While I’m Waiting

A Comprehensive Guide to the COVID-19 Coronavirus Quarantine for Christians

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.

We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

If you are like most of the country (and world), there is a good chance you are spending lot of time at home lately. COVID-19 has caused increased regulations from state and federal governments to “stay home” and practice social distancing to help stop the spread of the virus. These announcements have caused a lot of fear and anxiety, but they have also caused a lot of people to feel a loss of purpose and identity. People who once dedicated so much of their time and lives to their careers, businesses, and organizations are now feeling lost, helpless, or just plain bored!

As many stores, venues, businesses, and even churches are closed down, one question a lot of people are asking themselves is: “What do I do now?” Is there something meaningful you could be doing to pass your time in “quarantine”? More specifically, what could Christians be doing in this time, even when they can no longer meet at church?

There are a lot of things people have found to keep themselves busy: Netflix, video games, nature hikes, to name just a few. There are many practical, beneficial, and even spiritual things you can be doing right now that can have a meaningful and lasting impact, even after this coronavirus mayhem has passed.

Let’s start with some general things to do to keep busy, then we will look at some great ways to invest in your spiritual life and advance the Kingdom.

Practical Things

Here’s a list of regular, everyday things you can do while confined to your home, or neighborhood.

Housework. Clean, disinfect, and organize your home. Dust those shelves that you haven’t dusted in years.

Clean out that closet that serves as a catch-all for the random items you find around the house that don’t have a designated home.

Organize the garage. Pick everything up off the floor and hang tools on hooks and racks along the walls. Maybe this way, instead of using your garage as a storage unit, you can actually park your car in there. How nice would that be!?

Remodel. If you are feeling extra motivated, now is the time to do some much wanted, or much needed, remodeling. Repaint your bedroom, update that bathroom vanity, rewire that light switch that sparks every time you turn it on (before you burn the house down). Not feeling up to construction projects? Rearrange the furniture in your living room and you’ll feel like you’ve remodeled at least one room.

Yard work. Now is a good time to start doing some work outside. It’s warming up a little and some fresh air will do you some good.

Beneficial Things

Grow your own food. Perhaps this has been a wake-up call to many of us to realize the importance of having a reliable food source. With the chaos we have witnessed in grocery stores, maybe this has helped us understand the importance of self-reliance and sustainable food sources. Go plant a garden. Can’t grow a garden where you live? Plant micro greens! There are plenty of alternative options for growing things that don’t involve a large, outdoor garden. You can grow many foods just using a plastic tray sitting in your window.

Read. What better way to pass the time indoors than to read a book? The benefits of reading are numerous. I won’t list them all because you need to be spending your time reading a book, not what I have to say about books. By reading, you can learn more about certain subjects that interest you and educate yourself on something that you had minimal knowledge of previously.

I once read a quote that said “Reading is the cheapest way to travel“. That is so true. Spring Break might have been ruined, but you can still travel to your heart’s content with the help of a good book. Reading a good fiction book is a great way to immerse yourself into another world, even when you are stuck on your couch.

Reading is the cheapest way to travel

Take the benefits of reading a step further and buy/order a book from your local bookstore. Local bookshops have a wealth of knowledge and book recommendations. They are a valuable resource that you need to tap into. A link to my favorite is here. If your local bookstore is closed to retail right now, order from them on their website. Now is the time to support them by buying your books locally (more on that below). If you don’t have a bookstore in your community, check out some book recommendations I have compiled in my posts “Bookends 2018” and “Bookends 2019” to get some suggestions.

Click here for some book recommendations

Shop local. Shopping local has always been important, and always will be. Unfortunately, many don’t realize just how important local small businesses are, until it is too late. People tend to not recognize the value of a business until it is gone. Local business owners invest in your community. They do that financially and personally. Small businesses donate money and products to local charities, sports teams, churches, clubs, and organizations. They sponsored your kid’s little league team. They donated parts and labor to repair your church’s furnace. They served food at the community shelter. They let you set up a booth outside their store to sell cookies. Did Amazon do those things for you? The money they make from their sales is invested right back into the community in which they do business. Do you want to create a ghost town? Because ghost towns happen when you don’t shop local.

Get in shape. Just because you can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean you can’t exercise and stay healthy. My high school baseball coach always told us, ever since we were little kids at camp, something that everyone can do to stay healthy, regardless of age or body type, is to do pushups, sit-ups, and run sprints, every day. You can do at least those three things at home. Go for a jog around your neighborhood. Walk on the treadmill. Eat healthy and stay active, even at home.

Clean up your community. Do you ever notice trash and litter along the roads when you’re going to and from work? Why not take some time to beautify your community by picking up trash along the roadways. Walk your neighborhood and surrounding roads, picking up trash you see along the way. Organize with your neighbors or your church group to hit different areas of town and make it a conjoined effort. You can also coordinate with local businesses and organizations who may want to organize volunteer groups, donate trash bags, or even supply a dumpster to throw all the bags into once they’re full. Everyone can benefit from a litter free community. Let’s take a day to fill some trash bags and do some good for the environment!

Learn a new skill. What better time to learn something new? Don’t put it off any longer. What is something you have always wanted to attempt? Book binding? Wood crafting? Sewing? Typing? Pickup a new hobby by learning new skills!

Ready to take quarantine to an advanced level? Start learning a new language. Start small with the basics. Learn how to ask for food, a drink, the location of the bathroom. My toddler has been learning colors and numbers in different languages by watching YouTube. So can you. Speaking multiple languages makes you more employable, a better traveler, and allows you to communicate with a larger range of people in a broader range of circumstances. Who knows, depending on how long this lasts, you might be a fluent bilingual speaker by the time you go back to work!

Check on your friends. With so many people stuck at home, there are a lot of feelings of loneliness right now. People can no longer go out to eat with their friends, catch a movie, or do much of any socializing at all. We are being told to stay home and only be in contact with those in our household. Well, guess what? A lot of people live alone. Or worse yet, they live with an abusive person. It is no surprise that domestic disputes and suicide numbers are up. Humans are social creatures, created to live in community. Isolation is not natural for us. Call, or text, your friends. With all the methods we have of communication in this era, there is no reason not to.

Spend quality time with your family. You are spending lots of extra time with the members of your family in your household. Why not make sure it is time spent well? Play board games, watch movies, create a scavenger hunt, cook meals and dishes that you have never tried before. Get to know your kids on a deeper level. Read out loud to them. Ask them about their favorite things, their biggest fears, their goals for the present, and for the future. You only have about 940 weeks with your kids from the day they’re born until they turn eighteen. They will likely start becoming more independent even before that. Do not waste this time to create lasting memories with your kids. Teach them about the world around them, and show them how much you love them.

Spiritual Things

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

There are numerous spiritual benefits to this time of “quarantine” and social distancing. If we slow down, refocus our attention, and trust in God, we will discover everlasting benefits that far outweigh these momentary troubles.

Read your Bible. It is crucial that you spend time reading your Bible on a regular basis. There are all sorts of reasons and excuses we give for why we don’t read our Bibles. Those excuses have been drastically reduced during this time of quarantine, and the need to hear from God has greatly increased. Now is the time to open your Bible. As a Christian, reading the Bible should be something you wish to do regularly. Everyone claims to want to hear from God, many don’t realize just how easy that is. No, seriously. It’s easy. You want God to talk to you? Well, He already has said a lot to you. Sixty-six books worth, actually. The Bible is God’s Word. It is His message to us all. The Bible provides guidance, wisdom, history, and the much needed comfort we all need right now.

It is saddening to me that many people who call themselves Christians don’t read their Bible regularly. It is also saddening to me to hear how many people have not read the Bible in its entirety. The reason these two things make me so sad isn’t because I’m a holier-than-thou super-Christian that thinks people need to be more like me. It’s because I was this way for the majority of my life. I grew up in church, attended all the Christian events, wore all the Christian T shirts, and rarely studied my Bible. I got convicted of this when I finally realized that I had called myself a Christian for decades and had never read the whole Book. I found this to be puzzling. Why had I never made it a point to read the entire book, verse-by-verse, word-by-word?

When I decided to read through the Bible in a year, I quickly realized how much I was missing. I also quickly realized how easy it actually was! In my post “Daily Pursuit” I explain how to find a manageable Bible reading plan that fits your schedule and reading style. In “My Year in the Bible” I talk about my chosen method for Bible reading and explain my experience. Make it a point to read your Bible every day and, I promise you, you will benefit greatly. There are so many things the Lord wants to say to you. Read the Book!

Start a Bible study. You don’t have to meet in a church building, or even in the same room, to have a Bible study with a small group of people. The possibilities for online studies and online Bible study groups are endless in this day and age. There are countless group studies already set up for you that you can use as a guide. This is another area your local Christian bookstore can help you. Most have a section dedicated solely to small group Bible studies. You can video chat with a group of friends and discuss what you’re reading, or even start a Facebook group! Decide together as a group what topic, person, chapter, or book of the Bible you want to study. Everyone can be doing the reading on their own and reporting back to the group for open discussion on the Facebook group. This would be a great way to get friends involved that wouldn’t normally attend a Bible study because they’re intimidated about going to church. Even while social distancing, you need Christian community. Start an online Bible study group, or join one already in progress!

Encourage your church leaders. Your pastors and church leaders don’t get to take time off. A pastor never clocks out. They have a duty to reach people with the Gospel message in spite of suffering or illness. They still are providing for the members of their church just as they have been all along, if not more-so. Pastors are used to helping those who cannot get out of the house. Perhaps all those house calls were training them “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Send your pastor a card, an email, or text message and tell them they are appreciated and that you are praying for them. And, for Heaven’s sake, do not withhold your tithes and offerings just because you aren’t going to church on Sundays. I mean that literally, for the sake of the Kingdom, continue to be generous. The local church should be the number one source for aiding people in their time of need and it takes resources to do that. Now is not the time to hoard. It is the time to share. Please help any way you can. Volunteer your time and effort to help your church staff with outreach projects to help the community. Also, don’t forget to pray for their safety, for wisdom, and for effectiveness to reach people with the thing they need most during this time: the hope of Jesus Christ.

“Now is not the time to hoard. It is the time to share.”

Post your testimony. Go “live” on social media or make a video of yourself telling the story of how you came to know Christ. Post the video online for all your friends to see. Some of your close friends and family may know your story, but the hundreds of acquaintances on your social media feeds likely do not. Hearing what God has done for you may be the thing that gets them to take the Gospel message seriously. Don’t underestimate the power your story can have on those around you, and don’t keep them from the blessing of hearing it. People can easily switch the channel on a TV preacher or ignore the words of a stranger, but when they hear from you, someone they respect and trust, they might be willing to listen. Whether you think anyone wants to hear it or not, tell your story.

Help your neighbors (Luke 10:27). Now is the time to reach out to those around you in Christian love and compassion (Galatians 6:10). Make sure your neighbors have all that they need. Is there anything you can share with your neighbors and friends? Can you make a trip to the store for those who are elderly or vulnerable? Arrange gift baskets or food baskets with an uplifting message to encourage others during this time of isolation. One person I talked to had the great idea of walking around their neighborhood and writing encouraging messages and scriptures on the roads with sidewalk chalk. Send cards and hand-written letters to people to keep up communication. Who doesn’t love to get a letter in the mail? Brighten someone’s day by taking the time to reach out to them in the name of Jesus.

Spread hope. The news is full of nothing but doom and gloom, more so than ever. The internet is full of information, and misinformation, about COVID-19. It is easy to be disheartened and depressed by this kind of constant negative messaging. What can you do to spread hope and peace during this time? A lot of people are feeling down. Lift them up! Remind them of the love of Christ. Tell them that God is in control, no matter what. Find creative ways to share positive things on social media. Promote laughter by telling a joke. Tweet scriptures about hope, peace, and endurance. Whatever you can do to give hope to others in a time of despair, do it.

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” –Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

Start Bible journaling. Bible journaling, or “life journaling”, is a wonderful way to study the Bible and connect with God. The concept is simple: Just read a set of scripture, take notes on what you read and what you learned, and end in prayer. If you’re an artist, you can tap into your creative side and accompany your journal entries with drawings, coloring, or paintings that are inspired by the scriptures you’re reading. My favorite way to journal is by using the S.O.A.P. method. S.O.A.P. stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. The included image shows specific instructions for each step. I challenge you to start journaling as you read the Bible during quarantine. You will find that the Word of God will open up to you in ways that you didn’t know possible.

Be the Church

Just because you can’t gather in the building doesn’t mean church is canceled. Church isn’t even postponed. Church never ends. You are the church. We are all the church. If your spiritual wellness depends on going to the building, you might be unhealthy and need to spend this time investing in your spiritual life one-on-one with God. I believe scripture makes it clear that meeting with a group of believers regularly (like we do at church) is essential to our Christian walk, but it is not the only essential aspect of the Christian life. We should be able to temporarily forego visiting home base during this pandemic and, instead, shift our focus from going to church to being the church, everywhere else. Perhaps shutting the doors of church buildings for a little while is just what some lukewarm Christians needed to evaluate their faith and awaken their spiritual lives.

A church I visited had a banner hanging above the door that led out to the parking lot. It read “You are now entering the mission field.“I think about that often. A lot of Americans view church attendance as the benchmark for being a Christian. We attend church on Sunday, maybe Wednesday, then go back to our lives until the next week. We have to rethink this approach. One hour on Sunday simply cannot be where you are getting the most spiritual fulfillment. If these social distancing regulations have put your local church body at a complete stand-still, there is something wrong with your church. If your closeness to God and your walk with Christ is solely dependent on gathering at the building, cookie-cutter sermons, or pleasing musical preferences, you will see a breakdown of your Christianity during this pandemic. That model is simply not sustainable. If your church is the hands and feet of Jesus, working together to serve the community and spread the Gospel, you will see a resurgence of Christianity in your community, country, and world! Now is the time to take off the designer suits and put on some work boots. We are still the hands and feet of Jesus- we are just wearing gloves now.

“We are still the hands and feet of Jesus- we are just wearing gloves now.”

You Are Not Persecuted

I know there have been a lot of orders to stay-at-home, shelter in place, and social distance. Businesses have been deemed “non-essential” by people in ivory towers, so far detached from economic understanding that it is frightening. A record number of Americans are unemployed. To top it all off, churches aren’t allowed to gather. These things are all frustrating and highly inconvenient, to say the least. Many of us are seeing our rights violated on a scale that we’ve never experienced before. Anger over our religious freedom is rampant. But here’s the thing: it is not persecution. If it is, it is very mild. When I think of my brothers and sisters in other countries meeting secretly in basements in the middle of the night to quietly study their Bibles together, in constant fear of the police catching them, I thank God that I only have to miss church temporarily. I think about all the people around the globe who have been outcast, imprisoned, and murdered for the simple act of believing in Jesus, something that we Americans take for granted, and I feel ashamed that I would get so angry over a missed small group meeting.

Church is temporarily canceled, but Christianity is not. You can still be a Christian. You can still worship God. You can still read your Bible. You can still speak openly about your faith without fear of imprisonment. You can still tell your friends and neighbors about Jesus without being slaughtered. You just aren’t allowed to cough on your fellow church goers for a few weeks.

Pick up a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and I can assure you, within a few pages, you will feel less persecuted. We have so much to be thankful for when it comes to religious freedoms. I agree that it is important to keep a close watch on how our governments handle our rights, especially those involving our practice of religion, but I also want us to take an honest evaluation of how our religious freedoms compare to those of the rest of the world in order to gain a little perspective. Take the frustration you feel and use it to gain a better understanding of the persecuted church all over the world. Use this time to simulate how Christians from other nations and cultures would practice their faith. Let us consider how the early Christians felt when the religious leaders of their time crucified Jesus on a cross, the most heinous execution method of their time, and then proceeded to hunt down and kill His followers. Read through the New Testament and mimic how the early Christians lived in community, provided for those in need, and spread the Gospel of Christ, despite intense persecution from their religious leaders and their government. Friend, you are not persecuted. You are just inconvenienced.

Listen, we need to keep a close watch. We don’t want this virus to be used as an open door for future violation of our rights. We have seen numerous other rights taken away in the name of “emergencies” or “for our own safety”. It is a terrifying thought to think this could happen with our right to gather at church also. We cannot allow that to happen. But right now, at this moment of me writing, I don’t perceive that to have happened (so far). Eventually, religious persecution on the scale that we see in other countries will probably reach our shores. I don’t know if it will happen this year, or in 100 years, but the Bible does tell us that we will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:13). There is no way around it. We should accept it willingly and count it a blessing to share in the suffering of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19). Up until now, what suffering have you endured for your faith? Maybe your Christianity has just been too comfortable.

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Use This Time for Good

There are so many stories in the Bible of God turning bad situations around and using them for good. Scenarios that seemed destined for failure were redeemed for the Glory of God. The story of Joseph gives us a perfect example of this (Genesis 50:20). So much good has already come out of this. Never before have sermons reached so many people! Every church has been faced with a new challenge to get their sermons broadcasted online. Now that people can’t go to church, church is coming to them! These online sermons are reaching more people than a sermon from a pulpit ever would. Now, as I scroll my social media feeds, I see tons of videos of live sermons from all the different churches in town, and around the country. More than one church in my town has started broadcasting their sermons on the local television stations. This is incredible! People who would have never stepped foot in a church building are now getting the opportunity to hear a message from the Bible. There is no way to calculate what kind of impact this widespread multimedia broadcasting effort will have on the Kingdom. People are putting their trust in God for the first time, in their living rooms! This isn’t a time to lament the temporary postponement of church services. This is a time to celebrate!

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” –Genesis 50:20

This is a strange moment in history. Life is much different now than it was a month ago. A lot of us are feeling vulnerable and confused. In the midst of all the frustration, just remember who is really in control. I think you’ve found out by now that you have very little control over the current situation. The government is not in control. The health organizations are not in control. God is in control. He always has been and always will be. Before, during, and after the virus. COVID-19 didn’t take God by surprise. Neither have any of the other viruses and illnesses that have plagued the world throughout history. He knows how to carry us through it, physically and mentally.

Perhaps this is the excuse we needed to slow down. Like Robby Gallaty tweeted, a forced sabbath, of sorts. Maybe we can all take the time to stop and take a look at how busy our lives had become, and admit that there are a lot of things we could cut out. I hope we learn from this. I hope we learn where to put our trust. I hope we learn that we can’t put our trust in human masters. I hope we learn to give God control over our entire lives, all seven days of the week. I hope we slow down and rest. I hope our lives can be less stressful and our schedules less filled. Maybe we will learn the importance of spending quality time with our loved ones, the same ones we may be separated from right now. Most of all I hope we will cut out all of the things from our routines that are “non-essential” and replace them with worship and adoration for the Holy God that created us.

What about you?

So, what now? What will you do to spend this time wisely? What changes will you make right now to restructure your life to be built on a strong, everlasting foundation? One that can’t be shaken and crumbled by things like illnesses. We do not know exactly how long this will last, or how different our lives will look when it is over, but we won’t let worry of the unknown cripple us with fear.

What will you do to join this movement? What will you do to be the church in a moment in history where people need it the most? Whatever you do, do not sit idly by, waiting for life to go back to the way it was. Do something impactful. Do something of value. Do something to make Jesus famous today.

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep six feet away from others and… do not let this moment go to waste!

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep six feet away from others and… do not let this moment go to waste!


Further Reading:

When the Deadly Outbreak Comes: Counsel from Martin Luther by Justin Taylor

-The Decade-Old Ministry Book That Envisioned the Pandemic by Ivan Mesa, Colin Marshall, &Tony Payne

Let the Waters Rise by Rugged Pursuit

Too Busy, Too Broke– by Rugged Pursuit

Righteous Anger in the Age of Outrage

Our culture looks for ways to be offended and seeks revenge on those we disagree with. How can Christians navigate differing worldviews with grace, while still holding onto their beliefs? Who else is better equipped to show compassion than those who have been redeemed by Christ?

“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 The Message (MSG)

We are living in the age of outrage. Our culture looks for ways to be offended and seeks outlets for revenge on people that disagree with them.

It’s in the news, in Congress, all over the Internet, and is perhaps most noticeable on your social media feeds. Studies show that many of us spend our last waking moments scrolling through our phones in bed at night. The Bible tells us not to go to bed angry, but often times, we aren’t angry until we go to bed!

We have more outlets for airing our opinions, and complaints, than ever before and most Americans are taking full advantage of those resources for their own gain… or detriment.

As Christians, how do we represent Christ in our conversations when opinions differ and conversations get heated?

Are we navigating differing worldviews with grace and compassion? Or spite and revenge?

When we see people doing things we disagree with, do we say things like “I thought they were a Christian!” or “A Christian would/wouldn’t do something like that!” and write them off?

When we disagree with someone’s Facebook post, is it absolutely necessary to argue in the comments? To block the person? Will we ever reach people with the Gospel by blocking and ignoring them? Is that how discipleship works?

Feelings of anger are inevitable, and yes, Jesus got mad too. You are already thinking about the story of Him flipping over tables and crafting His own whip in the temple (John 2:13-17). Many people love to bring up this scripture as justification for their own outbursts, but let’s not confuse His righteous anger with our unrighteous rants.

There are innumerable sins all around us and oppression in our world is rampant. Justice must be served. But here’s the thing, it’s not always your place to serve it. It’s God’s (Romans 12:19).

There are times to speak up, but only after prayerful consideration and only in love and grace, never in anger. Let your anger, instead, be bridled and transformed into fuel for voluntarism, generosity, discipleship, and other actions that will bring about more positive change to the world than hatred ever could.

Ephesians 4:26 is a verse that is often referenced as permission for our anger, as long as we don’t take it too far, but how far is “too far”? Notice the scripture says “Don’t stay angry.” Like I said, being human, anger rears its ugly head quite often in our hearts and minds. However, just because we feel it, doesn’t mean we have to act on it. There are far more verses in the Bible speaking against anger, revenge, and retaliation.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Romans 12:17-21 The Message (MSG)

Are you consistently offended by people who have different views than you, and you just cannot for the life of you understand why they think and feel the way they do? Go out to lunch with them and ask. Spend time with them. Grab coffee together at a local cafe. You just might start to understand them a little more, and who knows, maybe you can influence them in a way that points them towards Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we have no reason to be offended. We already know that revenge is not our responsibility. We also know that our God has already overcome this world (John 16:33) and triumphs over all evil in the end, so nothing in this world can touch us.

If you are struggling with understanding how Christians could possibly live in this broken, sinful world without being angered by all we see around us, I highly recommend Brant Hansen’s book, “Unoffendable“. In his hilarious, yet thought-provoking style, Brant not only explains why we don’t need to be offended, but also explains why we have no right to be offended…by anything!

Perhaps Christians can be the ones to tame the rage monster and turn this trend around. Who else is better equipped to love the unlovable than those who have been redeemed by Christ?


Paddling Upstream

Paddling upstream on a river can be grueling! But restoring damaged relationships doesn’t have to be. Make small changes now to avoid heavy maneuvers later and you’ll have smooth sailing!

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!

Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.

And the God of love and peace will be with you.”

2 Corinthians 13:11

Have you ever tried to paddle upstream? I have. A friend and I had the grand idea to paddle my canoe down a river to a secluded hunting spot. With the nearest boat ramp being several miles away, and no vehicle parked at the other end, our plan was to then paddle back up stream to where we put in. Even though it was only a couple of miles, it was tough! At a glance, the river did not appear to be moving at a rapid pace, but river conditions can change quickly and it took a lot of strength and tenacity to get back to our starting point.

Unlike the journey in, where we mostly coasted to our destination, the trip back didn’t allow much room for sightseeing. While we did see some deer along the riverbank on the way back, there was no chance of stopping to gaze or we would be washed back downstream. A swig or two from a water bottle to re-hydrate was all there was time for. The trip back was focused mostly on perseverance and grit.

Rivers & Relationships

Rivers hunts in a canoe can be a lot like relational speed bumps between me and you. When we harbor grudges, build up negative thoughts, and have judgmental attitudes towards others, we tend to get so far downstream from living in peace in our relationships that no amount of paddling can get us back to the dock. The ill feelings compound and turn into contempt. The gossip and snide remarks turn into resentment. All this negativity makes for a fast-flowing current of anger that keeps pushing us farther and farther away from where we need to be. When we realize what is happening and decide we want to change course, it’s a struggle! Back peddling can feel like an impossible task.

Just Keep Paddling

When Andrew and I made it back to the boat ramp that evening, we were worn out. It was difficult, and we had to take a few breaks, but we made it. We knew we had no other choice. In the days after this trip, as I did more research on the area, I found that there were other places where we could pull a canoe out of the water downstream that weren’t as far away as I originally thought. With a little extra research and intentional planning, we might have avoided the struggle altogether!

It is the same with your relationships. If you plan ahead and recognize where your negativity might lead in the future, you can make small changes now to avoid heavy maneuvers later. Watch for the red flags, anticipate the triggers, and keep it within the buoys. If you can do that, your communication with those close to you will be smooth sailing!

You know what though? Even though paddling upstream on the river that day was hard, it was worth it! It was a long, hard process but it was well worth it in the end because of what we accomplished. We discovered a new, unpressured hunting spot to enjoy for years to come.

The journey towards healing in your relationships will be the same way. It will be tough! It will be a fight! But if you strive for restoration, you can live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11). So, just grip the paddle and grin. It will be so worth it when your relationship is restored.


Bookends 2019

Looking back on the year 2019, I would like to take a moment to review and reflect on the various books I read throughout the past year.

Much like last year, this year I set out to read as many books as I could in one calendar year again. I wanted to take it a step further, however, and attempt read more than I did in 2018.

As I have mentioned before, I have a bad habit of starting new books before I have finished the previous ones, leaving many sitting around partially read. I told myself I wasn’t going to do that this year but, I must admit, it happened more than once. I found myself reading one book at home and another book during my lunch break at work. However, for me, reading only two at the same time is still an improvement from my usual stack of books with bookmarks sticking out halfway through them.

The following is a list of all the books I read in 2019, along with a brief summary, and maybe a review.

Books I Read in 2019

  1. Soul Coma by Scot Longyear
  2. Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive by Jonathon Walton
  3. Keep Christianity Weird by Michael Frost
  4. I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
  5. An Outlaw and a Lady by Jessi Colter
  6. They Like Jesus but Not the Church by Dan Kimball
  7. Tactics by Gregory Koukl
  8. Jesus is for Liars by Tim Baker
  9. American Omens by Travis Thrasher
  10. Memories of Shaubena by Nehemiah Matson
  11. The Third Jihad by Michael Youssef
  12. Jesus Journey by Trent Sheppard
  13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  14. William Tyndale: A Very Brief History by Melvyn Bragg
  15. Reforesting Faith by Matthew Sleeth, MD
  16. God, Greed, and the Prosperity Gospel by Costi W. Hinn
  17. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  18. Enclave by Thomas Locke
  19. Raised Hunting by David and Karin Holder
  20. Unoffendable by Brant Hansen
  21. The Pilgrim’s Progress: In Today’s English by John Bunyan, retold by James Thomas
  22. To Hell With the Hustle by Jefferson Bethke
  23. The World Turned Upside Down by Michael S. Heiser
  24. Bear Grylls Adventures: The Jungle Challenge by Bear Grylls
  25. That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon
  26. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  27. The Holy Bible

Here’s the Breakdown

1. Soul Coma- by Scot Longyear

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Pastor and teacher Scot Longyear explores seven practices we can use to awaken our spiritual life and our relationship with Christ. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as fast as I did this one. Part of the reason is because I was reading it in the waiting room for an appointment that was running way behind schedule, giving me extra reading time. The other reason is because Pastor Scot has an incredibly engaging writing style that kept me wanting to learn more. Many Christians are asleep in their faith and need resuscitated. This book can help you wake up!

2. Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive- by Jonathan Walton

Americans tend to think the American Dream somehow goes hand-in-hand with Christianity. But is that what the Bible teaches? Does the chasing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness clash with The Gospel message? Jonathan’s book will have you questioning many of the things you thought you understood about The United States, justice, and cultural Christianity. In his book he forces the reader to wrestle with controversial topics related to our “Christian heritage” as a nation, focusing heavily on the topic of racism, and finding true freedom in Christ alone.

3. Keep Christianity Weird- by Michael Frost

This book was just fun! I enjoyed reading the stories about Christians who have made a huge impact because of their willingness to stand out. Many Christians, and churches, have been spinning their wheels trying to find ways to stay relevant with the culture. The problem is, Christians were never meant to fit in. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”. Christians are supposed to be unique, different, and yes … WEIRD! Don’t worry when the world thinks you are living your life in a strange way. Just follow Jesus. One of my favorite stories in this book was of St. Clement’s Church in west London and how they served their community in wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017. Pick up the book and read the inspiring story of how one small, struggling church helped their neighbors in a big way!

4. I’d Rather be Reading- by Anne Bogel

Every self-proclaimed bibliophile should pick up this short, easy read. Anne understands the joys and struggles of a book addict. From owning way too many books and bookshelves, to organizing, and reorganizing, said books and bookshelves compulsively. She talks about classics that have impacted her, as well as passing along reading tips. Some tips include: why you should always take the time to read the dedication pages, acknowledgements, and other things you may tend to skip as you hurry through to get to your next book. If you are a heavy reader, you’ll like Anne. She just gets it.

5. An Outlaw and a Lady- by Jessi Colter

I am a fan of country music. Maybe I should say that I am a fan of what country music used to be. Outlaw Country from the era of Waylon Jennings is just hard to beat. This book is an inside look into the lives of country music’s most royal couple, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. You will read personal details of the lives of famous musicians from the perspective of someone who was right in the middle of it. Struggles, addictions, success, and faith. Jessi holds nothing back. A must read for music fans of all genres.

6. They Like Jesus But Not the Church- by Dan Kimball

It probably comes as no surprise to you that emerging generations are not interested in going to church. If that does come as a surprise to you, then you need to read this book. As Dan points out, younger generations have great respect for Jesus and are interested in learning more about Him. Their hangup is with Christians who turn them off to participating in “organized religion”. It is crucial that Christians be involved in a church, but we need to have churches that operate in a way that makes them worth being involved with. As Pastor Scot Longyear said (author of Soul Coma), “Nothing works like the local church when the local church is working right.” Church-goers who seem to say one thing and do another is a major contributing factor to young people’s disinterest in church involvement. In this book, find out why emerging generations aren’t interested in church and what you can do to change that trend.

7. Tactics- by Gregory Koukl

I got this book years ago when it was first released and, for some reason, had it stored away in a box without reading it. In fact, they released a 10th anniversary edition of it this year! Yes, I have a problem with collecting books, even unread ones. This book is filled with helpful advice and real-life application of how to talk to people about your Christian beliefs. Talking to people about religion often makes people nervous. They feel unequipped to speak about it because they are afraid they may not have all the answers. Here’s the thing: you don’t have all the answers! That is okay though, because this book will tell you how to facilitate conversation about Christianity in an honest and comfortable way.

8. Jesus is for Liars- by Tim Baker

Written primarily with teens and young adults in mind, Jesus is for Liars tells readers that it is okay to have questions about the Christian faith and it is okay if you mess up sometimes. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you become perfect or that you are now immune to sin. It means that your sins are covered by the grace of God through Jesus Christ! It is time to drop the guilt and the obsessive rule following and start pursuing a relationship with the Savior.

9. American Omens- by Travis Thrasher

My favorite read of the year! I didn’t want it to end and I have been praying for this to become a series ever since I finished it. I love dystopian novels, so imagine my excitement when I saw this book hit the shelves at my local Christian bookstore. With over fifty books in his portfolio, Travis Thrasher needs no introduction. He’s collaborated and co-written with so many celebrities and personalities that you’ve likely read one of his books without even knowing it. In American Omens, the Religious Right in a near-future America is living in a society that is now intolerant of Christian beliefs. As you read, you may just find yourself thinking that this book is more prophetic than it is fiction. It’s thrilling, captivating, terrifying, and a wake up call to nominal Christians everywhere! It also has more U2 references than you could shake a drumstick at.

10. Memories of Shaubena- by Nehemiah Matson

The Native American, Shaubena (also known by Shabonna, Shabonee, and other closely related names) was an Ottawa tribe member who later became a chief in the Potawatomi tribe in Illinois. He is best known for keeping his fellow Potawatomi tribesman out of the Black Hawk War. With ties to an area not far from where I reside, I quickly accepted the recommendation to read Memories of Shaubena and learn more about this man’s impact on the early American nation. This book recounts Shaubena’s experiences fighting alongside Chief Tecumseh, meeting with American politicians, and many other memorable moments in Native American and Early American history.

11. The Third Jihad- by Michael Yousseff

This is the second book I have read by Michael Yousseff. He has a deep and personal connection to the Muslim world and first-hand experience with living in a place controlled by the Islamic State. In The Third Jihad, Yousseff takes us back in history to tell us the background of radical Islam and it’s ties to the West, even before The United States was a country.

12. Jesus Journey- by Trent Sheppard

We think of Jesus, first, as the Son of God. However, for His early disciples, they knew Him first as a human. Trent Sheppard focuses on the humanness of Jesus. He recounts His conversations with His mother, His disciples, and with God and gives us a more personal view of Jesus as a human who walked the same Earth that we do.

13. Brave New World- by Aldous Huxley

Another dystopian novel. This was first published over seventy years ago. It depicts a future where humans are genetically bred, regularly drugged with pharmaceuticals, and convinced to serve a ruling order that treats them more as experiments or subjects to be manipulated than as humans with their own emotions, preferences, or creativity. Surprisingly, I wasn’t drawn into this story. Honestly, for a book that has stood the test of time, and is considered a classic by many, I expected it to be a little more engaging.

14. William Tyndale: A Very Brief History- by Melvyn Bragg

This short book gives an overview of his life, his important endeavor, and his tragic death. William Tyndale had an idea to create an English translation of the Bible so that even commoners could read the scripture in their own language. This idea was considered heresy by the religious elite of the time because they wanted to have full control over what the people knew of the Bible and what the scriptures said. Ultimately, Tyndale was executed by strangling him to death and then burning his body at the stake. His last words are reported to have been “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”. Without William Tyndale’s sacrifice, perhaps we would all still be subject to the oppression of religious leaders who crave personal power over Biblical truth.

15. Reforesting Faith- by Matthew Sleeth, MD

There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis and on the last page of Revelation, and that’s no accident. Did you know that nearly every major event in the Bible is marked with a tree? Clearly trees are pretty important to God. Reforesting Faith tells us why.

16. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel- by Costi W. Hinn

The nephew of internationally known televangelist Benny Hinn gives us an eye-opening, behind the scenes look into the Prosperity Gospel and proves that it is, in reality, no Gospel at all. As a member of the Prosperity Gospel’s royal family, Costi had a front row seat to the ministry of his uncle Benny, even being employed by him. Now Costi is warning Christians that the Prosperity Gospel is opposite of the truth the Bible teaches and detrimental to the spiritual lives of the often desperate and vulnerable people who seek help through this deceiving avenue. This is not a book bashing his family or others involved with this type of ministry. Instead, you’ll find that it is a heartfelt warning that Jesus wants so much more for you than acquiring health, wealth, and material possessions. In a culture that so often tells us that wealth and possessions are what makes us successful and “blessed”, this book is refreshing to the soul.

17. Lord of the Flies- by William Goulding

I remember some of my classmates reading this book in school as assigned reading. I must have been in a different English class because I did not. It makes me wonder what we were reading instead. Anyway, I decided I wanted to see what this book was all about. A plane crash leaves a group of young boys stranded on an island where they are forced to learn to fend for themselves, create their own government, and survive the island-and each other. I was reminded of this book when I watched the Netflix series The Society, which has a similar story line, only with a female-led society of high school aged kids trying to survive in their town after their parents disappear.

18. Enclave- by Thomas Locke

America as we know it has collapsed. It is fifty years later and the country is a much different place. Now the country is separated into individual enclaves who are trying to make ends meet through bartering and trading. Caleb has a secret that could lead to the survival of his enclave. As he soon finds out, there are many other people with their own secrets. A network of outcasts with special abilities must work together to avoid agents that wish to destroy their kind in order to save their lives and their homes.

19. Raised Hunting- by David and Karin Holder

I love books about hunting. This one follows the Holder family who produces a television show called “Raised Hunting“. They talk about their experiences in the outdoors and what they’ve learned about faith and family through their adventures. One thing I loved about this book is that each chapter concludes with a wild game recipe!

20. Unoffendable- by Brant Hansen

I would say this is within my top 3 favorite books of the year. Brant Hansen is hilarious, but his subject is serious: Christians have no right to act on their anger. Folks have cherry picked verses from the Bible to justify their anger towards certain subjects, but the fact is, Jesus doesn’t teach that we are justified in acting on our anger. You can stand up for social justice and for your faith without getting angry. You can read political posts on your social media feed without getting angry. You can watch the news without getting angry. I know, it’s hard to believe but it’s true! Read Brant’s book and choose to be Unoffendable in the age of outrage!

21. The Pilgrim’s Progress: In Today’s English- by John Bunyan, retold by James Thomas

I can’t believe I have never read this book! This Christian classic was written in the 1600s and for some reason I have never picked it up to read it. Shame on me for waiting so long. It has been re-written in modern language to make it easier to read and understand (thankfully). It depicts the journey of a man named Christian (yeah, that’s his name) who is traveling to the Celestial City. He encounters trouble and temptation and meets many interesting characters along the way. This book is a fictional story relating Christian’s journey to our Christian walk as we follow Jesus.

22. To Hell With the Hustle- by Jefferson Bethke

Yeah, the title is shocking and maybe a little unconventional. You know what’s even more unconventional? Living for Jesus instead of the culture. I am sure a lot of good Christian shoppers were disturbed when they saw this book hit the shelf at their Christian bookstore. I mean, can a Christian say that!? Well… yes. Jeff was intentional with this title. He literally means that a life engulfed in hustle is straight from Hell and not from Jesus. We are so busy and over committed that we are missing out on what is most valuable, like our relationship with Jesus and our time with our families. The worst part is that we don’t even really notice how busy we are because it has become the norm for us. Americans secretly love to stay busy because it makes us feel important. Read Jeff’s book, send the the hustle back where it belongs, and enjoy Shalom the way Jesus intended.

23. The World Turned Upside Down- by Michael S. Heiser

I loved the Netflix series Stranger Things. I am not typically interested in anything related to sci-fi but as I saw more and more people talking about this series when it first came out, I decided there must be something to it! There have now been three seasons and I’ve seen every episode (some more than once). In The World Turned Upside Down, Heiser explains the connection between Hawkins and The Upside Down and how it relates to our world and the spiritual realm. Although the series wasn’t meant to be an allegory or have any connections to Christianity, there are some very interesting parallels. When I first spotted the book, a Babylon Bee article came to mind about relating every movie to the Gospel and I was skeptical. However, I gave it a chance and I’m glad I did. The author makes some great points without too much of a stretch to force the Gospel connection to happen. There are some super interesting details about the Nephilim mentioned in the Bible that I’ve never once heard a sermon on! Ultimately, it was just great to reminisce on the Stranger Things seasons!

24. Bear Grylls Adventures: The Jungle Challenge -by Bear Grylls

If you are looking at this book thinking it’s a little below my reading level, you are right. My nephew started reading this series of books recently so I wanted to see what it was about. As someone who watched plenty of Man vs. Wild in its prime, I read through this with Bear Grylls’ voice narrating the story in my head. In this fun, adventure-filled book, a fiercely competitive boy, named Omar, must learn patience and selflessness in order to survive when he finds himself magically transported from summer camp to the jungle. There he meets Bear Grylls who helps him learn how to slow down, adapt to his environment, and do things the right way. I’d recommend this series to parents (or aunts and uncles) looking for stories with a positive message for active and adventurous kids.

25. That Wild Country- by Mark Kenyon

Anyone who hunts whitetail deer knows who Mark Kenyon is. He hosts the incredibly popular Wired To Hunt Podcast and is now a member of the MeatEater crew. A huge whitetail fanatic and public lands advocate, this is his first book. If you’re into history, That Wild Country is jam packed with knowledge of the history of federally owned public lands. The author stands for keeping land in the hands of the federal government at all costs. While I very much appreciate and enjoy public lands for recreation, hunting, sightseeing, camping, and a million other things, and consider them to be very important and useful, I cannot say that I am quite on board with the entire outlook of many public lands advocates. I very much respect private land ownership as well, and very much prefer small government and as little government interference as possible. So, I admit, there was much I saw differently, or had to try to view through a different lens. While Mark does give accounts of numerous travels and trips through various national parks and other outdoor recreational areas, the book was a little more political leaning than it was outdoors writing, in my opinion. But, to be fair, when you’re talking about the pros and cons of federally owned property, I suppose it is kind of hard to avoid the politics of it all. After reading this book, I realize I have much to learn about the process of public land ownership and I plan to continue following legislation involving federally owned properties to better understand the system. My takeaway is that I need to pay even closer attention to such things, because it is important to our country’s future and the enjoyment of future generations. I liked the way Mark takes the reader along with him on his travels, similar to Roger Thompson’s riveting tales in We Stood Upon Stars.

26. A Walk in the Woods- by Bill Bryson

Oh man, this was a great book! This was recommended to me almost a year ago, and while I did buy it, I didn’t get around to reading it until months later. I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long. Bill Bryson is a phenomenal story teller and a hilarious writer. I laughed through basically the entire book. He recounts his journey while trying to hike the Appalachian Trail and will have you wanting to gear up and start a thru-hike yourself. You don’t even have to be an outdoors enthusiast to enjoy this book. In fact, it’s perfect for indoor types because you get all the thrill and excitement of a multi-state hike, and none of the twisted ankles, bug bites, or spills! This will be a book I read again!

27. The Holy Bible

I make reading through the Bible in a year an annual practice. I talk in detail about finding a manageable Bible reading plan in both “Daily Pursuit” and “My Year in the Bible” so I won’t go into it here. This year I focused a large portion of my Bible reading using the new Filament Bible by Tyndale Publishers. It is written in the New Living Translation (NLT) which is one I haven’t used regularly in the past. I can’t say enough about this Bible and its features. It is a study Bible, digital Bible, and plain text Bible, all in one! On every page, there’s a small cross emblem that serves as a type of QR code. After downloading the free Filament app, you can scan these with your phone to unlock tons of information and materials pertaining specifically to the content on that particular page. You will have access to interactive maps, charts, photographs, study notes, devotionals, articles, and a lot of other resources. My personal favorite feature is the videos provided by The Bible Project! They do a fantastic job of telling the story of the Bible as one seamless story, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, through informative animated videos. You really have to try out the Filament Bible. Filament will prove to you that reading the Bible doesn’t have to be boring!

In Conclusion

As usual, I read about a variety of different subjects this year. I like to have variety so I can learn and experience something new. This year I made it a point to mix in some more fiction titles than I usual read. My goal for 2019 was to surpass 2018’s quantity of books read. Given that I had a new baby towards the beginning of the year, that really took a lot of my attention away from reading, I am proud that I accomplished my goal.

I already have quite a large list of books that I plan to read in the future. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check them all off in 2019 due to its size and ever-growing nature. There are a range of different genres on my “To-Be-Read” list, as you can imagine. There are some outdoors related books, another dystopian title (I am intrigued by those, in case you couldn’t tell), a few fiction books, and, of course, a plethora of Christian literature.

I hope you find a book or two on this list that interests you. I have included links to each book where you can view and purchase it online or in-store. If any of them spark your interest, I encourage you to pick it up and make time to read it.

What About You?

What are you reading right now?

What great books of 2019 did I miss? If you have any other book recommendations that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you! I am always looking for new and exciting titles to add to my list!

Add your thoughts or recommendations in the comments below, contact me through this site by clicking CONTACT, or reach me by email at ruggedpursuitdevo@gmail.com.

Happy reading!


“Deceived by Desire”

Evil is often disguised as something desirable and attractive. It isn’t until we feel the piercing of its arrow that we realize we have been deceived by deadly desire.

“…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

James 1:14-15

“Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes it’s goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap.”

-Klyne Snodgrass in “Firmly Planted” by Robby Gallaty

This quote by Klyne Snodgrass makes me think of the way a whitetail deer walks into its demise. It is lured in by things that look, seem, taste, or smell attractive. Maybe it’s decoys, scents, bait, food plots, or soothing deer call sounds. They wander willingly into these scenarios because they seem like perfectly legitimate attractions. They seem like things they would like to take part in. It isn’t until they feel the piercing of the arrow that they realize they have walked into a trap, and ultimately their death. They get dragged away by desire, and then they end up being dragged away to the processor! (Proverbs 11:6)

“We have an active opponent with the ferocious hunting instincts of a lion who can only be defeated through the power of the cross and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.”

-Robby Gallaty in “Firmly Planted”

What is Trapping You?

Let us take this as a lesson for our spiritual walk. The things of this world will seem tempting, desirable, and enticing. The things that ensnare will be different for each individual. It could be the pursuit of popularity, status, money, wrong relationships, or any other earthly satisfaction. We may take part in these things and enjoy them for a season, thinking everything will be fine. However, eventually that impending moment comes, and the Devil is there waiting in the bushes. We never saw it coming. It isn’t until he sinks the final shot that we realize we have been duped. Now suddenly we are dealing with the consequences of our actions and our disregard for Godliness and holiness (James 1:14-15).

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8

Photo courtesy of Bryan Eastham

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever unknowingly strolled down a path of destruction without even realizing it? Chances are good that you have, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, we often get blindsided by these sorts of things. Looking back, we should have known, but we were just too naive to see the danger.

As we see in James 1:14-15, sin doesn’t always result in instant destruction. It is often a slow fade. First, we are tempted and dragged away by our desires. Next, desire conceives and gives birth to sin. Then, when sin reaches fruition, it results in death; Death of our happiness, death of our marriage, death of our career, and yes, possibly even physical death.

This is a process. Sometimes this process is rather quick, taking place over a few hours, or a few days, as you make one bad decision after another. Other times the process takes months or even years. I know people struggling to recoup from decades of self-inflicted destruction that has finally caught up with them. No one knows when the weight of their choices will come crashing down. All we know is that sin eventually leads to death (Romans 6:23).

Take Heart!

Don’t get discouraged just yet! Thankfully, there is a way out! We can choose not to conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2) and instead choose to call out to Jesus (Romans 10:13). When we put our trust in Him, we can be forgiven. Don’t let the temptations of this world deceive you and steal your joy. Jesus offers us a new path, one that leads to a truly full life (John 10:10)!

No matter where you are on the path, you always have the ability to change course. In the same way a deer catches wind of danger and hightails out of shooting range, we too can stay alert.

“The righteous person is rescued from trouble, and it falls on the wicked instead.”

Proverbs 11:8

‭The buck pictured below was deceived by desire and was caught chasing after the wrong doe. That mistake put him within 20 yards of a different type of ferocious hunter who was anxiously awaiting his arrival. His misstep earned him a free ride in the back of an F-150.

Sniff out the traps and avoid the pitfalls that are trying to entice you away from your true calling and away from a full life with Christ.

Choose Jesus, choose life.


*For more stunning wildlife and nature photography from Bryan Eastham, visit bryaneastham.com

Look to the Son

The more we keep our eyes on Jesus, the better we grow. Your desire and ability to face the Son is even more vital to your well-being than a sunflower’s desire and ability to face the sun.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:1-3

One summer, I visited a “Sunflower Maze” on the outskirts of rural Paris, Illinois. Folks living and working in this area of the country are not strangers to farmland and crops. No one can travel more than a mile without passing a cornfield. Farming is so common there that the beautiful rural landscape kind of gets taken for granted.

Just a mile and a half away from the sunflower maze was once a long-standing, popular fall attraction. It was called Pumpkin Works. It’s main claim-to-fame was corn mazes. This establishment had been an attraction open to the public since 1993. I remember going there every autumn all through my childhood and teenage years, as well as when I became an adult. Everyone I knew had been there, at least a few times.

Unfortunately, Pumpkin Works closed down following the end of the fall season in 2018. Since then, tourists visiting the area seem to have switched their focus off of corn, and are now giving their full attention to sunflowers instead. And for good reason! The sunflower maze at L&A Family Farms is quite the sight to see and it is sure to be a new annual tradition for the next generations of families to enjoy!

Spanning over 1,000 acres, there is much to see and do at L&A Family Farms, including nature trails, hayrides, summer camps, concessions, farm-fresh meat and produce, and, of course, the sunflower maze! The maze typically opens around the middle of July and closes after the last section blooms around the beginning of August. Out of all the offerings at the farm, what stood out to me most was just one detail I noticed at the sunflower maze: all the sunflowers were facing the same direction.

Sunflower 3 crop


To people more familiar with plants and how they grow, this may seem like a silly thing to be impressed by, but with very little knowledge of farming or gardening, this intrigued me. From what little I do know about plants, I assumed they followed the sun for photosynthesis purposes. Plants need sun to grow, obviously, and that was about where my knowledge ended. I wanted to know more about how and why this happens. I began doing a little research.


Typically, it is the younger flowers that exhibit this kind of behavior. At a certain point of maturity, once the flower grows seeds, the weight of the flower head causes it to droop and face mostly east. I discovered a new term I had never heard of before: heliotropism. This is the term for a plant’s tendency to move toward sun. This is what I was witnessing at the maze. Sunflowers also have growth hormones, called auxin, that play a part in this shift by migrating to the shaded part of the flower, but I will leave the rest of the botany details for you to research on your own.


A sunflower has many reasons for this desire to face the sun. Perhaps the most important reason is so that they can be better noticed by pollinators. Since a sunflower plant has only one flower, it is crucial that it gets noticed by pollinating insects. It wants to be where it is being warmed by the sun, making it more attractive to passing pollinators, and presenting itself in a way that makes it most noticeable. The continued existence of sunflowers as individual plants, and as a species, depends on their capability to keep facing the sun.

Sunflower 4 cropped

Who Cares?

So, why should you care about this and how does it affect you? Well, the way you position yourself is important too. No, I’m not talking about getting a killer tan. Your desire and ability to face the Son is even more vital to your well-being than a sunflower’s desire and ability to face the sun.

Like the passage in Hebrews 12: 1-3 says, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect Son of God, who sits at His right hand. The more we keep our eyes on Jesus, the better we grow. We bask in His glorious light and are fueled by His presence. As we focus on Jesus, we begin to see the world through His eyes. As we start to become more and more like Him, people will take notice!

“Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:3

Stay Focused

The auxin in the sunflower is like the sin in our lives. Darkness hates the light (John 3:20) and light cannot have fellowship with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). Push the sin back and remove all distractions so you can grow in Christ.

Sin will try to entangle you. Every day it will try to drag you down. However, Jesus came up against the ultimate opposition, yet endured. He gave His life for the forgiveness of your sins. Then He rose from the grave proclaiming power over death and sin. That same power resides in us as Christians and gives us perseverance as we press on towards the goals God has for our lives (Philippians 3:12-14)!

Consistently remind yourself of Hebrews 12:3 and what Christ has accomplished for you on the cross. Write it on a sticky note, tape it to your mirror, put it on your refrigerator. Whatever it takes to keep your eyes, and your mind, on Jesus.

Sunflower 6 crop


If you ever get the chance to visit the sunflower maze, let it be a reminder to you that, as beautiful as it may be, the Kingdom of God is even more spectacular than a field full of flowers could ever be!

This world is full of struggles, storms, and darkness. But if you can keep your eyes on the Son, you will bloom!


*L&A Family Farm’s Farm Store is open year-round for farm fresh eggs, grass-fed beef, vegetables, and more (selection and hours vary by season). For more information on their summer and fall events, products, or to order online, visit their website at www.lafamilyfarms.com.

LA Family Farms 2

Who is My Neighbor?

An “Us vs. Them” mentality will never advance the Kingdom of God. If we want to reach people, we need to start viewing them as fellow image-bearers.

“…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Luke 10:27

One day, I was in a Christian business when I overheard a nearby conversation between two women who were shopping. They were standing near a basket of lapel pins shaped like baby feet. The pins represented the exact size and shape of a 10-week old baby’s feet inside the mother’s womb. Proceeds from these little pins benefited a local pregnancy center that assists families with unexpected and crisis pregnancies. The purpose of the fundraiser was to promote the value of human life.

Seeing the pins on display, for some reason, sparked one of the women to say to the other something along the lines of “The non-Americans in Congress are trying to say we shouldn’t have any babies right now.” She went on to sarcastically say “Oh yeah! Let’s just let the Muslims have all the babies instead so they can overthrow us!” These were just a couple of the highlights from her disgruntled murmurings.

These statements were incorrect on several levels but let’s dissect just a few:

For starters, there are no “non-Americans” in Congress. A Senator must be a United States citizen to even qualify for office. The requirements for the U.S. Senate can be found here.

The statement the woman was referring to was undoubtedly a quote by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC”, a U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District. During a conversation about climate change and its effect on the earth she stated “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it OK to still have children?” Her comment was in regards to how the health of our planet may effect our children, and all humans, in the years to come. It did not have anything to do with Islam, or any other religion for that matter, as far as I can tell.

From some very basic internet research, I have gathered that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx to Catholic parents of Puerto Rican descent. Maybe the shopper assumed AOC was a Muslim by the tone of her skin? Or perhaps she had this Senator confused with another female Representative who is a Muslim, Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, who has also been often featured in the news? Either way, her statements were not only incorrect, but were also contrary to the Gospel message.

In reference to being outnumbered and overthrown, we are not in some sort of race or battle to see which major world religion can have the most offspring in order to outnumber one another. Where did this idea come from? And why would we think that just because two people had a baby, that the child would add another hash mark to the number of people practicing a certain religion?

I would agree that many children tend to participate in the religious activities of their parents…to a point. However, research shows that 18-25 year olds are becoming scarce in Christian churches. Just pay a visit to most American protestant churches and this fact will be more than obvious. Reasons for the shift, and attendance data, can be found here.

So, at least for Christianity, being born to Christian parents does not guarantee a person chooses to remain faithful into adulthood. Therefore, the argument that Christians should have more babies in order to produce more Christians just does not hold water. The Bible does not teach that your salvation has anything to do with the salvation of your parents, or anyone else for that matter. Salvation comes from Jesus Christ alone, not from your family lineage.

Muslims Are Not Our Enemy. Sin is.

The comments made by the woman shopping that day, and the thought process behind them, are ill-informed, potentially racist, and highly prejudice. I also find it ironic that a display of products that advocates for the value of human life sparked this conversation in the first place. Does a person of another nationality or religion have less value because it isn’t the same as yours? Did Jesus teach this? Of course not! Quite the opposite!

Muslims are not the enemies of God. Sin is the enemy of God. You have to recognize the difference. A human being practicing Islam is still a person made in the image of God, therefore deserving of forgiveness and redemption, just like any other human being on Earth. We cannot write people off because of their current lifestyle or their current sin. If anything, it should give us a further sense of urgency to show them the love and grace of the Savior we claim to serve.

An “Us vs. Them” mentality will never advance the Kingdom of God. If we want to reach people for Christ, we need to start viewing them as fellow image-bearers and understanding them, and their beliefs, on a personal level.

Radical political Islam poses numerous threats to both Christianity and the Western way of life. It is imperative that we do not take those dangers lightly. It is our responsibility as Christians to both understand, and stand against, beliefs that are contrary to the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we pick up our weapons to cut others down, but rather grasp firmly to Truth and gently instruct, in hopes that they will escape the captivity of sin (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

“Christians are called by God to conquer the world-not by the sword, not by subversion and subterfuge, but by spreading God’s message of grace and truth.”

-Michael Youssef in “The Third Jihad

The Compassionate Samaritan

The Bible is full of verses telling followers of God to accept and treat foreigners with respect, even in the Old Testament. For now, let’s just take a look at one instance in Luke 10:25-37.

Jesus is being tested by an expert in Jewish law. The man asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v29). As Jesus was known to do, He answered the man’s question by telling a parable. The story He tells is one you may be familiar with. It is a favorite among Sunday School leaders for teaching children to be kind to others. There is more to the lesson than just helping out someone in need, however. It goes much deeper than that.

A Sunday School activity my toddler brought home after learning about the Good Samaritan

The parable Jesus told is often referred to as “The Story of the Good Samaritan”. That title can be a little deceiving, though, if you are not familiar with ancient Jewish history. The Jewish people in that time would NOT have referred to any Samaritan as “good“! The Samaritan in this story was only called “good” because he helped someone in need, regardless of the possibility that they were of another nationality or class.

We do not know whether the injured man laying along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was a Jew or a Gentile (non-Jew), but what we can be sure of is that the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other! Jews considered the Samaritans to be scum of the earth, the lowest of low, half-breeds. No one would have been surprised at all if the Samaritan had let the man lay there and suffer. In fact, they would have expected it. Even still, the Samaritan man goes to great lengths to help this person who could have very well been considered his earthly enemy. He does not appear to contemplate whether or not the man is a Jew or not. He helps the man without hesitation because it was the right thing to do.

The Samaritan’s compassion did not depend on the victim’s nationality. His kindness was not dependent on the man’s skin color. He did not wait to make sure their political views or religious beliefs lined up perfectly. Instead, he saw a man who was suffering and he attended to his needs, because all human life has value! When our compassion for others depends solely on the color of their skin or their religion, we leave fellow image-bearers to lay dying, physically and spiritually, in the streets of every town, city, and country in the world.

What About You?

  • What lengths have you gone to in order to help someone who is different from you?
  • Someone who has different political views than you?
  • Someone who is in a different pay grade as you?
  • And, yes, especially someone who practices a different religion than you?

“Jesus showed us that holiness is about how we treat others, especially those who are suffering and those who are different, those who may well be outsiders to your way of living, your way of voting, and, yes, even your way of believing.”

-Trent Sheppard in “Jesus Journey

Anyone can show love for someone they like, or someone who is like themselves (Luke 6:32-33). It takes a lot of heart, and sometimes a movement of the Holy Spirit, to show love to someone we disagree with. Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-36), so what excuse do we have to do otherwise?

Go and Do Likewise

I think the expert in the law in Luke 10 was trying to find a loophole in the “love your neighbor as yourself” command in Leviticus 19:18 by implying that he was unsure who the scripture was referring to.

I am afraid Christians sometimes try to do the same thing. We hold hatred in our hearts for people who disagree with us because we are cowards. It is easier to scowl at foreigners than it is to embrace them. It is easier to ignore the poor than it is to feed them. It is easier to write off Muslims than it is to engage them in conversation.

“…there are certainly millions of moderate Muslims in the world… They are not our enemy. They are our mission field.”

-Michael Youssef in “The Third Jihad

The differences between Christians and Muslims are not excuses to avoid them. They are reasons to engage them. Ezekiel 3:18 makes it clear that it is our duty to reach Muslims, and all others, for Christ. Everyone deserves the opportunity to choose freely for themselves whether they want to accept the Truth of Jesus, but it is our responsibility to present the Gospel message to everyone, without bias.

Jesus made it clear that the lawyer in Luke 10 was to love everyone as himself, and if he would do that, then he would live (Luke 10:28).

Now, go and do likewise (Luke 10:37)!


*Additional Resources

Christians can, and should, stand firmly against the beliefs of other religions that deny the Truth laid out by God in the Bible. But in order to do that effectively, we must first understand what others believe and what the Bible teaches.

In order to be relevant and effective witnesses to those practicing Islam, Christians must be knowledgeable about the beliefs and views of Muslims.

  • Pastor and author, Dr. Michael Youssef speaks with firsthand authority about the goals and methods of today’s radical Islamists. Born in Egypt, and having also lived in Lebanon and Australia before moving to the United States, Dr. Youssef is uniquely positioned to reach Muslims for Christ. His ministry, Leading the Way, provides hope and resources for people all over the world who are seeking Christ, including countries ruled by political Islam. He is an expert on the Middle East and the unique struggles of Christianity in Islamic regions. He has authored several informative books on the topic of Islam’s effect on Western culture such as, “The Hidden Enemy” and The “Third Jihad“.
  • The Facts on Islam” is a handy guide by John Ankerberg, John Weldon, and Dillon Burroughs on the basics of Islam: History, facts, beliefs, etc.
  • Facing Islam Without Fear” by Patrick Nachtigall prepares Christians to engage Muslims free of stereotypes, but with a realistic view of how Christianity differs from Islam.

Click here to shop for these titles

Let the Waters Rise

“Sometimes life is so hard that we feel like we’re drowning. We call out for God to throw us a life jacket, but maybe He wants to teach us to swim instead.”

“Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting,

or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Matthew 11:3 (NLT)

Hey God, are you going to fix this or not?

Can’t you see what I am going through here?

Are you even hearing me?

Sometimes life gets so hard that we feel like we’re drowning. We find ourselves calling out from the deep end for God to help us. We just want Him to throw us a life jacket, but sometimes He wants to teach us to swim instead. That’s because He is a Good Father.

Learning to Swim

Think back to when you were learning to swim in the pool. At first, you probably wore a floating pool ring, then maybe some arm bands. From there you might have switched to a kick board or a pool float of some sort to aid you while you got the feel for kicking your feet and staying afloat. These steps all served a purpose: strengthening your body and honing your skills for the day when you would swim on your own, with no assistance.

Remember the moment you swam all by yourself for the first time? It was so freeing! You could swim wherever you wanted! You could swim from one side of the pool to the other, to the deep end, even across the lake!

Now think back again to that first time you stepped foot in the pool. What if your parents would have just left you in those armbands, even when you were a teenager? Sure, you would be safe from drowning. It would also have prevented your muscles from getting sore from kicking and paddling. But would you have just worn them forever? At what point would their concern for your safety just be considered enabling laziness instead? That would not be what I would consider a “good parent”.

Instead, they likely encouraged you to kick harder, paddle faster, and to hold your nose when you go under the water. They kept close watch as you learned the process and built up your strength. A good parent coaches their child and motivates them to learn new skills that will help them throughout life. They look past the temporary to prepare you for a lifetime of good things. They don’t just do everything for you.

If God just snapped His fingers like a genie and solved all your problems, would that ultimately be the best thing for you? Like the enabling parent, at what point would your free will just be replaced by a puppeteer’s agenda? Is that really what you want? Is that any kind of life?

“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves!”

-Joni Eareckson Tada

In Matthew 11:1-6, John the Baptist is in prison and hears about the things Jesus is doing. He sends his disciples to Jesus to question Him. John appears to be questioning if Jesus is the Messiah. But I don’t think that’s exactly what his question means. I wonder if maybe he is just questioning what type of Messiah Jesus is. Is it possible that John thought Jesus would be more of a king or conqueror, like many Jews did, as well as forgiver of sins? Perhaps he hoped Jesus could help free him of his jail sentence? I’m not sure what sparked this question but I think Jesus’ response is to tell John that He didn’t come for the reasons that he was expecting.

Jesus wasn’t going to come rescue John from prison, but it wasn’t because He didn’t love him. Just because God doesn’t respond in the way we would like, it doesn’t mean He isn’t still working in amazing ways.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Just Keep Swimming

I’m sure John didn’t consider being in prison “light and momentary trouble”. I bet the divorce doesn’t feel light and momentary. I am sure the diagnosis doesn’t feel light and momentary at all! But I think God would tell us “If you could only see the things that are to come!” These earthly trials might make us lose our head, but we will never lose heart because we know that He is achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all of our temporary suffering!

God is always there, always helping you eternally, not just temporarily. He is always preparing you to ride the waves ahead and doing good works in you, even when it is hard to see.

“Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
‘Cause even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water.”


When it feels like you are struggling to keep your head above water, it might be that you are actually immersed in God’s plan. You might feel like you are drowning, but maybe you are really just submerged in His mission. Maybe you feel stranded in the middle of the ocean, treading water, but He is on top of the waves walking out to meet you. You won’t go under unless you take your eyes off of Jesus and put your focus on your troubles instead. (Matthew 14:22-36)

So, let the waters rise! Jesus is reaching out His hand to catch the faithful.


Let the Waters Rise by Mike’s Chair

Ride With Me

When we experience something amazing, we always want to tell everyone right away! But the single greatest thing in our lives often seems to be the hardest to talk about. Why is that?

“Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭96:2-3‬ ‭(NLT)‬‬

On a hot, mid-August day, I rode the mountain bike trails at a place called Griffin Bike Park in West-Central Indiana. I rode all evening until dark. As I always do, I ended up riding way longer, and for many more miles, than I originally intended. One reason this always happens is because I just don’t want to stop riding. The main reason, though, is because I always get lost! I get in the groove and just keep pushing on, always wondering what is down the next trail. My curiosity gets the best of me and while my smile gets wider and wider, so does the distance between me and the car! That’s okay though because some of the best experiences in mountain biking, and in life, are often the unexpected ones.

I had a great time trying out new trails and seeing new parts of the park that I had never seen before. I also got a killer workout and was completely worn out at the end. Despite being exhausted, I still had such a good ride that I wanted to tell someone right away. I was riding alone and was thinking the whole time I was peddling, “what a shame that no one else is here to experience this with me!” I loved it so much that all I could think about was who I could share the moment with and who I could bring along next time so they could experience the seemingly endless trail system for themselves. 

Overlooking the Floating Water Trail, right next to the Lake Jump ramp.

Have You Heard the News?

When we have good news, discover something new, or do something amazing, we always want to tell everyone we know. We get on social media and post pictures, we text all our friends, and we talk about it the whole next day at work. But why don’t we do that with the Gospel? Is there really any better discovery than the fact that God has given us the chance to have our sins forgiven through the sending of His son? Truly there can be no greater news than this! Why aren’t we telling everyone!?

“I once was lost but now I am found, and I….am too shy to talk about it.”

There’s some sort of disconnect here. Why aren’t we talking to people about Jesus? Is it that we don’t really believe He is who He claims to be? Or are we for some reason ashamed of Him? Why do we have this idea that everyone wants to hear about what we ate for dinner last night, but that no one would want to hear that their sins can be forgiven and they can live guilt free? Why do we want to tell everyone on our news feed about our latest weight loss success and the “new, life-changing product” that made it all possible, but we can’t be bothered to tell them that they can live for eternity with Jesus in Heaven?

Something doesn’t add up here. We need to seriously reevaluate our hearts. Maybe it’s time to do a spiritual inventory to find out what is standing in the way of us telling our closest friends about the greatest thing in this world, and in the next. 

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Guys, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest story there is! Why does it no longer excite us? We were once completely lost and hopeless. By the grace of God, Jesus died willingly on a cross to take the punishment for our sin. He chose to take our place so we would no longer be condemned. He loves us that much! Then, He rose from the dead three days later, walked out of the grave, and is our living Savior.

How can we be so relaxed and passive about that? Who else has ever done anything even remotely close to something like this? Who else would be willing to die an excruciating, bloody death just for the chance to have a relationship with you? No one on this earth, that’s for sure.

Spotted at a pull-off area while taking a water break.

What About You

  • What spiritual milestone have you experienced that you want to share?
  • What is holding you back from having conversations about the work God is doing in your life?
  • Who is one person that could benefit from hearing your story?
  • Who will you talk to about your faith this week?

Let’s Ride!

Tell everyone you love about how your life has been changed by this wild ride called faith. Proclaim the good news that He saves (v2). Tell everyone about the amazing things He does (v3). Ask them to hop in the saddle and hit the trails with you.

If you don’t understand what’s so great about this Jesus guy, ask someone! Don’t just take my word for it, come see for yourself what it is like to live life as a follower of Christ.

So listen, don’t miss out on this amazing ride!

Come ride with me!


*If you want to know how you can begin a relationship with Jesus, or take your faith to the next level, contact us today! Click the “CONTACT” button, or email us at ruggedpursuitdevo@gmail.com.