Pile of stones

Stone Piles

Thanksgiving is this week.

Looking back at this year, there’s a lot that we can be frustrated with… a lot that doesn’t look the way we thought it would look in a way that, if we had our choice, wouldn’t be. But, that’s not what Thanksgiving is all about. Thanksgiving is a time where we pause, and give thanks for all that we have… both past and present.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful… grateful for what we’ve been given, no matter how small it seems. It’s easy to look at the world… to look at our community… to get stuck staring at all that has gone wrong and forget what God has provided each and everyone of us.

God knew that it’s easy to forget His goodness and victory. He knew how easy it is to get stuck looking on all that has gone wrong… the difficulties… the hardships… the despair… and forget to celebrate His victories in our lives and be grateful… no matter how small they seem.

Check this out...

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day. - Joshua 4:1-9

God knew, that even a miracle as great as the parting of the Jordan River… literally stopping the flow of water… could easily be forgotten. So what did he tell them to do? He told them to get some stones and make a pile where they were to stay that night so that they would be a reminder of the goodness of God.

Rocks. Stones. They’re just ordinary pieces of earth that are lying around. But when they’re picked up and placed in a pile to remind you of the goodness of God, they become a supernatural sign that points you back to the One who is Good.

We have a stone pile in our living room. Six stones that were ordinary pieces of earth. But when you come over to our house and ask us, “Why are stones in a pile on that shelf,” they become a supernatural reminder to us of the goodness of God and how the trip to the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem brought us closer to the living God.

I don’t know where you’re at today… what’s going on in your life. But on this Thanksgiving week…

Don’t forget the goodness of God.

Right now, you may think that you don’t have anything to be thankful for. I would ask you to pray to the living God and ask Him to show you His goodness. And the living God who gave His life for you, will hear your prayer.

For those of us who may have forgotten God’s goodness, go, take up twelve stones and place them in a pile where you live so that it becomes a supernatural reminder of the goodness of God in your life.

On this Thanksgiving week…

Don’t forget the goodness of God.

For He surely hasn’t forgotten you.


Photo of Garden of Gethsemane in Israel. The Long Walk

It's About the Walk

Growing up...

Me and my family… my mom, dad and two younger brothers… would routinely go places. Cubs games. South Bend Silver Hawks games. Vacation. Church… Anywhere really…

Each time we went somewhere, as soon as we got out of the car, my dad would walk in what felt like a dead sprint. As I got older I could keep up. But inevitably he’d walk so fast ahead that he’d leave my mom and the other brothers in the dust.

You’d routinely be able to hear my mom exclaim…

Jim, slow down.

He’d pause for a moment, look back, and say with a waive of his hand, “Come on,” and proceed to walk ahead.

Like many things a father passes down to his son, this is one trait that I inherited. Whether it’s going to a Cubs game, walking downtown Chicago, anywhere on vacation… or even on a neighborhood walk, you’ll be able to hear Jami and/or the kids say, “Why are you walking so fast?”

It’s not something that I even mean to do. It’s just how I’m wired. Whether it’s walking or playing softball or soccer… or really anything in my life… I just go all out. I don’t know how to do anything any other way.

Just ask Jami when I get on a health kick. I don’t just cut back on what I eat and drink at night. No, I buy brown rice, broccoli and whatever health food I think I need. It’s all out. It’s fast. Not slowing down because we’ve got things to do… things to see… places to go… tasks to accomplish.

But I read something that really convicted me this week… I’ve read it many times before. But for some reason, it really hit me… maybe it’s because of the times we find ourselves in… but this is what I read…

Walk in love.

Let me write that again…

Walk. In. Love.

It’s actually found in Ephesians chapter five…

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. - Ephesians 5:2

Other translations say, “Live a life of love…”

I actually like the picture that I get when I read, “Walk in love…” because when you slow your pace to a walk, it slows your focus. At least that’s what it does for me. I’m such a hard charger and move at such a fast pace that it’s easy for me to either forget about people, or worse yet, value my goals and objectives and agenda higher than the people around me. I make everything about me and what I want to accomplish.

And, while it’s good to have goals and objectives, it’s never good when you either forget about the people around you, or worse yet, treat others poorly as you move towards your mission. But God doesn’t call us to love our goals and objectives… to love our “party.” He calls us to love others. It’s actually so important to God that it’s only second to loving God Himself.

And so God calls us… each and every one of us to…

Walk in love.

It seems like a great idea. We all “know” that we should love others. We should certainly love people… duh. But knowing that we should love others and actually walking in love are two very different things.

So what does it mean to walk in love? What does it look like?

When I go on a walk with Jami and/or the kids, when we’re walking with each other, we’re spending time together. We’re talking to each other. Getting to know each other a little better. We’re listening to each others’ thoughts… our frustrations… our hurts. Our focus has slowed so that we can simply be with each other.

When God tells us that the second commandment is to love others, He doesn’t give a specific definition to who the “others” are. He doesn’t define “others” as your siblings or immediate family. He doesn’t define “others” as those people who are your friends or who hold the same views as you do.

God tells us to simply love others… in other words, He wants us to walk in love with everyone. Those whom you agree with. And those whom you disagree with. Those who treat you well. And those who treat you poorly. Republicans. Democrats. Even family members that you don’t see eye to eye with. And He wants you to love others even when you find yourself stressed and busy. Even when we get annoyed or angry, God still tells us to love others… even in those times.

God calls each and every one of us to…

Walk. In. Love.

…Just as Christ has loved us. You see, the photo for this post is taken at the Garden of Gethsemane… the place where Jesus went to pray just after the last supper. the Bible tells us that he prayed so hard that sweat dropped from his face like drops of blood. He knew what was ahead of him. But he loved us so much that He prayed for God’s will to be done. In other words… Jesus walked in love. And like Jesus, God calls each one of us to…

Walk. In. Love.

And when we do, it’s a sweet smell. It’s a living sacrifice that we can offer to God. It’s actually an offering to God that He loves.

So…

Walk. In. Love.

One step at a time. One person at a time. There’s no question as to what God desires… the only question is…

Who does God want you to walk with?

Go and…

Walk. In. Love.


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.


In the Everyday

I love this photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The days become the same everyday.

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

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

Listen to this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Horshoe Bend

The Great Divide

The Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

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

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

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

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

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

Fear.

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

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

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

Fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Come."

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

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

"Come."


Sea of Galilee

Play Dough Faith

Play Dough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible tells us over and over to be compassionate.

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

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

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

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

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


Not What I Expected

Expectations...

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

Expectations.

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

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

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

Expectations

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

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

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

It was totally NOT what I was expecting.

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

Expectations

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

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

Do not be afraid.

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

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

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


Dusty Souls

I love sitting around the fire pit at night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God sends out an invitation to Moses.

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

It was clear that he had met with God.

Let me explain it a little differently…

Fast forward a few hundred years…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, follow me.

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

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

May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is,

Will you sit by the fire with God?

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

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


The Battle Isn't Over

I. Love. History.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God. Is. Fighting. For. You.

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

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

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

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

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