Dream Artwork

Following Your Dreams

Growing up, there have been a lot of different things that I had dreamed of doing with my life. Depending on what age I was when you’d ask me, the answer would have been different. Like, when I was about four or five, if you would have asked me what I dreamed of doing, I would have told you that I wanted to ride on the back of a trash truck or drive the trash truck that flipped the big trash containers (I called them “dipsee dumpsters”). If you would have asked me when I was between six years old and eight years old, I would have told you that I dreamed of being a police officer. (I really loved watching CHiPs, TJ Hooker and Hunter back in the day.) And when I was nine years old to about 15, I wanted to be a professional baseball player.

As I look back over my life, those were just three of the dreams that I wanted to follow. There have actually been more, but we don’t have enough time to talk about them all. And as you look at your life, you can probably remember some of the dreams you wanted to follow. The reality is, is that we’ve all had dreams we wanted to follow. And most of us, might still have dreams we want to follow. But when I read the Bible, it doesn’t say to follow your dreams. That’s not the call. The call has never been to follow your dreams.

So, what’s the call? Check this out, it’s found in Matthew chapter nine, verse nine:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

The call on each of our lives, as it was on Matthew’s life, is to follow Jesus. That’s always been the call. Don’t get me wrong. Having dreams isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great thing to have dreams. But the problem begins when the call to chase the dream drowns out the call of Jesus. The problem begins the moment when our focus is greater on the dream than on the call of God to follow Jesus.

You see, Matthew, he was living the dream. Or at least I think he was for the time he was living. Was he disliked by many Jews? Sure. But he held a lucrative government job for the Roman Empire. He was making some serious dollar bills ya’ll. He was making bank. He was making that coin. And when Jesus walked up to him, he was in the middle of that job collecting taxes. And so, when Jesus rolled up to Matthew and said, “Follow Me,” Matthew had a choice to make. To follow his dream of making a great living working for the Roman Empire. Or to follow the call of Jesus. Matthew chose to follow the call of Jesus and leave everything behind.

The call to follow Jesus.

For some of us, the call to follow Jesus is a call to leave the dreams we have behind because we know those dreams will lead us down a road that will be opposite to what Jesus wants for our life. For all of us, though, the call to follow Jesus is a call to leave our old life behind and start a new life in Christ. Essentially the call to follow Jesus is a call to have an undivided heart. Check this out, Psalm 86:11 says this,

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. Psalm 86:11

David, the writer of this Psalm, was praying for an undivided heart in order to give all of it to God in his praise. “Heart” in the Bible doesn’t refer simply to emotions, no, it’s referring to the whole person. David was literally praying for help to aim himself in a single direction towards God. You see, David knew that he needed God to direct his life. He knew that his success, his safety and his soul’s satisfaction depended on the God in Heaven, YAWEH Himself. And that’s still true for each and everyone of us today.

When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, it was easy for Matthew to know what Jesus meant… to drop what he was doing and literally begin to follow Jesus. But what does the call to follow Jesus mean in our lives today. I mean, Jesus isn’t physically standing in front of us saying “follow me.” So, if the call to each one of us is to follow Jesus, what does that mean?

First, the call to follow Jesus is a call to turn your heart towards God’s Word. Psalm 119:36 says,

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Psalm 119:36

In other words, live your life in such a way that you truly are asking God to turn your heart to Him each and every day. The call to follow Jesus isn’t a one-and-done call. It’s a daily denying of the desire to be our own boss. To give up the rights to our lives. Jesus Himself said that if we want to follow Him, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). It’s quite literally asking that God’s Kingdom be worked in and through our lives and that God’s will would be done as well.

Secondly, the call to follow Jesus is a call to be humble. How many of our arguments, fights, contentions and divisions happen because we aren’t humble. For me… it’s almost every single one of them. Our homes, neighborhoods, country and world would be a completely different place if we would simply live our lives out of humility… if we would simply be humble. It was something that Jesus demonstrated when He walked the earth. Philippians 2:8 says,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8

How much more should we demonstrate humility in each of our own lives. Jesus, God Himself… literally God in the flesh, humbled Himself for each of us… the ultimate demonstration of humility… died for each of us. And it’s in humility that God calls each of us to follow Jesus.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

Third, the call to follow Jesus is a call to love others. Your neighbor. Your family. Your friends. And yes, even your enemies. Matthew 22:39 says,

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

Jesus was always teaching His disciples to love others. As Christians, we are asked to love not only the people who live next door to us but to love and show compassion to everyone we interact with. A part of being a disciple of Jesus is showing His love to everyone we meet. Everyone. Even our enemies. Matthew 5:44 says,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:44

Everywhere we turn the corner, online and on tv, we are consistently watching people hate each other. People going after each other. And then it comes to our lives. How many times have we wished evil on our enemies? How many times have I shown hate towards others? Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to like me. But one way to follow Jesus is by praying for those that despise us. To Show the love of Jesus to the very people that hate you. To treat them with kindness even if you never get it back in return. Loving people who love you back or first is easy. To love those who hate you, well, that’s what Jesus did which means it’s possible with God’s help that we can too.

And fourth, the call to follow Jesus is a call to worship the living God with our entire heart and mind. Matthew 4:10 says,

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. Matthew 4:10

You see, Jesus was tempted just like we are tempted. Satan took Jesus up to the top of a high mountain and offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus, knowing God’s Word, and showing complete commitment to His Father, told satan to bounce. Jesus’ heart was undivided. He loved and His only worship was of God alone. Satan offered up what looked like a great deal if Jesus only worshipped him. But Jesus knew that the true reward lies within His worship of the living God. Satan does the same thing with us… consistently tempting us with the attractive riches of this world. But our true reward, our greatest reward lies within our worship of the living God and His Son, Jesus. John 4:24 says,

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:24

Worship, praise and thanksgiving should be an everyday part of the follower of Jesus routine. When we pray to God, we shouldn’t forget to worship Him for everything He has done for us. Our worship should be an ongoing event as we live every day. Our worship of the living God should be continually in our mouths, in our hearts and in our minds.

The call of God. It’s a call to follow Jesus each and every day of our lives. It’s a call that each of us can choose to answer or to ignore. God doesn’t call us to follow our dreams. He calls us to follow Jesus. And when we do, new dreams are born. Heavenly dreams found in Jesus Himself.


Three cards that are aces

Steal the Deal

This past Fall, Carter came home from a long weekend camp with his youth group excited to tell us about the new card game he had learned and wanted to teach us. As he began to describe the game, we stopped him and told him we had been playing that game for years… like a lot of years. The game? Euchre.

Euchre, to me, is the perfect card game. I know there will be folks who disagree with me and say, “No, poker is the perfect game!” “Spades is the perfect game!” And there might be that one person who would say, “No!!! Old Maid and Slap Jack are the perfect games!!!” I don’t know who those people are, but I’m sure you’re out there! And then, when I was younger and my aunt Becky would babysit the Ruth boys, she would play 52-Card Pickup… her perfect card game! :-)

For me... I love Euchre. It’s the perfect mix of luck, team play and strategy. And, it’s a fast-paced game. If you’ve ever played with me or against me in Euchre, you know one very important detail... I will ALWAYS try to... Steal. The. Deal. Always. Every time.

I love stealing the deal. Does that make me a thief or a bad person? Some might say it does. But for me, it’s part of the ultimate strategy to playing Euchre. You see, when you’re the dealer, you have a greater chance at controlling the outcome of that hand and thus taking away your opponents’ joy. It’s THE game where you WANT to be the dealer. So yes. I try to steal the deal every single hand I play. I think during one game, I was able to steal the deal five times in a row!

You know, there’s somebody else that, when it comes to the hand you’ve been dealt… you know, your life… his goal is to essentially… Steal. The. Deal. Check this out. It’s found in John chapter 10, verse 10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; John 10:10a

You see, the thief, otherwise known as satan… one of his objectives is to try to take you and I away from Jesus… to keep us from having a life-changing relationship with Jesus. How does he do that? One way is to try to steal and kill and destroy our lives. You see, when you allow the enemy to steal from you, you are allowing him to control your life.

And what does satan want to take from you? He wants to take your confidence, your joy, your choices, your focus, your peace, and ultimately your eternity. Essentially, satan wants to wreak havoc and cause mayhem in your life and steal away our relationship with Jesus. If he can do that, then he wins and we lose. If he can steal all those things away from us, then he holds the deal and controls how we live within our own lives.

But that doesn’t have to be the outcome of any of our lives. You see, Jesus has already went to the cross. Died. Was buried. And rose again. Jesus defeated the grave and hell. Satan has already been defeated. And that means that he doesn’t hold the deal any longer. You see, I only gave part of John 10:10. The remaining part of that verse says this:

I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10b

You see, Jesus came so that you and I could have life. Real life. Abundant life. And this abundant life is first and foremost eternal life. It’s a life that calls on the name of Jesus and repents of our sin. It’s a life where we seek to gain a more heavenly perspective by renewing our mind by reading God’s Word and seeking the counsel of Jesus by praying to Him. And it’s a life where we are able to live out and live in Shalom, the peace of Christ that encompasses our entire mind, body and soul… in other words, to make our lives whole in Christ Jesus.

And an abundant life is a life where we are growing in the development of and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

You see, when we are living an abundant life through Jesus, it’s not just affecting ourselves. It’s literally affecting other people’s lives as well. When we are living the abundant life through Jesus Christ, we are also a blessing to people with whom we come in contact with.

Psalm 16:11 says,

You will make known to me the way of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

If you haven’t trusted Jesus with your life yet, today is a great day to accept God’s gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus. Or maybe you’ve already trusted Jesus as your Savior but have gotten away from Him. You’ve allowed satan to take your joy and your focus and control your life. Today is also a great day to come back to Jesus.

Jesus is waiting for you. For everyone. Why don’t you reach out to Him today. He’s here for you right now.


ATM

Bank Accounts and ATMs

Growing up, there are certain milestones that kids look forward to hitting. Double-digit birthday... When you hit the age of 10, now you’re big. Or, thirteen… now you’re an old teenager. How about 16! Now you can drive! Or when you turn 18… the age you can finally vote. If you’re an adult, one of the milestones was the age of 25… the year your car insurance finally went down in cost a bit.

For our kids, there was one more milestone that they looked forward to hitting… 14 years old. The age at which they could open their own bank account. Carter had been talking about this a while before he turned 14. And when he finally turned 14, it was almost all he could talk about. “Can I open my bank account now? When can you take me to open my bank account? Today? Can we go after school? I really want to open my bank account. Can we go tomorrow?” He kept asking. And pushing. And finally, the day came when we took him to open his very own bank account.

That day, we sat down with one of our bank’s representatives and filled out the paperwork to open Carter’s first bank account. He was so excited. As we were going through the process, it finally came time to get what he really wanted… his very own ATM card. The bank representative talked to him about what the card was and how to use it. And she asked him what he wanted his security number to be (he was a 14 year old boy, but held it together enough to NOT give the number he wanted to give the lady). We finished up the process and walked out the door. Needless to say Carter was super excited.

Over the next few months after opening his bank account, Carter and a couple of his friends would meet up on their bikes and head to the ATM to pull money out to get snacks at the local store. He’d get a text from his friends and then tell me or Jami that he was riding his bike to take money out so he and his friends could get a pop, chips, or some candy. He loved that ATM card. It was there, in his pocket, whenever he needed money to get what he wanted.

It’s interesting to me, that as I look back over this story about Carter and his ATM card, how it relates to me and my relationship with God as I look back on my life. Like, how, when I played baseball, I’d pray and ask God to help our team win. Or, as I walked up to the batter’s box, I’d pray for God to help me get on base. Or when I needed help on an exam, I’d reach out and pray to God. Or when things got tough, or I got in trouble, I’d pray to God and ask Him for help.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that doing any of those things are bad or that we shouldn’t pray to God in those circumstances. But as I look back over my life… even into my adult life, I can definitely see a pattern where I placed God in my pocket only to pull him out when I needed to make a withdrawal for help. He was in essence, my ATM card. More times than I care to admit to, I’d treat God as my ATM when I wanted things to go my way.

But there’s so much more than that when it comes to our relationship with God. God isn’t simply an ATM. And, in reality, God really does want to bless you... to bless us. Check this out:

The passage I want to share with you today is from Numbers chapter seven, verses 22-27

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”’

“So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” Numbers 7:22-27

All throughout the Bible we can look and find where God wants to, and chooses to bless His people. From the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament. And that still holds true today as well. It’s not lost on me that, about two weeks ago I was at a camp with a bunch of middle school students. These kids came together from different schools and different families to have fun and experience God as one group. Being at camp, I knew that what I spoke over those kids had the potential to help change their lives. It had the potential to either make camp or break camp.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone speak into you or over you. I have. I’ve had people speak life into me. And I’ve had people speak what amounted to death into me. And I’ve had people who were very close to me call me the worst of the worst names. Names that would affect me and mark my life for years to come. All throughout camp two weeks ago, counselor after counselor spoke life into and over those middle school students. We wanted those kids to know that God is for them. That God wants to bless His people.

And just like those middle school campers, the Israelites in the verses we just read, were in their own camp from their own areas and families. Sure, they didn’t have “the blob” or “the gusher” (water rides at camp.) But God still wanted to let His people, the Israelites, know that He longed to provide a blessing over them. It’s important to know that, by this time the Israelites had already been freed from slavery in Egypt. And even though they had seen numerous miracles by God, they had still turned from God over and over again. They had still questioned God. They made idols into gods. They had longed to go back to where they had come from as slaves because they hadn’t trusted God to provide for their needs. In other words, they weren’t perfect people who always had their eyes and hearts pointed towards God. Yet, out of God’s love, he wanted the Israelites to know His very specific blessing on them.

First, He wanted the priests (Aaron and his sons) to say, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” This is not just a general blessing, but it's the specific protection of the Lord as we ask Him to “keep you,” words that have the sense of guarding or watching over someone. For Israel, this would have had a very practical application as they were surrounded by enemies, and God had promised to protect them as long as they were faithful to Him. For believers in Jesus, the protection of God has a somewhat different meaning. While believers hope and pray for physical protection from enemies, we know that God has not promised this. In fact, He has promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). However, God has also promised that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:36–38).

Secondly, the prayer also says, “the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” This line of the blessing has to do with experiencing God’s favor. When a person sees a loved one that is liked or loved, his or her face “lights up right.” Well, God’s “face” radiates divine favor. Ancient Israel could expect God’s loving, gracious response to their calls for help. Believers in Jesus have the promise of God’s never-ending love (Romans 8:26–38, mentioned above) and have already experienced God’s gracious response to save us from our greatest enemies—sin and death through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:56–57).

And thirdly, the prayer says, “the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” We all know the faces of mom... or of a parent. We’ve all had "the look,” you know, the glare from an upset parent. I’ve experienced it MANY times over. And I’ve given it MANY times over to my own kids as well. This isn’t what this is referring to. It’s the face of a smiling mom or dad towards their children. It’s quite literally the look of love. This line of the Aaronic Blessing continues the theme of the “face” of God and has the idea of His people receiving His full attention. When the people were faithful to God, His “face” was toward them with the result that they would have peace. Peace (shalom) is more than just an absence of warfare but a completeness or wholeness and maturity. Judges 2 records what happened when God turned His face from His people for a time and they lost shalom, but He quickly turned to them again when they repented. The believer in Jesus has been granted peace with God though Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), and we can also access the peace of God by trusting Him to take care of us. Prayer is the active means by which we can experience this peace (Philippians 4:6–7). Meaning, when we pray to Jesus as a believer in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will infuse us with the peace of Christ.

You see, for ancient Israel, the Aaronic Blessing expressed the highest state of blessing that the nation would enjoy as they were faithful to God. For us today, when we trust in Jesus and call on His name to save us from our sin, we too can have and experience this complete blessing from God Himself. We don’t have to be perfect. We just need to trust in Jesus and call on His name to save us.

God desires to be more than an ATM blessing that’s tucked inside our pockets only to be pulled out when we need Him. He longs to speak a complete blessing over our lives. And it’s my prayer that you’ll experience that blessing as you trust in Jesus and seek to have a true, joy-filled relationship with God.


Dew on grass in the morning

What Is It?

I miss the younger years of parenting. Not me being younger. But the kids being younger. Don’t get me wrong, I love parenting teenagers. As a parent, that’s my sweet spot. But I miss when they were two, three, four and five years old.

When they were that young, everything was new to them. And it was fun helping them experience those new things. Like jumping off the side of a pool. As a parent, you know the fun and joy they will experience. But for them, they haven’t experienced that joy quite yet. And so their focus was on the fear they feel. They’d look at me. Look at the ledge and the drop to the water. Then they’d look back at the cement they were standing on and would start to walk backwards to what was familiar. But after a few words to make them feel better and helping them “jump” into the water, they’d eventually trust their mommy and daddy and jump themselves.

Then, in the very same summer after trusting their daddy and jumping into the pool, I remember taking a trip to a water park with friends. You know what’s at water parks, right? Yup. Water slides. Once again, as a parent, I could look at that slide and my kids and know the joy they’d experience going down that slide into a pool of water. So I took the kids up to the top of the slide, talking up the excitement and how fun and cool it was going to be to slide down the water slide into a pool of water. But once we got up to the top of the slide, fear crept back in and they insisted on not going down the water slide. They instead wanted to go back down the stairs to the familiarity of what they already knew.

I don’t suggest this as a parent, but when Carter was four or five, I actually picked him up, sat him down, then pushed him down the slide as he screamed throughout the process. Once down, he came running back up to go down the slide by himself.

Time and time again through different experiences our kids would have to learn to trust and depend on their parent over and over again even though we’d proven trustworthy through previous experiences. Time and time again they’d crave and desire the familiar over choosing to depend and trust the call of their mommy and daddy. That doesn’t change with age. And it hasn’t changed throughout the years. What is true now, was and is true hundreds of years ago.

Check this out:

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death. Exodus 16:1-3

Facing the question of where their next meal would come from made them question everything. The Scripture says, “they grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” I believe this is the first reference to a people being “hangry.” Only, it was more than simply being hangry. The Israelites actually wished they were back living as slaves in Egypt.

At this point, the Israelites had already experienced a number of miracles from the Lord. He had turned bitter water that they couldn’t drink into sweet water by having Moses throw a piece of wood into the water. And bigger still, they had just witnessed the Lord parting the Red Sea allowing the Israelites to walk across on dry land with a wall of water to their right and to their left. Once the Israelites had crossed, the Lord allowed the sea to flow again, washing the entire army of Pharaoh to their death.

But now, instead of trusting and having faith in the Lord, they begin to worry that they would die in the desert from hunger and they began to wish for the familiarity of what they had known. And they Lord heard the Israelites grumbling.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16:4

Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Exodus 16:8

In the midst of their worry and their grumbling the Lord heard them and decided to provide for the Israelites once again even as they were grumbling against Him. But this is the Lord’s character. You see, back in Exodus 13, as the Israelites were leaving Egypt, God decided to lead them on a longer path through the Red Sea instead of a shorter path through the land of the Philistines because God knew that if the Israelites faced war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.

Even when the Israelites didn’t know it, God was still looking out for and taking care of them. And, in the midst of their fear and grumbling of where their next meal would come from, God would still keep that commitment to the Israelites.

As I look back over my life, there have definitely been times where I can see how God took care of me… exactly when I didn’t even know it. Protection from dumb decisions I made as a teenager. Doors closing which led to better doors opening. The list could go on and on. And I’m sure, if you look back on your life, you would see the same thing.

So, here the Israelites are. Grumbling against a God who has already provided visual miracles for their safety. Grumbling against a God who had already provided protection that they didn’t know about. And now, Aaron is standing before them, speaking to the whole Israelite community. And as they looked toward the desert… the desert they’d be wondering through for 40 years… and what did they see?

The glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. Exodus 16:10

In the midst of their fear. In the midst of their grumbling. In the midst of their worry and their desire to just go back to what is familiar. In the midst of their desert, the Lord God was there with them. What is true hundreds of years ago is still true today. While God was with the Israelites in their desert, God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with us in our desert. You see, God doesn’t just lead us through our desert, He’s there with us in it.

And then the Scripture goes on to say…

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” Exodus 16:13-16

The word, manna, literally means, “What is it?” That’s what the Israelites first reaction to what the Lord provided. Manna is the clear example of the Israelites’ dependence on God was. They had to rely on Him every day for 40 years just to survive. But this isn’t anything new, it’s just different. They had to rely on God to change Pharaoh’s mind to let them go. And when Pharaoh freaked out and changed his mind again, the Israelites had to rely on God to escape from Pharaoh’s army. Time and time again we see the Israelites’ dependence on God while in their desert. And when God says, “Trust me” to the Israelites one more time, we see them again wanting to go back to the familiar out of fear and worry. But God, each time, provided for the needs of the Israelites with just enough for each day… with exactly what they needed to survive for that day.

You see, what’s true hundreds of years ago, is true now…

God is acting on our behalf even when we don’t know it. God shows up in the midst of our desert. And God provides for all of our needs when we follow His Word, His guidance and keep His commands. I pray that you see the Lord and choose Him and His Word even as you read this now.


Jeep Wrangler - The presence of God

In the Center

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

It’s also one of the most fun too…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


baseball player sliding into base

Stealing Second

Baseball

It’s the sport I grew up playing. I mean, with the last name of Ruth, you’d expect a kid in the 80’s to play no other sport than what the Great Bambino played. Some of my earliest memories are of me and my dad throwing a ball back and forth.

Now, as a ball player, it didn’t matter if it was little league or high school, my job was to get on base and get into scoring position as fast as I could. I wasn’t exactly a big kid. So I was never going to hit home runs or a ton of triples. But I was fast. So, as a lead-off hitter and there after during the game, I simply tried to get on base anyway I could, then steal second base, most of the time within four pitches.

I’ll never forget a game we played against Culver Military Academy. I went three for three that game. I’m not sure how I got on base… base hits, walks… I’m not sure. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is this… that’s the game I stole six bases. I’d get on base. And within four pitches I’d steal second. Then within another three pitches, I’d steal third. By the fourth stolen base, it had become comical. They couldn’t throw me out… not even on a pitch-out. It’s one of the games I’ll never forget. And it's been something I've been thinking about towards the end of last year.

As 2020 was closing down, I began thinking a lot about 2021. Praying and asking God to speak to me and give me goals and steps for my life and my family’s life for the next year. And there were two phrases that kept coming back to me over and over again. One that has to do with my family which I’ll share at a later date, and one for my life. It’s actually a phrase that’s on a paperweight that was given to me when I was younger and it says this…

“You can’t steal second base, and keep your foot on first.”

I don’t know where you’re at right now. I don’t know what’s going on in your life. I don’t know what you’re thinking about. What you’re struggling with. What relationships are strained. I might not know anything about you… but I know this… God is telling you right now that you can’t steal second base, and keep your foot on first. God is telling you that you can’t keep one foot in that relationship… you can’t keep one foot in hate and anger… you can’t keep one foot in one life and expect to get to the next.

You see, when I looked out as I was standing on first, I could see second. I knew that’s where I needed to get to. I knew I needed to be standing there. If I could get to second, I knew I was probably a hit away from scoring. But it took a decision to leave first. I knew that if I wanted to stand on second base, I needed to decide to leave the safety of first base.

God is calling each of us to leave first base. He’s calling each one of us to our next step. That looks different for each of us. He’s calling each of us closer to Him. He’s calling each of us to step out in faith. For those looking at our lives from the outside, it might look crazy. It might feel like a giant step. But I want you to know two things. First, you aren’t alone.

There are those who have gone before us. Check this out:

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” - Genesis 6:22

If you read just that, you might think cool. Noah did what God asked him to do. But what did Noah do? He built a boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high… on dry land with no rain in sight. I wonder what people thought as they walked by. I wonder if they asked Noah questions. I wonder if they talked behind his back or even made fun of him. To the outside world, what God asked Noah to do might have seemed crazy. But Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9). When you walk with someone long enough, you get to talk and listen to each other. And Noah listened to God.

What God is asking you to do might seem crazy for those looking from the outside in. But know that there are those who have gone before you and have listened to and obeyed God. You are in good company. And secondly, you should know this…

There are those who will walk with you.

Noah had other people in his life… his wife, sons and his sons’ wives. We don’t know much about them at the time of the building of the ark, but we know that they were with him. I wonder what the conversations were around the dinner table. I wonder what they prayed. We don’t know any of that. But we do know that they were with Noah.

And like Noah, there will be people who will walk with you. Who will pray with you. There will be people who will push you towards Jesus. And if you don’t have anyone like that, I’m raising my hand now to be that person for you.

2021

God is calling each one of us to leave the safety of first base. He’s calling each of us to take our next step and to go after great things for Him. That looks different for each of us. And it might look a little scary or even crazy. But know this, there are those who have gone before us. And there are those who will go with us. The question is…

Will you go after God and what He has for you?


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