Pile of stones

Stone Piles

Thanksgiving is this week.

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

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

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

Check this out...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget the goodness of God.

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

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

On this Thanksgiving week…

Don’t forget the goodness of God.

For He surely hasn’t forgotten you.


Valley of the Doves in Israel

God is for You

Two questions for you guys…

If you have kids, I want you to think about this question… When you look at them, what’s the one thing you want them to know? I know. I know. There are many things. You want them to know you love them. You want them to know that you care about them. But beyond that, what’s the one thing you want them to know?

When you look at your kids, what do you want them to know?

Let me ask another question, when you were a kid, what was one thing you wanted to know from your parents? For me, when I look at my kids, I want them to know that I am for them. It’s the one thing that I wanted from my parents and my coaches. I wanted them to be for me.

You see, when you are “for someone,” you want the best for them. You love them. You care about them. You believe in them. You will stand up for them and do all that you can do to help them succeed.

It’s the one thing that I wanted my students to know when I was a youth pastor… a juvenile probation officer and a director at the Boys and Girls Club. And as a parent, it’s the one thing that I want my own kids to know without a shadow of a doubt.

When you know that someone is for you, you can go a little bit further. You can push a bit harder. You can get through some of the toughest times of your life. When you know that someone is for you, there’s not much else that matters. You have a confidence that they love and care about you. It’s moving. It’s comforting. Because there’s a security in knowing that you have someone that is for you.

We all want to know that our boss is for us. We want to know that our spouse is for us. We want to know that we have friends that are for us. We want people in our lives that… are… for… us. It’s not just a kid thing. Even as adults, we want and crave for there to be people in our lives that are for us.

But there are times where we may not feel like we have anyone in our corner… when we don’t have anyone for us. If that’s you today, I want you to hear this…

God is for you.

Check this out…

“But you, mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. 9 See, I am for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, 10 and I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt." - Ezekiel 36:8-10

I don’t know where you’re at today. 2020 has been interesting. It’s been tough. For a lot of people, it’s feels like they can’t catch a break. For many, it seems like there aren’t many people for them. You might feel empty handed or in despair. If that’s you, please hear this…

God is for you.

But, but, but… If you knew who I am… If you knew what I’ve done… The people I have hurt… Cursing God and turning my back on Him… There’s no way that He could be for me. I understand that and have a past and a history just like everyone else… know that God is still for you.

That verse in Ezekiel… God had previously been against Israel, His judgement had been upon them. But He’s telling them now that He is for them. This change wasn’t because God changed. Just as God had previously visited Israel with judgement because of their sin, He would also visit Israel with grace and mercy because of their repentance.

And the same is true for us. When we turn to Jesus, we are no longer receiving judgement. No, we receive grace and mercy. When we turn to Jesus, God is for us.

I don’t know where you’re at today. I don’t know if you have anyone who’s for you. I don’t know what’s going on in your life. But I do know this, when we turn to Jesus…

God is for us.

God doesn’t promise that we won’t have struggles. He doesn’t promise that everything will be perfect. He doesn’t promise that hard times won’t come. But He does promise that if we turn to Jesus that He will be for us.

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" - Romans 8:31


Photo of Garden of Gethsemane in Israel. The Long Walk

It's About the Walk

Growing up...

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

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

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

Jim, slow down.

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in love.

Let me write that again…

Walk. In. Love.

It’s actually found in Ephesians chapter five…

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in love.

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

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

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

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

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

God calls each and every one of us to…

Walk. In. Love.

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

Walk. In. Love.

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

So…

Walk. In. Love.

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

Who does God want you to walk with?

Go and…

Walk. In. Love.


Pumpkin Guts

The fall season is officially here.

And with it brings Halloween. I loved this holiday as a kid. I mean, who wouldn’t like going house to house begging for candy and ripping the guts out of pumpkins.

Growing up, our kids have loved this holiday too. One of the many traditions we keep is the annual gutting and carving of pumpkins. If I’m honest, it’s more stressful for me than fun. Not because I’m scared of cutting fingers off. It’s because I’m terrible at carving pumpkins. They just never turn out how I intended for them to look.

One of my favorite memories of the gutting of the pumpkins happened 11 years ago according to the upload date on Youtube. Carter, who’s standing on a chair at the table declares that he’s going to dive into his pumpkin to tear out the guts.

Just before he dives in, he yells, “Timberrrrrr.” And as he dives in, the chair that he’s standing on pushes out from under him as he falls to the ground.

It. Was. Hilarious.

He was fine. And he got back up and proceeded to tear out all of the gross guts of the pumpkin. After carving the pumpkins, the kids always want to place a candle inside to light them up for all the world to see… to them they’re beautiful.

It doesn’t matter that they’re not perfect. That wasn’t the point of carving the pumpkins. It was never the point. It was about spending time with their father… and their mother. The point was and always will be to spend time with and build our relationship together.

You see, as imperfect as the pumpkins are, the point of us placing a light inside for all the neighborhood to see isn’t to show off how perfect and beautiful the work is… no… the point is to show the relationship that was built through the transformation of two pumpkins.

I don’t know where you’re at today mentally. If you’re like me, you have days where you struggle with and hate and stress over how imperfect you are. You look at others and wonder how do they have everything together. And you start to doubt and wonder why anyone should stop to look and listen to you.

That’s a struggle that I have more times than I care to admit to. “If people only knew…” and then the stress and hate comes creeping in over how imperfect I am.

Then Halloween comes along and reminds me again that it’s ok to be imperfect. The goal of life is and was never meant to be lived perfectly. It is designed to be lived in relationship with our Father… to build that relationship together with Him.

Jesus can and will take all of the nasty pumpkin guts from our lives and design our imperfect life into something new for all to see.

Check this out…

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” - 1 John 1:1, 2

This life… this relationship with Jesus was never designed to make our lives look perfect. No, it’s designed to change our souls from the inside out… to build relationship with the Father… so we can show others and change the world one life at a time.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” - John 1:4

My prayer for you today, is that you open your life up to Jesus.


What Do You See?

What do you see?

People? A stone floor? A giant stone wall? Backpacks? Shoes? Cameras?

I’ve seen this place on the news… on tv many times.

The Wailing Wall. Some call it the Western Wall.

What do you see?

The first time I saw it in person was at night with a small group of people. Everything all lit up, the giant stone wall climbing to the pitch black night sky. It was a sight I will never forget. Amazing and awe inspiring doesn’t come close to describing it.

The next day we came back with the whole group. There’s actually two areas to approach the wall. One area for the guys and one area for the women. Regardless of what you believe or feel about that, it’s the way it is.

For guys, you can’t approach the wall without your head being covered. If you don’t have a hat, there are yarmulkes that you can grab and place on your head. I had a hat, but I took one to wear anyway… I may or may not have given it back like you were supposed to. I know I know… I’m a horrible person. I still have it somewhere around my house.

Like many places in Jerusalem and Israel, the place that I was standing, the Wailing Wall, was and is holy ground. It’s not like Disney World where kids are running around and people are laughing. There is a weight and sense of reverence for this place that is within the walls of Old Jerusalem.

The ground that I was standing on was and is considered holy.

As I walked into the area that you can see in the photo, it was clear that this place was 100% different than the area just 15 feet behind me. Towards the back there were Jews who were studying the Torah… sitting at a desk, memorizing and literally taking in the Word of God.

As I walked closer to the wall, I could see people praying silently. Some were placing paper into the cracks of the wall. That was something I was prepared for. I remembered seeing that on the news as I was growing up. We were also prepped beforehand so that we could write a prayer to God and place it in the wall. As I stood at the wall, and placed my paper prayer in the crack, I could see the Orthodox Jews out of the corner of my eye.

The Orthodox Jews don’t just stand in silence to pray at the wall. The guys that I saw were rocking back and forth and were physically and audibly crying out to God. As I stood there and watched, it was clear that they so desperately wanted the presence of God and wanted God to hear their prayer.

As I looked to my right, there were others, non Jews, tears streaming down their faces as they cried out to God and stuck their paper prayers into the wall.

Jews. Non Jews. People from all over the world. Standing at the Wailing Wall (Western Wall) crying out to God. Asking for God to hear them. Desiring God to move.

As I stood there, I no longer simply saw stones and walls. I not only felt the presence of God, but I saw it there in the holy place and in the very people I was standing next to.

It’s now been over a year since we’ve visited Israel. But the lessons of that trip, the lessons of specific areas keep seeping into my life… into my mind.

This place, the Wailing Wall, has not been more applicable to me than right here and right now.

When you look at 2020 what do you see?

When you look out into our country, what do you see?

When you look at those that sit on the opposite party as you, what do you see?

These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. And it’s a question that we all must answer.

As I was beginning to write this post, I could hear my kids arguing and fighting upstairs (my office is in the basement.) The words that came out of their mouths toward each other broke my heart. After talking with them, I took Lola on a walk to clear my head.

As I was walking the dog, two things happened… each song that I listened to was centered around the presence of God. This wasn’t a 10 minute walk. This walk took 40 minutes. It’s not an accident that each artist sang about the presence of God. Secondly, God placed this question in my mind… “What do you see?” And then it hit me and I started to wonder… What do my kids see when they are arguing with each other?

As I thought about it those 40 minutes, it became clearer and clearer that my kids only see whatever it is that they are arguing about. This morning it was cold brew coffee. It was all about what they perceived to be “theirs.” They didn’t see each other as a brother or sister. They didn’t see each other as human beings. They didn’t look at each other and see the very presence of God in each of them… that they are made in the image of God. They didn’t see any of that… They simply saw each other as the enemy to what they wanted.

Guys… People… It’s the same thing with our country. It’s the same with those who are on the right and the left. Those who are red. Those who are blue. It’s the same for me and for you. Ohhhhhhhhh. That rhymed… totally didn’t mean to do that, but I’ll keep it.

What do you see?

When you look out at our country… When you look at those who are on the opposite aisle… when you look at those who have wronged you and those whom you disagree with… when you look at those people, do you only see the issues? Do you only see red? Do you only see blue? Do you only see the perceived wrongs? Or do you see the presence of God in their souls. Do you see the image of God that they have been created?

What do you see?

You see, when all we see are the issues…. When all we see is red or blue. When all we see are the perceived wrongs and disagreements… It’s easy to hate the other side. It’s easy to be enraged with anger towards them and sling hateful words. It’s easy to look at them with disdain.

But when we begin to see the presence of God in others… When we begin to see the image of God within their very being… we will begin to treat them with love and kindness. We begin to see the intrinsic value they have... not because of who they are, but because of who's they are... because they are God's creation.

But how can we begin to possibly see differently?

Check this out…

“I asked them about the conditions among the Jews there who had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem. They told me, 'The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.' When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-Heaven. I said, 'God, God-of-Heaven, the great and awesome God, loyal to his covenant and faithful to those who love him and obey his commands: Look at me, listen to me. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I’m praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you.” - Nehemiah 1:2-6

It’s hard to argue where our country is at. It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t resemble what Jerusalem looked like back when Nehemiah walked the earth.

But what Nehemiah saw and what we ultimately see is defined by what our heart sees… It ultimately is determined by where our heart is… When Nehemiah received a verbal picture of Jerusalem, it didn’t enrage him… he didn’t lash out and attack the people responsible… No.

It broke his heart… when he received the verbal picture of Jerusalem, the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept… that he mourned for days… and that he fasted and prayed before the God-of-Heaven.

You see, it’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

Nehemiah also knew something else… He also knew that he himself had sins to atone for… He knew that he also had a hand in the problems of Jerusalem…And he took responsibility for his sins and confessed them to the God-of-Heaven.

So… What do you see?

Do you only see the issues… The colors… The disagreements… The hurts… which enrages you.

Or,

Do you see what Nehemiah sees? Do you see the very presence of God in people. Do you see the image of God in those you may have differences with?

Nehemiah’s heart broke for the people of Jerusalem. If we want to see people how Nehemiah saw people, it starts in our heart. It starts with seeing ourselves for who we are and praying and confessing our sins to the God-of-Heaven. It starts with our hearts breaking for the wrongs that we have committed… Taking responsibility and calling on God to ask for forgiveness.

Then, and only then, will we see like Nehemiah saw and have our hearts break for others… to weep for our nation.

It’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

So the question remains…

What do you see?


In the Everyday

I love this photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The days become the same everyday.

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

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

Listen to this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sea of Galilee

Play Dough Faith

Play Dough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible tells us over and over to be compassionate.

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

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

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

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

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


Dusty Souls

I love sitting around the fire pit at night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God sends out an invitation to Moses.

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

It was clear that he had met with God.

Let me explain it a little differently…

Fast forward a few hundred years…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, follow me.

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

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

May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is,

Will you sit by the fire with God?

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

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


False Sense of Safety

We love driving our Jeep with the top and doors off.

There's just something about riding in a vehicle and watching the pavement speed by. I used to drive a delivery truck for Ziker Cleaners when I was in college for extra money and would drive with the door open so I could hang my foot out. There's just something fun about it.

The other week we hung out at our friend's house after a leadership conference. As we were walking out to our Jeep, their then seven year old daughter followed us out, walked through their front yard and proceeded to climb in the backseat. She didn't say a word. Just climbed in and buckled her seat belt.

"Well, I guess you're coming with us," I said, as we proceeded to drive off with her in our backseat much to this little girl's surprise. "What!? Where are we going?" As we drove away I told her that we needed to pick Carter and Morgan up from their practices and then we would bring her back home. (I don't think she really thought we'd take off with her in the Jeep... but we did.) 😂😂😂

As we were driving she was throwing out questions while she was trying to keep her hair from whipping her in the face.

"What happens if we get into an accident?"

"Well, we have a roll bar so you'll want to keep your hands up by your shoulders... kind of like if you hug yourself."

"How fast are you going!?"

"100 miles per hour..." Her response... "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!? 100 miles per hour!" (We really were only driving 45mph.)

Then Jami jumps in... "Todd, she's only seven."

Then there was a bit of quiet as she tried to keep the hair out of her face.

Then she asked one final question...

"What happens if they start shooting at us, I don't feel safe!?"

"What!? Who's shooting at us? Who are "THEY?" And why are THEY shooting at us? You're seven? Who's shooting at a seven year old? What type of work are you in? SHOOTING AT US? WHAT?"

Her response... "There's no doors!"

What? Doors won't stop bullets I tell her. Which blew her mind. She thought she was safe in a car from people shooting at her because of the doors. But doors don't stop bullets. When she thought she was safe, she really wasn't. Sure, she could duck. Or not get involved with people who would need to shoot at her in the first place. She could make choices that would help make her more safe. But believing that car doors would simply stop bullets isn't true. It's a false sense of security and it took a ride in a vehicle with no doors to make her realize that.

I still don't know why this seven year old would think someone would be shooting at her... is she pushing cocaine? Is she working for the mob? Is she a spy? Needless to say, we picked up Carter and Morgan and returned this girl back to her parents safe and sound... with no shots ringing out.

But this Jeep ride got me thinking a bit... well, the seven year old got me thinking.

How often do we run through life thinking we're safe? We're in control? And then BAM...

Covid hits.

We get laid off of work.

Kids start school at home on the computer.

We or someone we know gets seriously sick.

And we realize that we've been living in this false reality that we might be in control... in a false sense of security... like car doors would actually stop bullets. When in reality, there's a lot that we don't control.

I don't know why bad things happen... why some people get sick and others don't... why life is really hard sometimes. Sure, sometimes it's because of the choices we make and we bring it on ourselves. But there are things that happen that are outside of the control that we thought we had. 2020 has shown us all and given us plenty of examples.

It's easy to get caught up in life... when things are going well... when things are going as planned... "We've got it all under control" we think. And then boom... you get in a car with no top and no doors and you start to wonder "what happens if they start shooting at us" only to find out that even if you have doors, the bullets will still impact the inside of the car.

For a lot of us, 2020 has been kinda like riding in a car with no top or doors. We've fully come to realize that, as human beings and parents, that most of what happens to us is out of our control. Sure, we can make good decisions and place ourselves in better positions... but in the end, those are just doors. Ultimately, we don't and can't live in total, complete safety.

So the question is...

Where does your hope come from? What do you place your hope in?

Our hope comes from God. May  He fill you with joy and peace because of your trust in Him. May your hope grow stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

When we put our hope in our leaders, or our relationships or our health, we will for sure be let down. People will let us down. Our health can fail us. Money can run out. Safety in our eyes won't stop bullets from penetrating our cars. But there is one who won't let us down. There is one whom we can trust. Jesus is his name... it's in him where our hope should be... the giver of life. I pray this for my life... and I pray it for your life.

Will this make our problems go away? Hardly so. But it will change our outlook on life's circumstances. This isn't a rose-colored glasses kind of outlook. It's an outlook of hope IN SPITE OF the circumstances that we face. It's the kind of hope that changes what you post on social media. It's the kind of hope that changes your words. It's the kind of hope that fills you with hope and peace. And it's this hope that I'm praying that will impact my life and yours.

There's one more question I want to ask my already believing friends... where does your hope come from regarding those you disagree with? It's a question I had to face. Those that I really, truly disagree with regarding everything that's going on in our world and culture today. It's a question that will be answered by simply looking at how we interact with the very people I was just talking about.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we can see what hope really looks like regarding those that we disagree with. The very man that would betray him, Judas, had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus the night before his betrayal. The man who would deny Jesus three times had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus.

Do the people whom you disagree with, maybe even dislike, have a seat at your dinner table? Are they welcome?

 


Stuck in A Corn Field

I love corn mazes.

When our kids were growing up, we’d take them every fall. They loved them too. We’d get to the start of the maze and they would take off running with their friends. Inevitably they’d come running back screaming, “come on, come on,” as they’re pulling our arms down the path.

Corn mazes are great… as long as you stay on the path. One year I decided to walk off the path so that I could explore and eventually scare the kids. Unfortunately for me, I was at the edge of the corn maze.

After venturing a little too far and taking more turns than I should have, I found myself stuck in the middle of a corn field. Feeling completely disoriented, I had no idea how I was going to get back to the corn maze path.

Luckily, as we usually did, we went to the corn maze near sunset. So in order to get back, I used the sun as a compass to help get me back to the path. Once I got closer, I could begin to hear the voices of my friends and the kids and eventually made my way back to the path.

That’s kind of how I feel like parenting can be at times. Or, how about 2020 in general.

It can feel like I’m lost in the middle of a corn field with no known way back to the path. There are so many unknowns… the virus and shutdowns, the civil unrest, the presidential election and what that will bring, and now the kids school and sports.

So much unknown. And it can be completely disorienting… like you’re walking in the middle of a corn field not knowing where to turn. And that’s just your feelings/my feelings. If you have kids… how do you parent when you feel like you’re off the path.

First, depend on the Son.

As soon as I started to feel disoriented in the middle of the corn field, I calmed myself down and looked to the sun. You see, as we drove up to the corn maze, I took note of where everything was as it related to north, south, east and west. I knew, that, if I could find where the sun was setting, the sun would point me back to where I needed to go.

The same is true with life. In times like this, when we feel disoriented and lost, whether it’s related to all the crap in 2020 or just parenting in general, the Son will point us back to the path where we need to go.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him,Follow me.” John 1:43

Jesus, the Son of God. He is the One who will point us to the path where we need to go. He understands where we are, where we’ve been. He understands and knows us.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14

He, along with the Bible, will point us in the direction we need to go in our life and our parenting.

And two, have friends in your life where you can trust their voice.

You see, I knew I was heading in the right direction when I could hear the voices of my friends getting louder and louder.

Who’s voices in your life are the loudest right now? Those who are helpful? Or those who’s cause more confusion and madness? In order to find your way back to the path you need to be on, you need the loudest voices in your life to be voices you trust and point you towards the right path and not create more confusion and angst.

This in an interesting time to be alive. It’s a challenging time for sure, especially if you have kids. But there is a way out of the disorienting corn field…

Follow the Son. And have friends in your life whose voice you can trust. I can’t promise you won’t find yourself in the middle of a corn field again, but you’ll definitely be able to find your way out if you do.