Photo of plants and flowers

Deep Roots

The other day our family began a weeding project for the front yard of our house. None of us like to weed. I mean, does anyone!? I still have flashbacks to when I was a kid weeding the sidewalk that ran alongside our backyard on our Altgeld street house in the summer. It was not fun. And guess what… It still isn’t fun. So, after one of our kids finished weeding in the side yard up against the house, we took a look to see what the ground looked like without weeds. It looked good as we scanned along the ground. As we were scanning, however, we noticed a vine that had started to grow up the side of our house. It was crazy. This vine had crawled up the house in and around the siding so high that it had grown to nearly seven feet tall. To my amazement, as I pulled it out of the siding of our house it just kept going. I’m glad Jami had seen this vine growing. Had she not, it would have ruined the siding on our home. I got all of the vine out of the siding and reached the ground at which point I pulled it out at the roots. If I hadn’t gotten to the root of the vine, it would have grown back and began its destructive process up our home all over again.

Roots are important. They are the lifeblood to the growth of the “thing” that depends upon its life. The Bible talks about a specific root. Check this out:

“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” – Hebrews 12:15

You see, most of the time bitterness isn’t easily seen by the one in whom the root of bitterness is growing. But as it grows, it invades every area of the person’s life. This is tough because when bitterness grows like this, it doesn’t only affect the one who is bitter, it affects and influences those around that person.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now. It’s an easy pattern to fall into and a hard one to crawl out of. Maybe you’ve been hurt by those who were in your life to care for you. Maybe you put your trust in someone and they repaid you by betrayal. Maybe the people you thought were friends never reached out to you in your time of need. Maybe someone’s words cut so deep they attacked your identity. Here’s what I know, because I’ve experienced all of these things, the root of bitterness that can grow inside of us has nothing to do with “them” but everything in “us.” And God is saying to those of us who need to get rid of bitterness’ roots…

Let Me replace your root system.

God wants to replace your root system because He knows what the destructiveness of the root system of bitterness can do. Because here’s the thing, bitterness never rolls out alone. It’s always got an entourage… A bunch of hype men. Check out bitterness’ hype men…

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31

These are they hype men for bitterness… Rage. Anger. Harsh words. Slander. I’ve noticed these things creep into my life for a time. But here’s the thing, instead of the hype man who builds the person and the crowd up, these hype men tear people down. You see, if the root of bitterness isn’t dug up, destruction is sure to follow. So how can you tell if bitterness is creeping up in your life? One, you need to check your words. Or as I have told my kids over and over again, “You need to check your mouth.” I did this when they had ketchup on it or if they were being unkind with their words. Both aren’t a good look.

You see, it’s often true that what comes out of our mouths is actually connected to our hearts.

Check this out:

But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. – Matthew 15:18

Maybe it’s that we find ourselves critical or rude. Maybe it’s that we find ourselves talking poorly about someone (even though their actions might “justify” the descriptive words). Maybe, just maybe, the words that are coming out of our mouths are rooted deeply within our heart. Or secondly, are my branches of bitterness spreading to others? You see, when we walked outside and saw the vine-weed crawling up our home, it was also spreading on the ground to the point we couldn’t see the flowers that were trying to sprout up. Not only was the vine covering the flowers, had it been left unchecked, it would have sucked the life out of the flowers. The same is true for bitterness. It spreads. The last part of Hebrews 12:15 tells us so… “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” This bitterness has the potential to spread. Maybe your friends have become bitter. Maybe your kids have become bitter. Do your friends sit around to gripe and gossip? Maybe it’s spread to your spouse. Bitterness spreads.

But there’s hope if you find yourself here today. As long as you’re breathing there’s always hope. But unlike today’s culture, it isn’t found in self-help books or cute quotes. You can’t get rid of the root of bitterness on your own efforts. And that’s really good news. In a land far away and at a time that was long ago, God made a covenant with His people.

I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit. – Deuteronomy 29:18

And God today, has brought a new covenant with us through His Son Jesus. A covenant is a fancy word that simply means “contract.” You see, it’s only through Jesus that we can rid all bitterness in our life. When we confess our sin to God, declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved. We are made new from the inside out.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

As we trust in Jesus, bitterness no longer has to rule in our life because God has given us a new root system. So where are you today? What is your root system like? Is bitterness growing? If so, there’s hope through Jesus. Confess what you need to today and pray that God gives and cultivates His root system in your life.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22-23

Girl running

And Runnin' Runnin' and Runnin' Runnin'

Have you noticed that young kids run everywhere? Maybe it was just our kids, but when they were younger, they ran everywhere. It didn’t matter where we went. We would drive them to a friend’s house, and they’d get out of the car and run to the door. We’d go to church, and they would run into the building. We’d drop them off at practice and they would run to their team. It didn’t matter where we were at, who we were with or what we were doing, they ran everywhere at all times! They were so filled with joy that they couldn’t help it! Morgan, to this day, at 17 years of age still runs places. It’s awesome.

As we read Scripture, we get another picture of a person running. It’s not a young child. It’s an older man and it’s found in a story that Jesus told in earshot of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you know the really “religious” people. You see, Jesus was teaching and eating with tax collectors and other notorious sinners. Pause. Stop. I love those two words… “notorious sinners” and the fact that Jesus took time to reach even “those people.” Well, this made the really “religious” people angry. So, Jesus, knowing that the Pharisees and other religious teachers were actively complaining, told two quick stories and one longer story. Maybe you’ve heard of them… The parable (story) of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Lost Son. In one story, a shepherd has a 100 sheep and loses one at which point he leaves the 99 to find the one. In another story, a woman has 10 coins, loses one, and goes about the entire house until she finds the one. In both stories, there is rejoicing in the finding of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

This now, brings us to the story of the Lost Son. This one is a bit more complicated. It’s familial, it’s relational and it’s conditional. You see, in this story, a father has two sons. The younger son gets fed up with his life and his circumstances, and he demands that his father gives him his share of the estate now before he dies. What a brat, right! Isn’t that what we’re all thinking? Pause. Stop. The request, this demand of the son to the father to give him his share of his inheritance, would likely have been interpreted in that culture as a wish for his father’s death. It would have created a large rift between the son and his family, and most likely the whole town. Talk about a family beef! But, his father, upon hearing his younger son’s demands, decides to divide up his wealth and give it to his son’s before he dies anyway. The younger son gets his cash and says, “Bet,” and dips out to parrrrrtayyyyy. (Insert a Miami Vibes Spotify playlist and Will Smith here)…  “Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn… Bienvenidos a Miami." (Todd Stop). Okay. You get the point. He turnt up in the place. (Really Todd, stop).

So, the younger son wastes all, and I mean, ALL of his money. He had nothing left. After trying to make it on his own, starving on the streets feeling hopeless and stressed out, he decided to go back home. Pause. Stop. Maybe you’ve been there… Maybe not starving or left on the streets… But feeling hopeless and/or stressed out… Decisions you’ve made that have had horrible consequences… Maybe you’re there now… Or worse yet, maybe it’s the result of someone else’s decisions… Keep reading… The story gets better.

As the story goes, the younger son decides to go back home and throw himself at the mercy of his father. As he’s still “a long way off,” his father sees him. Check out what happens next…

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”Luke 15:20

You see, when it comes to grace and forgiveness, it’s not necessarily us running to the Father, it’s that the Father has run to us.

This. Is. Massive. The fact that the father ran to his son is crazy. As Americans in our American culture, we miss this cultural note. In our culture we see running as simply as an expression of joy. But, in the Middle East, especially in rural areas, a man of this age would be expected to always walk slowly, with dignity. This father didn’t do that… He ran to his son… And he did so most likely to protect his son from the children of the town who might have decided to meet the son by throwing stones at him. The father humbles himself as he reconciles with his youngest son and becomes a powerful picture of the God of grace. Can you imagine the tax collectors and other notorious sinners hearing this message? Those were the most hated people within that culture. And hearing that story, maybe for the first time, now have hope.

Can you imagine the Pharisees and other teachers hearing that story? There’s one other son in this story… The older son. He too accepted his father’s inheritance early. He knows the beef his younger son created and accepts his own share of the inheritance and actually shares in the sin of his younger brother. The drama in this family would have made the drama of the Kardashians seem small! So, when the younger brother comes back, you might think the older brother would be happy and want to share in the celebration that his father is asking for. But he doesn’t. He becomes angry and throws a baby fit.

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.’”Luke 15:28-29

And his father, who humbled himself to reconcile his little brother back to the family, replies to the older brother with just as much grace. Check this out…

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”Luke 15:31-32

And in this moment, the Pharisees and other teachers would have likely known that Jesus was comparing them with the older brother’s attitude. And here’s the thing, whether you see yourself as the younger son, without hope and stressed out… Maybe you’ve strayed away from your relationship with God… Like the father in this story, He has humbled Himself enough to be born in the flesh, live among His creation, die at the hands of humanity, and rise again in victory.

Jesus is the humble grace that God has offered to us.

Maybe you’re the older son or the Pharisees in this story. You’ve stood in anger at people. You’ve sinned in your own way or maybe have stood in judgment over others. While we don’t know how they responded, this same grace is offered to you. Jesus has come to change lives and reconcile each one of us to God.

One more serious question… If you’re a follower of Jesus, is this the type of grace you’re offering to others? Are you willing to humble yourself… To look like a fool and extend the grace we see in this story to others?

No matter who you relate to in this story, God the Father has brought the possibility of reconciliation between all of His children.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”Ephesians 2:8-9

Cemetary Israel


I’m gonna say something that might be controversial…

“I love to play video games.” There. I said it. Soccer. Football. Baseball. COD (IYKYK).

Even though I’ve reached the age where I’m not as good as I used to be, I still love playing video games. I grew up playing them, and I’ll probably never grow out of playing them. When I first started playing video games, I had a controller that was connected to the console with a wire. Now, my controller is connected via Bluetooth. As a result, I either need to replace the batteries in the controller from time to time, or I need to place it on a charger. Regardless, if the batteries in the controller go out, I can’t play because there’s no connection between the controller and the console. The design is such that unless there’s an active connection between the controller and the console, I can’t play the game… I can’t even get the game started… nothing can be accomplished. It’s designed in such a way that without connection, there is no sign of life.

As I look out over humanity in general and my life specifically, we are designed in the same manner. Check this out:

“Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”Genesis 2:7

From the very beginning of time, God created humanity to have connection with Him. God literally breathed life into the one He created in His likeness. This is much different than the way God created everything else. Outside of humanity, God simply spoke the world into existence. While this is a miracle in and of itself and shouldn’t be overlooked because it links power to the very word of God, His creation of humanity was much more intimate. God’s relationship to humanity was different than His relationship with the rest of creation. After creating Adam, we see God speaking directly with him just a few short lines still in chapter two of Genesis. Right away we see that humanity was created to communicate with God. Even prior to Adam sinning, Adam was dependent on revelation from God in order to live in the world that God created.

And what happens next? The connection is interrupted. It gets disconnected. The Bluetooth stops working. Not because of anything God did, no. It’s like my controller when it stops working. It doesn’t stop working because of the console or the people who made it, it stops working because I didn’t replace or recharge the batteries. And the same is true with humanity. It’s because of what Adam and Eve did to their relationship with God. And what their decision did not only broke their connection to God, but it also caused us to be born into a broken connection with God as well. And without connection to God, there is no sign of life.

God designed humanity in such a way that without connection to Him, there is no sign of life.

And what happens when that connection with God is broken? At the most basic level our eternal destination after we die is to be without relationship with God. Most of us has seen the billboards asking the question, “Do you know where you will go after you die?” or have heard someone with a megaphone on the street corner yelling about heaven and hell. And yes, that is a real concern, but this broken connection affects each one of us in a more immediate, deeper level. When my batteries go out on my controller, I’m not worried about tomorrow’s game, I’m concerned to get the connection back up and running for the game I’m currently playing. When my connection with God is broken, it affects my life right now. When my connection with God is broken, I’m not living life to the full because my perspective is skewed because I’m not connected to the One who can wholly comfort me, wisely counsel me and willingly convict me.

While this connection to God was broken leaving humanity in despair, God in His kindness made a way for the connection to be reestablished through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Jesus is the Source of life. Check this out:

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’”John 14:6

Not only is Jesus the Source of eternal life, but Jesus is also the Source of the full life every one of us is seeking. As our connection to God is restored through Jesus, as we accept Jesus into our life as our Savior, we have access to the life Jesus offers and connection to God.

“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”John 10:10

This means that Jesus isn’t just the Source of life, He’s also the Course of life. That’s cute Todd… You can rhyme. But what does that even mean for me? That’s a very valid question. You see, when Jesus becomes the Source and Course of our life, we are changed from the inside out. Our perspective changes. Our response to people becomes different. Our reaction to life’s circumstances reflects the character of Christ. And hear me when I say this… This has nothing to do with what we can do differently; this is in direct correlation to the working of Jesus in the life of the follower of Jesus. Jesus as the Course of life means that our path of life is to live the life of Jesus as He lives in and through us wherever we are. Again, this can’t happen through our own efforts. It’s. Not. Possible. It only happens when our connection to God is restored through our trusting in and following Jesus.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5

This, my friends, is the hope that Jesus offers… connection to God for life now. Jesus doesn’t promise that life will get better or easier, but He does promise to wholly comfort you. He promises to wisely counsel you. And He promises to willingly convict you. And in everything, He promises that in Him you will find the joy of true life as you are connected to Him.

God designed humanity in such a way that without connection to Him, there is no sign of life.

Trust in Jesus today, allow Him to change you from the inside out as you are reconnected with God Himself.

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”Psalm 16:11

The Weight of It

As I stand typing this, I turned 48 just eleven days ago. (Now’s your chance to wish me a belated birthday if you missed it on May 11!) And at age 48, I feel as if I’m at a fork in the road… a turning point if you will. I’m at the point age wise where it’s getting harder and harder to get into shape. If I’m honest (which I will be by the way), I’m not ok with where I’m at physically. There are things I need to begin to do to get back into shape sooner rather than later… thus, the fork in the road. What you’re looking at is a dismantled weight bench. It’s waiting to be put together. If I choose to remain on the road I’m currently on and not put together this weight bench, I’ll continue to get the results I don’t want and put on weight in places I don’t want it which changes me into the person I don’t want to be. Or I can choose to put the weight bench together and begin my new exercise routine.

Here's what I know from previous experience and by watching others, the weight I allow myself to carry will either produce positive results or negative results physically. That bowl of ice cream at midnight carries weight. That bag of chips I eat right after dinner has weight. Yo, that popcorn with butter, salt and parmesan cheese (don’t hate – it’s realllllllllllly good) carries weight with each amazing bite I take. And it changes me… for the worse. Likewise, when I allow myself to lift the weight off of the bench, after time, it changes me for the better. The weight molds me into the person I want to become. You see…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Check this out:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”Genesis 3:1

In just two short chapters Adam and Eve give in to the serpent’s lies… “Sssssssooooooooooo Eve… did God say?” (Cause that’s how snakes talk…) And in one moment, Adam and Eve allowed someone else’s words to carry weight. Quick back story here, the first two chapters of Genesis paint a picture of earth as a paradise. It’s everything as God intended it to be. God made Adam and Eve, male and female in the image of Himself. God saw everything He had created, and it was good. Humanity living in perfect unity with God and creation. As God placed Adam in the garden, there was one thing God wanted Adam and Eve to keep in mind...

But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”Genesis 2:16-17

God Himself knew with Adam as He knows with us…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

It’s what happened to Adam and Eve. The weight of satan’s words changed them forever. “Ssssssooooooo Eve… Did God really say…” “You won’t really die!” Satan knew he was lying. It’s what he does. He’s the author of lies. His goal is to trick people into not trusting the Truth of God’s Word. It was his goal for Adam and Eve, and it’s his goal for us too. Satan knows that…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Maybe you’ve been there… maybe you’re there right now. You’ve been walking around… Doing your thing… Everything seems to be going great… Great house… Great job… Great life… You’re looking at things and you’re thinking things are good. And out of seemingly nowhere it happens… Little lies start to capture your attention. For some of us, maybe it’s the following lies:
• It’s not hurting anyone…
• Nobody will find out…
• It’s just one time…
• It’s fun…
• Surely God didn’t mean what He said
• The Bible isn’t really true

And satan starts to place little lies into your thoughts to question God’s Truth. Or maybe it’s little lies that someone says to you that makes you question your worth. Maybe it’s the comment of a boss who tells you they wanted someone else in your position. Maybe it’s the comment from a person you thought was a friend. Maybe it’s your own thoughts of hopelessness and depression because of a situation you’re simply trying to endure.

This is what satan does… he comes to us in ways we aren’t expecting and whispers lies into our ears… ”It doesn’t really matter…” “You’re not good enough…” “It’s just one time…” “You’re not smart enough…” “What does it matter if nobody finds out…” “God’s Word isn’t true…” “It’s just one time…” “God can’t comfort you…”

Satan is subtle like that. He’s not going to come stand in front of us dressed in red with a pitchfork yelling. He’s going to be dressed as something that looks good on the surface as he whispers lies into your ears to make you question everything. It’s what he does. He did it with Eve. And he’ll do it with us. Satan wants to get us to the place where we say to God, “You might be the author of my life, but You’re not the authority in my life.” Because satan knows…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Maybe you’re at your own crossroads right now… A fork in the road. Adam and Eve allowed satan’s words to carry weight, and they not only changed their whole life for the worse… They changed the whole creation for the worse so much so that we’re still feeling and operating in a world that was changed because Adam and Eve allowed someone else’s words other than God’s to carry weight.
There is great news though. If you’ve allowed satan’s lies to carry weight in your life and you feel stuck, there’s hope. If you’re reading this right now, you still have the chance to be changed by the weight and power of Jesus and the Word of God. There’s only one person who can cause you to overcome the lies, it’s Jesus. There’s only one book that can change us from the inside out, it’s the Bible. If you find yourself in the same place as Adam and Eve, there’s hope for you today. If we give weight to God’s Word, they’ll change us for the better AND we’ll find hope and peace and life… we’ll be transformed by the power of Jesus.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13


Bigger Than We Could Ever Know

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I had a number of fears. Some of those fears would come alive at night, after mom put me to bed. There’s just something about nighttime, the dark, that would open and consume my mind with fear. Once the lights went out, fear would creep into my mind and I’d start to wonder what horrible person was under my bed. And then I’d look across my room and notice my closet door was open. So, as slowly and as quietly as I could, I’d pull back my sheets, silently stand on my bed and jump as far as I could toward my bedroom door landing as quietly as I could. Then I’d run for my life downstairs to where my parents were and tell them I was afraid of who was under my bed and in my closet.

During the daytime, I had no fear of who was under my bed or in my closet. But once the night came, it was a different story. I know now that it was an irrational fear. But as a little boy, that fear overcame me on multiple nights causing me to run for my life.

You know, there’s someone in the Bible who was overcome with fear and ran for his life as well. Check this out, it’s found in 1 Kings 19, verse 3:

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life…” 1 Kings 19:3a

If you’re like me and this is all you read or all you hear, you’re saying to yourself, “Why did he run for his life? Why was he afraid?” Surely he was being chased by some wild animal. Or maybe he was fleeing hundreds of troops from an army out to kill him. But it wasn’t for either of those reasons. Check this out… He was running because of a threat from a woman! Check this out:

“Now Ahab (the king) told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 1 Kings 19:1, 2

And so Elijah, upon hearing this, became overwhelmed with fear and ran for his life. But it’s interesting to me that, one chapter before in chapter 18, we see the courage of Elijah. In chapter 18 he wasn’t afraid of Jezebel. He knew that Jezebel, who happened to be the king’s wife, was killing off the Lord’s prophets… people like Elijah. And what did he do in response? He summoned the king, Ahab, and confronted him.

“When he (king Ahab) saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:17-19

You see, the very prophets of Baal that Elijah was calling out, were Jezebel’s very prophets. She installed the very prophets whom Elijah was calling out. And so the king sent word throughout all of Israel and assembled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. And through his faith in the Lord, Elijah called out to the people saying if the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him. And then, Elijah set the challenge…

It was a simple challenge. He told the prophets of Baal to choose a bull, cut it into pieces and put it on wood but don’t set fire to it. Then Elijah would take the other bull and do the same. Once each bull was prepared, cut into pieces and placed on wood, Elijah told the Baals to call on the name of their god and then Elijah would call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by sending fire is the true God.

The prophets of Baal called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response. No answer. No fire. And they began to dance around the alter they made. At noon, Elijah began to taunt them… all 450 prophets of Baal. “Shout louder he said. Surely he’s just deep in thought, busy or traveling.” The prophets of Baal kept shouting and even began to cut themselves. They did this until evening.

At this point, Elijah was like, “Enough,” and called everyone over to him. He repaired the alter of the Lord that was in ruins, chose twelve stones and built an alter with them. He arranged the wood and placed the bull on the alter. Then, he instructed the people to fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and wood. They did this three times! How many of you know that if something is soaked with water that it’s pretty impossible to light it on fire!? And then Elijah prayed to the Lord and the fire from Heaven fell and burned up the sacrifice, to wood, the stones, the soil and sucked up all of the water that was in the trench! Then when the people saw this, they fell on their faces and cried, “The Lord - He is God!” And then Elijah instructed the people to seize the prophets of Baal, and had them brought down to the valley and killed there.

450 prophets of Baal. The prophets that Jezebel herself had picked. He stood up to them. Made them look like fools. And then had the enemies of God killed. All without flinching. In one moment, he stood tall… strong… courageously. And in the next instant, we find Elijah running for his life in the desert praying that he might die. Check this out:

“…while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” 1 Kings 19:4, 5

Four words. “I have had enough.” He wanted to give up so bad that he wanted to just die. Emotionally tired. Physically drained. He preferred to give up and die. Just a short time ago he was facing down 450 prophets of Baal. And now, for whatever reason, he was running in fear, wanting to give up and die. Maybe you can relate. Maybe that’s you right now. You’re tired. Exhausted. And you’re saying to God, “I have had enough!” But God had a different plan for Elijah, and God has a different plan for you.

And so, the Angel of the Lord woke Elijah up twice to eat and drink. And after the second time, Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. Once he reached Horeb, he went inside a cave where he spent the night.

It’s on the road of misery where God often meets us. In the middle of our fear and running… there God is right in front of us asking us this question like He asks Elijah in verse nine:

“And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9

God didn’t have to hear Elijah to know the answer. Just like when God asked Adam and Eve where they were in the garden. He knew where they were. And He knew why Elijah was spending the night in a cave. The question wasn’t for God. The question was for Elijah. It was so that Elijah could hear his answer out loud to himself. Sometimes God asks us questions that He knows the answers to so that we can gain His perspective on the answers we give when we hear them out loud.

And then Elijah replied in verse 10,

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19:10

All alone and on the run, Elijah thought he was the only prophet of the Lord left. And just like Elijah, in our trouble, in our despair, in our thoughts, we can often feel like we’re all alone… That there’s no one left to walk with us through our fears and path were on. But check out God’s response.

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13

You see, God wasn’t in the great and powerful wind. God wasn’t in the earthquake. God wasn’t even in the fire. It was in the gentle whisper that God chose to be in. I would have expected God to be in the mighty things. The powerful things. But God wasn’t in any of those things. He was in the unexpected. He was in something Elijah had to be quiet enough to hear… a gentle whisper… something unexpected. Many times when we’re going through pain and fear and we feel all alone, God shows up in the unexpected moments. Moments where we need to be quiet enough to hear or see Him. What’s true in Elijah’s life, is true in our life as well.

And then God asked the question again… “What are you doing here?” Elijah had the same response. And then we come to verses 15 through 18 where God says something unexpected. Check this out:

“The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:15-18

Go back the way you came!? What!? No, no, no. I can’t go back the way I came. Don’t you understand… pain and fear and despair are back that way. Hurt and conflict and uncertainty are back that way. I can’t go back that way God! But God says, “I know.” “But if you go back the way you came, I’ve got a different plan for you.” You see, for Elijah, God was up to something bigger than Elijah could ever have imagined. And what’s true for Elijah, is true for us…

God is always up to something bigger than we could ever know.

You see, God had a plan for Elijah. God told Elijah to anoint Hazael king over Aram. He told Elijah to anoint Jehu king over Israel. And he told Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. Then, as a result, these three men would see to it that anyone who seeks to harm Elijah. And God had one more thing for Elijah… He was like, “Remember when you told me you are all alone? Ya, you’re not. You’ve got seven thousand friends in Israel who haven’t bowed down to the false god, Baal.”

God is always up to something bigger than we could ever know. And in God’s timing, He will reveal His plan to us. You see, when you’re on the run… running for your life… running from your pain and despair… you can’t fulfill the calling and mission God has on your life. You’re running for your life when instead you’re meant to live your life. So instead of running for or from your life, run to God because He is always up to something bigger than we could ever imagine. We just have to quiet ourselves enough to be able to hear and see God’s plan.

swimming pool

Pushed Into the Deep End

As I was growing up, I never really learned how to swim. Sure, our mom would take us places to “swim” like Potato Creek State Park. But my idea of “swimming” was me laying face first in the water, kicking my feet while I moved my body by walking my hands on the bottom of the lake. If you measured swimming by that method, I was an Olympian.

By the time I reached the end of the eighth grade, I still hadn’t learned how to swim. But that didn’t stop me from going to the eighth grade graduation pool party I was invited to. I wasn’t really nervous about going because I had planned on hanging out on the deck around the pool and chilling in the shallow end. After being dropped off, I walked around to the backyard saying hi to everyone with my towel draped over my neck and shoulders. As I was getting ready to take my shoes off and say hi to the next person, I noticed them flinch and back away from me quickly. And in the next instant, I found myself falling into the deep end of the pool.

I went straight to the bottom and then pushed myself up to the top and tried to yell for help. But before I could get the words out, I found myself back under water. I started to kick and reach up to the surface of the water and barely raised my face out to get a little bit more air before I went back under. As I went back under, I noticed another kid coming towards me and I frantically reached out for him, yelled, “help me” with a mouth full of water, grabbed his arm and brought my face out of the water. I don’t think about this that often, but there hasn’t been another time where I’ve been that close to death. Had that kid not been there for me to reach out to save me, I’m not sure how this story would have turned out.

The Bible is filled with stories of people being saved and/or healed. One of them that I want to talk about briefly is found in Matthew chapter 14, verse 30. Check it out:

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:30

You see, just before Peter got out of the boat to walk on water, Jesus had sent His disciples ahead of him to go across the lake. And while the disciples were on the water in the boat, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. And when the disciples saw this, they were terrified. But Jesus said, “Hey, it’s Me! Don’t be afraid.” But Peter was like, “If it’s really you Jesus, then tell me to come out to You on the water.” And then Jesus was like, “Fine. Come.” So, Peter stepped out of the boat and started to walk on water towards Jesus. But as he was walking, he started to look at the wind picking up, took his eyes off of Jesus and started to sink.

And this is where we find Peter in Matthew 14, verse 30. Sinking in a huge lake, crying out to Jesus to save him. I wonder what it really looked like back then. I wonder if Peter started to flail his arms around. I wonder if when he yelled for Jesus to save him if he had a mouth full of water like I did. And like we find Peter here in Matthew 14, I wonder if this is the exact place you find yourself in too. You may not be on a literal lake, but you find yourself sinking in life… in the grave of your own sin. And you’ve heard of this Jesus who saves, but you’ve never reached out to Him yourself. Reach out to Him today and ask Him to save you from your sin… your doubt… from yourself. And He will be faithful to forgive you and save you. 1 John 1:9 says,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

You see, Jesus asked Peter to come out to Him, not only that Peter might walk on water so that He would know the power of Jesus, but that Peter would also know his own weakness. God often lets His followers have our choice, to humble us and to show us the greatness of His power and grace. When we look away from Jesus and look at the greatness of our difficulties and circumstances, then we too will begin to sink in our despair. But when we call on Jesus, He will be faithful to stretch out His hand to hold us up. I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, believer. But I do know this, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, read His Word and pray to Him daily, His grace and peace and mercy will overflow within our life. That’s His promise to us who believe in Jesus and have been saved by Him.

Jesus is the great Savior. For those of us finding ourselves sinking in the deep end, if we cry out to Him to save us in our deep sense of need, He will be faithful to pull us up out of the deep to Him.

**If you prayed and accepted Jesus as your Savior today, or if you recommitted your life to Him, I’d love for you to shoot me an email or a direct message on one of my social channels to hear about your decision and to help walk you through your next steps.


Worship is Greater Than War


I remember the first time I played. Myself and a few of the guys I worked with got a group together and headed out to this massive outdoor paintball complex. Once there, we selected our guns, bought enough paint to last for a few hours and got our gear on. After meeting some other random guys that were there to play, it was time to go to war.

The first course we played was within a mini city made out of plywood. It. Was. Awesome. Well, it was awesome walking through and seeing how massive this place was. But once the whistle blew and the paint began to fly, the sound of how hard it was hitting the outside of the walls of my “second story” position made me rethink my decision of playing. And then it happened… My friend I was positioned with took three shots to the face region right in front of me. The first shot hit him on the region of his mask. But his mask had five slits in it over his mouth so that it wouldn’t fog up. That was great for his breathing. But when the paintball made impact, it splattered all over the inside of his mouth. As he tasted the paintball, it caused him to turn his head at which point the second and third shots hit him on his neck. As he grabbed his neck he yelled out, “I’m hit!” It was like a scene in a movie.

As this dude walked by me to leave the field of play, I could see two massive welts left by the impact of the paintballs on his neck. And as I climbed down the ladder to the first story, I grabbed my other friend who was with me, told him “Nick was gone” and it was just us, and let him know we had to get out of there. Now, as we were exiting where we were at, I made sure he was out in front of me as we moved from building to building… I mean, he was much larger than I was and a better shot. Eventually we were both overrun and taken out. In fact, our entire team of 16 year olds were systematically shot so quickly that I’m sure we were playing against a team who I’m sure could have gone pro. It didn’t matter what we did, who we decided to put out in front of us to try to stop them, each game we played against them they destroyed us as we tried to do battle. They ran straight through us each and every time.

War. It’s something we see talked about in the Bible as well. But the war we read about has much greater consequences than what I experienced in my small paintball war as a sixteen year old. Check this out:

Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. - 2 Chronicles 20:2

And then King Jehoshaphat said to God,

Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. And all of the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord. - 2 Chronicles 20:12-13

Can you imagine standing there? Your wife. Your children. Standing next to you. Knowing that an enormous army was on their way to destroy you and your family. And as they stood there, they waited for God to answer them. And as God answered them through Jahaziel who told them not to be afraid. In fact, he said that the battle wasn’t theirs, it was God’s. He told them that they wouldn’t even have to fight this battle…

‘“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” - 2 Chronicles 20:17

And so, early in the morning they left to head out to the battle field. And Jehoshaphat said, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” (2 Chronicles 20:20)

And after consulting with the people, Jehoshaphat developed a plan. And what was the grand battle plan? Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise Him for His holiness and he placed them at the head of their army as they went out to meet the enemy that was coming to destroy them! What!? I’m sure General Patton wouldn’t have approved! But that’s ok. Because King Jehoshaphat knew that…

Worship is greater than war.

Jehoshaphat knew that worship is a weapon that the Lord uses to fight for us. You see, Jehoshaphat was faced with what seemed like an impossible battle. And in the face of what seemed like complete destruction, we see him seek the Lord in prayer and confess his complete powerlessness to do anything. And God responded to him through Jahaziel telling him, “the battle is His, do not be afraid, stand firm, hold your position and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” And Jehoshaphat and the people responded by worshipping the Lord. And then drawing courage from the Lord, and in their trust and obedience to the Lord, they went out to battle with praise and worship on the front lines.

You and I may not fight the same type of war that Jehoshaphat faced. But we all will come face to face with our own battles. And the Lord wants each of us to know that worship is greater than war. Worship is greater than the battles we face. And it’s through our worship that God fights for us.

You see, it is not up to us to slay the giants, to move the mountains, or even to part the waters. It is not up to us to fight our battles alone and defeat the enemy by ourselves. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And to worship Him alone. When we do this, He promises that He will be with us and fight our battles for us. Whether it is doubt or depression. Fear or failure. Whether it is rejection, frustration, anxiety or insecurity. In the waiting, the wondering,  and even the reality, God wants to show us His power, His grace, His faithfulness, and His love throughout every season we face. And He wants us to know that worship is greater than the battles we face… He wants us to know that worship is a weapon that the Lord uses to fight for us.

And when we worship the Lord, a few things happen inside us. First, We remember who God is, what He has accomplished through Jesus. And when we are reminded who God is and what He has accomplished through Jesus, we’re comforted by the Spirit of God whom Jesus gave us when we trusted Him as our Savior. Second, What we know to be true in our minds flows into our hearts, and we’re able to engage the Lord with both our heads and our hearts. It’s not based on feelings, but coming into agreement with God at both a head and heart level. And third, “Spiritual power is released and we find peace and rest from oppression from the enemy.” - Matt Chandler

Worship is one of the greatest weapons against the battles we face. When we worship, God fights for us and prevents the enemy’s attempt to take over our hearts and minds. And we’re able to focus on our relationship with God and His love for us and deflect the attack of the enemy.

Worship is greater than war. It’s greater than the battles we face. And when we see people worshipping, especially in their time of need, we are physically seeing God fighting for them. And when we worship the Lord, we are worshipping the God who fights for us.

Tiberious Israel

The Call to Obedience


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119:18 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


No Going Back

A couple of spring breaks ago I finally did something I’ve been wanting to do for years… like 20 years. If I’m honest, I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance or work up the courage to do it. The “something” I did? I went skydiving. That’s right. I willingly jumped out of a perfectly good airplane from 13,000 feet.

My friend Daryl and I had made plans to jump while we were on spring break out in Arizona. So, on the day we were to jump, we drove about an hour to the jump zone. Once there, we literally signed our life away and watched a quick video on how to successfully jump from an airplane, then walked out to get our harness strapped on.

After getting strapped up, we made our walk out to the bus that was going to take us to our plane. As we were driving out to where our plane was, we could see groups of people gliding down with their parachutes floating through the air. I couldn’t believe that that was going to be me in a matter of minutes. Once we got off the bus, we headed towards our plane. Each step I took, I kept telling myself that there was no turning back. My nerves were increasing more and more as I approached the plane.

Once inside the plane, myself and my jump instructor headed all the way back towards the pilot. At this point, my heart was beating a mile a minute. But I kept telling myself that there was no turning back… despite the pilot and plane looking like it had been used in multiple cocaine runs between Arizona and Columbia.

Prior to taking off, my jump instructor had me put on my seatbelt. Then, once we were about 500 feet off the ground, he strapped himself to me and instructed me to take my seatbelt off. I actually asked him why. His response, “Well, if the plane goes down, we’re jumping.” Ya, I guess that made sense.

Once we reached 13,000 feet, the skydivers ahead of me began to jump from the plane. Let me tell you, there’s no preparing for the sight of people throwing themselves out of a plane. I literally saw them jump from the door and watched from my window as they fell towards the earth. And then, it was my turn. The jump instructor told me to scoot closer to the door. And each butt scoot we took, I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going back.

And then… we stood up and crouched at the door of the plane. In my head I kept saying, “I’m not going back. I’m not going back. I’m not going back.” The jump instructor tapped me on my arm. And in one final, “I’m not going back,” I crossed my arms, tilted my head back… and we jumped.

It was the most terrifying, exciting thing I have ever done. I thought we were jumping straight out. But instead, when we jumped, the instructor spun us around backwards and I watched the plane as we fell. It. Was. Amazing.

Once we got back to the hotel, Morgan ran up to me and yelled, “You didn’t die!” as she tearfully gave me a hug.

No turning back. That was the theme of my skydiving trip. That’s what I kept telling myself. And that’s what Moses and the Lord told the Israelites as well.

Check this out:

 ...the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” Deuteronomy 17:16

You see, just prior to crossing over into the land that God promised to the Israelites, He gave them a prescription on how to live a life that would glorify the Lord. And years before the Israelites asked for a king, God laid out His qualities of a good one. One of the qualities the Lord states is that “The king must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them…”

Upon hearing this at first, you might think, “Horses? Who cares about horses. What does this have to do with being a good king?” You see, during this time in history, Egypt was THE place from where other nations bought their supplies of this animal. If you wanted a strong horse… If you wanted the best horse… You went to Egypt. There was one major problem… This was the place the Lord had just delivered them from slavery 40 years earlier. And, in looking out for His people, Moses tells the Israelites…

…’the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”’

God knew that, if the Israelites went back to Egypt, they would go back to their slavery. He knew that, if the Israelites went back to the familiar, they would go back to a life they had cried out to be rescued from. He knew that, if the Israelites went back to their old way of living, they’d be forfeiting every promise that He had given to them. For the Israelites…

Egypt = Slavery

It’s not that Egypt was all bad. There were things in Egypt that were tempting to go back to. For a king, it would be the type and the style and the amount of horses. For others, it was the food. Still, for others it may have been the majesty of their buildings. None of these things in and of themselves are horrible. But in each of these things is the temptation to turn from the promises of God.

And the same is true for each one of us.

God has sent His Son Jesus to die for each one of us (John 3:16). And through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He has called us to a life outside the captivity and slavery of sin to a promised better life. And each of us has a history that we’re familiar with. A history, that if we return to it, would take us back into our captivity. And as we seek to follow Jesus, there are three areas where we will be tempted to return to our captivity of sin... to forfeit the promises of God.

We will be tempted to go back to what we were thinking. “It’s not that bad.” “It’s just one time.” “Nobody will find out.” “I’m better than them.” And we return to the slavery of our thoughts.

We will also be tempted to go back to what we were saying. The type of language we use. Gossiping about others. Tearing others down. Being discouraging with our words. Speaking out of anger instead of love. And we return to the slavery of our words.

And we will be tempted to go back to what we were doing. Going back to that relationship. Living our lives in our pride. Neglecting our families. Forgetting about God. And we return to the slavery of our actions.

But I want to remind you that God is telling us right now... “You are not to go back that way again.” Instead, God has a better way. Micah 6:8 says,

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Instead of going back to what we were doing, we are to act justly. Instead of going back to what we were saying, we are to love mercy. And instead of going back to how we were thinking, we are to walk humbly with our God.

This temptation to go back to our old ways is ultimately a temptation of the mind. And Paul knew this as he spoke to the church in Philippi. It’s true then and it’s true for each of us now. And this is our encouragement for today…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Photo of The Goonies

The Goonies Life

What’s your favorite movie of all time? There’s a lot of great movies that have been made. If you would have asked my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family, he would have told you Gone With the Wind. For others, it might be one of the Marvel movies. Still others may love the Star Wars trilogy… “Luke, I’m your father.” “Nooooooooooo.” For me, there are a few greats. Iron Eagle. Top Gun. Karate Kid. But none of those compare to The Goonies.

The Goonies. My all-time favorite movie. It’s all about adventure. It’s hilarious. I mean who doesn’t love Chunk and Mikey and Data and Sloth. Not to mention the Truffle Shuffle. But the main reason this movie is my all-time favorite? The secret passages and treasure hunting. I would have given anything at age nine to go on an adventure like that to look for a giant pirate ship and One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. Coming up from under the water and looking to see One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship would have been amazing. Finding a treasure like that would have been life changing.

There’s another moment regarding another found treasure that must have been life changing as well. Only this treasure was found hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. Check it out:

“While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses. Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 34:14-15

Can you imagine the awe and utter excitement Hilkiah would have had!? This Book of the Law, God’s testimony through Moses, was lost for an amount of time we really don’t know. The priest, at the very least though, would have heard of stories past down through his Jewish culture about Moses and this Book of the Law. And for Hilkiah to accidentally find it would have been huge… Like finding One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship and treasure.

Now, fast forward almost 200 years later during the time of Nehemiah. Now Nehemiah had made his way to a top position in the great Persian Empire, one of the greatest empires in the history of the world. And he asked the king if he could go back to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. And the king of the Persian empire gave him permission to go and rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Now, after the wall was completed and after the Israelites had settled into their towns, all the people assembled in the square. And Ezra the priest, brought the Law before the people. He stood on a high, wooden platform and read it from daybreak until noon. And as the people listened to Ezra reading the Book of the Law, they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then the Bible tells us:

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” Nehemiah 8:9

Can you imagine, a large quiet crowd watching as Ezra steps up on a newly built platform in the town square. As Ezra opens the Book, the crowd stands up. They praise God with hands lifted high. Then, they bow down, faces in the dirt. Ezra begins to read and his helpers walk through the crowd to explain what God’s Word says. The people, listen giving their full attention to Ezra. And then, a sound begins to rise. It starts with one person. Then another. And as the people continue to listen to God’s Word being spoken, this sound continues to spread throughout the town square. It’s the sound of weeping.

The Book of the Law that Ezra was reading was super old… It was ancient. But that day marked something new. The Jewish people were becoming something that they had never been before… A people of the Book. They were, in essence, being rebuilt with material as strong as the stones used in their newly built city wall. You see, throughout their history, they had drawn their strength from two sources besides the Law. One was the temple, where they worshipped God. It was a beautiful building, magnificent even, in which they met God. The other was their leadership. First Moses, then Joshua, then the judges, and finally David and the other kings.

But these things couldn’t save them from disgrace. The temple? Even though it was a beautiful, crazy magnificent building, it had become a meaningless symbol to most Jewish people. They had even defiled it by putting idols in the temple. They disregarded it so badly that God had finally allowed the Babylonians to burn the temple down. Now, after the Jewish people returned from exile, they rebuilt the temple. But it was never again seen as a substitute for real devotion to God. What about their leaders? Not one king, over hundreds of years, had come close to matching God’s ideal or standard. Most kings, in fact, were people who didn’t worship or follow the God of Israel and were said to have “done evil in they eyes of the Lord.” And when the Israelites returned from exile, they had no king of their own. They instead were under the rule of a Persian king who wanted to keep all the power to himself.

So, with no king of their own and a temple where the God of Israel wouldn’t dwell, they turned to another source of power… The Word of God. This gathering that we see here is nothing like the jewels in the crowns of kings or the gold within the temple. It’s instead replaced by a single man standing on a simple wooden platform, reading words written on a simple scroll. But the words Ezra reads show their power in the way they affect the very people who hear them… Moved to praise God, to weep over their sins, to change their behavior and to make renewed promises to God. From this time on, the Jewish people were known as the people of the Book.

And I can’t help but draw similarities between our world, country, state, city and my life. As I look out from my small window at home, how many times do I give my strength over to our political leaders. For some of us, when Trump was in office, we looked to a new president for hope. Now that we have a new president, for some of us we can’t wait for the next election for our hope. For others, we draw our strength and hope based on our own abilities. If we’re honest, real power and strength comes from our work, where we live and our political views. And the Word of God becomes an after-thought, tucked away in the corner of our temples or forgotten about like One-eyed Willy’s pirate ship and treasure.

We focus on the pretty, shiny things of this world. The news makers. But the real earth shaking, life changing comes from what looks like an ordinary book, but in reality is an Extraordinary Word from God Himself. Just like the temple, the kings, and Moses, the worldly things we draw our energy and strength from can go away or be destroyed. In the end they can’t ultimately change us. Only the Word of God never changes. Only the Word of God is full of life. And when we become people of the Book, we become a people who find true joy and rejoicing, hope and direction for our lives (Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path.).

You see, after the Israelites weeped over their sin and began a new devotion to God, Nehemiah told all the people, “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

And just as the Israelites learned, when we become people of the Book, we learn too that the joy of the Lord is our strength. We find true joy, hope, direction for our lives and can rejoice fully in the love of Jesus. So, go now, and be people of the Book.