and he pushed through the fear to extract that “fiesty” tooth as he put it.

This isn’t the first time that Carter has been scared to try to accomplish something. And it’s not going to be the last. My job as a parent is to stand by him and help him push past the fear if he chooses. To let him know that I’m by his side, cheering him on.

As a parent, we can see the other side. We can see that everything will be ok. It’s so easy to get frustrated by that. To not understand where they are at in their fear and to only focus on the end goal. But as a child, they can’t see that end goal. They can only see the immediate place where they’re at… fear. It’s our job to help them walk through that place to come out on the other side not only ok, but also a better person having learned to walk to the other side of fear, despite their fear.

You know, God does the same thing with us as well. Sure, he doesn’t physically hold our hand. But He’s right there beside us giving us comfort as we walk to the other side of our fear, despite our fear. Check this out:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Our God has promised to be with us wherever we go. Whether it’s during this time of quarantine or after, our God will never leave us. He is there. For you. For me. For us. As you walk with your child through their fears, despite their fears, know that our God is doing the same with us… through our fears, despite our fears.