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.


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.


Dew on grass in the morning

What Is It?

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

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

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

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

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

Check this out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

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

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

And then the Scripture goes on to say…

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

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

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

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


Jordan River in Israel

Are You Ready

As a kid, I loved looking forward to things that were good… Christmas. Birthdays. Getting my drivers license. My first day going away to college. And before college… the last day to any school year when that final bell rang and you got on that bus for the last time before summer.

Anticipation… for the good things, is a feeling like no other. Anticipation for something that isn’t good is… well… not anticipation… it’s dread. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the feeling of looking forward to something that’s good that’s around the corner. As an adult, this has become counting down the days before a family vacation to our favorite place in the States… Charleston, South Carolina.

Jami and I took a trip there last July for our anniversary… and we fell in love with that place. Now, we’re planning on taking our kids back there this June to see a Charleston Battery soccer game. And we can’t be more excited to show them what we experienced. Including showing Morgan the locations where Outer Banks is filmed! (In all honesty, I’m just as stoked to go back to those locations.)

I really can’t wait to get back to Charleston and take our kids along. I’m sure we all have our stories of anticipation. Childhood stories. Adulting stories. And as we read God’s Word, there’s another group of folks who might have had the same anticipation story as us. Check it out:

So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” Joshua 1:10-11

For 40 years… FORTY. YEARS. The Israelites had been wandering around in the desert waiting for this moment. For 40 years they couldn’t enter the land that had been promised to them because of their disobedience to God. You see, God promised Abraham that there would be a Promised Land for the Israel nations to come out of his son, Isaac. And after God freed the Israelite slaves from Egypt through Moses, they ran low on their food to live. So much so that they wished they were back in the good old days of slavery in Egypt where they didn’t have to worry about where their food would come from. But God didn’t leave them to starve and instead provided manna to them all.

At one point, God told Moses to send twelve spies into the land of Canaan, one spy for every tribe of Israel. The spies went out and traveled the land for forty days. The spies came back and reported to Moses what they saw. The land was flowing with milk and honey. There were many places to grow food as farmers. But there were also many strong clans of people living there and many of the spies were afraid of them.

Caleb and Joshua wanted to lead the Israelites to take the land right away. They weren’t afraid of the Canaanites. The other spies lied and said that they saw very tall and strong people, some of them the size of giants. When the Israelites heard this, they became angry with Moses for leading them out of Egypt. They were afraid, too, and cursed God for bringing them there. They forgot God’s promise that he would help them.

God was angry with the Israelites for their complaints. They didn’t trust in Him no matter how many signs and gifts He gave to them. Moses prayed for forgiveness on behalf of the people. “Forgive the mistakes of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love,” he prayed. The Lord responded, “I do forgive, just as you have asked, but I will punish this generation of people for their lack of faith. You will wander in the desert for forty years, the same number as the number of days you spied out the land.”

Then, after 40 years, Joshua gives the order to the people… Get ready. You only have to wait THREE MORE DAYS! Can you imagine what they must have been feeling!? What must they have been thinking? The anticipation must have been like they hadn’t felt before.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Moses and the Israelites had to have struggled at times throughout those 40 years. Life was probably hard at times. I don’t know where you’ve been these last 40 years. These last 40 months. Or these last 40 days. Maybe you’ve been through hell. It might have been rough at times. Things might have been a struggle. Life may have certainly been hard and in your life you may feel like you’ve been wandering.

But God is telling you right now that your promise land is waiting for you right now to cross over. God is telling you right now that there is a better life to be lived and that He will provide for you if you will simply put your trust and faith in Him. And while He has a promise land for you to find, just like the Israelites, in order to find it there’s a couple of things God wants you to do to see it.

First, keep your eye on the Word of the Lord and follow it. Then you will know which way to go… you will know how to live.

Joshua 3:3-4 says, “…When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”

You see, in order to know how to get to our promise land… In order for us to know how God wants us to live, we need to keep His word continuously in front of us. When we do that, then can we know how to get to the promise land He’s provided and how to live.

Second, consecrate yourselves to God. In other words, promise yourself to God and follow Him. Devote yourself to following God. It’s surrendering all of you to all of Him. It’s a simple recognition that every second of your time, every ounce of your energy, and every penny of your money is a gift from God and for God. Consecration is an ever-deepening love for Jesus, a childlike trust in your heavenly Father, and a blind obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Joshua 3:5 says, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

When we consecrate ourselves to God… When we recognize that every second of our time, energy and money is a gift from God and for God, then can He do amazing things with and for and through our lives. Then can we enter the promise land.

I don’t know where you’re at right now. Whether you’re just entering your desert. Or whether you feel like you’ve been wandering for years. But I do know this, God wants you to enter your promised land. He has promised a better way of life. And it’s right around the corner waiting for you.

Can you feel the anticipation? I can. And God can too. The question is…

Are you ready for God's promised land in your life!?


Water and Ocean in Florida

What's In The Water

What's in the water?

We always find ourselves gravitating toward the beach slash water. Doesn’t matter where we’re at really. Michigan, Charleston, Folly Beach, Florida, California… We almost always end up near water.

It wasn’t always like that for me. I didn’t grow up with a pool or going swimming all of the time. I never even learned how to swim until after my 8th grade year in school. And that was only because I had nearly drown at one of my friend’s 8th grade graduation party.

Like kids do when they’re at a pool party, they began pushing others in. I didn’t even see it coming. I was standing near the edge of the pool talking one moment, and the next I found myself at the bottom of the deep end trying to frantically get back to the top and stay there. Had I not fallen in the pool near another kid, I may not be here today.

Needless to say, I made it a point to learn how to swim so I could feel safe and enjoy the time around any type of water, from a pool to a lake to an ocean.

In what I used to fear, I now seek out on a regular basis. Jami and I gravitate towards the water wherever we find ourselves. There’s just something that overcomes our souls as we soak in the water… whether it’s an ocean, Lake Michigan, the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River or in the mangroves on a paddle board.

Water played a huge role in the Bible. It’s mentioned a total of 722 times. It’s mentioned more than faith, hope, prayer and worship. Water was used to heal people. It was turned into wine. And it also turned into a meeting place of sorts…

Check this out:

Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” - John 4:4-14

There’s a lot going on in these passages of scripture. So to break it down quickly, Jesus was on His way back to Galilee. In order to get to Galilee, he had to travel through Samaria. This wasn’t a simple five mile journey. It was about a journey of 125 miles on foot. So it makes sense that He would need to stop to rest, get some food and water.

Now, while at this well, He met a Samaritan woman who was stopping at the well to get some water. In those days, the Samaritans and Jews weren’t on speaking terms. To say they didn’t like each other would be an understatement. But Jesus, knowing this, still asked this woman for a drink of water.

It’s interesting to me that, even though Jesus was probably thirsty, He had an ulterior motive for asking this question. He was more interested in this woman’s well being than His thirst. As they are talking about water, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the water from the well) will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”

It’s not lost on me that, while this lady (who was poor and struggling), came to the well to get her physical needs met, she left having so much more of her life changed… in her everyday life.

I can’t tell you how many times this very thing has happened to me. In my conversations. In my job. In my everyday life. I’m just going about living and Jesus reaches out, speaks to me and changes my heart and my mind.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to meet my physical needs - searching to fill my mental and physical spaces only to be left feeling empty and thirsty again - continuing to fill those spaces time after time after time after time. And it’s in these spaces where Jesus meets me and offers His living waters - grace and mercy, love and acceptance that fills every space from heaven.

And just like this woman at the well - just like He’s done with me time and time again - He will meet you in your everyday life, probably unexpectedly and will offer His living water for you… to you.

This is why Jami and I gravitate towards water so much. It soothes and refreshes. It washes and cleans. But most importantly, Jesus used it to bring others closer to Him and to God the Father.

So, what’s in the water? Salvation. Grace. Mercy. Acceptance… to put it another way…

Jesus


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.


Lake Michigan beach in Ludington, Michigan

Peace Out

Driving 112 miles an hour down the road.

I can still remember this night like it was just last night. Waking up to a loud thud coming from my son’s room isn’t initially something to be concerned about. He regularly would fall asleep reading a large-sized book. But when we opened his door we didn’t see a book on the floor.

We saw our son on the floor.

As we tried to sit him on his bed, it became clear that he couldn’t support his own weight to hold himself up. And as he tried to communicate, his speech was slurred as drool ran from his mouth.

After a couple of seconds of trying to get him to respond, Jami asked if we should call 911. I quickly made the determination that I could get him to the ER faster than it would take to call 911, and wait for the ambulance to get him to where he needed to be.

So I grabbed Carter, Jami grabbed a sleeping Morgan from her bed and tossed her into the car. I then handed Carter to Jami in the backseat and we proceeded to drive as fast as we could to the ER. 112 miles an hour didn’t seem fast enough. But because of the length of the roads and the stoplights, it was as fast as I could get to in our Honda Pilot.

As we flew up to the ER doors I ran in and said with as much purpose as I could two words…

“My son.”

Nurses and doctors quickly reacted and we pulled him out of the backseat and into a room in our local ER. In what seemed like a few seconds, he was hooked up to countless wires. At one point his oxygen levels were in the 80’s.

After getting him stabilized, the next step was to run tests to see if they could find the reason as to what was going on. Waiting on the EKG and blood work results were torture. Not knowing what was going on with our son, whether he would be ok or not was one of the hardest times in our lives.

Worry. Anxiousness. It was awful. We couldn’t eat or sleep. The worry and anxiousness made our stomachs sick. All we could do was sit, rub our son’s head and arms, cry… and pray.

“…The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:5-7

The only thing that got us by while we were at the hospital waiting for Carter’s results was the time we spent praying to God.

God doesn’t promise to help us understand why something happens. He doesn’t promise that everything will be ok. But He does let us know that when we come to Him in prayer, He will give us a peace that will guard our hearts and minds.

If you’re like me, it’s what I need the most. Because I can go crazy in my own mind with worry and anxiousness. Whether it’s family related. Sickness related. Now Covid and/or election related. If I’m not in prayer the worry and anxiousness can quickly takeover and I can spiral down into a cranky depression-ridden dude.

But when I continually run to Jesus in prayer, and I don’t understand it, but the peace He gives me covers and guards and calms my mind down so I don’t go crazy.

God will also guard our hearts with peace. When people get sick… when things go wrong… when people we love get hurt… when we’re anxious and worried… God will also guard our hearts so that anger and bitterness don’t take hold.

God loves each and every one of us. He cares about our hearts and our minds and mental health. It’s not something that we can completely understand. If it was, it wouldn’t come from God Himself.

As we sat there in that hospital room for hours… HOURS, not knowing what the test results would reveal, we ran to God in prayer. And while He didn’t take away the questions, He did cover us in peace.

We finally received the test results back in the morning after the doctors ran test after test after test. They revealed that he had suffered from severe heat exhaustion and dehydration. I’m not going to say that God answered our prayers. Because that would mean that there are times that God doesn’t answer the prayers of others.

What I will say is this… The Lord was near us in that time. the Bible tells us this many times over. In fact, in verse five, Paul, the writer of Philippians reminds us of this…

“The Lord is near.”

I don’t know what you’re going through right now. But I do know this… just like God is fighting for you (I wrote a blog post about that here)… The Lord is near you.

God is near.

With all of the craziness that is going on… in all of our hurts, and struggles, and worries and anxiousness…

God is near.

Like water washing up on the sand. And that’s what I want each and everyone of us to hear and understand and see… in our worries and anxiousness and struggles…

God. Is. Near.


Pumpkin Guts

The fall season is officially here.

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

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

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

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

It. Was. Hilarious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check this out…

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

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

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

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


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.