Softening Our Hearts Through God

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Psalm 25 (NIV)

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
    and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
    and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.

22 Deliver Israel, O God,
    from all their troubles!


When we are continually on our faces before God and seek Him in His Word, His presence will saturate our hearts, making it sensitive and teachable.  Just as a marriage relationship can begin to grow cold unless proactive steps are taken daily to keep it warm, our hearts can gradually harden when we aren’t seeking intimacy with God.  We must also obediently, and promptly, respond to whatever He tells us to do so that our hearts will stay soft and receptive.  Then it won’t take much for the Lord to get our attention, and when He convicts us of our sin, we will want to deal with the problem right away instead of letting it grow like a cancer within us.  This is why we must walk in the Spirit moment by moment.

If we believe that God might be leading us in a certain direction, we need to take the time to earnestly seek His mind on the matter, and open our hearts to listen to Him.  We need to guard ourselves from getting too busy with a substitute for what He originally called us to do.

It would be tragic to work extra hard doing what we, and others, consider to be good, only to discover that our effort was expended in accomplishing something that was not God’s intention.  Resisting the Lord often amounts to putting our lives on the shelf, which leaves us feeling that something is missing.  There is no substitute for God’s will, even when His plan might seem difficult or impossible.  But when we trust God with a cooperative heart, there is no limit to what God can do through our lives.

Psalm 25 is a good passage to read each day this week.  If we can begin to internalize what it is saying, it can change how we view our potential relationship with God.

Some of us need to make a decision today to say, “Lord, I want Your will, no matter what.”

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The Original Sin of Social Media


Chances are, you’ve never heard of Pfeiffer syndrome.  It’s a rare genetic disorder that’s characterized by the premature fusion of certain bones in the skull.  This fusion prevents further growth of the skull and affects the shape of the head and face.

This rare condition was the subject of a recent blog that raised important questions about our fallen human nature and how social media can be the occasion for sin.

Alice Ann Meyer’s four-year-old son Jameson was born with Pfeiffer syndrome.  For the past several years Meyer has been chronicling her experience with Jameson in a blog entitled Jameson’s Journey.

Three years ago she posted a photo of a happy Jameson with his face smeared with the remains of s’mores.  To Meyer’s horror, people posted the picture on social media sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook with the caption “Your pug…is amazing.”  Almost as bad as that were the thousands of “likes” the picture and the caption received.

Meyer asked the social media sites to remove the picture and caption and they complied.  But like a demonic whack-a-mole, no sooner would one site remove the picture than it would appear somewhere else.

She took these people on head-on at her blog saying, “You stole a photo of my four-year-old son.”  She continued, “Say what you want out loud, to your friends, in the comments box, but do not take my photo to degrade my child.”  And then she challenged them to understand what they were laughing at by talking about Jameson and explaining what Pfeiffer syndrome is.

When I first heard about this story, my first response was disbelief.  “How can people do something like this?  This is just a child and they can’t help it.”  Then I thought about original sin, which G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, called “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

The original sin, or human fallenness, includes a capacity for cruelty and injustice towards their fellow-man.  And for many of us, this capacity hovers just below the surface of our existence.

A large part of what restrains our sin are institutions like the Church, our families, government, and our communities.

This brings me to social media.  The anonymity of social media undermines the operation of these institutions.  Friends and family cannot hold you accountable if they don’t know what you’re saying or doing.  Shame has no meaning to someone hiding behind a username.  And of course virtually none of the people who trampled over Jameson’s dignity would have done so if they were face-to-face with him and his mom.

Please understand that I am not saying that social media is all bad.  Social media can be a very good thing, if it is used correctly.  Social media itself is like money in that it, in itself, is not inherently good or bad.  It is how we choose to use it that determines that.  But it’s also true that Christians are called to avoid those circumstances that, because of their structure, incite or entice us to sin.  And it’s indisputable that social media often brings out the worst in people.

I am not saying that Christians should not use social media.  I love Facebook.  It allows me to stay in touch with people who I might not normally be able to.  It help me remember people’s birthdays.  It gives me a forum for posting quotes and Scripture verses that my friends can see regularly.  I have heard from many of them who have told me that this has been a source of positive influence on their lives.  I love that.  It is an easy way for me to help people.  What I am saying is that we need to use responsibility with it.  We need to avoid saying negative things.  We need to be sure we fully understand what we’re posting before we post it.

While I doubt that anyone reading this blog would have mocked the photo of Jameson, I’m equally certain that many of us have said or done things in social media that we now regret, which is why we may want to carefully reconsider our own use of social media or at the very least, how we are currently using it.

While it is true that every one of us fallen humans are capable of great evil, we are also, because we are made in God’s image, capable of great good.  In fact, Alice Ann Meyer says she received an enormous outpouring of support as she stood up for her son and for children with Pfeiffer syndrome.  In thanking those folks, Alice Ann wrote, “The message of choosing kindness, and treating every single person with dignity and respect is one that you have empowered me to champion.”

This is just another reminder that good can come out of any evil.  And that should give each of us hope.  Those are the stories that should be posted on social media.

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Being Generous Brings Blessings


Proverbs 11:17-28 (NIV)

17 Those who are kind benefit themselves,
    but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

18 A wicked person earns deceptive wages,
    but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.

19 Truly the righteous attain life,
    but whoever pursues evil finds death.

20 The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse,
    but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.

21 Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished,
    but those who are righteous will go free.

22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
    is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good,
    but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.

24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

25 A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

26 People curse the one who hoards grain,
    but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

27 Whoever seeks good finds favor,
    but evil comes to one who searches for it.

28 Those who trust in their riches will fall,
    but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

This passage presents a contrasting picture of right and wrong, good and evil, generosity and stinginess.  Generosity is clearly aligned with righteousness and kindness.

One in every six verses in the first three Gospels wither directly or indirectly relates to money and how we handle it.

Sixteen of Jesus’ 44 parables (more than a third) deal with the use or misuse of money.  Our joyful giving to others is a measure of our gratitude and obedience to the Lord.  What we spend our money on is a pretty clear indicator of where our hearts are.

There is a BIG bonus when it comes to living a life of generosity.  The bonus is that God often blesses us when we bless others.

Randy Alcorn said, “God doesn’t make us rich so we can indulge ourselves and spoil our children…God gives us abundant material blessing so that we can give it away, and give it generously.”  I couldn’t agree more.  But agreeing with something and doing it is a completely different mater.

A recent magazine article told the story of a church in South Dakota, and its project called “Pass it Forward.”  Once a month, a church family receives an envelope in the mail with a small amount of cash inside.  They are to find someone in need and use the money to help or encourage others.  It’s not the amount of money, but the generosity, and often the hope or joy, that such an unexpected blessing brings when someone is surprised by our gifts.

Be prayerful and creative in your generosity.  Give an anonymous cash gift to a family in need.  Pay for a policeman’s or soldier’s meal. But some groceries for a single mom.  Write off the debt of a friend who’s struggling.  Generosity isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, but it reflects our gratitude and obedience to God.

Can you recall a time when you were blessed by someone’s generosity?

What are some ways you could show generosity to others in the coming week?

I want to challenge each of us to find some way that we can give generously to someone in need.  Even a small gift of love can have a profound impact on someone’s life.  And that simple act can have a profound impact on your soul.  I am a firm believer that it is impossible to be sad and depressed when you are doing something kind for another person.  Generosity is the cheapest antidepressant you will ever find.

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True Friendship: Breaking Down the Walls

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John 15:12-15 (NIV)

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.


In everything that God created, just one thing didn’t meet with the Lord’s approval.  In Genesis 2:18, when looking at Adam, the only being of His kind, He said the following:

Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

God created people for emotional, mental, and physical intimacy so they would be able to share their innermost selves with one another.

Jesus explained this to His disciples, saying they should love each other as He had loved them.  In a God-honoring friendship, two people build each other up and spur one another toward Christlikeness.  Many people, however, fall far short of making and maintaining relationships that sharpen their faith.

Proverbs tells us how people should sharpen each other, just like iron sharpens iron.

Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

People instead tend to welcome the trivial talk of casual acquaintances: the weather, tough bosses, and world affairs are safe topics.  Sadly, believers often shy away from the penetrating conversations about sin, accountability, and biblical living that would serve to enrich their faith.

Strong relationships begin with men and women who decide to risk their pride and comfort in order to love people just like Jesus does.  They recognize that one of the reasons we have friends is so we can motivate one another toward holiness.  In a friendship of mutual trust and submission, two people will confess their sins to each other, offer gentle reproof, and share each other’s burdens.

The walls that we build to keep people at a distance are often defenses against God as well.  We don’t want God too close to our most personal business.  But as believers learn to share openly and freely with a brother or sister in Christ, they develop the capacity to be more honest with God.

The relationships we have with people around us are in line and mimic the relationship we have with God.  As we learn to develop more authentic relationships with those around us, our relationship with God becomes more authentic.  As we get closer to those around us, we get closer to God.

If you think that keeping your friends at a distance and your relationships with them only at a surface level, maybe that is saying something about your relationship with God.

I would like to challenge each of us to continue to work to have deeper and more authentic relationships with our friends.  Let’s have more “true” friendships and less “just” friendships.  That is the way our friendships in heaven will be so we should start developing them now.  Let’s break down the walls in our own lives that are preventing us from have the types of relationships with others and the kind of relationship with God that He always intended for us to have.

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It Is a Dark World Out There: Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm

It was 1939, just before the outbreak of what would come to be known as the Second World War.  Hitler was on the move, the dominoes were starting to fall.  The British government, facing what Winston Churchill would soon call “an ordeal of the most grievous kind,” needed to bolster the people’s spirits.  So the British government began producing a series of propaganda posters.

One of these posters, with a bold, red background, was to be used only in the event of an invasion.  That invasion never came, and so the poster was never used.  But the slogan on it has lived on, and it is particularly relevant today.

The message read: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

American society today, while not facing an immediate external threat, nevertheless faces cultural decay that is a direct result of our lamentable rejection of Christian values.  Our country works so hard to protect itself from the outside evil forces that could potentially threaten us that we don’t even realize that we are dying slowly from a cancer within our own borders.

Whether it’s the redefinition of marriage, continuing attacks on our religious liberty, the relentless push to undermine human dignity and the protection of the unborn, fears for what’s ahead politically, or whether it’s concerns about ISIS or Iran that are keeping us up at night, the fact is, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is an appropriate phrase at this moment in American history.

As a follower and believer in Jesus, it is important that I, and all other believers, must keep calm and carry on.  I see it as our duty.  If this moment in time has taught us anything, it’s that cultural power is fleeting.  In the old days, calling yourself a Christian was a sure route to respectability, whatever you actually believed in your heart.

While this is still true in some quarters, we now see that there are a lot more people in our society today who look on matters of faith with a jaundiced eye, and growing numbers of people aren’t even interested in the old American ideal of religious tolerance, let alone the idea of “One Nation under God.”  Yet for all these unhappy and undeniable trends, we’re still called to keep calm and carry on.  Christians need to keep standing for righteousness, come what may.  God still remains on His throne after all.

We already know how the story ends.  God will triumph over all the evil in the world, and evil, as we currently know it, will cease to exist.  Between now and then, God calls all His believers to act like Christians and that is exactly what we are supposed to do.  Act like Christians.

If you have never had the opportunity to read any of the works written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I would encourage you to do so.  He was a martyred hero who stood up for his beliefs in the most difficult of circumstances.  Dietrich, who in his own way fought the Nazis, counseled not to withdraw, but be engaged in a fallen world.  “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” Bonhoeffer said in his book Life Together.  “At the end all of His disciples deserted Him.  On the Cross He was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause He had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.”

And what is our work as exiles in a post-Christian America?

While we must always be open to God’s specific calling in our lives, let me suggest that we all recommit ourselves to some essentials of our own “life together,” wherever our culture happens to be.  The culture may be changing at warp speed, but out duty does not.

First, let’s commit ourselves anew to biblical faithfulness.  That means discovering what the Word teaches and holding onto that, no matter what.  If you are a person who reads the Bible regularly, that is great.  You are learning what the Bible teaches us about how we should live our lives.  The hard step is then living that way.  It is something that we will struggle with all the days of our lives.  That is Ok.  God doesn’t ask us to be perfect because He knows we can’t be.  The fact that we are trying to be as good as we can be is what is important.  If you are not a person who reads the Bible regularly, my question would be: How do you know what you should do?  The truth is at our fingertips, but it is our responsibility to discover that truth.  It’s not too late.  Commit yourself to reading from the Bible daily, even if it is for only a few minutes.  It will change your life.

Second, let’s display the beauty of the Good News in both our words and deeds, in evangelism and in acts of compassion to our friends and our enemies.  Sometimes people see being a Christian as being worthless because they see proclaimed Christians act like non-Christians.  Work to live a life like Jesus did and people will see Jesus in us.  We could help bring people to Jesus just by the way we live our lives.  We may not be able to argue our neighbors into the kingdom, but we sure can invite them.

Third, and finally, let’s recommit to prayer.  As God told the exiles in Babylon, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  Pray for yourself.  Pray for your family.  Pray for your friends.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for your community.  Pray for your state.  Pray for your country.  Pray for your world.  There is nothing God can’t do, but it is our responsibility to talk to Him.  We do that through prayer.  God can do anything if we ask Him to.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Read your Bible regularly. (Learn)
  2. Display what you learn in what you say and what you do. (Do)
  3. Pray

And I might add, “Keep Calm and Carry On!”

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Fruit Naturally Comes From Faith

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Psalm 1(NIV)

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.


The first Psalm kicks off this great Book of praise, worship, and prayers with a look at what makes a person happy.  A happy person avoids the path of wickedness, delights in God’s instruction, and takes pleasure in meditating on His Word.

These are still good principles to live by even today.  If we do these things, then we’re like the man described in Psalm 1: planted by a spiritual stream of water that assures us that we can grow deep roots, healthy foliage, strong branches, and a great harvest of fruit.

When we consider living a life with fruit, we see, from this passage that there are 3 keys to a faith that bears fruit:

  1. Avoid evil.
  2. Don’t scoff at godly things.
  3. Learn to enjoy studying and meditating on the Word of God.

In Old Testament times, living by those truths presumed that a person already had a relationship with God based on the Law, so they were well on their way to producing mature fruit in their lives.

Let’s take a look from a passage from the New Testament that talks about producing fruit in your life:


Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


In the New Testament, our relationship with God is based on our acceptance of Christ as our Savior.  In Galatians 5:22-23, the apostle Paul gave a perfect description of the fruit we should bear as a result of our decision to believe in and trust Jesus.  He mentions the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We should take aim at producing these fruits by planting our lives near the stream of the living water that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  Bearing fruit brings blessings to us and to all of those around us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it.  They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit.  They only know the power of Him on whom their life depends.”

As we reflect on the various fruits of the Spirit discussed in this passage in Galatians, I challenge us to ask ourselves 2 very important questions:

  1. Which specific fruit or fruits of the Spirit would you like to ask God to grow in you?
  2. What changes would you make in your daily life in order to bear more spiritual fruit?

I think that with a little self-examination, prayer, and intentionality, each of us could live a life that bears an abundance of fruit.  In doing so, those around us will notice and be moved by how we live our lives.  We don’t need to wait until we get to heaven to start living a full and abundant life.  Let’s start today!

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Stepping Into the Great Unknown

Back in November, I had the honor and privilege to be the keynote speaker at our Upward Football end of the year celebration.  I have been coaching Upward sports for nearly a decade now and it has had a huge impact on my life.  I am not alone.  It has affected so many coaches, referees, volunteers, and athletes in such a positive manner.  It is an amazing program and I have been truly blessed to have been a part of it.  I am looking to coaching for many years to come and hopefully will get the opportunity to coach my son, Matthew in the coming years.

In this blog, I wanted to share with you the talk I gave at this event.  I hope you enjoy!

Welcome everyone!  It is such as special day as we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our players, cheerleaders, coaches, officials, volunteers, and everyone else involved who made this 2017 Upward Flag Football season such a special season.  I want to say that I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to talk to each of you today.

I want to start by telling you a little about my story.  I was born just outside the small town of Hudson located in NE Iowa.  I was a farm boy and loved everything about farm life.  Working hard was instilled into me at a very young age.  Growing up, going to church each Sunday was a priority in my family and I was taught about God and the gospel message at a very young age and I don’t ever remember a time that I did not believe in Jesus.  I spent time in the Lutheran and Brethren churches.  For those of you who attend Christ Community Church and have been following our sermon series on the reformation, I would say that I was raised right in the middle of the crossover of ideals between Martin Luther, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock and Felix Manz who all played a key role in the reformation.  The missing piece to my Christian education was that I was never really taught that you could have a close, day to day, relationship with God.  When I realized that later in life, it changed my life forever.

I was always tall for my age and a bit chubby as I was growing up.  I didn’t really like sports at a young age, but my mom thought it was important that I be involved with sports so there I was on many different sports teams, but not really wanting to be there.  I was not gifted with athletic talent and coordination was a real struggle for me.  I was never very good and was usually one of the last people picked for games at recess.  If any of you have ever been in that position, I can certainly relate.

When I was in going into Jr. High, I switched schools and did not really know anyone.  I was still involved with athletics, but was still not any good.  One day, I decided that it was madness to keep doing what I was doing.  If I was going to continue to play sports, I needed to get good at them.  I also thought it would help me be more accepted by those in school.  I decided that I was going to do whatever it took to get good.  I made a decision to step into the great unknown.  It started with basketball.  My grandma helped me set up a basketball hoop in the barn and I went to work.  I would practice hours and hours each and every day.  I was determined to excel.  I really put myself out there and did everything I could to improve.  I lifted weights early in the morning, I began running and doing different drills on my own each day, I attended football and basketball camps, I even got involved with some different AAU basketball teams. Slowly, over time, I continued to improve and by the time I graduated from high school, I had been a part of a state championship basketball team, a state championship football team, and was regarded as one of the best athletes Hudson High School had ever had.  I had also developed a great love for sports, which I still have to this day.

I was able to get a scholarship to play football at Iowa State.  I was highly regarded coming out of high school, but the adjustment to the college was very tough and I was no longer a star.  So I did what I knew how to do.  I continued to work harder than everyone else and I made myself into an all Big 12 player by the time my college career was over.  I was good enough to get signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams of the NFL.  I was able to be around and compete with the very best football players in the world.  The Rams had just won the Super Bowl just months before I arrived.

I do not mention these things with the purpose of boasting, but rather to show how much I was blessed by God to have experienced so much success at such a young age.  The problem was that I thought I had achieved all of that on my own through the hard work I had put in.  I would soon learn that this was not the case.

Up to that point my entire identity was wrapped up in the fact that I was an exceptional athlete and I could do anything if I was just willing to put in the work.  My football career in the NFL was short-lived and all of a sudden, I was no longer an athlete.  I had lost my identity.  I had returned to Iowa State and was in vet school studying to be a veterinarian.  I put all my efforts into excelling at that and that is what I put my identity in.  I was stepping into the great unknown.  Right after graduating vet school, I married a girl and was so in love.  I put all my identity in her and her acceptance of me.  After only being married a couple of years, she told me that she did not love me anymore.  She divorced me and left and I never saw her again.  This was devastating to me.  Once again I had lost my identity.  I went into a deep depression.  Over the next several years I fell into a deep, dark pit.  All the success I had achieved early in life did not matter anymore and I felt completely useless and did not feel worthy of anyone’s love.  I had a huge hole in my soul and nothing I did was filling it.  I even stopped going to church and turned away from God.  I finally hit rock bottom when I started to question in my mind what the point of living anymore was.  I was actually contemplating ending my own life.

It was Dec. 24th 2008 and I was home celebrating Christmas with my family.  This was usually a joyous occasion.  We were at Christmas Eve service, at the church I grew up in, and were singing Silent Night holding lit candles in the dark sanctuary.  My heart was not felling comfort or joy in that moment.  I felt only loneliness and emptiness inside my soul.  I didn’t know what to do.  I began to weep uncontrollably.  I had gotten to a place where no matter what I did or tried it did not seem to help.  Hard work had always worked before, but not this time.  In desperation, I cried out to Jesus and asked Him into my life.  I asked Him to save me because I couldn’t.  It was in that moment, when I was finally able to conquer my greatest enemy, myself, and truly give my life to Jesus.  I was stepping into the great unknown.

That was the beginning of my new life.  My life has not been the same.  Right after giving my life to the Lord, I was hungry.  I was reading my Bible each day, praying, and attending every bible study I could.  I was starting my great love affair with God and I just couldn’t get enough.

Soon after, I was approached by someone in the church about if I would consider getting involved with the Upward Sports program at the church.  They had been running a basketball program for a couple of years and they would be starting a flag football program in the fall.  This sounded like a good idea.  I loved sports and had a lot of experience when it came to the games of football and basketball.  There was only one problem and it was kind of BIG one for me: I didn’t feel comfortable around kids.  I did not like babies.  I had never held one and would never had even considered changing a diaper.  I didn’t really feel comfortable around older kids either.  I found their behavior kind of annoying and would do my best to try to avoid them.  How could I ever coach if I did not like kids?

If I was following the path I would set for my life, coaching Upward was not going to be something I would really be interested in doing.  The problem was that I had just surrendered my life to Jesus and told Him that it would be “His will” and no “my will.”  I could sense God continuing to try me to push me to step outside my comfort zone and do this.  It was as if He was saying to me, “Do this and I will help you.  You can do amazing things through me.”  I was still hesitant, but I decided to go ahead and do it anyway.  So I jumped in and became an Upward coach.  Not just for flag football, but for basketball as well.  I was stepping into the great unknown.  It was not easy at first and I did struggle a little bit with relating with the children I was coaching, but I could sense God helping me along the way and changing me from the inside.  A few years later, I even became an Upward official.  People would ask me all the time if my son was on the team I was coaching and I would say, “I don’t have a kid.”  A strange look would come over their face and they would ask me, “Why was I coaching?”  The real answer was because God asked me to and I was willing to say yes.

Now almost a decade later, I have been an Upward coach every year since then.  I have been on the dance team for the children’s Sunday school.  Most recently, after our family moved to Jewell, I got involved with volunteering for the AWANA Program at one of the churches in Jewell.  I take our son Matthew, who will be 2 in Dec., with me.  Even though he is still way under the minimum age, he is a Jr. Cubbie this year as I am helping out in the Cubbie room this year.  It can be challenging at times.  A few weeks ago, we had an autistic boy join our room and along with that comes great difficulties in trying to teach him about God.  Our teaching leader came up to me and asked me if I would be willing to work with this special boy because she said, “I was the best person in our room relating to little children and if there was anyone that could reach this little boy about God and the gospel message, it was me.”  In that moment a wave of clarity came over me, along with tears later that night.  It was in that moment I realized, not how far I had come in the past decade working with children, but how far God had brought me.  Over the past decade God has transformed me into a person who has no fear or hesitation in working with children.  He has prepared me to be a good dad.  It takes my breath away to think of the miracle he performed in my life and how he can do the same with all of us.  God really is a great God!

There are so many great things about the Upward program that really make it a special program and really a program that puts itself ahead of other youth sports programs that your kids could be a part of:

  • Players of every ability level get to play
  • Everyone gets equal playing time
  • Emphasis on treating coaches, teammates, opponents, officials, and parents with respect
  • Devotion time at each practice to focus on being a better person, not just a better player
  • Exposure to the Gospel message

I have always made it a big emphasis in my coaching to give each of my players a strong understanding of the basics related to the sport.  To become a good athlete, you have to start with the fundamentals so we really emphasize that.  On our teams we do not emphasize winning or losing based on the score of the game.  That score can be very deceiving.  I base our wins and losses based on how we played the game.  Did we play at a level that we should play at or did we sell ourselves short.  I define success as doing the very best you can with the abilities God gave us.  That can be different for every single player so the world’s definition of success is not very applicable to the teams I coach.  I figure that they have the rest of their lives to be judged by the world’s standards, but not while they are a member of our team.

This year was a unique year in that we had a coaching team of four this year.  For over 5 years now, I have had the honor of being a part of a small men’s discipleship group that meets every Thursday night.  We talk about God and our lives and how we are living them.  Are we living lives worthy of what God is trying to do in our lives.  This season, I asked Ward Leek, Bill Brannan, and Chris Akers (the members of that group) to join me as coaches for this season.  This made them step out of their comfort zones as well, but they did it and they did an amazing job!  I could not be more proud of these guys.  This also serves as a model for other small groups that are asking themselves what they can do to get more involved in the church or the community in general.  Coaching an Upward team is a really awesome thing to do and the kids give back so much to the coaches.  It really can be a life altering decision.

Our devotion time is the most important time in each practice.  This season we covered 3 different virtues that are really important virtues to implement in our lives:

Knowledge.  Knowledge is discovering something new so you can be better at whatever you do.

Contentment.  Contentment is deciding to be happy with what you’ve got.

Grace.  Grace is getting something great that you don’t deserve.

With this year’s team we decided that we wanted to get each member of our team their own Bible.  Coach Ward was kind enough to buy these for the boys.  We wanted to emphasize the importance of reading your Bible and learning what it says and then trying to do that in our lives.  I think this is a message that us adults need to remember as well.  We would all be a lot better off if we would do that.  Parents read the Bible with your kids.  Parents read the Bible for yourself in front of your kids.  As parents, we need to serve as models for our kids.  Don’t be afraid to read a Bible with a lot of pictures.  Maybe you want to get a Bible with pictures for yourself to read.  Those are usually the most fun to read anyway and if an easier version helps you to understand it better, that is even better.

In our final practice we were able to share the gospel message with the kids.  We learned that we all are sinners and that the penalty for sin is death.  Because we all sin and that the penalty for death is sin, we all deserve the punishment of death.  But because God loved us so much and did not want to see us go out like that, He sent His Son Jesus to Earth as a man.  Jesus lived a sinless life so He did not have to die, but because He loved each of us so much, He choose to follow God’s will and take each of our sins for us, and upon taking those sins, He had to die on the cross in our place so that we did not have to die.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, as He said He would and He returned to His Father in heaven.  Because of this great sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, if we are willing to admit that we are sinners, confess our sins to God, and believe in Jesus and that fact that He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead three days later, we too can be saved.  That means when we die our physical death here on earth, as we all will, we will be brought back to life and live in heaven for all eternity.  We do not have to earn our way to heaven.  We could never earn it on our own anyway.  The price was already paid over 2,000 years ago.  We just have to accept that gift.  What an amazing message the gospel message is!

We had several kids who gave their lives to Christ during the course of this season.  That is awesome!  We have many others who have not taken that step yet and that is great too.  I would urge you to keep learning more about God and what He has done and can do in your own life.  As I have found in my life, even when you are running away from God, He loves you so much that He still pursues you and eventually, you will have to decide if you will let Him in.  Parents, don’t be afraid to take this journey with your children.  Maybe for some of you, it is time that you stop trying to do life the best you can on your own, and let God take the wheel and see where He can take you.  It might be places you could have never imagined.

I want to encourage everyone here, who is not currently involved with the Upward program, to consider getting involved.  Consider being a coach, an official, or volunteering in some other way.  You don’t have to have any prior experience in any of these areas.  We will help you and give you all the tools you need to be successful.  If you are still unsure, I can bring you on as one of my assistants and I will teach you everything you need to know.

Dads, this program is a great opportunity for you to connect with and spend time with your children.  The same is true for Moms.  Even if you don’t currently have children, get involved, like I did.

For all of the current players, as you get older, strongly consider giving back to this program that has done great things for you.  I know I have several players on my team this year who, at different times, wanted to coach our team and make some decisions on what positions people play and what calls we should run.  Seriously, come back and be a coach in a decade and then you really can call the shots.

God has the ability to do amazing things in our lives, if we give Him the space to do that.  Sometimes that means we have to step outside of our comfort zones to experience that.  What are you giving your time and energy to in your life?  Maybe God is pushing you in the direction of getting involved with Upward and maybe He has some great things waiting for you if you will just say “yes.”  Maybe it is something other than Upward.  Maybe God is asking you to step into the great unknown.  Don’t be afraid to step into the great unknown.  Don’t give up on that opportunity just because you were too unsure of yourself.  Remember, you are not by yourself.  God will be with you at every step and He will lead you into greatness.

I have made the decision on several different occasions during my own life to step into the great unknown.  They were all scary and each time I was unsure of myself.  But God was with me each time and through that process, He has changed me from the inside out and made me into a person I never would have ever gotten to on my own.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined going in my own scope of where I thought I could go.

God can take you to places that you never could have imagined you would ever be at too.  God can transform you into a person that you never knew was even possible.

Sometimes you just have to be willing to step into the great unknown!

In closing, I would like to end with a poem I heard several years back that I think brings the whole thing into the proper perspective.


Pedal, Pedal (Charles Swindoll)

At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge.  Keeping track of the things I did wrong so I was to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I died.  He was like the President, I recognized his picture when I saw it, but I didn’t really know him.  But later on when I met Christ, it seemed that life was more like a bike ride.  But it was a tandem bike and I noticed Christ was in the back helping me pedal.  I don’t know just when it was that he suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since.  When I had control, I knew the way.  It was rather boring, but it was predictable.  It was the shortest distance between 2 points.  But when he took the lead, he knew delightful long-cuts.  Up mountains and through rocky places at break-neck speeds, it was all I could do to hang on.  Even though it looked like madness he said “Pedal…pedal.”  I worried; I was anxious and asked him, “Where are you taking me?”  He just laughed and didn’t answer.  And I started to learn to trust.  I forgot my boring life and entered into his adventure.  And when I said “I’m scared,” he’d lean back and touch my hand.  He took me to people who had gifts I needed, gifts of healing and acceptance, and joy, they gave me gifts I needed to take on my journey.  When we were off again he’d say, “Give those gifts away, now, they are extra baggage, too much weight.”  So I did to the people we met and found that in giving, I received.  And still our burden was light.  I didn’t trust him at first.  In control of my life, I thought he would wreck it.  But he knows bike secrets.  He knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners.  He knows how to clear high rocks.  He even knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.  And I’m learning to shut up and pedal.  In the strangest places and I’m beginning to learn to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face, and my constant, delightful companion Jesus Christ.  And when I’m sure that I just can’t do anymore, he just smiles and says “Pedal…pedal.”

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