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.


Tiberious Israel

The Call to Obedience

Obedience.

Just reading or saying that word might make you feel some type of way. When I was a kid, I had to obey at home. I had to obey at school. And by the time I reached my teenage years, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.

Now, as a parent, I expect and want obedience from my children. So many times Jami and I find ourselves saying, "I just want them to simply obey what we're asking of them. If they would just obey..." And most of our arguments in our house stem from their lack of obedience. If you're a parent, I'm sure you can relate.

Obedience.

Whether you're an adult or a student, it's a word that elicits a number of feelings. And it seems that whether you're a student or an adult, there are what seems to be countless people in our lives that expect obedience from us... including new expectations of obedience from our government. So, now when we hear or see the word obedience, it brings up negative feelings and/or feelings of rebellion.

Obedience can be tough. Especially when you don't respect the person asking for it, or you don't think they have your best interest in mind. And then there are some of us when we think of the word obedience we automatically go into the mindset of, "You're not the boss of me."

And so, when we hear that God wants our obedience... When we hear that we're supposed to obey God... We've already got all these negative associations with the word. And we think, "God's not the boss of me." But obedience doesn't have to be associated to a negative ball of emotions where we simply obey because we think we have to. I've come to the conclusion that when I struggle with obedience, it's because I have a problem with the people asking for my obedience. It's because I don't trust them.

And when I was first told that I'm supposed to obey God and His Word, I was skeptical. I thought, "He doesn't know me. He has no clue what I'm about." But what I've found as I've grown in my relationship with God is that I was skeptical because I didn't know who God was and is. I had no clue what He was and is about. As I read more and more of God's Word, to learn more about God is to learn more about being obedient to Him. And as we learn more about being obedient to Him, a few things naturally happen.

First, as we seek to be obedient to God, we have our eyes opened to the goodness of His Word.

Psalm 119:18 says,

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

You see, if we're going to be obedient to God, we need to read His Word and pray that He will open our eyes to see all of the wonderful things in His Word. And as we read God's Word and ask Him to show us His love and wonderful things in His Word, our desire to be obedient to God will grow more and more.

Second, we will be blessed and be a blessing to others.

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. - James 1:25

When we read God's Word and actually put it into practice, God will bless our actions and our obedience. Not only will we experience God's blessing, but others will also experience God's blessing through us.

Third, it's in our obedience to God that we will find our greatness. Check this out:

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:19

You see, I believe that God doesn't care about how great you are in as much as He cares about how obedient you are to His voice. Over the last year and a half, as I've read God's Word and have honestly prayed to Him, I've realized again what God is calling me to. It's a life changing, God-sized calling. It's a calling that is bigger than I could ever dream of. And a few months ago, as I was mowing my front yard, I was again praying and telling God that I simply want to be obedient to what He's asking me to do. And so, as I mowed, this was the discussion I had with God...

Me: "Lord, I just want to do what you want me to do."
God: "Ok. Then mow your neighbor's front yard."
Me: "What? That's not what I was talking about."
God: "I know. But it's what I want."
Me: "But God, I was talking about something else."
God: "I know. But it's what I'm talking about now."
Me: "But God. I mean I want to obey you in the big areas."
God: "Ya. And so do I. But I also want you to obey in the small areas too. The areas you think don't matter."

And as I finished mowing my front yard, I went over to my neighbor's house and asked if I could mow the front yard. And as I began speaking with her, she began to tell me how thankful she would be as she couldn't get her push mower to work. Had I not listened to God's prompting... Had I not been obedient in this seemingly small thing, my neighbor would have continued to struggle. You see, you can’t pray, "God may I be obedient to You" and then choose not to be obedient. He will always give you an opportunity to be obedient. But you might just miss the opportunity because you think it is too small.

Finally, being obedient to God also builds our character and faith. You see, obedience is easy when there's a clear path... a clear direction. But being obedient to God when there's absolutely no path that's visible to the human eye is character building... it's faith building... it's another level of relationship building between myself and Jami's relationship with Jesus. And it brings to life Psalm 130:5:

I will wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His Word I put my hope.

Craig Groeschel said, "A waiting season is never a wasted season." It's easy to look out and see no clear direction or movement to what God has called us to do and want to take things into our own hands and make it happen ourselves. But sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, God is calling you to wait... He is telling you to wait. And the waiting is what He wants you to be obedient to... Because even in the waiting God is moving.

If you're a parent now, or if you will be a parent in the future, one of the biggest blessings you can give your children is by following the call of God on your life... One of the biggest gifts you can give your kids is to be obedient to God.

Obedience.

All of us will be obedient to the voice in our life that has our attention. I pray that the biggest voice in all of our lives is God's voice.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. - Deuteronomy 8:6


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.


Jeep Hoist

It's Ok To Ask For Help

So, the other day I bought an electric hoist to make taking the hard top off the Jeep a ton easier. I found the one I wanted and then Morgan and I went and bought it. I was excited to have this hoist. I mean, we’ve had this Jeep since last October and we hadn’t taken the entire top off. And now, with this hoist, we can make our Jeep completely top free. After bringing it home, it was time to install it. I had watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to put this thing on my ceiling. Jami and I had gone to a few stores in search of a bar that would help reinforce the hoist and make it completely safe to use without worrying about the weight of the Jeep top pulling down our garage ceiling. Once we got the metal bar and screws home, it was game on.

I was a little nervous about being able to safely install this hoist. However, my friend Davis, a fellow Jeep owner, encouraged me and had faith that I could put this hoist up (shout out to Davis!). After reading Davis’ words, I decided to try and pull it off by myself. I prepared all the materials in the garage. Pre-drilled the holes in the ceiling studs that would hold the anchor screws. Grabbed the metal bar. Attached one anchor screw. Attached the second anchor screw. Then the third. And then screwed in the fourth anchor screw. This thing is definitely not coming down. I even placed two spacers on either side of this anchor bar… why? Well, honestly I don’t know why. I saw it done on one of the YouTube videos and thought it made sense.

Now it came time to hang the electronic hoist. I adjusted the ladder to where I needed it to be. Then I grabbed the hoist. I feel like I need to say one thing about this hoist first. You see, as I was walking out of the store with this thing, I commented to Morgan on how heavy it felt in the box. Fast forward to the Sunday after buying this hoist, I picked up the hoist out of the box. Now, I had just had my hands above my head for a bit drilling holes, holding the metal bar and trying to line up the holes in the bar to the holes in the ceiling, then screwing in the four anchor screws. In other words, my arms and shoulders were already tired. So when I pulled the hoist out of the box, it definitely felt heavier than when I bought it. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I grabbed the hoist, made my way over to the ladder, then made my way up the ladder towards the ceiling. I raised the hoist up to where it needed to be hung and then realized quickly that I needed to bring it back down to the ladder. I thought, ok, maybe I just need to rest for a minute. So I brought the hoist back down and laid it back on the chair.

After resting for a few minutes, I tried again. I grabbed the hoist and made my way back up the ladder. Raised the hoist above my head, tried to put one of the bolts in above my head and above the hoist… nope… couldn’t do it. This time I thought maybe it was the position of the ladder. Ya, it had to be that. So I repositioned the ladder and climbed back up. Lifted the hoist above my head and tried to screw it in again. Still couldn’t do it. So I climbed back down. Climbed back up. Then climbed back down. I did this probably ten times almost falling off the ladder twice because the weight of the hoist had shifted in my hand and shoulder. I even asked Jami to help screw in the bolts to the top of the hoist. But because I couldn’t hold it up for very long, and because we couldn’t see the top of the hoist to screw in the bolts, we couldn’t get it done. And then she said ten words. Words I didn’t want to hear. The words?

"Maybe you should ask one of your friends for help.”

What!? I don’t need help, I can do this myself I told Jami. Plus, I didn’t want to bother one of my friends. I was sure they were busy and had other things to do. So back up the ladder I went. And then, back down as quickly as I went up. Five more times, again nearly falling a couple of those times. And then it finally hit me. Maybe I really can’t do this by myself. Maybe I should ask one of my friends for help. So I did what very few guys like to do… I pulled out my phone and sent a text to one of my friends asking for his help. I felt horrible about it. I kinda felt like a failure because I couldn’t do it myself. And I felt like I was putting my friend out, like I was an inconvenience to him. But I sent him a text asking for help anyway. He came over a little later that day, and we installed the hoist in just a few minutes. You see, I just wasn’t meant to put up that hoist by myself. But together, my friend and I put it up together.

After we had the hoist installed and took the Jeep top off, I thought, man life is just like this experience. We run through life, all of its problems and circumstances and we think that we’ve got this. We don’t need help. But life was never intended to be lived alone. It’s always been designed to be lived in community together. Check this out:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. - Genesis 2:18-22

From the beginning of time, God knew that it wasn’t good for any of us to be alone. He knew that each one of us needs community, we need togetherness, we need people in our lives. Life was never meant or designed to be lived by ourselves in isolation. God’s very design was for us to live in community. But loneliness is a real problem that many of us have felt at one time or another. In a recent study, 36% of all Americans — including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” And it’s only been made worse with COVID. And if that’s you right now, I want you to know two things.

First, Jesus loves you right where you are. Right in your loneliness. Right in your suffering. Jesus loves you. And when you call on the name of Jesus and ask Him to come in your life and save you, He doesn’t leave you alone. He provides you with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit to comfort you. John 14:26 says,

"But when the Father sends the Comforter instead of me*—and by the Comforter I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you much, as well as remind you of everything I myself have told you.’ - John 14:26

Second, the church is here for you. It’s filled with people who love Jesus who can provide you with the community you need.

What a wonderful God we have—he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

No matter what age you are, the church is a place where you can find hope and healing and community.

Lastly, I think most of us has struggled with the feeling of being alone. Or feeling like we’re a bother if we ask for help with something we’re going through… The struggles we face. The Hardships we have. We just don’t want to bother someone with what we’re going through. Or we think we can get through it ourselves. Whatever we’re going through, we can handle and solve it ourselves. But God has placed people in our lives for a reason. Check this out:

On one of the days while Jesus was teaching, some proud religious law-keepers and teachers of the Law were sitting by Him. They had come from every town in the countries of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. The power of the Lord was there to heal them. Some men took a man who was not able to move his body to Jesus. He was carried on a bed. They looked for a way to take the man into the house where Jesus was. But they could not find a way to take him in because of so many people. They made a hole in the roof over where Jesus stood. Then they let the bed with the sick man on it down before Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” - Luke 5:17-39

What kind of friends do you have in your life? What will your friends do for you? How far are they willing to go to help you? Better yet, what kind of friend are you? What will you do for your friends? How far are you willing to go to help your friends? You see, this dude couldn’t walk. He was paralyzed and couldn’t move his body. Everyone knew that Jesus was in town. Everyone knew that Jesus had the power to heal people. And this paralytic and his friends heard that Jesus was in town too. What did they do? They carried this guy on a bed from their town to see Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us how far they came. They don’t tell us how heavy this guy was. How many times they had to stop to put him down to rest. But we do know that this was only half of what they did. They other half? Ya, they tore apart the roof, raised up the guy on the bed to the roof then lowered the guy down to where Jesus stood. These friends did all they could for their friend. They carried him on the road from their town. I wonder what they talked about. They tore up a roof. They knew Jesus was inside and that He could heal their friend. They did everything they could just so their friend could be brought before Jesus. They did all they could to help bring him healing.

You see, life is meant to be lived in community. In a togetherness where we all help to bring healing to each other through Jesus. We’re all struggling with something, it’s up to each of us to be roof-top friends to each other, being willing to be the kind of friend who will do all we can to bring healing in the name of Jesus.


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.