Lola the dog

Chasing Your Tail

As the kids were younger, I had thought a lot about getting a dog. I mean, I had a dog when I grew up… actually, we had several dogs when I was growing up… at least five. Jami had a dog when she was growing up. So after a while, I knew that we needed to get a dog for our kids. As Jami and I were discussing the idea of a dog, someone let us know that there was one that needed to be given away. A six month old Havapoo… half Havanese, half Poodle. It was the perfect dog when it came to shedding and playing with the kids. And it made our family Christmas cards cuter too.

But seven years into having Zoe, I felt the need to have a “real” dog. When I thought about the idea of having a dog years ago, I always pictured a Labrador Retriever… You know, a real dog. Plus, as we took Zoe for a walk, all I could think about was the neighbors laughing at me as I walked a six pound dog down the street… I know. I have problems. But in my mind, I wanted… no, needed a real dog.

So towards the end of 2019, we purchased and picked up Lola, our charcoal Lab… you know… our real dog. Now I can take the dogs for a walk with pride. Jami has her dog. And I have mine… a real dog. I joke all the time that Lola has the street smarts and Zoe has more of the scholastic smarts. Lola is all dog. And Zoe is… well… I’m not sure… maybe part dog, part cat? Lola can do dog tricks. And Zoe… well, Zoe knows how to sit. That’s about it. One of the things that Zoe has never done that I totally forgot that dogs do until we got Lola, is the whole chasing their tail thing. I don’t know why, but it’s always funny to watch Lola chase her tale. Around and around and around. Trying to grab it with her mouth. 99% of the time she can’t grab it. But there’s that one percent of the time that she does grab it and she treats it like it’s a miracle. I don’t know why I laugh when I see it, but it’s hysterical to me.

And then, as Jami and I were talking about our kids and parenting, it hit me. There are many times where we feel like we are chasing our tails. Like when we tell them over and over again…. take out the trash, do the dishwasher, put the toaster back, clean the top of the oven, clean your room… basically clean up after themselves and take care of their things. And then there’s the… practice your sport, do your school work, get out to the bus on time, read your bible, memorize our family bible verse… you know, the things that should be priority in their lives.

And we find ourselves getting super frustrated telling them… reminding them… telling them again to do these things… you know… chasing our tail only to have them not do what we’ve asked them to do. If only they just did what we told them to do then they’d be perfect little human beings.

We’ve tried everything, from nagging to harping to removing privileges to other consequences to get them to do what they’ve been asked to do in their lives. While that temporarily works… for like 24 hours… we find ourselves once again chasing our tails wondering why there hasn’t been permanent life change. And then we remind ourselves…

It’s not just about changing their behavior. It’s about building up their heart. Instead of getting frustrated focusing on simply putting away the toaster. It’s about teaching them how to serve. It’s about teaching them how to prioritize what’s important in their lives. It’s about thinking about others above themselves. It’s about thinking ahead and being able to see how doing a small task could be so helpful to someone else. It’s about teaching them to follow Jesus and what all that looks like.

You see, it’s really all about their heart. And once their heart changes, then their behavior will follow. Which makes this all the more harder. Because it becomes all about us and less about them. It becomes about how we respond to their perceived failure. It becomes about what we chase in our lives. It’s really about our vision for what’s important and where we place our focus. And it’s really all about our hearts.

Once we realize this, then we can finally stop chasing our tails.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24

When we hear this verse we think about spanking our children. It’s not about correction through pain. Jami’s parents actually had a paddle with this verse on it. But this verse isn’t really about spanking your children. You see, shepherds use a rod and a staff to direct their sheep. The rod is used to gently prod the sheep on the right path. And the staff is used to strongly exert his authority and to gently, but firmly pull the sheep back to the herd moving them in the right direction, away from harm. You see, this verse is all about direction and protection.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

It’s all about directing our kids and protecting them…

So if we look at parenting as guiding and shaping and molding our children then we become more intentional about helping and guiding our children in the way that God would have us and them to live. Then, doing the dishes, putting the toaster back, cleaning the oven becomes an act of service and practicing their sport and doing their schoolwork becomes using the talents God has given them.

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Changing our children’s behavior is super important. But it’s about so much more than that, it’s about their hearts. Which means that parenting and training up our children really starts with our hearts. It’s a perspective shift in our thinking and how we parent. Once our perspective changes, only then can we be free from chasing our tails.


Jeep Wrangler - The presence of God

In the Center

Teaching a child how to drive is one of the most challenging parenting experiences I’ve ever faced.

It’s also one of the most fun too…

Jami and I have been teaching Carter how to drive for the last year and a half. And as I began to ride shotgun while Carter got behind the wheel to drive, it became very clear to me that I make what seems like hundreds of little decisions almost simultaneously as I drive.

For instance, when you change lanes you aren’t simply getting over to the right or the left. No. You are quite literally…

Initiating the thought about changing lanes, deciding on when/where to change lanes, checking the rearview mirror, checking the side mirror, checking rear view mirror, looking over your shoulder, putting on turn signal, beginning to turn the steering wheel, watching the traffic in front of you and end the change of lane in the lane that you needed to be in.

All of these things are happening simultaneously… all at once. Like any kid, learning how to drive doesn’t happen overnight. There’s so many things going on around them, and that can be overwhelming. It’s at the very least distracting.

There was one time when I was learning how to drive when I was a kid. (I’ve never told this to anyone.) Mom was in the passenger seat. I was driving on the south side of South Bend and pulled up to a four-way stop. As I pulled up, I was sure that it was my turn to go. So as I started to pull away from the stop sign, the car to my left started to pull away as well. I didn’t see the lady until she blew her horn at me. As I was in mid-turn to my left, I looked at the lady as we passed by and…

Flipped. Her. Off. With. My. Mom. Sitting. Right. Beside. Me.

To make matters worse, instead of keeping my focus on the road, my focus had switched completely to this lady and the bird to which I was flipping as I continued the left turn just past the lady’s rear bumper nearly missing the curb as my mom screamed, “Todd” which snapped me back to where my focus needed to be... on the road.

There are so many distractions while driving. I guess I completely forgot about them until I started teaching Carter how to drive. It’s really a great analogy to life too. And God knew this as well… check this out:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.” Numbers 2:1-2

Israel had been on this Exodus journey for more than a year and had assembled just about any way they had pleased. But now, ready to enter into the Promised Land, they had to take the next step in organization: Ordering themselves. At the center of this order was the tabernacle itself. The tribes would arrange themselves to the east, south, west, and north in relation to the tabernacle. Since the tabernacle was symbolically the presence of God with them, this meant all order in Israel began being centered around God Himself.

The way they were instructed to camp became a visual reminder, each time they put up their tents, of what should be at the center of their lives... the very presence of God.

And as we read God’s Word, and see His Truths, we can get a glimpse at what should be at the center of our lives. You see, when we place our camp around Jesus… around God’s Truths, the camp of our friendships, the camp of our work, the camp of our family and home… our focus can remain on what is right and good. When we camp our lives around God and keep our focus on Jesus, it makes it less likely that we’ll veer off to the side of the road nearly crashing into a curb and oncoming traffic, and possibly destroying our lives and the lives of those closest to us.

The other interesting thing about this passage is this… it isn’t only talking about individual people… it says,

“…each man under his standard with the… Banners. Of. His. Family.”

Guys. Where you camp your life… what and who you camp your life around, you will take your family with you. Ladies… you’re not off the hook. Where you camp your life… what and who you camp your life around, there will be your family.

There’s a lot of things that we can center our lives around… but there’s only one person who provides hope and love and grace if we camp our lives around Him.

I pray that we all camp around the presence of the Almighty God… Yaweh.


Your story loading computer screen

Your Story Is Not Over

Story.

We all have one. Have you ever compared your story to someone else’s? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought, “I’m not where I really want to be in life?” Have you ever gone on a long walk and thought, “What more can I be doing with my life?” Have you ever sat in the quiet of your mind and thought, “This can’t be it, can it? There’s got to be more.”

We all have a story that is being written with our lives. A page being written each day. And whether we like what is being written or not, it’s our story. Page after page until it fills up a chapter. Then on to the next page. Each one of us has a story that we’re writing. For some, the story is just beginning. For others, it feels like halftime. And still for others, it feels like it’s toward the end of the book.

And no matter what chapter you find yourself in, it’s easy to get frustrated where you’re at in your story right now. But you’re not alone. There are others who have asked the same questions, who have felt the same feelings, wondering what God is doing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been there. I’ve asked the questions above. I’ve had the same thought. I mean, I’m 44. I want to have a bigger impact. And then, in my reading the past couple of days, I come across these folks in Genesis, and it gave me some hope for my story.

Check this out…

Just after the destruction caused by the flood, God chose Abraham to be the foundation of the new humanity that God would build by promising to make Abraham into a great nation. Check this out:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you… Genesis 12:2

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Genesis 12:7

For years Abraham lived on this promise, this covenant between him and God… the promise that Abraham and Sarah would have children. But for the next 10ish years, Sarah and Abraham could not get pregnant. Can you imagine the deep sadness between Sarah and Abraham? The frustration. The desperation. Feeling like their story is almost over.

Instead of continuing to wait for God’s promise, Sarah and Abraham decided to take their story into their own hands and have a child their own way by having Abraham sleep with Sarah’s maidservant. In other words, they settled by having a child outside of the way that God intended. This settling caused Sarah to despise her maidservant and caused trouble down the line for years to come. Talk about drama!

Nine months later, Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, and Abraham’s baby mama, gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Abraham was 86 years old at this point. We don’t hear anything else about this situation until Abraham is 99 years old. Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings and hurt and pain and questioning that might have been going on… for thirteen years!

Then, when Abraham is 99 years old, God appears to him again. In addition to giving Abraham instructions on keeping the covenant between him and God, God tells him that He will give Abraham a son with Sarah. And Abraham fell facedown laughing. And when Sarah heard of this, she laughed to herself because she knew that she was past the childbearing age.

Then, at the age of 100, Sarah gave birth to Abraham’s son, Isaac, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham… 25 years later.

I don’t know where you’re at in your story right now… If you’re comparing your story to someone else’s. If you’re questioning God about what’s going on and the hurt and pain you’re experiencing. Or if you’ve felt like the promises of God aren’t coming through. Or maybe you’ve made some mistakes or gone down a road that would be contrary to God’s Word.

If you’re thinking any of those things, I want you tell you three things…

First, God’s timing is not our timing. You see, God’s timing wasn’t the timing of Abraham or Sarah. They didn’t receive the son that God promised until 25 years later. In this world, we want things now. Fast. Immediately. Sometimes God wants you to wait. As hard as this is sometimes, God’s timing isn’t our timing.

Secondly, don’t settle. Abraham and Sarah settled. They didn’t wait for God’s promise. And that caused them problems, and hurt and frustration and pain. Even though you may not be where you want to be in your story, don’t settle.

Thirdly, be faithful during the waiting. It’s easy to get mad at God. It’s easy to get angry at the situation. It’s easy to get frustrated in your story. But don’t lose faith in God. Don’t lose the commitment you have to Him. Keep his commandments. Stay close to His Word (the Bible). And keep your ear open to him as you pray.

Lastly, I want to say this… God accepted and chose Abraham not because he led a perfect life. No. It’s because of Abraham’s responsiveness to God’s promises. Check this out…

Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6

No matter where you’re at… no matter what you’ve done… as long as you're breathing, your story still has time to be written.

We all have a story. And no matter where you’re at in your story, it’s not over.


The wilderness in Israel

It's Not Normal

Man.

To say that these last ten months have been anything but normal would be an understatement. It’s easy to look back to see what “could have been” and get frustrated. It’s easy to look back and think about how “things should have been” and get angry.

Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!

Do you ever find yourself there? In that place? Screaming at the world. Yelling at God. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! None of this makes sense!

Why God!?

I don’t know if you’ve been here… in this place. But I have. Looking back, there may have been another person who found himself in the same spot as well. Check this out:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. - Matthew 1:18, 19

Can you imagine the thoughts that Joseph had? To be in that very situation? I wonder what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He and Mary’s situation wasn’t normal. It was far from normal. It wasn’t typically like this.

A baby? He hadn’t even touched her yet. They were married, but by Jewish custom, they hadn’t made it to the consummation part of their marriage. Did he scream at the world? Did he yell at God, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” Did he scream,

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

The Bible doesn’t say that. But because Joseph was a righteous man, he did consider divorcing Mary because he knew that the Jewish law placed her in a bad spot should the religious leaders think she had broken their law.

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

Because Jesus came into our world to break away from normal.

There was nothing normal about the way Jesus came into this world. A virgin birth? That’s not normal. It can only happen with the help of the Divine… from God Himself. And I think that’s what Jesus wants us to see this Christmas… to realize that He came into this world to break away from the normal…

I don’t know what your life was like 12 months ago. But as our world gains some clearance from this nonsense, Jami and I don’t want to go back to normal. We don’t want what was normal… to let ourselves get caught up in our busy schedules, running mindlessly around trying to make each appointment. Focusing on schedules and task lists.

Sure, our kids will go back to their activities. And that’s a good thing. Business will get busier. And that’s a good thing. But Jami and I don’t want what was normal. We valued our schedules and tasks way too much. If the last ten months has taught us anything it’s this…

The most important things in our lives is Jesus and each other. If everything goes away but we have Jesus and each other, then that is enough.

So as we head into the next year, our family is focused on being Jesus to each other and bringing Jesus to others. Jesus broke away from the normal in this one little birth between two human beings. And Jami and I want to follow in his example by bringing Jesus to the lives of others by breaking away from what we knew was normal.

Jesus came to break away from normal…

Will you? If so, comment how you’ll do this in this upcoming year.


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.


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


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?

 


Spiders and the Web of Fear

So, I'm driving home the other day...

It was a great day to drive home with my car windows down. Radio was up. I was singing... loudly. The people in the car next to me were staring as I pulled up to a stop light. As I was in the middle of doing a drum solo on my steering wheel, this little thing caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. As it was running across my windshield, out of reach of my wipers, I audibly said, "Noooo," in a slow motion type of voice. (At least that's what it sounded like to me.) At that point, it was a race. A race to see if I could get my windows up faster than a spider could get inside my car. Luckily for me, I won. The spider was denied entrance into my vehicle.

But for the next 40 minutes, on my way home, I chose to drive with my windows up. I really wanted to enjoy the weather. I so wanted to have my windows down to enjoy the fresh air. But I let a fear of spiders win out. I let the fear of something so small prevent me from doing something I really wanted to do.

I've noticed something, I've let this happen in other areas of my life as well. I've let fear be the determining factor in whether or not I do something I know God is asking me to do. I've let fear prevent me from trying new things. I've let fear prevent me from being the person that God's called me to be. I've seen it in my kids, Carter and Morgan. I've seen it happen in the lives of students. And it sucks. Because, in the end, for me at least, I look back in disappointment and sadness. I look back with regret. But, that's what fear does. It traps us in its sticky web and sucks the life out of us.

You see...

I could have crushed the spider had he entered my car. He was a lot smaller than me. It wouldn't have even been a match. But I let fear rule my world for that 40 minutes. And I've let fear rule my world in bigger areas of my life and endeavors.

But, here's the thing...

God can crush whatever we're afraid of - whatever fear that holds us captive. But we've got to open the window and let God do what God does. Because that fear, whatever it is, is a lot smaller than God. It's not even a match.

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7 (Amplified) 

Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:3-4 (NIV)

One last thing... I've noticed that when I'm letting fear rule my life, I'm making it out to be about me. When in reality, this life isn't about me - it's about God. Everything I have... everything I have to offer... talents and abilities... comes from God. And when I turn my focus off of me and focus on God, my fear turns off.


The Right Tool

I've had a couple of cars in my time that needed a "specialty tool" to open things up.

The last car that needed a "specialty tool" was our Honda Civic. It was a great car. It served us well. But I needed a pair of pliers, specifically needle nose pliers, to open the hood to this car.

The thing that you would typically pull to open a car hood had broken. So, if I didn't have these pliers, I couldn't open the hood.

It's a tool that's not typically thought of to open the hood of a car. Yet, it's the only tool that would open my car's hood. I knew this, because I drove that car. It was my car. You wouldn't have necessarily known that you needed to use something different to open up my car's hood unless you looked closely. I only knew how to open it up because I was in it everyday, I knew my car and what it needed to open it up.

And, here's the thing...

This is true when it comes to students... when it comes to our own kids. Each student is different. You can't always use the same tools on every student you come in contact with. Morgan is very different from Carter. I can't talk to them the same way. The words I use. The tone. The jokes. If I want to connect with both of them, I need to find what works with them. How I like to connect isn't necessarily the same for Carter or Morgan.

You have to use what works. You have to work to find connection points. Connection points that are ever changing... because our students and kids are growing up. And the only way to know that, is to get to know your students. To take the time to get to know our ever-changing kids. To look closely into their lives and be with them.

If you do that, you'll discover what you need to open up their lives to you. I can't promise that it will be easy or that it won't take time. It's tough. It's hard. Sometimes you'll be frustrated. But as parents, as youth leaders, it's our job to not give up. It's our job to push forward and to love them through the tough points. Because in the end, everything that is worth it is rarely easy. And if nothing else, take heart in knowing you're not alone. Keep pushing. They're worth it.