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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Making the Most of Your Amusement Park Trip

Since I was tall enough to ride roller coasters, I have absolutely loved the thrill of pure adrenaline rush going up, down, and upside down on some of the best roller coasters in the world. Growing up south of Dayton, Ohio, we used to make regular trips to Kings Island. Now living in Findlay, I’m about equal distant from both Kinds Island and Cedar Point, giving me access to two of the best roller coaster parks in the world.

A couple years ago, I decided to relive my childhood experiences and invest in a season pass so that I could take full advantage of these great parks during the summer months. If you’re looking to go to an amusement park this summer and want to avoid the crowds, not overpay for food, and get in all your favorite rides, then this article is for you!

Where to Buy Tickets

Don’t ever pay full price for your ticket! The gate prices are way too high and unaffordable for a family. There’s no need to shell out $70 at the gate when you can take advantage of other great deals.

The best price I’ve found is at AAA. If you’re a AAA member, then call your local AAA office to see what prices they’re offering on tickets. I bought some tickets through AAA last year for a group of us that were going to Kings Island and they were $40 each. Much better than the $70 gate price.

Another place you can buy cheaper tickets is online. Cedar Point is selling tickets online for $49 each.

If you’d rather have a ticket in your hand, you may try the big box grocery stores such as Kroger or Meijer. The Meijer in Findlay sells Cedar Point tickets for $55. You can also purchase a ticket that comes with an all-day drink band for a few bucks more. Based on the prices of drinks in the park, it’s more than likely going to pay off to spend the extra couple bucks to get the drink band.

If you have a friend who owns a season pass, your friend can get you a ticket at Cedar Point for $43 and Kings Island for $42 at the gate. I will warn you though that there are restrictions on the number of tickets your friend can purchase on a given day. Cedar Point only allows a season pass holder to purchase one bring-a-friend ticket per day and Kings Island allows four.

Lastly, if you are planning to visit both Cedar Point and Kings Island this year, you can purchase a combo pack which gets you tickets to both parks for $65.

For a family of four at $50 a ticket, you’d be spending $200 on tickets which really isn’t that bad considering attending any type of professional sporting event costs about the same amount for only about three hours of entertainment.


Not only do you get charged to enter the park, you also get charged to park in their designated lots. Cedar Point and Kings Island both charge $20 per vehicle to park. Ouch! Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to get around it, but there are a few cost saving measures you can take.

Most of the Cedar Fair amusement parks offer the ability to purchase parking tickets online at a reduced rate. For both Cedar Point and Kings Island, they can be purchased for $15 each. It’s only a $5 savings, but hey, $5 is better than nothing.

Since parking is charged per vehicle rather than per person, if you have a group of people going, pack as many people as you can fit into one car. This may save you a few bucks.

Lastly, if you have a friend who is a gold or platinum season pass holder, they get to park for free. So if you’re planning on going, invite one of your season-pass-holding friends and offer to drive.


If you think everything else about amusement parks is overpriced, then you haven’t seen the food. A slice of pizza costs around $6 or $7! How are you supposed to feed a family at those prices?

Being pretty cheap, I tried to go an entire day at the parks without eating. But I quickly discovered that not eating was very detrimental to my body. One day while at Cedar Point, I developed a severe migraine and could hardly eat when I finally got food in front of me. Not a good situation. So I developed a new strategy for staying well-nourished while also not spending money on overpriced food.

Most amusement parks are within 10 minutes of a restaurant, so I’ve started leaving the park to grab a bite to eat for lunch and then again for dinner. It’s so much cheaper, gets me away from the crowd for a little while, and gets me into air conditioning on hot summer days, all things which I’ve found to be necessary in order to have a great amusement park experience.

When to Go to Amusement Parks

How fun is it when you go to an amusement park from open to close and only get to ride five rides? It doesn’t exactly make for a fun experience. So here are some tips on the best times to go.

If possible, avoid weekends and holidays! Do not…let me repeat…DO NOT go on Saturdays. You’ll spend your entire day waiting in long lines with thousands of other sweaty, stinky people and only get to ride a few rides. Sundays are typically better than Saturdays, but if you can avoid weekends and holidays, do it. If you absolutely can’t avoid them, then make a priority list of rides you want to ride so that you make sure to get those in. Or if your visit is a once in a lifetime thing, then invest in a fast pass so that you can get on every ride.

I’ve found that the best times to go are during the middle of the week before school lets out and after school is back in session. Over the summer, Tuesdays are typically the least-busy days, but there are a lot of other factors involved which can impact the crowds. If you’re willing to take the risk, then go on a day when the forecast shows it to be cloudy with scattered showers throughout the day. Definitely don’t plan to go on days when it’s supposed to rain all day.

How to Ride the Most Rides

When I go to amusement parks with my friends, they typically have some idea of the order in which they want to ride certain rides. For example, sometimes they want to ease in to riding the big roller coasters by riding the small ones first. If you want to maximize the number of rides, then I’d suggest a different strategy.

The best rides are going to have the longest lines throughout the day. That’s a given. So the best time to ride them is typically at the beginning and the end of the day. When the park first opens, go to the best rides first so that you don’t have to wait in a long line. Then you can ride all the other ones throughout the day while everyone else is waiting in line for the rides you’ve already ridden. The time you have at the beginning of the day before the crowds hit is about an hour, so don’t squander it.

Once the crowds start flooding into the park, then you can get in line for all the non-roller coaster rides. Those lines are typically much shorter throughout the day. If you’re not a coaster enthusiast at all, then I’d suggest going to a coaster enthusiast park because most of the people want to ride the coasters, which means you won’t have to wait long in the lines for all the other rides.

Each park is different, but some only have one primary entry gate. People tend to work their way from the front of the park to the back of the park. If you get there during the morning hours, skip the front of the park and head straight to the back. The lines will be shorter early in the day, but longer later in the day. Once the crowds have moved to the back of the park by the early afternoon, the rides at the front of the park tend to have shorter wait times.  

A great tool which is available at many amusement parks is a free phone app which gives the ride wait times. Depending on the day and park, sometimes they aren’t very accurate, but other days they are spot on. You may have to run from one side of the park to the other throughout the day, but if it helps you get on more rides, then it’s probably worth it.

If you have a season-pass-holder friend, then once again, I’d suggest inviting your friend to go with you. Some amusement parks open early for season pass holders. Cedar Point opens an hour early and Kings Island opens a half hour early. Not all the rides are open at this time, but some of the best rides will be, and you’ll only have to wait up to 15 minutes to ride them! I regularly get three to four rides in during the first hour at Cedar Point.

Fast Passes

Many amusement parks have recently introduced the fast pass system which allows guests to buy a pass that allows them to skip quite a few of the lines.

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been standing in line for two hours for a roller coaster and watch someone with a fast pass walk right up to the gate and get on? Not fair! But if you were shelling out that kind of money for a fast pass, you’d want the same treatment. They can cost over a $100 in addition to your ticket. But I think there are strategic times to invest in them.

If the only time you can go to an amusement park is on the weekends, you’re only planning to go once every few years, and you want to make sure you get to ride every ride in the park, then buy a fast pass. Otherwise, I don’t think they’re worth the cost.

Season Passes

If you plan to go to an amusement park more than two or three times in a given year, then I’d encourage you to check out the season pass options.

In the Cedar Fair park system, the gold and platinum passes get you free admission to the park and free parking (at least a $60 value). The platinum passes get you free admission and parking not only to one park, but to every Cedar Fair park. For Ohioans, this means you can get into Cedar Point, the Cedar Point Water Park (requires separate admission for regular guests), Kings Island, and Michigan’s Adventure with a platinum pass. A few other options which are a day’s drive away are Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, Kings Dominion in Virginia, Carowinds in the Carolinas, and Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania. With a gold or platinum pass, you also get access to early ride times, a huge benefit if you like to ride big coasters.

Roller Coaster Suggestions

What would this article be without offering some suggestions on which roller coasters to ride? I’ll admit that for being such a coaster enthusiast, I’ve only been to a handful of amusement parks. But of those parks, I’ll share a little about ten of my favorite coasters.

My favorite coaster is Millennium Force at Cedar Point. It’s definitely not the most sexy coaster in the world, but its simple elements make it one of the best. It takes you to a height of 310 feet, accelerates to a speed of 93 mph, takes you through some wide, banked turns accompanied by a couple small hills, and has no inversions. I absolutely love the speed, wide banked turns, air time, and the fact that there are no brakes until the end. If you have the chance, wait the extra 20 minutes to ride in the front seat. You won’t regret it.

My second favorite coaster is the Fury 325 at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. It takes you to a height of 325 feet (hence the number in the name), accelerates down the first hill to a speed of 95 mph, and takes you through a series of banked turns and small hills where you get some air time similar to Millennium Force.

My third favorite coaster is Diamondback at Kings Island. The entire ride is virtually nothing but going up and down hills at a high enough speed to give you some air time at the peak of every hill. I’ve ridden another coaster, Intimidator 2, which is very similar, but has brakes on every hill. I hate brakes! Diamondback only has brakes on one hill, giving it a very smooth and exhilarating ride experience. If you like speed, air time, and no inversions, these three coasters are for you. If you can’t tell, these are the elements I prefer the most.

The next three coasters aren’t necessarily my next three favorite, but have some similar elements, so I wanted to group them together. If you like lots of inversions, then coasters like the Maverick at Cedar Point, Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion, and Banshee at Kings Island are for you. Maverick only takes you up 105 feet, but it then drops you at a 95 degree angle and takes you through a series of quick turns and inversions. Just when you think you’re done, it speeds up again to 70 mph and takes you through a few more twists and turns before arriving back at the station. The Intimidator 305 is like a combination of Millennium Force and Maverick. It’s got the speed of Millennium Force and the quick turns of Maverick. It’s definitely an excellent choice if you’re ever in Virginia. Lastly, the Banshee at Kings Island is the longest inverted roller coaster in the world. It takes you through a series of seven inversions which include two loops, three half loops/half corkscrews, and two inline twists. It’s literally one inversion followed by another. If you love inversions, then you should definitely check this one out.

If you have a need for speed, then you should definitely ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. It accelerates you from 0 to 120 in 3.8 seconds, sends you up a huge hill, and then back down on the other side for the biggest 17 second adrenaline rush of your life. The only downside is that the ride is nothing more than this 17 second thrill.

If you want a unique roller coaster experience, check out Kings Island’s Firehawk. You lay on your back as you go up the first hill, but then turn over once you reach the top to give you the feeling of flying. At first it’s kind of scary because you’re being suspended above the ground without track or the floor of a car under you, but once you get over that fear, it’s an awesome ride. Carowinds has a comparable coaster in Nighthawk, but Firehawk is definitely better.

The last two coasters I’ll mention are Gatekeeper at Cedar Point and the Beast at Kings Island. Gatekeeper is unique because it suspends you either to the right or left of the track (rather than on top of it of below it) and takes you through a series of turns and inversions, one of which is right over top of the main entrance to the park. The Beast is the longest wooden roller coaster in the world with over a mile of track and two hills. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of growing up riding this coaster, but it will forever by my favorite wooden coaster. Hands down, the best part of the ride is the double helix after the second hill. It’ll rattle you up, but man is it exciting.

Roller Coaster Suggestions for Non-Coaster Enthusiasts

I fully understand that not everyone loves roller coasters. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting you to have the same experience! If you’re not a coaster enthusiast, but are considering trying a coaster or two, here are a few of my suggestions.

It all starts with what you like or don’t like about coasters. Are you afraid of heights? Do you get sick with lots of tight turns and inversions? Does your body hurt after begin jerked around for the whole ride? I’ll offer a few suggestions for the rider who falls in each of these three categories.

If you don’t like heights, especially not going straight down a hill, then I’d suggest riding something like the Adventure Express (Kings Island), Backlot Stunt Coaster (Kings Island), Cedar Creek Mine Ride (Cedar Point), or Corkscrew (Cedar Point). Honestly though, if you can conquer your fear of heights, I think you’re going to have a lot more fun riding the biggest coasters than continuing to ride the ones I named above.

If you don’t do well with tight turns and inversions, then I’d suggest riding Millennium Force (Cedar Point), Fury 325 (Carowinds), Diamondback (Kings Island), Intimidator 2 (Carowinds), The Beast (Kings Island), or Mystic Timbers (Kings Island).

If you feel sore after getting off rough roller coasters, then stay away from all wooden and old steel coasters. Instead, I’d suggest riding any of the ones in the previous paragraph except The Beast and Mystic Timbers and I’d add Valravn (Cedar Point) and Banshee (Kings Island) to that list. If all your friends pressure you into riding a jerky coaster, I’ve found that sitting in the middle of a car (a car may have three sets of seats in it, so sit in the middle one) and sitting closer to the front makes it much less jerky.

Now What?

Stop sitting around thinking about going to an amusement park and just do it! Pack up your vehicle and make a road trip. If you’d like a personal tour guide/riding buddy, I come free of charge. Hit me up if you want to take a trip to Cedar Point or Kings Island this summer and I’d be happy to join you.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why People Manipulate Each Other

Remember the day you realized that someone you trust, or rather, someone you trusted, had been manipulating you for years? It was like a veil was removed from over your eyes. You wondered how on earth you could have possibly been blind to it. Now that you saw it clearly, you labeled the person as a manipulator and distanced yourself from him (or her) so that you could escape the spell he had cast over you for all those years.

Having recognized the pain you experienced, you decided not to let it happen again. But then you found yourself being manipulated by another person. And another person. And yet another person. Why do all the manipulators seem to seek you out and attempt to take advantage of you? What did you ever do to deserve this treatment?

All of us have been manipulated. And whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all manipulated someone else at some point in time. Why is manipulation so prevalent in our world? In this article, I share the primary reason why I think we, as humans, manipulate other people. Personally, I find this discussion helpful because by recognizing the root of my manipulative tendencies, I can better avoid the temptation to manipulate the people around me.

Let’s Define Manipulation

I’ll start this discussion by defining the word manipulation. In a previous article I wrote entitled, “How to Spot Manipulation”, I defined manipulation as “to gain control over another person’s behaviors.”[1] As I shared in my previous article, some forms of manipulation are more aggressive in nature while other forms are more passive. In his book Practicing Greatness, Reggie McNeal explained the difference between these two forms of manipulation:
Aggressive controllers bull their way in where they shouldn’t and feel they have a right to be there…They tell people how to think and how to live, and even see others’ money as something they are entitled to.
Passive controllers achieve their goals indirectly through guilt and manipulation, deceiving their followers into doing their bidding while letting them think it’s their own choice. They are experts at hooking people at their point of vulnerability.[2]
The point I want to get across is that manipulation comes in lots of variations and looks, at a minimum, slightly different from person to person. But the link that ties all forms of manipulation together is that it’s an attempt to gain control over another person’s behaviors.

The Necessity of Control

In an article I posted last week entitled “5 Places We Search for Security,” I shared about the role that security plays in our lives. As theologian John Oswalt once wrote, “security is perhaps the greatest of all human longings.”[3] If security is our greatest longing, then it would naturally make sense that the achievement of it would be our ultimate goal in this life. I’ll further explain this concept with a simple illustration.

Let’s say I make a goal to become a millionaire. If I actually want to achieve this goal, then I may need to change the way I live. I’ll need to modify my habits so that I spend less and save more. Instead of buying a soda every time I eat out, I may decide to get water. Instead of buying brand new clothes, I may buy used clothes at Goodwill or Salvation Army. Instead of shopping for groceries at Meijer, I may decide to shop at Aldi’s. I’d do all these things because I’d realize that I’m not randomly going to become a millionaire. Instead, I’d have to take control of my spending and saving habits in order to get there.

In the same way, if our goal is to achieve security, then we’re going to develop a game plan to get us there. When people believe they’re going to achieve security with lots of money, then naturally they’re going to set financial goals. When people believe they’re going to achieve security with material possessions, then naturally they’re going to set goals for how much stuff they hope to gather. And I could go on and on.

We’ve been taught that if we want to achieve our objective(s), then we have to take control of our lives. But it’s never as simple as merely taking control of our lives. There are certain parts of our objective which may appear to be within our control and there are other parts of it which appear to be outside of our control. This is where the problem lies. If we want to achieve our objective, then we must somehow find a way to control the things which are outside of our control. Here’s an example.

Let’s say, again, that my objective is to become a millionaire. In order to do that, let’s say I decide to create a tangible product which I hope to sell for a profit. Creating the product is within my control. But selling the product is outside of my control. In order to attempt to bring it within my control, I may do some research to figure out what product people want and how much money they’re willing to spend on it. If I listen to the research and create a product people want to buy and price it according to what they want to pay for it, then chances are that I’m going to successfully sell my new product. To a degree, this approach would allow me to bring something which was outside of my control within my control.

The Role of Manipulation

Let’s take a look at how manipulation fits into this discussion.

Think with me for minute: What do you need in order to achieve your sense of security? Do you need a certain amount of money? Do you need a certain size house? Do you need to drive a certain vehicle? Do you need a certain person as your spouse? What is that thing (or things) you believe you need in order to achieve the highest level of security?

Now answer this question: Who has control over that thing you need? Does your boss have control over it? Does your spouse or significant other have control over it? Does Donald Trump have control over it? Does God have control over it? Who are the people who have the ability to provide you with the thing(s) you want?

What would be the best way to get what you want from that person? One way to get what you want may be to kill that person. However, unless that person is the ruler of a kingdom and killing him would allow you to take his place (and pardon your crime), then this idea is probably going to be counterproductive. A more productive alternative may be to offer to help him get what he wants. In return, he may be willing to give you what you want. Yet another alternative may be to suck up to the person. If you can earn his favor, then maybe he’ll offer to give you what you want.

I’ve read stories of people all throughout history who’ve employed these three methods of attempting to get what they want, along with plenty more. Whether we want to admit it or not, these are all forms of manipulation. Therefore, we can now draw our conclusion about why people manipulate each other. We attempt to manipulate other people because they have control over something we want. And by bringing them within our control, we guarantee our ability to get what we want.

As a side note, the only reason people are going to try to manipulate you is if they believe you have control over something they want. If you don’t appear to have control over something they want, then they’re not going to try to manipulate you.

Responding to My Conclusion

If you’re like me, then hearing this conclusion may be very discouraging. If my conclusion is correct, then manipulation is done completely out of selfishness. We resort to manipulation when we elevate our own goals above the goals of other people. This isn’t exactly something which gives us warm fuzzies.

It doesn’t make it easier for me to digest, but another conclusion I’ve drawn on this topic is that for the most part, manipulation isn’t intentional. I don’t think people wake up every morning scheming ways to make the world a nastier place. Instead, I think people wake up every morning thinking about how to achieve a sense of security. For the most part, I think people spend little to no time considering the impact of their actions on the people around them. Therefore, their attempts at manipulation aren’t born out of a desire to tear you or me down as much as they’re born out of a desire to lift themselves up. Unfortunately, this is part of our intrinsic, sinful human nature.

The more logical person who may be chasing lofty goals may wonder how he’s going to be able to accomplish his goals if he’s supposed to be elevating other peoples’ goals above his goals. This is a great predicament in which we find ourselves. My answer is that if we are chasing our own goals, then we’re probably not going to achieve those goals unless we manipulate the people around us. However, I believe there’s another way to live.

According to the Bible, God is sovereign, meaning that he reigns supreme over everything in the universe and is ultimately in control of it all. God needs nothing from us, meaning that we can’t barter with him in order to get what we want. Nor can we suck up to him in order to earn his favor. God can’t be manipulated into giving us what we want.

Instead, God has a goal he wants to accomplish: to bring glory to his name by raising every single one of his chosen people to life to be his disciples who are transformed into his image so that they will spend eternity united in marriage to him, their one and only king.[4] And since God is sovereign, he will accomplish his goal. As he once declared, “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”[5]

In light of this realization, I’m learning to stop chasing after my own plans and instead get on board with God’s plans. As I shared in an article a couple weeks ago,[6] following God’s plans instead of my plans has completely changed the course of my life. It hasn’t turned out to look much of anything like what I wanted it to or thought it would look. Yet, the freedom I’m experiencing from not trying to control everything in my life is absolutely amazing. I’ve never experienced this amount of peace. And since I don’t have to try to control my life, I no longer need to use manipulation to get what I want.

I realize some of you may be skeptical about all this God-stuff and for good reason. People always seem to be coming along trying to get you to believe this or that or the other. I’m not trying to sell you anything nor am I trying to gain some sense of security from talking about this stuff. This stuff is the real deal. The change God has made in my life is so amazing that I can’t help but share about it.

If you’re skeptical because you think God doesn’t exist or that the Bible isn’t legitimate, I encourage you to check out Lee Strobel’s book titled The Case for Christ which was recently made into a movie. Strobel was an intellectual, devout atheist who was frustrated with his wife’s conversion to Christianity, so he set out to disprove the legitimacy of God, Jesus, and the Bible. But after his extensive research, he drew the conclusion that God and Jesus really do exist and that the Bible really is the Word of God. Another great resource is C. S. Lewis’s book titled Mere Christianity. Like Strobel, he was another devout atheist who set out to undermine Christianity, but couldn’t do it, and converted to Christianity.

What do you think? Do you think this is why people manipulate each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[1] Matthew Pierce, “How to Spot Manipulation,” July 12, 2017, accessed April 18, 2018,
[2] Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), location 530-37, Kindle.
[3] John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), location 676, Kindle eBook.
[4] This is a compilation of the following passages (and many more): Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 1:11, Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Ephesians 2:1-9, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, John 17:9-11, and Revelation 19:6-10.
[5] Isaiah 46:11.
[6] Matthew Pierce, “This Wasn’t My Plan,” April 4, 2018,

Thursday, April 12, 2018

5 Places We Search for Security

I once heard it said that “security is perhaps the greatest of all human longings.”[1] At first, I balked at this statement thinking that love was the greatest of all human longings. But having contemplated this topic more in depth, I’ve concluded that being loved brings us security, meaning that security is the underlying longing. Not only do I believe it is the underlying longing behind love, but I believe it is the underlying longing behind most, if not all, of what we do.

If you’ve read some of my articles, then you know that I’ve made the claim that the motivation behind everything we do is the achievement of happiness. You may be wondering how this claim meshes with my new claim that the longing for security is the underlying motivator behind everything we do. Here’s my answer: The drive for security and happiness are one in the same drive. When we feel secure, we feel happy; when we feel happy, we feel secure.

In a previous article titled The Biggest Hindrance to Your Happiness, I claimed that the greatest barrier to our happiness is settling for something temporary when we’ve been offered something eternal. One of the ways in which we settle for something temporary is when we put our trust in things which aren’t bulletproof. In other words, we settle for finding security in people and things which, given a certain set of circumstances, may come through for us, but given a different set of circumstances, they will fail us.

In this article, I’ll be sharing five of the places where Americans attempt to find security and then I’ll share the place where I’ve been attempting to find security based upon my successes and failures chasing these other five things.

1. Money

Since money is the biggest form of currency in this country, many Americans attempt to find security in stockpiling lots of money. Having lots of money can give us a feeling of security because we have hope that its purchasing power will enable us to meet our needs.

How much security does money really offer us? When the government is stable and the economy is going well, money offers us a pretty good amount of security. But what would happen if the government collapsed? Our pieces of paper that say $10 and $20 on them would be absolutely worthless. Even if all our currency was distributed in gold and silver coins, those coins are only worth something because someone ascribed valued to them. Think about it…gold, silver, bronze, copper, and platinum are nothing more than rocks someone pulled out the ground. They only have value because they are in high demand. If people no longer cared to obtain those rocks, then they’d no longer be valuable.

If money’s not the answer, then what is the answer? Is it to buy a bunch of stuff with all the money we have? Let’s take a look.

2. Material Possessions

A great way to diversify your portfolio is to trade some of your money, which is all one currency, for material possessions which are a diversity of currencies. If the government collapses and your money becomes worthless, then maybe some of your stuff might be worth something. Maybe it would bring you more security than your money.

The level of security your material possessions bring depends on its usefulness to you and other people. For example, if you have a vehicle which is powered by gasoline, but you can’t buy gasoline to run it, then it’s going to be completely useless. Or if you have a house with a leaky roof, then it’s going to be pretty useless. Once again, the only reason your stuff has any value is because you and other people have ascribed value to it. Things aren’t ascribed value simply because they’re valuable; they’re ascribed value because someone is willing to trade a certain amount of currency for them.

Under certain circumstances, material possessions can provide us with security. But when faced with a different set of circumstances, they will inevitably fail us.

3. Jobs

Another place many Americans find security is in their jobs. They wake up every morning with no concerns about whether they’re going to be able to work that day. And as a result, they continue to see and expect a consistent paycheck to hit their bank accounts every two weeks.

But what happens when we have a JC Penny or Sears episode on our hands? How secure do you think employees of these two retail stores are feeling right now? As long as everything is going well for the company you work for, you’ll find security in your job. But when the circumstances change and it appears you may not have a job tomorrow, you’re going to find much less security in your job.

4. Other People

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t care what other people think about them, at least to some degree. When our relationships are going well, we can find a lot of security in what other people think about us.

But what happens when even just one person out of your entire social network says something hurtful to you. Don’t you feel like everyone hates you? You may receive 1,000 compliments from other people, but those compliments only provide you security as long as you don’t receive any criticism. Even just one piece of criticism or one bad relationship can completely rock your world.[2]

Once again, this place of finding security is going to fail us because all humans are sinful and therefore will hurt us from time to time.

5. Personal Skill Sets

Many people, especially guys, are guilty of finding security in their abilities. It’s not always as overt as finding security in how much weight they can bench press, but that’s a great example of a place where people may find security. Some people find it in how much weight they can lift while others find it in their carpentry skills, project management skills, athletic skills, or knowledge retention skills.

Our skills don’t fail us as long as we remain young and healthy. But what happens as we get older and lose the ability to bench press hundreds of pounds? Or what happens if we get hurt? All of a sudden we lose the security we found in our skills because we either no longer have them or we can no longer utilize them in the same capacity.

Our skills may be working for us now, but inevitably, we’re going to lose the ability to do all the things we do. If we live long enough, we’re probably going to be pretty useless when it comes to doing much of anything.

Where I’m Learning to Find My Security

The problem we face with attempting to find security in all these things, as well as a host of other things in this world, is that they’re all going to fail us at one point or another. There’s no silver bullet answer for us…or is there?

I’ve been down the path of trying to find security in all five of the areas I mentioned above. As long as I had those things, I felt secure. But there have been times when I’ve lost those things. Where was I to put my trust at that point? Was I to put it in more of the same stuff?

Personally, I have found so much more security in God than I’ve found in any of the things he’s created. According to the Bible, which I believe to be God’s means of communicating with us, he reminds us that birds don’t sow, reap, or stockpile any food, yet he meets their needs every single day. After giving us this reminder, he then proceeds to ask: Are you not more valuable to him than them?[3]

Finding security in God is different than finding security in any of the stuff he has created because he will never fail us. Certainly there will be times where we don’t get what we want. We may lose all our money. We may lose all our stuff. We may lose our jobs. We may be rejected by other people. And we will get old one day. But that doesn’t mean God is failing us. Maybe in the midst of all the pain we experience in losing those things, God is trying to show us that those things can’t give us the security for which we long. But instead, when we place our trust in him, our longing, hungry souls will be satisfied.

I recognize it takes a lot of faith to put our trust in God, especially since we can’t even see him and don’t have sufficient evidence to claim with 100 percent confidence he exists. However, I’d argue that it takes just as much, if not more, faith to put our trust in all of his created stuff, since we know it will fail us, than it does to put our trust in him. I’d encourage you to stew on that thought for a little while.

Do you attempt to find security in any of the five things I’ve presented in this article? What other things do you or the people around you look to in an attempt to find security? Have you found any other bulletproof answers?

[1] John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), location 676, Kindle eBook.
[2] For a lengthier discussion on this topic, see Jon Acuff, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Do Work That Matters (Brentwood, TN: Lampo Press, 2013), 153.
[3] See Matthew 6:25-34.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

This Wasn't My Plan

Following a meeting I was a part of the other day with a few people I greatly respect, I engaged in a short conversation with one of the participants. He asked me what I was doing these days and I proceeded to tell him about the many hats I wear. In all seriousness, he then turned to me and said, "It’s really cool you’re getting to do what you want to do.”

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have made similar comments to me during the last five years. I’m appreciative of their excitement for me, but what they don’t realize and I rarely have the heart to tell them is that this wasn’t my plan. I never, in all my wildest dreams, would’ve made these plans for my life. I had a totally different set of plans for nearly everything in my life.

My Dreams

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for my career. After getting through the “I want to be a professional athlete” phase of my life, I landed on being an architect which then transitioned into wanting to become a civil engineer. I wanted to get my degree from the University of Cincinnati which boasts a great engineering program so that I could design and then manage the construction of skyscrapers and bridges. I wouldn’t have argued if I would’ve been promoted to be a CEO of a large construction company at some point in my career.

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for my marriage. I dreamed of one day marrying a hot blonde chick who stayed at home to take care of the house, kids, and make dinner for me. I hate to admit this, but I basically dreamed that she would exist to take care of me and meet my every last need.

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for having kids. I dreamed of having two or three kids starting around the age of 27 or 28 and having them separated by two or three years.

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for my finances. I dreamed of being a millionaire by the time I turned 30, retiring early, and being able to save enough money that I could solely live off the interest from my investments. I wanted to have so much money that I could buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it.

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for my home. I dreamed of living in the country on a large tract of land where I could go completely off the grid. I envisioned using ground water as my water supply, raising/growing my own food, and using a combination of wind and solar energy for my electricity. And I dreamed of having a pond out back where I could catch some monster fish. I would’ve been perfectly content to not be anywhere in the vicinity of another neighbor.

I grew up having a totally different set of plans for church. I dreamed of being a part of a normal church congregation where we attended the Sunday morning church service once a week, paid our dues, and continued on with life.

For those of you who know what I’m up to these days, you know this isn’t the way my life has turned out. My current circumstances don’t look anything like I planned.

How Have My Dreams Turned Out?

It wasn’t my plan to attend college at Ohio Northern University.

It wasn’t my plan to quit my job at Turner Construction after eighteen months.

It wasn’t my plan to work at and then leave Marathon Petroleum.

It wasn’t my plan to work at a church for a tenth of the salary I was making at Marathon.

It wasn’t my plan to preach every Sunday for eight months at that church.

It wasn’t my plan to quit my church job a year later and go to seminary.

It wasn’t my plan to become a stay-at-home husband who took care of the house and made dinner for Amy.

It wasn’t my plan to not have a formal job for a couple years and therefore only a single income.

It wasn’t my plan to work as the interim ReStore Manager at Habitat for Humanity or be on the construction management team for their new building in Findlay.

It wasn’t my plan to start a website design business.

It wasn’t my plan to start blogging.

It wasn’t my plan to marry Amy, a beautiful brunette who enjoys her supervisory position at Marathon and would go absolutely stir crazy at home all day.

It wasn’t my plan to not have kids by this point.

It wasn’t my plan to not be able to buy whatever I want to buy when I want to buy it.

It wasn’t my plan to live in a neighborhood, shop at a grocery store, and purchase electricity.

It wasn’t my plan to be a missionary every day of my life.

None of these things were in the plans I had for my life. That’s not to say nothing has gone the way I hoped it would. After all, I did plan on getting a degree in civil engineering, working for a large construction company like Turner, getting married, having a pond out back, being a Christian, and having good health. But for a perfectionist like me, it’s only acceptable if everything goes according to plan.

A New Perspective

When my dreams started not working out the way I originally planned, I reasoned that one or two setbacks weren’t going to really hurt much. But then when more and more of them weren’t getting fulfilled and all hope of them being fulfilled was gone, I became pretty frustrated. I argued with God about it for quite a while because I felt like he just kept taking more and more and more from me. I was bitter for a while. More than anything, I was bitter with God that he wasn’t letting me run my life the way I wanted to run it.

But then my perspective began to shift. What would’ve happened if everything had gone according to my plans?

I wouldn’t have met Amy, the best life-long spouse anyone could ask for.

I wouldn’t have met all my awesome friends.

I wouldn’t have gotten to meet all the great people I’ve worked with.

I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to play hockey.

I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to participate with Jesus in his plans.

I wouldn’t have had so many of my worthless idols destroyed.

And most importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to cultivate a relationship with the God of the universe.

Knowing what I know now, I’m pretty sure that if things would’ve gone according to my plans, I would’ve been a miserable person. Yeah, I would’ve had everything I wanted, but I would’ve continued wanting more and more because I still wouldn’t have been completely satisfied. Actually, studies show that once we reach a certain point, the more people have, the more dissatisfied they are. More of the same stuff doesn’t satisfy us. Although more money, bigger houses, nicer cars, hotter wives, and better sex can temporarily satisfy us, none of those things can completely satisfy our longing souls. We need to continue going back to those wells over and over and over again to be filled.

But Jesus said that the “water” he offers will make it so that we’re never thirsty again.[1] He is the only one who can satisfy us completely. If my plans had worked out the way I dreamed they would, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to experience the satisfaction and contentment I find every day in Jesus.

As bitter as I used to be about it, I’m not bitter anymore. How could I be? I gave up (at many times I came kicking and screaming) my plans in order to embrace Jesus’s set of plans which bring me such a greater level of satisfaction and contentment than my original plans ever could.

A Closing Story

In the same conversation with my highly-respected colleague, he made the comment that I seemed extremely calm and relaxed. He’s absolutely right; I am very calm and relaxed these days.

For those of you who’ve known me for a long time, you know that I used to be anything but calm and relaxed. I used to be pretty high-strung. I was regularly on edge and would get quite animated when I felt as though someone was trying to interrupt my plans.

But the contentment I’ve found in Jesus has caused me to be calm and relaxed. I’m not concerned anymore about trying control how my life turns out; that’s his problem now. I trust him to make better plans for my life than I ever could. And having had a chance to watch his plans be implemented instead of mine, I’d say he’s doing a fantastic job!

Now, I want to challenge you to think about your life. Think back to when you were younger. What big dreams did you have for your life? Have your dreams been fulfilled? If not, do you think your life has turned out better or worse than if your dreams would’ve been fulfilled? If it has turned out the way you planned, have you achieved your ultimate goal of being completely satisfied, or do you find you’re still longing for something more?

[1] See John 4:1-15.