Worship

Worship is Greater Than War

Paintball.

I remember the first time I played. Myself and a few of the guys I worked with got a group together and headed out to this massive outdoor paintball complex. Once there, we selected our guns, bought enough paint to last for a few hours and got our gear on. After meeting some other random guys that were there to play, it was time to go to war.

The first course we played was within a mini city made out of plywood. It. Was. Awesome. Well, it was awesome walking through and seeing how massive this place was. But once the whistle blew and the paint began to fly, the sound of how hard it was hitting the outside of the walls of my “second story” position made me rethink my decision of playing. And then it happened… My friend I was positioned with took three shots to the face region right in front of me. The first shot hit him on the region of his mask. But his mask had five slits in it over his mouth so that it wouldn’t fog up. That was great for his breathing. But when the paintball made impact, it splattered all over the inside of his mouth. As he tasted the paintball, it caused him to turn his head at which point the second and third shots hit him on his neck. As he grabbed his neck he yelled out, “I’m hit!” It was like a scene in a movie.

As this dude walked by me to leave the field of play, I could see two massive welts left by the impact of the paintballs on his neck. And as I climbed down the ladder to the first story, I grabbed my other friend who was with me, told him “Nick was gone” and it was just us, and let him know we had to get out of there. Now, as we were exiting where we were at, I made sure he was out in front of me as we moved from building to building… I mean, he was much larger than I was and a better shot. Eventually we were both overrun and taken out. In fact, our entire team of 16 year olds were systematically shot so quickly that I’m sure we were playing against a team who I’m sure could have gone pro. It didn’t matter what we did, who we decided to put out in front of us to try to stop them, each game we played against them they destroyed us as we tried to do battle. They ran straight through us each and every time.

War. It’s something we see talked about in the Bible as well. But the war we read about has much greater consequences than what I experienced in my small paintball war as a sixteen year old. Check this out:

Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. - 2 Chronicles 20:2

And then King Jehoshaphat said to God,

Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. And all of the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord. - 2 Chronicles 20:12-13

Can you imagine standing there? Your wife. Your children. Standing next to you. Knowing that an enormous army was on their way to destroy you and your family. And as they stood there, they waited for God to answer them. And as God answered them through Jahaziel who told them not to be afraid. In fact, he said that the battle wasn’t theirs, it was God’s. He told them that they wouldn’t even have to fight this battle…

‘“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” - 2 Chronicles 20:17

And so, early in the morning they left to head out to the battle field. And Jehoshaphat said, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” (2 Chronicles 20:20)

And after consulting with the people, Jehoshaphat developed a plan. And what was the grand battle plan? Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise Him for His holiness and he placed them at the head of their army as they went out to meet the enemy that was coming to destroy them! What!? I’m sure General Patton wouldn’t have approved! But that’s ok. Because King Jehoshaphat knew that…

Worship is greater than war.

Jehoshaphat knew that worship is a weapon that the Lord uses to fight for us. You see, Jehoshaphat was faced with what seemed like an impossible battle. And in the face of what seemed like complete destruction, we see him seek the Lord in prayer and confess his complete powerlessness to do anything. And God responded to him through Jahaziel telling him, “the battle is His, do not be afraid, stand firm, hold your position and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” And Jehoshaphat and the people responded by worshipping the Lord. And then drawing courage from the Lord, and in their trust and obedience to the Lord, they went out to battle with praise and worship on the front lines.

You and I may not fight the same type of war that Jehoshaphat faced. But we all will come face to face with our own battles. And the Lord wants each of us to know that worship is greater than war. Worship is greater than the battles we face. And it’s through our worship that God fights for us.

You see, it is not up to us to slay the giants, to move the mountains, or even to part the waters. It is not up to us to fight our battles alone and defeat the enemy by ourselves. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And to worship Him alone. When we do this, He promises that He will be with us and fight our battles for us. Whether it is doubt or depression. Fear or failure. Whether it is rejection, frustration, anxiety or insecurity. In the waiting, the wondering,  and even the reality, God wants to show us His power, His grace, His faithfulness, and His love throughout every season we face. And He wants us to know that worship is greater than the battles we face… He wants us to know that worship is a weapon that the Lord uses to fight for us.

And when we worship the Lord, a few things happen inside us. First, We remember who God is, what He has accomplished through Jesus. And when we are reminded who God is and what He has accomplished through Jesus, we’re comforted by the Spirit of God whom Jesus gave us when we trusted Him as our Savior. Second, What we know to be true in our minds flows into our hearts, and we’re able to engage the Lord with both our heads and our hearts. It’s not based on feelings, but coming into agreement with God at both a head and heart level. And third, “Spiritual power is released and we find peace and rest from oppression from the enemy.” - Matt Chandler

Worship is one of the greatest weapons against the battles we face. When we worship, God fights for us and prevents the enemy’s attempt to take over our hearts and minds. And we’re able to focus on our relationship with God and His love for us and deflect the attack of the enemy.

Worship is greater than war. It’s greater than the battles we face. And when we see people worshipping, especially in their time of need, we are physically seeing God fighting for them. And when we worship the Lord, we are worshipping the God who fights for us.


Skydiving

No Going Back

A couple of spring breaks ago I finally did something I’ve been wanting to do for years… like 20 years. If I’m honest, I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance or work up the courage to do it. The “something” I did? I went skydiving. That’s right. I willingly jumped out of a perfectly good airplane from 13,000 feet.

My friend Daryl and I had made plans to jump while we were on spring break out in Arizona. So, on the day we were to jump, we drove about an hour to the jump zone. Once there, we literally signed our life away and watched a quick video on how to successfully jump from an airplane, then walked out to get our harness strapped on.

After getting strapped up, we made our walk out to the bus that was going to take us to our plane. As we were driving out to where our plane was, we could see groups of people gliding down with their parachutes floating through the air. I couldn’t believe that that was going to be me in a matter of minutes. Once we got off the bus, we headed towards our plane. Each step I took, I kept telling myself that there was no turning back. My nerves were increasing more and more as I approached the plane.

Once inside the plane, myself and my jump instructor headed all the way back towards the pilot. At this point, my heart was beating a mile a minute. But I kept telling myself that there was no turning back… despite the pilot and plane looking like it had been used in multiple cocaine runs between Arizona and Columbia.

Prior to taking off, my jump instructor had me put on my seatbelt. Then, once we were about 500 feet off the ground, he strapped himself to me and instructed me to take my seatbelt off. I actually asked him why. His response, “Well, if the plane goes down, we’re jumping.” Ya, I guess that made sense.

Once we reached 13,000 feet, the skydivers ahead of me began to jump from the plane. Let me tell you, there’s no preparing for the sight of people throwing themselves out of a plane. I literally saw them jump from the door and watched from my window as they fell towards the earth. And then, it was my turn. The jump instructor told me to scoot closer to the door. And each butt scoot we took, I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going back.

And then… we stood up and crouched at the door of the plane. In my head I kept saying, “I’m not going back. I’m not going back. I’m not going back.” The jump instructor tapped me on my arm. And in one final, “I’m not going back,” I crossed my arms, tilted my head back… and we jumped.

It was the most terrifying, exciting thing I have ever done. I thought we were jumping straight out. But instead, when we jumped, the instructor spun us around backwards and I watched the plane as we fell. It. Was. Amazing.

Once we got back to the hotel, Morgan ran up to me and yelled, “You didn’t die!” as she tearfully gave me a hug.

No turning back. That was the theme of my skydiving trip. That’s what I kept telling myself. And that’s what Moses and the Lord told the Israelites as well.

Check this out:

 ...the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” Deuteronomy 17:16

You see, just prior to crossing over into the land that God promised to the Israelites, He gave them a prescription on how to live a life that would glorify the Lord. And years before the Israelites asked for a king, God laid out His qualities of a good one. One of the qualities the Lord states is that “The king must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them…”

Upon hearing this at first, you might think, “Horses? Who cares about horses. What does this have to do with being a good king?” You see, during this time in history, Egypt was THE place from where other nations bought their supplies of this animal. If you wanted a strong horse… If you wanted the best horse… You went to Egypt. There was one major problem… This was the place the Lord had just delivered them from slavery 40 years earlier. And, in looking out for His people, Moses tells the Israelites…

…’the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”’

God knew that, if the Israelites went back to Egypt, they would go back to their slavery. He knew that, if the Israelites went back to the familiar, they would go back to a life they had cried out to be rescued from. He knew that, if the Israelites went back to their old way of living, they’d be forfeiting every promise that He had given to them. For the Israelites…

Egypt = Slavery

It’s not that Egypt was all bad. There were things in Egypt that were tempting to go back to. For a king, it would be the type and the style and the amount of horses. For others, it was the food. Still, for others it may have been the majesty of their buildings. None of these things in and of themselves are horrible. But in each of these things is the temptation to turn from the promises of God.

And the same is true for each one of us.

God has sent His Son Jesus to die for each one of us (John 3:16). And through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He has called us to a life outside the captivity and slavery of sin to a promised better life. And each of us has a history that we’re familiar with. A history, that if we return to it, would take us back into our captivity. And as we seek to follow Jesus, there are three areas where we will be tempted to return to our captivity of sin... to forfeit the promises of God.

We will be tempted to go back to what we were thinking. “It’s not that bad.” “It’s just one time.” “Nobody will find out.” “I’m better than them.” And we return to the slavery of our thoughts.

We will also be tempted to go back to what we were saying. The type of language we use. Gossiping about others. Tearing others down. Being discouraging with our words. Speaking out of anger instead of love. And we return to the slavery of our words.

And we will be tempted to go back to what we were doing. Going back to that relationship. Living our lives in our pride. Neglecting our families. Forgetting about God. And we return to the slavery of our actions.

But I want to remind you that God is telling us right now... “You are not to go back that way again.” Instead, God has a better way. Micah 6:8 says,

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Instead of going back to what we were doing, we are to act justly. Instead of going back to what we were saying, we are to love mercy. And instead of going back to how we were thinking, we are to walk humbly with our God.

This temptation to go back to our old ways is ultimately a temptation of the mind. And Paul knew this as he spoke to the church in Philippi. It’s true then and it’s true for each of us now. And this is our encouragement for today…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9


Photo of The Goonies

The Goonies Life

What’s your favorite movie of all time? There’s a lot of great movies that have been made. If you would have asked my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family, he would have told you Gone With the Wind. For others, it might be one of the Marvel movies. Still others may love the Star Wars trilogy… “Luke, I’m your father.” “Nooooooooooo.” For me, there are a few greats. Iron Eagle. Top Gun. Karate Kid. But none of those compare to The Goonies.

The Goonies. My all-time favorite movie. It’s all about adventure. It’s hilarious. I mean who doesn’t love Chunk and Mikey and Data and Sloth. Not to mention the Truffle Shuffle. But the main reason this movie is my all-time favorite? The secret passages and treasure hunting. I would have given anything at age nine to go on an adventure like that to look for a giant pirate ship and One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. Coming up from under the water and looking to see One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship would have been amazing. Finding a treasure like that would have been life changing.

There’s another moment regarding another found treasure that must have been life changing as well. Only this treasure was found hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. Check it out:

“While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 34:14-15

Can you imagine the awe and utter excitement Hilkiah would have had!? This Book of the Law, God’s testimony through Moses, was lost for an amount of time we really don’t know. The priest, at the very least though, would have heard of stories past down through his Jewish culture about Moses and this Book of the Law. And for Hilkiah to accidentally find it would have been huge… Like finding One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship and treasure.

Now, fast forward almost 200 years later during the time of Nehemiah. Now Nehemiah had made his way to a top position in the great Persian Empire, one of the greatest empires in the history of the world. And he asked the king if he could go back to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. And the king of the Persian empire gave him permission to go and rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Now, after the wall was completed and after the Israelites had settled into their towns, all the people assembled in the square. And Ezra the priest, brought the Law before the people. He stood on a high, wooden platform and read it from daybreak until noon. And as the people listened to Ezra reading the Book of the Law, they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then the Bible tells us:

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” Nehemiah 8:9

Can you imagine, a large quiet crowd watching as Ezra steps up on a newly built platform in the town square. As Ezra opens the Book, the crowd stands up. They praise God with hands lifted high. Then, they bow down, faces in the dirt. Ezra begins to read and his helpers walk through the crowd to explain what God’s Word says. The people, listen giving their full attention to Ezra. And then, a sound begins to rise. It starts with one person. Then another. And as the people continue to listen to God’s Word being spoken, this sound continues to spread throughout the town square. It’s the sound of weeping.

The Book of the Law that Ezra was reading was super old… It was ancient. But that day marked something new. The Jewish people were becoming something that they had never been before… A people of the Book. They were, in essence, being rebuilt with material as strong as the stones used in their newly built city wall. You see, throughout their history, they had drawn their strength from two sources besides the Law. One was the temple, where they worshipped God. It was a beautiful building, magnificent even, in which they met God. The other was their leadership. First Moses, then Joshua, then the judges, and finally David and the other kings.

But these things couldn’t save them from disgrace. The temple? Even though it was a beautiful, crazy magnificent building, it had become a meaningless symbol to most Jewish people. They had even defiled it by putting idols in the temple. They disregarded it so badly that God had finally allowed the Babylonians to burn the temple down. Now, after the Jewish people returned from exile, they rebuilt the temple. But it was never again seen as a substitute for real devotion to God. What about their leaders? Not one king, over hundreds of years, had come close to matching God’s ideal or standard. Most kings, in fact, were people who didn’t worship or follow the God of Israel and were said to have “done evil in they eyes of the Lord.” And when the Israelites returned from exile, they had no king of their own. They instead were under the rule of a Persian king who wanted to keep all the power to himself.

So, with no king of their own and a temple where the God of Israel wouldn’t dwell, they turned to another source of power… The Word of God. This gathering that we see here is nothing like the jewels in the crowns of kings or the gold within the temple. It’s instead replaced by a single man standing on a simple wooden platform, reading words written on a simple scroll. But the words Ezra reads show their power in the way they affect the very people who hear them… Moved to praise God, to weep over their sins, to change their behavior and to make renewed promises to God. From this time on, the Jewish people were known as the people of the Book.

And I can’t help but draw similarities between our world, country, state, city and my life. As I look out from my small window at home, how many times do I give my strength over to our political leaders. For some of us, when Trump was in office, we looked to a new president for hope. Now that we have a new president, for some of us we can’t wait for the next election for our hope. For others, we draw our strength and hope based on our own abilities. If we’re honest, real power and strength comes from our work, where we live and our political views. And the Word of God becomes an after-thought, tucked away in the corner of our temples or forgotten about like One-eyed Willy’s pirate ship and treasure.

We focus on the pretty, shiny things of this world. The news makers. But the real earth shaking, life changing comes from what looks like an ordinary book, but in reality is an Extraordinary Word from God Himself. Just like the temple, the kings, and Moses, the worldly things we draw our energy and strength from can go away or be destroyed. In the end they can’t ultimately change us. Only the Word of God never changes. Only the Word of God is full of life. And when we become people of the Book, we become a people who find true joy and rejoicing, hope and direction for our lives (Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path.).

You see, after the Israelites weeped over their sin and began a new devotion to God, Nehemiah told all the people, “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

And just as the Israelites learned, when we become people of the Book, we learn too that the joy of the Lord is our strength. We find true joy, hope, direction for our lives and can rejoice fully in the love of Jesus. So, go now, and be people of the Book.


hopeful

The Turnaround

The Chicago Cubs. I’ve been a fan of this team for as long as I can remember… Sitting on my dad’s lap watching Ryne Sandburg, Shawon Dunston, Andre Dawson and the Penguin, Ron Cey. And throughout the years, I’ve passed this love of the Cubs on to Jami and our kids. Each year, minus the “crazy year,” we try to get to at least one game at Wrigley Field.

So in 2018 we bought tickets to watch the Cubs take on the Washington Nationals. At that time, Bryce Harper played for the Nationals. So I purposely bought tickets in the Bleacher section of Wrigley Field right behind where he was playing in right field. We got to the game super early so we could be one of the first in line to grab our seats. As soon as the gates open, myself and Carter ran up the concourse ramp to secure front row seats against the right field wall. All throughout the game we heckled Bryce Harper and cheered on the Cubs. Unfortunately for us and the Cubs, they got behind early. And by the bottom of the ninth, they were down three to nothing.

As the Cubs took their last at bats in the ninth, the Nationals quickly got the first out. It was looking really bad at this point. Hope was fading. Then, the Nationals recorded the second out. By this time, even the people who turned their hats inside out to be rally caps were losing hope. The moans and groans in Wrigley Field were audible. Hope was fading fast. Then, strike one. Strike two. Hope was all but lost. The batter took a couple of balls… Then, the batter hit a slow rolling ground ball that the second basemen couldn’t pick up in time. The next batter, Contreras, was hit by a pitch. Hope was extended a tiny bit. The next batter worked the count to three balls and two strikes. And after a couple of foul balls was able to get on base by drawing a walk.

The bases are now loaded. And David Bote, a Cub who was fairly unknown at the time came up to bat. A home run now would win the game. The pitcher threw the pitch… Ball one. The next pitch was a strike. Then ball two. The third pitch was for strike two. And hope once again audibly faded in Wrigley Field. Bote fouled off a couple more pitches. Then took a pitch for ball three. How on earth could he take a pitch in a time like this. You could see and hear and feel the prayers of the Cubs faithful in Wrigley Field. And then… It happened… Something so rare that it’s only occurred 15 times in Major League History… Bote hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs to give the Cubs the win over the Nationals. Cubs fans in Wrigley Field that night went from a feeling of total hopelessness to joy and victory.

Hopelessness.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been there… If you’ve ever had the feeling of being hopeless. Maybe you’re at the start of this new school year and you have this feeling of dread and hopelessness about trying to make new friends. Maybe you look out into the world and see all of the chaos and hurt and despair and it overwhelms you to the point of feeling hopeless about humanity. Maybe you look at your relationship with your husband or wife or your kids… and you feel the arguments and hurt deep inside and you don’t know how to make things better… To get to a better place.

Maybe you look at your life and you… Just… Feel… Hopeless.

I get it. But more importantly… God gets it too. And He sees you in your hopelessness and has created a way to take you from hopeless to hopeful.

Check this out, it’s found in 1 Chronicles chapter 4, verses 9 and 10:

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

We don’t know a bunch about Jabez. This is the only time we read about him in the Bible… But these two small verses tell us two important things. First, the Bible tells us that he’s more honorable than his brothers. We don’t know how much more. We don’t know if his brothers were horrible people or not. It just says that he’s more honorable. And that’s a really important statement considering the situation we find Jabez in. You see, his mother gave him the name Jabez because she gave birth to him in pain. The name Jabez, literally means pain and/or sorrow. In the Jewish culture it’s common to give symbolic names to a child. Additionally in the Jewish culture, the name of a person could also foretell his future. The mother of Jabez gave a vision of what her son’s life would be like… A life filled with sorrow and pain.

I wonder what Jabez was thinking and feeling. He didn’t choose to be in this position. He didn’t choose his name. But Jabez did choose whom he called out to. And as a result, Jabez went from hopeless to hopeful. But how, how did this happen? How did Jabez go from hopeless to hopeful?

First, Jabez called out to the God of Israel, the one true God and asked that God would bless him. He wasn’t shy about it. Jabez recognized that there is only one God and that He is the source of all blessing. And this God is the Father of Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and sacrificed His life for each one of us. If we go to God in prayer, like Jabez did, then we can expect the same blessing that Jabez expected. A blessing that is greater than any material blessing. It’s also a spiritual blessing like good relationships, a compassionate heart, a gentle spirit, good relationships among other things. It’s up to us to go to God and ask for His blessing on our lives rather than chasing the broken promises and blessings that the world tries to offer us.

Secondly, Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory. Now some people think that Jabez was asking for more land… That he was asking God to enlarge his physical territory. But this isn’t what he was asking. In reality, he was asking God to enlarge the territory of his heart. He wanted his spiritual territory to be enlarged. He wanted to reach others for the sake of God’s kingdom. He wanted to bring and claim generations of people for the God of Israel. What do you need to claim or reclaim today in your life? What part of your life do you need to take back from Satan to be able to reach others with God’s message through you? We need to go to God to reclaim those areas in our lives.

Third, Jabez asked for God’s hand to be with him. Jabez recognized that he needed God’s help to lead him in the right direction. He knew that God could and would lead him on the right path in life and keep on that path that is good. Jabez also knew that blessings can only be good things when they are from God’s hand. He also knew that blessings can become curses if they aren’t from God Himself. And the same is true for our lives as well. We should pray that God’s hand would lead us through any and all of life’s circumstances and trials.

And fourth, Jabez asked that God would keep him from harm so that he would be free from pain. Jabez literally means, pain and sorrow. When Jabez is praying, he is speaking against the symbolic nature of his name and the potential vision of what his life could be like. He’s also letting go of the shame that comes along with his name as well. When Jabez went to God in prayer, he went vulnerable, ready for God to turn his weakness and shame around into God’s glory. Does this mean that we will ultimately be free from pain? No. But it does mean that we have a God who will walk with us through our pain and use it for God’s glory and the redemption of humankind through Jesus Christ.

Hopeless to Hopeful.

I don’t know where you’re at right now. I don’t know what side you find yourself on… Hopeless or Hopeful. What I do know is this, praying to the living God is a powerful weapon to help us move from being hopeless to being hopeful. The only reason we see Jabez in the Bible is because he prayed. But Jabez wasn’t using his prayer as a formula to get something from God. He was calling upon God for help… To help him to move from being hopeless to being hopeful. He knew that personal, everyday needs can be brought before God in prayer. And we can do the same thing today, even right now so that God can move us from hopeless to hopeful.


silhouette of a man graphic

Who Are You

Growing up, I had a few alter egos. For instance, there were times when I would ride my bike and pretend like I was Ponch from the old tv show CHiPs. I’d grab one of my toy guns and holsters, my remote control police car and ride around my block looking for crime. After Ponch, came my alter ego of… Zorro. I actually made a mask out of black fabric to wear, put on a black cape, wore my black sweats and put on a sword from one of my old Halloween costumes. Zorro had a cave to get ready in and so did I… my garage. When it was time to battle evil, I’d walk out through my back yard to the garage, change my outfit, then crawl out through the doggy door in the wall. Once evil was conquered, and I did conquer evil, I’d crawl back through the doggy door, change into my regular clothes, hide “Zorro’s” outfit, then go back to my “regular life.” The last alter ego is actually one that I don’t usually talk about. For years I tried to keep it hidden. The reason? Two words… Wonder Woman. That’s right. You can laugh. But I would pretend that I was Wonder Woman. On one night in particular, I got into character and stood on the couch to do battle. The villain? My brother Tim. I jumped off the couch, grabbed him by the wrist and arm, spun him around and around… and let go. He went flying head first into the wooden coffee table. As soon as I let go I knew there were problems. And when he turned his head around as he was crying all we could see was blood running down his face from just above his eye. My mom and dad scooped him up and headed to the ER where he received a number of stitches. Needless to say, that was the LAST time I pretended to be Wonder Woman.

Alter egos.

These were just a few of the other identities I took on as a little kid. When I put on that mask and cape, I WAS Zorro. When I rode my bike with my toy gun on my side, I WAS Ponch. When I put on those pretend bracelets and threw my brother head first into a coffee table, I WAS Wonder Woman. Over time, as I grew up, these alter egos… Identities, went away. They disappeared. But I noticed that as I got older, they were replaced by other identities that I thought made me who I was… Other identities to give me and my life meaning. Instead of having fun in my pretend identities in my younger years, as I got older it became a serious search for who I saw myself to be. So, when I was a teenager, my identity was found in the idea that I was a baseball player… Not only a baseball player, but a baseball player that had a girlfriend. As I got older into adulthood, I made my identity about what I did for work… How much money I made… The title on my desk.

Essentially, my identity was found in what I was doing. And my value and self worth... How I viewed myself and what I thought about myself as a person was linked to that identity found in what I was doing. So, when I was playing baseball really well, I had a high self-esteem. When I had a girlfriend, my self worth was greater. When my coach or my boss thought I did a great job, I thought my value as a person was greater. “Doing” things well equaled a greater self worth. The problem? I didn’t always play baseball well. I didn’t always have a girlfriend. My boss didn’t always think I did a great job. And my job title wasn’t always what I wanted it to be. And when my identity was found in what I was doing, when I wasn’t doing as great of a job as I thought I should have done, my self worth and self esteem lowered. If I stumbled or dropped a ball, I would call myself clumsy. If I would forget to do something at work or get a bad grade in school, I would call myself stupid. Or if I didn’t have a girlfriend, I would call myself pathetic.

Those are the thoughts I would have about myself. But those aren’t the thoughts that God has about each one of us. Only Satan, the enemy of our lives, would try to make us think that our worth comes from our work. Only the enemy wants us to find our identity in what we do, because he knows that when the lights go dark and the "success" is gone, so is our value. But God has a different thought regarding our identity… One that is found in "being" rather than "doing"… One that doesn’t change because of anything that we do or don’t do. You see, our true identity is based on how God sees us.

And how does God see us? According to the Bible, God sees us as someone who is…

Called

Chosen

Citizen of Heaven

Conqueror

First, God sees you… He sees me as someone who is “Called.” Check this out:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

You and I were born into sin. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, sin has been an issue on earth. And each one of us was born into that life. And sin produces a darkness that we can’t get out of by ourselves. We can try to be good enough. We can try to do enough to make things right with God, to make us feel better. But there’s nothing we can do by ourselves that will provide a means of escape from the darkness of sin. Only God can call us out of the darkness we find ourselves in. Only God can call us out of the darkness of sin and despair. Only God can call us out of the darkness of an identity based on doing... Based on what we do. And He calls us through His Son Jesus. And God is calling you right now, even as you read this. God is calling out to you right now.

Secondly, God sees you and has chosen you. The very first part of 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that “we are a chosen people…” Ephesians chapter one verses three through fourteen says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will -  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14

God has chosen you. He has chosen me for Himself. He has adopted us as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. He has chosen us to be children of the living God. Jami and I were able to have a couple of friends pray over us a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had people pray with us before. So going into this we were expecting what we thought was going to be a time of prayer we’ve previously experienced. But it wasn’t. It was something we’ve never experienced before. It was a true gift from God. You see, one friend led the time of prayer. And as he listened to what God was saying, he prayed that out loud. So at one point, he mentioned that God had given new names to people. In the Bible, this isn’t anything new. He gave Saul a new name of Paul. He gave Abram a new name of Abraham. He called Peter, “the rock on which I will build My church.” And then, this friend asked if God was giving me a new name. It wasn’t something I was expecting. But it was something that marked me. And as I thought about it more and more, "chosen" stuck out to me. God chose me. In all of my failures and flaws and ugliness, God still chose me. He chose me as His adopted son through Jesus. But He also chose me to influence and make a difference in the lives of students and families. And God has chosen you as well.

Third, God sees you and I as citizens of Heaven. Philippians chapter three, verse twenty says,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ… Philippians 3:20

You see, when you are Called… When you are Chosen… When you are adopted sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, our citizenship is found in Heaven. No longer do we set our minds on things of this earth… no longer do we set our minds on our selfish ambitions… No. Those things aren’t important any longer. Our hope and our longing is for God’s glory and praise to be lifted in our hearts and our minds. Our identity is no longer based on doing, it’s found and based in our being… being a citizen of Heaven.

And finally, God sees us as Conquerors. But not just any conquerors. No. But conquerors through Jesus Christ who loves us. Romans chapter eight, verse thirty-seven says,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

You see, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ. There’s nothing we can say. There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing that then enemy can do. Nothing can separate God’s love from us. It’s through God’s love and His strength that we can face any hardship… Any trial… Any let down… Any hurt… And be conquerors because of the love of God and the strength of Jesus Christ in us. When we call on Jesus and accept Him as our Savior, there is nothing that can separate God's love and acceptance from our lives.

God's acceptance of us, and therefore our identity, is not defined by our actions. So we will never be a "failure" when our performance doesn't match our expectations. When we reassign the source of our value and worth to its rightful place, in Jesus Christ, we will be free from the fear of failure or the opinions of others. We will be free from the labels we place on ourselves. And free from the shifting thoughts of our self-worth.

You see, God sees us as…

People who are Called

People who are Chosen

People who are Citizens of Heaven

And people who are Conquerors

The only thing that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks about us. And the identity we find in Him will never change.


Guy walking in tunnel

Held in Captivity

Looking back on my childhood as I was growing up, I can name about three things that I loved doing. One, playing baseball… Whether it was at South Side Little League, in my back yard, or simply playing Hot Box, it seemed that I had a glove on my hand nearly every day it was nice out. Two, playing Ghost in the Graveyard… We couldn’t wait for the sun to go down in the summer time so we could start this game. And when our parents called us in for the night, we’d always ask for more time to play and run back outside. (Do kids even play outside at night anymore?) And three, Guns. Ya. As kids, we’d play guns… Or war, or cops and robbers, or whatever you want to call it.

Growing up, our neighborhood had plenty of kids to make two teams. We’d all bring our guns outside day and night. Most of us had multiple guns that we brought… one, because why not? And two, there would always be a kid who wasn’t from our block that was staying the night at a friend’s house who didn’t have a gun. So one of us would loan one out to him.

After dividing the teams up, each team would go separate ways and find a base to defend. And then… the game would begin. The goal? Well, capture as many “enemies” as you could. Locate the enemy base. And occupy the enemy base for the win. We loved playing that game. It seems like we played that game nearly every other night of the summer.

And us Ruth boys… We took it serious. Crawling through bushes. Hiding under houses. Hiding up in trees. Just so we could jump out, shoot the enemy and take him captive. Once we had our prisoner of war, we’d walk him back to our base while the other teammate would provide us with cover. Now, our base was almost always our garage. We made it our base for a couple of reasons. One, we had windows on three sides. Meaning, we could see our enemies coming and shoot them before they reached our base. And secondly, it provided a great opportunity for interrogation.

You see, a garage has a what? Yup, a garage door. Now, what do you put prisoners in as you hold them captive? Yup, handcuffs. And you can bet that the Ruth boys had handcuffs. And do you remember what the most important goal was of playing this game? Yup, finding out where the enemy base was so we could go conquer it. Clearly our enemy captive wasn’t going to give up where his base was easily. So we developed an effective means of interrogation that included handcuffs and the garage door.

It was quite simple, brilliant, effective… and well, a little cruel as well. To get our captive to talk, we’d place him in handcuffs, hook the handcuffs to the garage door, then slowly lift the garage door up. And as we slowly lifted the garage door up by our hands (we didn’t have an electronic garage door opener), the captives hands would raise up along with it causing tension and pressure on his wrists. The result? Oh ya, he talked pretty quickly and would reveal where his base was.

We were masters at holding our enemies captive and getting them to talk. Once we placed them in handcuffs, we could essentially get them to do whatever we wanted, because they knew what was coming next. They didn’t want to tell us what we wanted to hear, but in reality, they had no choice because they were captives of the Ruth boys. If we did any of this now, we'd probably be arrested and prosecuted... man I'm glad we grew up in era we did!

Captivity.

It’s an interesting word. The Bible has some things to say about it. Check this out:

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to Me in the desert.’” Exodus 5:1

You see, the Israelites were held captive in Egypt for about 400 years. During this time, the Egyptians held the Israelites as slaves and worked them extremely harshly and made their lives bitter with hard, cruel works of service. As a result of this captivity, the Israelites were broken in spirit. And as the Israelites cried out to God, He hears their cry for help and provides a way to deliver them out of their captivity.

Fast forward now to Bethany, an area just outside of Jerusalem. A man named Lazarus became sick. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was seriously ill. And while Jesus was making His way back to where Lazarus was, Lazarus died. Now, when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Larazus had already been in the tomb for four days. And when Jesus arrived at the tomb, he told the people to take away the stone. But Martha was worried that there would be a bad odor because of the decaying of the dead body after four days.

But Jesus reminded Martha that if she believed that she would se the glory of God. And after telling Martha that… He called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Just like Moses told pharaoh to “let my people go,” Jesus told death to let Lazarus go. Just as God called the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, Jesus called Lazarus out of captivity of the grave. And God is still calling people out of captivity today through Jesus Christ.

Jesus has told us with His own words that everyone who sins, is a slave to sin. But Jesus came so that we would be set free from the captivity of sin. But how many times do we forget about that captivity if for just a brief moment because we either get some enjoyment out of it, are comfortable in it or are afraid of living without it.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with right now. I don’t know what’s holding you captive. Maybe you’ve asked God to help you with your anger. Or maybe you’ve asked God to help you give up a relationship you’re in. Maybe you’ve asked God to help you be more patient. Or you might struggle with pride, or greed, or envy, or lust, or gluttony. You know these things are wrong, but it’s hard. It’s hard because you enjoy it. Or you’re comfortable in it. Or You’re afraid of living without it. But one thing you do know, is that you know you are held captive to it. Captive to that thing or feeling or emotion or person that you can’t let go of… and you know… you know there’s a better life on the other side of sin. And when you go back to your captivity, you feel alone and depressed and scared… that’s what captivity does to us. You want so desperately to be freed from this captivity, but it’s just not happening.

Can I suggest one possible reason? Maybe, just maybe you need to believe that God is good before you can be set free. Maybe, right now, the reason that you haven’t been set free is because you don’t believe that God is good. Satan knows that as long as we keep believing that God is not good, we will stay stuck, unable to trust and believe God and, as a result, unable to be set free. But just like God didn’t give up on the Israelites until they were free, he won’t give up on us. Just like Jesus called Lazarus to come out of the captivity of death, Jesus is calling each one of us out of the captivity of sin.

Captivity.

If you are held captive today, there are three things that you can do to start your journey to freedom…

  1. Believe God really is good.
  2. Trust in Jesus as your Savior
  3. Surround yourself with friends who will take off your grave clothes. That was the last thing that Jesus said after He called Lazarus. He knew, that the friends in our lives have the ability to help us be free from captivity.

It’s my prayer that you will take steps today, even now, out of the captivity you find yourself in.


Rain on a windshield

Caught In A Rain Storm

The Jeep Life. We decided to embrace that life over a year ago now. And let me just say… It’s been a blast. We’ve had some great times in the Jeep. Jami and I have loved it. The kids have loved it. Lola, well, she’s really loved it too. All winter long we look forward to the day when we can finally take the doors and top off and ride around town for our mini adventures. It really does make the everyday, ordinary drives fun… And at times hilariously funny.

Like in the spring of 2020. It was actually a nice, warmer day for May around here. We decided to take the doors off, put the top down, and take a drive to get lunch in Elkhart, ice cream in Goshen, then run to Menards on the way back home.

As we were driving to Menards, we noticed that a few clouds had rolled in. And once we pulled into the parking lot at Menards, it became clear that it had just poured… Like pouuurrrrred. So we quickly ran in to grab what we needed, and we quickly ran back out.

Now, once back in our Jeep, Jami checked the radar one last time as we began to head for home. What did we see? Oh, we saw a line of heavy rain heading our way. So we decided to try our luck and run for home. 10 miles. 18 minutes. That’s all the distance we were from home. With just seven minutes to go and three miles left, the sky opened up on us. Rain like we had never seen before started to pour down on us. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t see through the windshield. The only way I could see to drive was to hang my head out of the side of the Jeep where the doors would have normally been.

The windshield wipers were wiping back and forth. But they weren’t clearing the water. I thought it was just because it was pouring rain so hard. And that was sort of true. Once we got home and pulled into the garage, I noticed that the wipers were still going… But they weren’t wiping any of the water off the windshield. I literally sat there for close to 30 seconds wondering why the wipers weren’t working. For a moment, I thought that maybe they weren’t touching the windshield. So, I put my hand on the glass. And guess what!? There wasn’t any water on the outside of the windshield. All, and I mean, all of the water was on the inside. It was pouring down so hard that the rain was literally wrapping around the inside of the Jeep and hitting the inside of the windshield. Of course the wipers weren’t helping! They weren’t working because the rain was on the inside of the windshield, it wasn’t on the surface of the windshield.

And as I was thinking back and reminiscing on this story, I began to wonder. How many of us are living our lives this way. We know we have problems or issues going on in our lives. Problems at school. Issues and fights with parents. Problems in our marriages. Problems at work. Problems in our personal life. Problems in our relationships. We know. We know that, right now, it’s pouring rain in different areas of our life. We are cruising down the road just trying to see just enough to not crash our lives.

And we’re trying everything we can just to make it to the next day. A relationship doesn’t work out, so let’s try a different guy or a different girl. This job isn’t working out either. So let’s try a different job. Surely this will be the right one. This marriage doesn’t seem to be working. So we try another marriage. The problems in our personal life seem to be too much to handle, so maybe we turn to alcohol or drugs to solve them. Or maybe we just want to sleep, so we can forget everything… Every problem. Every issue. Every day.

And we try to solve the issues and problems we face by what we currently know how to do. But everything we’ve tried just isn’t working. It’s not solving the issues. It’s not solving any of our problems. It’s not solving the hurt and pain and holes we feel. Everything we try just isn’t working. And our life feels like one giant storm.

I’ve been there. And a few other people have been there too. Check this out:

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” - Mark 4:35-41

The disciples face a storm themselves. Well, they would face many storms, but this storm was out on the Sea of Galilee. The boat began to fill with water and they began to freak out. I wonder how many of them tried to bale the water out with their hands. The Bible doesn’t tell us. But it does tell us that they woke Him up in a frantic shout. They didn’t wake Him up trusting that He could help them. They woke Him up and basically accused Him of not caring about them and their problem. But Jesus, being who He is, calmed the storm. There was nothing they could do to stop the boat from sinking. Everything they had tried or could try just would not work. Only Jesus could calm their storm.

And the same is true for each one of us. You see, everything we try to solve our problems… Everything we try to stop our life’s storm… To heal our pain… To heal our hurt… To fill the hole in our hearts… It’s all just wiping the issues away on the surface. The true pain and problems and hurt and holes are under the surface where the solutions we come up with just won’t work. Just like the wipers not working on our Jeep because the rain was on the inside of our windshield, what truly needs to be wiped away in our lives is on the inside of our hearts and our souls. And the only thing… The only person that can heal our hurt and pain… The only person that can solve our problems and calm our storms… The only person that can fill the hole in our hearts is Jesus Himself.

I’ll leave you with this, Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1-10 says this:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. - Ephesians 2:1-10

It’s Jesus. The person who can make you whole, calm your storms and heal your heart. It’s only Jesus. And it always will be Jesus.


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.


Monterrey, Mexico

Good for Nothing

It’s crazy to me how our minds work. How we can hear a song and it take us back to the very spot we heard it years ago. How it can cause us to feel what we were feeling at that time. To smell the smells. To literally be transported back in time to the very place we were. Or, to travel down a childhood road and go back to playing Kick the Can when you were six years old. Or, to read two words and remember everything about a trip you took. Those two words for me... Monterrey, Mexico.

It’s a place that I’ve been to three times. It’s an area that holds a special place in my heart. Reading those two words transports me back to the dirt roads we walked. It takes me back to the trash heap where some of the residents built their homes from. I remember buying homemade flavored ice drinks. Monterrey, Mexico.

For three years I spent seven days with those people as part of a mission trip with our church. The main reason we went was to help do building projects and minister to kids who lived at a local orphanage down there. It broke me. The kids at that specific orphanage were dropped off by their parents because they couldn’t afford to keep them. Some of them, their mother’s boyfriend made her drop them off because they couldn’t help their family make any money. Some of the kids that had been there since they were babies, would be picked back up by their families as soon as they were old enough to work. It. Was. Heartbreaking. Essentially, those kids at that orphanage were good-for-nothiings in the eyes of their parents. They weren’t good for anything, so their families had given them away. I will never forget those three summers and I often wonder what happened to those kids.

As I was reading the Bible, I came across this phrase, “good-for-nothing.” Check this out:

At the end of twenty years, during which Solomon built these two buildings—the temple of the Lord and the royal palace — King Solomon gave twenty towns in Galilee to Hiram king of Tyre, because Hiram had supplied him with all the cedar and juniper and gold he wanted. But when Hiram went from Tyre to see the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. “What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?” he asked. And he called them the Land of Cabul, a name they have to this day. 1 Kings 9:10-13

King David, because of the wars he faced, couldn’t build a temple for the Lord. But Solomon, because he and Israel were enjoying a time of peace, wanted to build a temple for the Lord God. The king of Tyre had always been on friendly terms with king David. And so, Solomon, now king of Israel, asked the king of Tyre to provide cedar for the temple. Not only did the king of Tyre provide cedar for the temple, but over the next twenty years, the king of Tyre gave Solomon cedar, juniper and gold to help build, not only the temple, but also Solomon’s palace as well. And so, at the end of twenty years, Solomon gave away part of God’s promised land to king Hiram… 20 towns in Galilee as a gift for the king’s services. And after king Hiram went to visit these towns, upon looking at them, he called them, “ the Land of Cabul.” Essentially, he called them good-for-nothing towns.

I don’t know where you’re at right now in life. What’s going on in your world. What’s going on at work. In your relationships. As an adult. Or as a student. I remember back to high school, as a skinny freshman, sophomore, Junior and senior. Seeing friends in relationships. And then there was me. No girlfriend. No relationship. Wondering what was wrong with me. Maybe that’s you right now. Or maybe you’re struggling at the sport you play. While you have fun playing baseball, soccer, football… whatever sport it is… the team you’re on is hard to play with because when you make a mistake, they jump down your throat and you start to feel like you can’t do anything right. Or maybe work just sucks right now. You feel like you can’t win. Sales are down. You feel like you’re doing your best, but your best just isn’t good enough. Or maybe life is simply hard. You feel all alone. Down. Depressed. Connected with nobody. And you feel, well, good for nothing.

The Land of Cabul. Good-for-nothing towns. Some days, that’s the land that you live in, maybe more days than you care to admit. Here’s the thing with these towns… the very towns that the king of Tyre called good for nothing… these are the very towns that Jesus chose as the early focal point of His ministry on earth. The very towns that king Hiram didn’t want anything to do with, are the very towns that Jesus chose to go to. You see, what someone calls worthless, Jesus calls valuable. What someone calls good for nothing, Jesus calls loved. King Hiram didn’t see the value in these towns. But Jesus saw the people in these towns. And Jesus sees you, right now, where you’re at.

You might feel worthless. But Jesus sees you as valuable. You might feel unloveable. But Jesus sees you as you are and loves you as you are. You might feel alone. But Jesus is calling out and wants a relationship with you. You might feel good for nothing, but Jesus is calling you to join His team and His movement.

I don’t know where you are at in life right now, but I do know this… God Himself, sent His Son, Jesus, to earth to save you out of whatever you find yourself in right now. The hurt. The pain. The confusion. The trouble. Jesus has come so that you can find relationship and love and healing. Jesus has come to find you. You aren’t a good-for-nothing. You are loved and wanted and valued… by God Himself… by Jesus.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. Psalm 147:10-11

You see, God is a God of strength. But He doesn’t delight in power. No. More than anything He loves to be in a close relationship to the very people who respond to His love. And it’s my prayer that you’ll respond to His love, even right now.