silhouette of a man graphic

Who Are You

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

Alter egos.

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

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

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

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

Called

Chosen

Citizen of Heaven

Conqueror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see, God sees us as…

People who are Called

People who are Chosen

People who are Citizens of Heaven

And people who are Conquerors

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


Dream Artwork

Following Your Dreams

Growing up, there have been a lot of different things that I had dreamed of doing with my life. Depending on what age I was when you’d ask me, the answer would have been different. Like, when I was about four or five, if you would have asked me what I dreamed of doing, I would have told you that I wanted to ride on the back of a trash truck or drive the trash truck that flipped the big trash containers (I called them “dipsee dumpsters”). If you would have asked me when I was between six years old and eight years old, I would have told you that I dreamed of being a police officer. (I really loved watching CHiPs, TJ Hooker and Hunter back in the day.) And when I was nine years old to about 15, I wanted to be a professional baseball player.

As I look back over my life, those were just three of the dreams that I wanted to follow. There have actually been more, but we don’t have enough time to talk about them all. And as you look at your life, you can probably remember some of the dreams you wanted to follow. The reality is, is that we’ve all had dreams we wanted to follow. And most of us, might still have dreams we want to follow. But when I read the Bible, it doesn’t say to follow your dreams. That’s not the call. The call has never been to follow your dreams.

So, what’s the call? Check this out, it’s found in Matthew chapter nine, verse nine:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

The call on each of our lives, as it was on Matthew’s life, is to follow Jesus. That’s always been the call. Don’t get me wrong. Having dreams isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great thing to have dreams. But the problem begins when the call to chase the dream drowns out the call of Jesus. The problem begins the moment when our focus is greater on the dream than on the call of God to follow Jesus.

You see, Matthew, he was living the dream. Or at least I think he was for the time he was living. Was he disliked by many Jews? Sure. But he held a lucrative government job for the Roman Empire. He was making some serious dollar bills ya’ll. He was making bank. He was making that coin. And when Jesus walked up to him, he was in the middle of that job collecting taxes. And so, when Jesus rolled up to Matthew and said, “Follow Me,” Matthew had a choice to make. To follow his dream of making a great living working for the Roman Empire. Or to follow the call of Jesus. Matthew chose to follow the call of Jesus and leave everything behind.

The call to follow Jesus.

For some of us, the call to follow Jesus is a call to leave the dreams we have behind because we know those dreams will lead us down a road that will be opposite to what Jesus wants for our life. For all of us, though, the call to follow Jesus is a call to leave our old life behind and start a new life in Christ. Essentially the call to follow Jesus is a call to have an undivided heart. Check this out, Psalm 86:11 says this,

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. Psalm 86:11

David, the writer of this Psalm, was praying for an undivided heart in order to give all of it to God in his praise. “Heart” in the Bible doesn’t refer simply to emotions, no, it’s referring to the whole person. David was literally praying for help to aim himself in a single direction towards God. You see, David knew that he needed God to direct his life. He knew that his success, his safety and his soul’s satisfaction depended on the God in Heaven, YAWEH Himself. And that’s still true for each and everyone of us today.

When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, it was easy for Matthew to know what Jesus meant… to drop what he was doing and literally begin to follow Jesus. But what does the call to follow Jesus mean in our lives today. I mean, Jesus isn’t physically standing in front of us saying “follow me.” So, if the call to each one of us is to follow Jesus, what does that mean?

First, the call to follow Jesus is a call to turn your heart towards God’s Word. Psalm 119:36 says,

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Psalm 119:36

In other words, live your life in such a way that you truly are asking God to turn your heart to Him each and every day. The call to follow Jesus isn’t a one-and-done call. It’s a daily denying of the desire to be our own boss. To give up the rights to our lives. Jesus Himself said that if we want to follow Him, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). It’s quite literally asking that God’s Kingdom be worked in and through our lives and that God’s will would be done as well.

Secondly, the call to follow Jesus is a call to be humble. How many of our arguments, fights, contentions and divisions happen because we aren’t humble. For me… it’s almost every single one of them. Our homes, neighborhoods, country and world would be a completely different place if we would simply live our lives out of humility… if we would simply be humble. It was something that Jesus demonstrated when He walked the earth. Philippians 2:8 says,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8

How much more should we demonstrate humility in each of our own lives. Jesus, God Himself… literally God in the flesh, humbled Himself for each of us… the ultimate demonstration of humility… died for each of us. And it’s in humility that God calls each of us to follow Jesus.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

Third, the call to follow Jesus is a call to love others. Your neighbor. Your family. Your friends. And yes, even your enemies. Matthew 22:39 says,

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

Jesus was always teaching His disciples to love others. As Christians, we are asked to love not only the people who live next door to us but to love and show compassion to everyone we interact with. A part of being a disciple of Jesus is showing His love to everyone we meet. Everyone. Even our enemies. Matthew 5:44 says,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Matthew 5:44

Everywhere we turn the corner, online and on tv, we are consistently watching people hate each other. People going after each other. And then it comes to our lives. How many times have we wished evil on our enemies? How many times have I shown hate towards others? Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to like me. But one way to follow Jesus is by praying for those that despise us. To Show the love of Jesus to the very people that hate you. To treat them with kindness even if you never get it back in return. Loving people who love you back or first is easy. To love those who hate you, well, that’s what Jesus did which means it’s possible with God’s help that we can too.

And fourth, the call to follow Jesus is a call to worship the living God with our entire heart and mind. Matthew 4:10 says,

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. Matthew 4:10

You see, Jesus was tempted just like we are tempted. Satan took Jesus up to the top of a high mountain and offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus, knowing God’s Word, and showing complete commitment to His Father, told satan to bounce. Jesus’ heart was undivided. He loved and His only worship was of God alone. Satan offered up what looked like a great deal if Jesus only worshipped him. But Jesus knew that the true reward lies within His worship of the living God. Satan does the same thing with us… consistently tempting us with the attractive riches of this world. But our true reward, our greatest reward lies within our worship of the living God and His Son, Jesus. John 4:24 says,

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:24

Worship, praise and thanksgiving should be an everyday part of the follower of Jesus routine. When we pray to God, we shouldn’t forget to worship Him for everything He has done for us. Our worship should be an ongoing event as we live every day. Our worship of the living God should be continually in our mouths, in our hearts and in our minds.

The call of God. It’s a call to follow Jesus each and every day of our lives. It’s a call that each of us can choose to answer or to ignore. God doesn’t call us to follow our dreams. He calls us to follow Jesus. And when we do, new dreams are born. Heavenly dreams found in Jesus Himself.


Monterrey, Mexico

Good for Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trash behind a shed

Behind the Shed

It’s finally the warm months here in northern Indiana. With it, at least for the Ruths, brings more time outside. More walks. Beach trips. Making food on the grill. Cookouts. And… time spent making our front yard look good. You know, mowing the yard diagonally, planting flowers, laying down mulch and fertilizing the grass. For the Ruths, we do what we can to make our front yard look good… or at least presentable.

Our backyard? That’s a bit of a different story. We have a couple of dogs, so we don’t fertilize the backyard. We have weeded less. And there are piles of sticks and branches that we need to burn. I know, that at some point, we’ll have people over. And that means that, in the summer months, they’ll see our backyard. So we’ve begun to make it look better. As I was out in the backyard cutting down tree-weeds, I walked past our shed. And, Jami, knowing that I had cut down some not-so-lovely-tree-weeds, said, “Doesn’t behind the shed bother you too?” “What? Behind the shed?” I hadn’t looked behind the shed since last fall. So, when she asked that question it made me stop and think. And then, I went to look behind the shed. You guys… what I saw… it was awful. It literally looked like a junk yard. Check it out... guys... I'm not lying!

Trash behind a shed

Our front yard looks fine. It looks pretty good. Outside of a mole that’s been terrorizing us this year, our front yard looks good. We’ve got people fooled. When they walk or drive by, they see our nice flowers, diagonally-mowed grass and our American flag. If only they knew what was behind our shed. The literal trash that sat behind there for so long. They would know that our front yard was… well… a farce. All for show to make people think we’ve got it all together. To make it so we aren’t living in embarrassment.

Behind the shed.

We’ve all got a “behind the shed.” I’m not talking about a physical shed now. I’m talking about the metaphorical shed that’s found in each of our lives. We nicely manicure ourselves and our social media to make it look like we’ve got it all together, only to have a mess behind our shed, afraid of what people would think if they only knew. Well, you might not. But I definitely have been there. And as we read the Bible, there’s a story of a woman who had people find out about the mess behind her shed. Check it out:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:2-11

The woman had what she hid behind her shed shown for everyone to see. I mean everyone. Jesus wasn’t just teaching to a group of five people. No, He was in the temple courts where he was likely speaking to a large crowd of people. Can you imagine, literally being dragged down the street. Past onlookers walking by? Past person. After person. After person. Wondering where you’re being taken. And as you look up, trying not to look at anyone in their eyes, you see a large crowd. Now, as you pass through the back row of people, you’re being bounced off of people who are listening to someone teach. Crying and scared, you’re continuing to be pushed to the front of the crowed for all to see. Can you imagine? Everything that she has tried to hide… all of the trash behind her shed is being put on display for all to see. Can you imagine?

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything else about this woman. Only that she was caught in adultery. What was her life like? Who was she married to? Did she have kids? Did people respect her? What was her life like? How long did she try to hide the mess she was living in behind her shed? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions. In reality, the answers to these questions probably don’t matter. What we do know, is that the mess… the trash behind her shed was put on display for everyone to see. EVERYONE. Can you imagine the shame and guilt and embarrassment she felt as she was being dragged past people she probably knew? And then, as she was finally being dragged to the front of the crowd, her head hanging low… she sees the feet of the one who was teaching. The man everyone came to hear. Jesus. And they made her stand in front of Him and everyone else.

“Jesus,” the Pharisees said. “This woman, she was caught in the act of adultery. The Law says to stone women like her. What do you say we should do?” And as we picture this scene in our mind’s eye, the Bible gives us two simple words in response to the question the Pharisees had… in response to all of the mess and trash behind this woman’s shed. Two words. Eight letters. That would lead to a life changed and renewed. The two words?

“But Jesus”

A life filled with embarrassment… “But Jesus.” A life filled with shame and guilt… “But Jesus.” A life filled with fear and hurt… “But Jesus.” A life filled with pain and sin… “But Jesus.” This woman… was brought out into the public… dragged by people she probably knew… through a crowd of people… the Pharisees, filled with hate… hate for Jesus… and hate for this woman. They wanted to make an example of her in her shame and guilt and hurt and pain… and was willing for her to die by stoning… But…

“But Jesus,” out of His compassion, instead accepted the woman in her shame and guilt and hurt and pain… He accepted all of the mess behind her shed… and didn’t condemn her but forgave her sin. You see, all of the Pharisees who brought her in front of Jesus… who brought her in front of the crowd of people to humiliate her… they too had things behind their shed that they didn’t want anyone to know about. Because when Jesus asked for any of them without sin to throw the first stone, they one by one walked away.

You see, when it comes to the things behind our shed… the things that we would be embarrassed about if people were to find out… it doesn’t phase Jesus. We don’t have to get pretty to come before Jesus. He accepts us as we are… with all of the mess and trash behind our shed. But He doesn’t just accept us as we are… it’s not just that He doesn’t condemn us… He also wants to help us clean up our lives behind the shed and live a life that chases after Him.

The Bible says that all of the Pharisees walked away until it was only Jesus and the woman who was left. But, when I sit and think about that woman’s story, I can’t help but think about how many in the crowd who were left, stunned by what they just witnessed. Sure, none of the Pharisees were left. But in a crowd that size and where they were at, I believe there were still onlookers who witnessed a life saved and changed. And in each of our lives, as we come before Jesus with the mess behind our shed, you can bet that there will be people who will witness your life saved and changed as well.

We all have things that are hiding behind our shed… “But Jesus” will meet you where you’re at and help make your life new again.


Doubleday Field during Induction.

The Dirt Under My Feet

I grew up playing baseball. I mean, with the last name of Ruth… In the ‘80s… There wasn’t really any other sport that I should have played. For the better part of my early years… from the time I could walk, all the way until I graduated high school… Baseball was a major part of my life. I remember sitting on my dad’s lap, watching the Cubs play on tv. I remember playing catch in the front yard of the apartment we lived in for a little while when I was super young. And as we were growing up on the South Side of South Bend, Indiana, my brothers and I made a baseball field in our backyard… Playing every day of the summer with the small wooden baseball bat we had as we pitched tennis balls to each other in our backyard.

Baseball. It was a way of life growing up. We knew all of the greats. Mantle. Maris. Clemente. Robinson. Banks. Sandberg. Grace. The Penguin. And Ruth… Babe Ruth. We dreamed of making it to the Big Leagues and playing in the same stadiums as our Hall of Fame favorites once did. The reality is that none of us did grow up to make it in the Big Leagues. But we did get to go somewhere special when we were younger…

Cooperstown, New York.

For those of you who aren’t baseball fans, this small town name doesn’t mean anything to you. If you’re a modest baseball fan, you might not even know this town either. But a true baseball fan, the person who absolutely loves this game, knows the significance of this little town. You see, each year the greats of baseball come to this town to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown, New York. It’s hallowed ground really. I remember when me, my mom and dad and brothers arrived there. It was part of a trip where we also got to see Niagara Falls. But between you and me… It was Cooperstown that I wanted to see… No, I needed to see. I remember waking up the morning we were supposed to head there. I couldn’t wait. We were going to Cooperstown. The anticipation. I mean, not only were we going to see the Baseball Hall of Fame, but we were going to be able to see Doubleday Field, grounds where baseball had been played since 1920.

As we pulled into Cooperstown, we parked on a side street and got out of the car and stepped onto an old brick road. And in my six-grade mind, I asked myself… “Did Babe Ruth and the other baseball greats walk on the dirt that’s under my feet?” To me, the dirt I was walking on… The brick road under my feet… The place I was standing on was holy ground.

There are many places that people might consider holy ground… a specific place designated by some person or some historical act that makes it special. And while the story of Cooperstown will always hold a special place in my heart, there’s one other story I want to look at regarding holy ground that’s found in Exodus Chapter three, verse five. Check this out:

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5

When it came to the holy ground of Cooperstown, New York, my family and I had to make a special trip to experience that place. And while I loved every minute of being there, I’ve never been back. I went and experienced that place once in my life. And the truth is, I’ll probably never go back.

But what we see here in Exodus three is something different. You see, if we go back a few verses in Exodus three, in verse one the Bible tells us that Moses was taking care of his father-in-law’s animals. This was something that wasn’t new to Moses. This is what he did on a regular basis. He didn’t make a special, once-in-a-lifetime trip to take care of these animals. It was his ordinary life. This is what he did each day. And it’s exactly right here where he experienced God.

What if… just maybe… we’re missing God because we think we need to be somewhere specific for us to experience God? What if we aren’t meeting God because we think we have to do or be somewhere extraordinary to hear from Him? We think we need to be in church to hear from God. We think we need to do something extraordinary to experience God. We think we need to completely change to meet God. Church is great. Doing something extraordinary is awesome. Changing who we are for the better is a good thing. But I think that…

It’s in the ordinary that God will do something extraordinary.

I think a lot of us miss God, because we aren’t expecting to meet Him in our ordinary, everyday “boring” lives. But God is here with us, everyday. And that makes everywhere we walk holy ground. The job we go to is holy ground. The soccer field our kids play on is holy ground. The mall we walk in is holy ground. The home we live in is holy ground. Because God is already there with us.

So how can we be like Moses and meet with God and experience our holy ground moment?

First, keep your eyes up. As Moses was taking care of his father-in-law’s animals, he kept his eyes up and saw something that was different. In your job, on your sideline or bleacher, at your mall, or in your home… in your everyday life, keep your eyes up so you can see where something might be different… So you can see what God wants you to see.

Secondly, keep your curiosity open. Not only did Moses see that a bush wasn’t being consumed by a fire, he went over to see it because he was curious as to why it wasn’t being burned up. There are things that you will experience in your everyday life that might not make much sense. Stay curious as to why something might be happening. Be open to “seeing the why” behind what you are experiencing… the why behind what is happening in your everyday life.

And be open to hearing and responding to God’s voice in your everyday, ordinary life. When Moses went over to see what was going on, God saw that Moses came over to the bush. What did God do? He called to Moses from within the bush. Moses could have freaked out and ran away because he thought he heard some strange voice from a bush. He could have just dismissed it to just “hearing things.” But he didn’t. Moses instead, answered the call of God and said, “Here I am.”

What if we treated the ground we walk on every day as holy ground. Imagine how our lives would change if we expected to hear from and experience God in our everyday, ordinary lives. Because it’s in the ordinary that God will do something extraordinary.

God is with you… right now… the ground you are standing on is in fact holy. It’s my prayer that you hear His voice right where you are. And I hope you respond as Moses did and say, “Here I am.”


underoos

More Than Underoos

I absolutely loved wearing Underoos when I was growing up. Superman. Batman. Star Wars. It didn’t matter what the Underoo was, I just loved wearing them. If I was wearing my Superman Underoos, then I was in fact Superman. If I was wearing my Batman Underoos, then I was in fact Batman. Chasing down criminals. Battling evil. Conquering the Death Star. When I put on my Underoos, I was the very super hero that I was wearing.

And it was the same thing when Halloween came around. I remember times when I would look forward to picking out what costume I might possibly wear. One year, it was Spiderman. We bought the plastic Spiderman mask and nylon outfit. I couldn’t wear it or play with it before Halloween. But once Halloween came and went, I would play with that super hero mask whenever I could, taking it out into the neighborhood to battle evil.

Underoos and Halloween costumes. When I was growing up, these were my armor… my protection. When I wore these costumes, I could conquer and defeat anything and everything. But in real life, the truth of the matter is, is that my Underoos and Halloween costumes were just that, costumes… mere decorations that I would wear.

Paul, in the book of Ephesians, talks about a different type of armor that God equips us with to wear. But it’s more that just a mere decoration or costume… it’s full protection that God offers each one of us.

Check this out:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:11-17

What’s interesting is that Paul doesn’t say, “If you have trouble…” No, these verses assume that you will most certainly be attacked. Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. Paul goes on to say to put on the full armor of God, “So that WHEN the day of evil comes…” You see, if you’re really going to get in the battle, if you’re really going to do something great for God, if you’re really going to live for Jesus and follow after Him, you’re going to need God’s protection because the day of trouble will come.

But how amazing is it that God has made a way for your protection. He has designed the means to stand against any attack that comes against your life. In our life, we will most certainly be attacked. God won’t protect us from the battle. But He will protect us in the battle.

And this is the protection He’s provided, the full armor of God… check it out:

First, Stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. So many of our battles we face start with lies from the devil himself. You see, belts hold things up… specifically clothes. And these clothes covers us. The truth of God is just like that belt. The truth of God clothes and covers our lives. The truth of God reveals who we are in Christ. It shows us our value. And it reveals the lies of the enemy. When we cover ourself with the truth of God, it holds our lives together and it sets us free in Christ Jesus.

Secondly, we are to stand firm with the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness means that we are being made right in the eyes of God. Sometimes righteousness is talking about the righteousness that Jesus gives us through His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Sometimes the Bible is talking about the righteousness that God carries out through us, like “The righteous acts of the saints” in Revelation 19:8. In the battles we face, both are needed to protect our heart. The enemy tempts us with all kinds of sinful acts that tangle us, but righteousness protects our hearts. God has given us complete righteousness in Christ and wants us to continually receive the continuing righteousness that comes as we follow Jesus with all our heart.

Third, know that our feet are fitted with the gospel of peace. Peace is an attribute of God’s very character. In Greek, peace means oneness or wholeness. The gospel, which means good news, is the forgiveness of sins and access to that oneness with God through faith in Jesus. And this oneness with the Lord produces peace. One of the biggest battles that we might face is when the enemy will tempt us with worry. When we carry the weight of anxiousness and worry, we are robbed of peace. Ask Jesus to remind you of His gospel of peace and pray it into your life. The first tattoo that I ever got is the Hebrew word Shalom on my left shoulder. Shalom means reconciliation with God. And when someone in Israel greets or says goodbye, they are quite literally praying that you will be filled with a complete and perfect peace. That’s how I want my life marked… to be marked in a complete and perfect peace.

Fourth, take up the shield of faith. When Paul wrote this passage, the Roman soldiers carried shields that were covered with heavy animal hide. Before a battle, they would dip their shields into water so that when fiery darts hit them, the wet hide would extinguish the darts. In a similar way, our shield of faith needs to be regularly dipped in the water of God’s word to be fully functional. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” If your faith feels less than you want it to, ask God to increase your faith as in Mark 9:24 and focus on God’s character and not on your circumstance. And begin to read the Bible on a regular basis.

Fifth, take the helmet of salvation. Salvation comes the moment we place our faith in Jesus. It also involves us as we walk with Jesus and allow Him to work that salvation into every part of our thoughts. The battlefield of our mind is the primary place the spiritual battle is fought. Romans 12:2 tells us to not conform to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. The helmet of salvation is there to remind us that we are Christ’s at the moment we call on Him to save us. And to renew our minds as we follow Jesus.

And finally, take the sword of the Spirit… the Word of the living God. This is the only piece of armor that is both defensive and offensive. When we are tempted, or are in a battle, the most effective weapon that God has given us is His Word… the Bible. In my experience, what has changed my heart, my thoughts, my actions the most has been the Word of God. What has provided the most calm in the midst of my storms, has been the Word of God. If you want to win your battles, if you want to see your life changed and the lives of your friends changed, go to the Word of God. When the devil tempted Jesus, it’s what Jesus went to in His battle as we can see in Luke 4:1-13. When the devil tempted Him three times, He responded with the truth of God’s Word every time.

Battles will come. Paul has almost all but promised it. But God has provided protection when we find ourselves in the battle. If you find yourself in a battle right now, I encourage you to put on God’s armor… His protection is effective. Run to His Word. It will change your life for the better. Oh, and one more thing... When soldiers put on their armor, they didn’t wait until they were in the midst of the fighting. No, they put it on before the battle to prepare for the fight ahead. And God wants each one of us to do the same thing in our lives.

God’s provided protection for your battle. Will you put it on?


Little league baseball players

The Uniform You Wear

I. Loved. Getting. Dressed. To. Play. Baseball.

The pants. The jersey. The baseball cleats. And most of all… the stirrups. You see, the stirrups are what goes over the baseball socks. When I was growing up, these were a separate piece of the uniform. I used to love getting my baseball uniform. I looked forward to it each summer. I’d literally get dressed hours before a game just so I could wear my baseball uniform. Then, if I made the all star team, that meant another pair of special stirrups and another jersey… that if you simply wore an under sleeve with the baseball pants and the blue stirrups, everyone at the park knew what team you were on… it was a label of honor… proof that I was chosen for that team.

Uniforms. We all have worn one at some point in our life. Some of us still wear them today. Whether it’s for a sports team, a school uniform, or a uniform for work. We’ve all worn a uniform. Uniforms mark us. They say some things about us. Some uniforms we love to wear. We’re proud of how we look. And there are other uniforms we think are ugly. I’ve worn uniforms that I’ve loved. And I’ve worn uniforms that I’ve hated. Kroger, it was a great first job. But I hated the poop-brown uniform.

Uniforms. We’ve all worn them. And we all wear them now to a certain extent.

And I wonder, what kind of uniform do you suit up in? Each day, what uniform are you putting on? Is it a uniform of fear? Is it a uniform of worry? I want to ask you a question. Every time you wake up, what uniform are you putting on? Are you putting on a uniform of fear? You hear that voice that ‘you’re all alone and nobody is with you.’ Or do you put on a uniform of guilt and shame and you think you’ve done too many things that prevent you from making a difference or from God using you. Or maybe you put on the uniform of insecurity that tells you you’re not good enough or equipped to be the parent you want to be… the husband or wife you want to be… the employee you want to be… or the servant of God you want to be. How on earth can I do this? Maybe it’s a uniform of doubt. God surely can’t use me.

Every day you wake up, the enemy will try to get you to put on any other uniform other than the spirit of God and confidence and truth. The problem is, is that when we put on any other uniform of shame or guilt or incompetence or insecurity, then when we wake up we aren’t living our lives with authority, we’re not living with joy and confidence. We’re not parenting in a spirit of joy and confidence. Our relationships aren’t lived out of joy and confidence. But we should be the most joy-filled confident people on earth. God wants you to live your life in confidence and joy. And when we put on a uniform other than God’s uniform, I believe it breaks His heart every time we listen to the voice of the enemy as we live our lives.

I hope this doesn’t overwhelm you, but as a follower of Jesus, we are called to a life that shifts our community around us… to shift our children’s worlds… to shift the worlds of those we are in relationships with. He’s made us to bring heaven down to earth. God has given us that authority as believers in Jesus. And if you’re not a believer in Jesus quite yet, this is what God wants of you when you do become a believer in Jesus. But each time we wake up and put on a uniform of fear or insecurity or of shame we forfeit the opportunity to release joy, freedom, passion and love in the lives of those we do life with. And we weren’t created to wear a uniform other than the one God created for us to wear.

So how do we become people who wear the uniform God wants us to wear? You see, how you suit up when you wake up matters.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

This is the uniform God has for us to wear… the full armor of God. But that’s easier said than done right? So how can we daily put this armor on? How do we develop confidence to suit up?

First, don’t let your circumstance change your attitude or your confidence. Gideon, in Judges chapter six, battled insecurity and had a million reasons why he shouldn’t lead the Israelites. For seven years the Midianites demolished the Israelites stuff. When the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites invaded the country. When they invaded the country they ruined all of the crops and killed all of their livestock. For seven years this happened because of the evil that the Israelites did in the eyes of the Lord. So when the Israelites cried out to God for help, He sent them Gideon. So an angel of the Lord came to Gideon and said, “Yo, you’re the guy that’s gonna help conquer the Midianites." The angel of the Lord actually said to Gideon, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.” Have you ever felt that God has called you something like that and you’re like, “What, really? Me?” And then Gideon says, “But if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Gideon also says, “But how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Excuse after excuse after excuse. But the Lord replied to Gideon and said, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Have you noticed that God tends to use the least over and over again throughout the Bible?

The very first thing that Gideon does is look at his circumstances. And this will be a temptation that you and I might do every time the Lord calls us to do something great or of great significance. The first thing that I do a lot is look at my circumstance and say I’m not good enough. I don’t have the influence. I don’t have the platform or the job title for that. And my circumstances become my excuse of why I can’t do what God has called me to do. The first thing that the enemy wants us to do is to think about our circumstances. When God calls you to do something great, the enemy will use every little thing to distract you from that great thing that God has called you to do. The enemy loves to distract us. But we can’t look at our circumstances and allow it to change our attitude and confidence. Even in the worst circumstances, God can do His best work. So don’t let your circumstances change your attitude and confidence. God is bigger than your circumstances.

Secondly, recognize the lies the enemy is telling you and replace them with God’s truth. Ninety-nine percent of the battle is fought in our own minds… what we believe or don’t believe about our own selves. And so we need to start to recognize the lies that are being fed into our minds by the enemy and replace them with God’s truth. Like, when you think you aren’t good enough or you’re nobody special, you think about and quote:

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

Or, when you start believing in the lie that you’ll never do anything of any significance, start to think about and quote:

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Or, when the enemy starts to tell you that you’ll never overcome this fear, read and quote:

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

I don’t know what your lie is or what you’re facing. For me, it’s that I’m not good enough or smart enough and that God can’t use me because of my past. But those are lies from the enemy that I need to recognize and replace with the Truth from God’s Word.

And the third way to put on the uniform God has for us is to allow God to stretch us. You see, there are times where or what God calls us to will make us uncomfortable and/or nervous. As I look out over my life, specifically the last 20 years, there have been times where I’ve resisted the call of God because it would have made me uncomfortable. Instead of saying yes to the call of God, I said yes to the other thing that made me comfortable. You see, sometimes chasing after the comfortable could be you running from the call of God. And that was me 20 years ago… chasing after the comfortable. I think this came from TikTok, but over the last year or so, Morgan has wanted Jami and I to have a “yes day” where anything she asks for we have to say “yes” to. What would happen if we gave God “yes days?” No matter how uncomfortable we may feel, no matter how insecure we feel, no matter the fear we feel, we instead of saying no to God, we say yes to God. When we give God our yes, He in turn gives us confidence and blessing. Being obedient to God brings blessings to our lives and the lives we interact with. Can you imagine how different the world would be if we simply said yes more to God. I don’t know what God is calling you to do, but I encourage you to say yes. Give God a “yes day.” It may be scary, but it is always good.

You see, God wants us to have an Ephesians 3:20 life. Check this out:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Ephesians 3:20

God wants to do some crazy extraordinary things with your life. And if you’re obedient, I believe He will bring incredible blessing to your life as a result. Learn to put on God’s uniform in your life and to cultivate this God-confidence. Don't let your circumstances change your attitude and confidence. Recognize the enemy's lies and replace them with God's Truth. And allow God to stretch you and keep saying yes to God. That's how to wear the uniform God has called you to wear.


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!?


Mount of Olives Jerusalem

A Seat at the Table

Easter

I loved this holiday growing up. We’d always have an Easter basket with candy, a couple of toys and that colorful Easter grass. Our parents would also hide hard-boiled eggs we had decorated around the house. There was more than one occasion where we couldn’t find all the eggs. And of course mom and dad couldn’t remember where they hid them. Only after a few months did we find them… Not because anyone found them because we saw them. No… we eventually found them by following the foul odor of a rotten egg.

As fun as Easter was growing up. It’s so much more than just eggs, toys, Easter grass and cute little bunnies. Check this out:

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:15-17

Easter. Jesus didn’t go the the cross for “good” people. God didn’t send His Son to die for “perfect” people. The Messiah didn’t rise from the dead for people who don’t have a “past” a “history” or a “current reality.” You see, it was the “perfect” people… the “good” people… the teachers of the religious law… the pharisees who were looking from the outside in at the table of Jesus. It was the people who were hated… people who were despised, people who had terrible reputations… in the words of the “good” people, it was the scum of the earth who had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus.

In other words… it was me. It was you. This isn’t a one-time deal with Jesus. He was known to spend time with people like this during His life. And, just before He was to be betrayed, He held one more meal where He invited His friends to eat with Him. The people who spent the most time with Him during His ministry were invited to the table… His disciples. The very people who traveled with Him. And…

The one who would betray Him.

And Jesus knew this. He knew that Judas would, the very next night, hand Him over to be murdered. But that’s the very heart of Jesus. To give His life… even for the very ones who we think don’t deserve His love and grace.

After He was betrayed and taken for trial, He stood before Pilate and next to a man named Barabbas. Now Barabbas was in prison for a reason… he was involved in an insurrection and had committed murder during the uprising. Pilate, not wanting to make what he knew to be the right decision, asked the crowd whom they wanted released… Jesus or Barabbas. Like any mob, there were bad actors who stirred up the crowd… the chief priests… who called for Barabbas to be released. There was one huge problem with this though. You see, just before the Lord was going to take the Israelites into the promised land way back before Jesus came, God wanted to remind the Israelites of the priorities of God. One of the legal requirements for the Israelites to follow was directly related to Barabbas. Check this out:

Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death. Numbers 35:31

The chief priests hated Jesus because He didn’t follow their laws. They wanted to kill Him because He was/is the fulfillment of the law. And now, they wanted to break a law that the Lord had spoken to them through Moses. A law that they knew the Lord had spoken. But they didn’t care. Their hate had overcome their minds and hearts. Talk about hypocrisy!

Jesus knew all these laws as well. But He kept silent. He could have spoken up and defended Himself. But He didn’t say a word. It was God’s purpose… It was Jesus’ purpose to go to the cross for the chief priests, the pharisees and Barabbas too. And so Jesus willingly went to the cross, hung between two criminals and died what some call a death without dignity. Execution from crucifixion was the cruelest form and was usually only for the worst criminals. Death from asphyxiation usually took many hours to possibly days. For Jesus to willingly die by crucifixion is not a death without dignity… No… it is the most dignified death… because He willingly died for you and me and Barabbas and the pharisees… for the best of us and the worst of us.

And then, three days later, what we now celebrate as Easter, He rose from the sentence of death… From the grave.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the  Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Mark 16:6-7

You see, Jesus willingly died a horrible criminal’s death. Beaten beyond recognition before being nailed to a cross. Was laid in a tomb. And rose three days later. When Jesus invited the tax collectors and “sinners” to His dinner table He knew He’d be sacrificed and killed. And when He hung on the cross, He knew that He was dying for those same people... and for me and you.

It’s because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that we too now have a seat at His table. This Easter, right now, in the midst of our past and our current reality, Jesus calls to each of us to come and take a seat with Him. It’s my prayer that you’ll accept His invitation to…

Have a a seat at the table… the table of Jesus.

Happy Easter