Epicenter 2 - We Seek God
So, who had a great time at the big dance party last night? Crazy costumes and flashing lights. Some of you were like, “Watch me and my smooth moves—I’m killing it! I live for this!” Some of you were just looking for the snack table and a corner to go hide and eat your Doritos. Then there’s always that friend that comes and drags you out of the shadows—tries to get you to come out into the light. Everyone thinks they’re the only one in the room who feels awkward—but everyone feels awkward. We just deal with it in different ways. Like there’s the group that goes off to the side and makes little snarky comments about everyone else—got their arms crossed, hoping no one says anything about them, though. I’ve been there. I’m with you. I get it.
Some of you stayed up too late talking to your buddies and now you’re ready to slip off into a coma. You need to be extra nice to each other today because some of you are in desperate need of a nap—emotions might be a little dramatic.
I come to things like this—pretty much any gathering of people where I might not know most of them—and I’m not sure how to act, I’m not quite sure who I am. You ever feel that way? Like, I don’t know what to say, or what to do. I wonder what people are thinking about me. We look for our safe people—the ones who make us feel comfortable.
Yesterday we talked about how God comes looking for us, He picks us, chooses us, seeks us—He’s got a really great life planned for us, He wants us to live a really great story—our story, filled with really good things. But what are we supposed to do with all the disappointing things? When things don’t go the way we want them to.
My brother, Jeff, is a ninja. He is a 7th Dan, Grand-master in Taekwondo. He was an Airborne Ranger in the Army, and an MP, he used to be a police officer and now he is a Commander in Law Enforcement for the State of Illinois who, among other things, organizes the take-down of drug dealers and meth labs. He’s the baddest of the bad, the toughest person I know. If you’re in a tight spot, you want him on your side.
He’s four years younger than me and about four inches taller. He also loves Jesus, is married with kids, and plays drums in his church.
A few years ago there was a storm starting to make the sky look really ominous and cool, so my brother Jeff walked outside and stood on his driveway to enjoy the dark, scary clouds when suddenly—ZOW! A lightning bolt struck him right in the chest. It went in the front and came out the back, burning two holes in his T-shirt—one in front, one in back. His wife heard the crash and came running outside to find Jeff just standing there in the driveway looking stunned. He said he felt like he had drank a case of Red Bull—just vibrating with energy. She took him to the hospital to make sure he was alright and the doctor told him he was the luckiest guy in the world—that God must really be looking out for him. I couldn’t help but think that of the two of us, I was a lot luckier—since I didn’t get struck by lightning. Also if that’s what it looks like when God loves you too much, then love me a little less, Lord. But it’s true, God does love Jeff and looks out for him in a lot of dangerous situations.
One time when he was a police officer working the night shift, he got a call that there was a naked lady walking around inside a 24-hour Walmart. So he shows up with a blanket and puts the lady in the back of his squad car. He had arrested her before, she had a history of mental illness. She begged him to let her go to her sister’s house and get some clothes before he took her to jail—and Jeff felt sorry for her so he took her by her house. When she came out of the house she got in the car and he heard this sound: “click, click, click, click.” He turned and saw that she had a gun and was pulling the trigger, emptying it point blank into his side. His training kicked in and he grabbed the gun—it was loaded. The next click would have killed him.
Again, there’s two ways to look at it. Maybe God is really looking out for him, maybe he’s the luckiest guy in the world—or maybe someone else wouldn’t have a gun pulled on them in the middle of the night—all a matter of how you look at it, I suppose. There’s so many Jeff stories. We have this little game we play in our family called “That Ain’t Nuthin’”—basically, if someone tells a story you respond by saying, “That Ain’t Nuthin’” and then you tell a better story. It’s hard to play “That Ain’t Nuthin’” with my brother.
You also don’t want to fight him.
When he was 32 years old and a fifth degree black belt—He was asked to represent Taekwondo in a mixed martial arts tournament called The Battle of Chicago Ultimate Fighting Championship—he had never done anything like this before. His Grand-master asked him to do it for a children’s charity—meaning the prize money would go to charity if he won. It was gonna be on Fox Sports and Jeff was wondering if he could really go toe to toe with the best of the best.
Jeff and featherweight. So he went to Chicago and entered the tournament as a featherweight—160 lbs and under. The way the tournament worked is every fighter would compete in their own weight class first—then the winners of each weight class would fight each other until there was only one winner. All the little guys would fight each other, then the winner would have to fight the big guys—does that sound like a good idea to you?
Jeff and Welterweight. He beat the other featherweights easily but had a little more trouble with the winner of the welterweight division. He was bigger than Jeff and just as strong but also very quick—at the end of that fight he had to get a bunch of staples in the back of his head and found out that one of his testicles was missing— because it had been kicked up into his body. Feel free to groan.
By the end of the first day, he looked like he had been ran over by a train—but it was a two-day tournament. He was gonna have to fight the Heavyweight and the Super Heavyweight winners the next day.
Jeff and Super Heavyweight. His third fight was against the super-heavyweight and he didn’t have any trouble with him at all. The guy was too big and slow, so the fight was over as soon as it began. One more to go—to win the whole thing.
Jeff and Heavyweight. He got in the cage with the heavyweight champion and realized he had just entered an entirely different world. This guy was a third bigger than Jeff, a well-trained martial artist, an experienced fighter, and was a lot faster and a lot stronger than him. He said the guy looked like a comic book superhero. The fight lasted for 22 minutes—22 minutes of pain! Every punch and every kick opened a new wound and painted the floor with Jeff’s blood—he couldn’t land anything on the guy—he was being tossed around like a rag doll, just pure punishment. The floor was slick with blood and it was all Jeff’s blood.
Here’s the point of this story: this was the hardest thing he had ever faced but he wasn’t gonna quit. All his training helped him keep going. He trusted what he knew—those years of training before he got there—before he needed it.
Kick to the chest. He’s exhausted and pushing through the pain—but he saw an opening and he took it—his most powerful kick, a side-kick (one of the first kicks a white belt learns, nothing fancy) and for the first time in the fight, it connected—hit the dude right in the chest, knocked him to the side of the cage with a bang.
But he just stood there, like he didn’t even feel it. That’s very disappointing! Jeff winds up and does the exact same kick to the exact same place. Bang! Into the side of the cage again. Two times now he’s landed his most powerful kick right in the guy’s chest. The big guy is momentarily stunned so Jeff jumps up, grabs him by his hair and brings his head down to his knee. My brother lands hard on the floor, slides around in the blood and tries to get away from the guy’s feet so he doesn’t get kicked.
Ref holding Jeff’s arm up. The big guy stumbles a few steps toward him and then falls to the mat on his face. So now they’re both laying on the mat and the ref grabs Jeff by the wrist and picks him up saying, “You gotta be on your feet to win, buddy.” Jeff had knocked the heavyweight out, and the fight was over. He said he could barely stand to raise his hand in victory. The ref is basically holding Jeff’s arm in the air as the winner and keeping him from collapsing, then he pulls Jeff’s ear up to his mouth, almost lifting him off his feet (the ref was a big guy, too) and said “I can’t believe you did it you little turd.”
It doesn’t matter what else I say, all you’re gonna remember is the missing testicle, aren’t you? He only competed in an MMA fight that one time. He left with over forty staples in his head, loose teeth, and he peed blood for two weeks. He was finally able to get his testicle to pop back out by jumping up and landing on his heels a few times until it went back into place—then he vomited. Feel free to groan again.
No Shortcut To Training. So, I’m obviously very proud of my brother, but I’m telling these stories this morning to drive home how important it is for us to get ready for the challenges life is gonna throw at us. It’s the little things that are gonna make the biggest difference when we’re really put to the test. Jeff didn’t win that fight because he was stronger than the other guy, or quicker, or better trained—he wasn’t the better fighter. He won with the most basic kick he knew. He was able to stay in the fight because of all those hours he had spent training. There’s no shortcut to training.
God picked you to be on His team. To be in His family. God chose you. He has a wonderful story for you to live—full of all kinds of adventures and amazing twists and turns. Here’s a little secret that you might not be aware of—He’s always training you for your next adventure. Whatever’s going on in your life right now is getting you ready for the next chapter. God is always trying to show you how you can trust Him more, how you can trust His promises, Trust that He’s got great plans for you.
But maybe you’re not buying it. Maybe you don’t think any of this God and Jesus stuff is true. Here’s the thing: what if it is? What if God is real? What if He really loves you? What if God is truly your heavenly father and everything you thought you ever knew was a lie?
Batgirl. My brother is pretty cool. He’s a good guy. Like a real life superhero. We both grew up wanting to be superheros. Partly because we grew up knowing we’re related to Batman. For real. Well, Batgirl. In the old Batman TV show, the actress who played Batgirl was a young dancer named Yvonne Craig—and Yvonne Craig was the first cousin of our mother, they grew up together. In addition to playing Batgirl, she was also the Green Girl on Star Trek and in a couple of Elvis movies. Jeff and me grew up thinking we were also gonna be superheros and rock stars—because we were related to Batgirl.
Joker. But our origin story had a problem. Our dad was a bad guy, remember? He was in a psychiatric institution—might as well have been Arkham Asylum—he might as well have been The Joker. That’s not how it works. Good guys don’t have bad guys for fathers.
So my brother used to always say that he and I had different fathers—which would really make my mom mad—which would make him say it all the more. He was kidding but he was serious about one thing—he didn’t want The Joker to be his father.
So this went on for years—Jeff would make little comments about him and me having different dads. Finally, his wife decided to shut him up once and for all. She bought one of those 23andMe DNA tests for both of us—you spit in a tube, send it off to their lab and wait for the results. Where do you think this story is going?
One day I get an email from 23andMe. It says I have a half-brother. His name is Jeff Hart. We have the same mother but different fathers.
Jeff got an email, too. It said he has two half-brothers. One is me and the other is a guy with the same last name as the man we knew as our biological father. The man who had came home with a gun and tried to kill us. The bad guy was Jeff’s father, not mine.
Which was bad news for Jeff, but it was even weirder news for me. I was fifty-three years old and found out I don’t know who my father is. No idea. No one knows. My mom took that information to her grave.
That’s a strange thing to find out. And finding out my brother Jeff is actually my half-brother—I’ll be honest, that was pretty weird, too. I mean, it didn’t change anything, I don’t love him any less—but it was kinda disturbing, you know?
Explained a lot about my childhood though. Like why my dad didn’t like me. Why he was so uninterested and cruel. Took fifty-three years for that part of my story to make sense.
Life is weird. We don’t always know what to make of it. It’s not easy to know who you’re supposed to be. Everyone always looking at you all the time. It can be hard. Everyone’s story is full of ups and downs and weird things to deal with—I mean, good times and laughter and friends and cupcakes—but also lightning bolts and DNA tests. The good news is that Batgirl was on my mother’s side so I still got that going for me—the really good news is I might not know who my biological father is but my Heavenly Father found me and loved me and saved me—I know who He is.
God picks us, He loves us, He has a great story for us to live—and if it’s gonna be a story that’s worth living—it’s gonna have some interesting things that are gonna happen. And some of those things are gonna be hard to deal with. Sometimes it’s not gonna be okay but that just lets us know that the story isn’t over yet.
Trusting God’s Word. When things get hard, that’s when we have to trust what we know. We have to trust our training. Trusting God means trusting what He’s told us—trusting His promises. Trusting the things we read in the Bible.
What if you started by trusting the Bible verses you already know? Like Deuteronomy 14:13, “Eat no detestable thing.” That’s a good one for when someone tries to make you eat cabbage with vinegar on it—you can be like, “I got a verse! Eat no detestable thing! Thus saith the Lord.”
Or when they try to make you go to bed, and you don’t want to, you can pull out 1 Thessalonians 5:6, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake.” The Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God.
For real though, what if you really starting trusting the promises God has put in your heart? Like “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes on Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” There’s a lot to trust in that one: God loves you. Believe in Jesus and have the promise of eternal life. That’s pretty good.
Or how about this one: “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” God promises to take care of you and make sure you have everything you need.
Trust the Lord and lean not on your own understanding. That’s a really good one.
Start by trusting the Bible verses that you already know—and then go get some more. There’s like a whole Bible full of these things! Trusting in God’s Word—above everything else in this world—that’s how we seek God. That’s what I mean by training. When you’re in the thick of it, and it’s hard, and you want to give up—you have to be able to trust in God’s promises, His Word.
The point is this—don’t believe the things that mean people say to you. Don’t believe your insecurities that make you want to go hide in the corner. Don’t believe the super mean things that you say to yourself. There’s lots of voices. People say all kinds of awful things—you probably say the worst things to yourself. You’re gonna hear it all. You gotta turn the volume up on God. Believe His voice. Let what He says change how you hear everything else.
We’re all going through stuff. None of it makes any sense at the time. Whatever you’re going through now is how God’s preparing you for your next adventure. He has an amazing, wonderful story for you to live—sometimes you’re gonna feel like you did last night and today—sometimes it’s gonna be fun and full of joy—sometimes it’s gonna be hard and you’re gonna feel like your fighting for your life, slipping around in a pool of your own blood. Trust that God is leading you somewhere good—and seek Him, listen to Him. Cry out to Him in prayer, be faithful to showing up at your church and your youth group. The more of God’s Word that you have hidden in your heart, the more prepared you’re gonna be for whatever comes your way.
One time my brother came down for a visit and I asked him to do something crazy. I asked him to go against the strongest guy in our church—we’d set up two identical towers of concrete blocks. It would be the strong guy with a sledgehammer and my brother with his bare hand—which one would be able to break the most blocks of concrete?
What do you guys think? Let’s see…
Strong guy with a hammer—one block. Well trained ninja with his bare hand? Eighteen. Training is everything. Seeking the Lord in prayer. Trusting the Lord by trusting His Word—that’s how you’re gonna make it in this crazy world.
I found out last year that I don’t know who my biological father is, but I know who my Heavenly Father is—and so do you. And He loves us, and cares for us, and wants us to know that we can trust Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This is how you’re gonna become the person He created you to be. Whatever God has in store for you, whatever He’s put in your heart—you need to know that if you trust Him, you can’t fail.
Repeat this prayer after me:
Father in heaven,
Help me to trust You,
Help me to trust Your Word,
To believe in Your promises,
To believe in Jesus,
And listen to You instead of my fears.