It doesn’t make sense. Ever said that? What doesn’t make sense today, might tomorrow or in a week, and most likely will in a year or two. Larnelle Harris sang a song entitled, In it After All. The first verse says, “All of those moments I spent crying, when something inside of me was dying, I didn’t know that You heard me each time I called, you had a reason for those trials, it seems I grew stronger every mile, now I know You were in it after all.” How true those words were a week after Easter. Friday brought panic, Saturday brought silence and Sunday brought joy, but time brought clarity. On Friday and Saturday nothing made sense and on Sunday they were too overwhelmed with the unimaginable, but the further they got away from Easter Sunday the more the whole event made3 sense. The disciple’s tears are now dry, their shattered hopes are being put back together and their faith is stronger. They have seen Him, touched Him and had dinner with Him. Soon their brokenness will become boldness. Time does amazing things when we allow God to do His work in us. What we feel is meant to destroy us often is the foundation that allows us the stand when future storms come our way. A cross and a crucifixion can change the composition of your life if you allow it. Without the cross there is no ascension, no upper room and no eternal hope. What are you walking through that doesn’t make sense? Give it some time. Just as the pain of the disciples was a part of the process to bring them power, what you are going through has purpose too. Just give it some time.
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Silence. It can be awkward, difficult and confusing. It’s the feeling a widow or widower has the first night after the love of their life has breathed their last breath and they are all alone. It’s the feeling parents experience when they have had a house full of kids, watched them grow from infant to adult, taken them to band, cheered them on in their sports, had them around the dinner table and the last one has left the home and you now come home to an empty house. As a spouse, have you ever got the silent treatment? Often, you’re not sure why, and silently you are asking, did I leave my socks on the table again? Did I say something I wasn’t supposed to at the dinner party? The silence lets you know something is definitely wrong. It’s a first date or walking into a meeting where no one knows anyone and there’s that awkward moment when no one knows what to say or do. Whatever the scenario, silence begs for something to happen, anything. A friend to call the widow. A grandchild to enter the scene of a parent. Or a spouse thinking, please, let me know what I did to create this silence. That is what Saturday was like for those lived through Jesus’ Passion Week. They will survive the hurt, the actions and events of Friday and once they understand, experience and grasp the miraculous resurrection on Sunday, they will celebrate, but the silence of Saturday is overwhelming. On Saturday is when we deal with our own failures of yesterday. On Saturday is when we feel the chill of darkness, that it won, and we lost. On Saturday we live in the real possibility that our Hope is dead, and life will never be the same. On Saturday we feel as though God has failed us. Living in a Saturday? Take heart in Easter! That as impossible as things might feel today, you may be just be a few hours or days away from a life changing moment, an Easter, a moment that makes your life better than you could ever imagine!
We tend to set low expectations for God. It happens when we attempt to make our plans, God’s plans. Palm Sunday is a textbook example. As people lined the street that morning, one might sense an atmosphere of high expectation. Palm branches, rugs and cloaks covered the street. Screams and cheers of Hosannah are heard along the parade route. Jesus had spoke of His kingdom, and their assumption on this day, was that He was bringing His kingdom to earth. They knew the significance of a person riding into Jerusalem on a colt; an honor given only to dignitaries. In their eyes, Jesus’ Triumphal entry was the answer to years of hopes and prayers. The oppression, abuse and rule of the Roman government was going to end, Jesus, the man of miracles, was about to set up His earthly kingdom. No more Roman rule. No more taxes to Caesar. Little did they realize how trivial their expectations were. Palm Sunday was not about a day of freedom from Rome, but about a day that would set-in motion freedom from sin, death, hell and the grave. Palm Sunday was not about God solving earthly problems, but eternal issues. Still today we undervalue our expectations for God. Israel wants deliverance from Pharaoh, God gives them a new culture and land. The lame man at the Gate Beautiful wants money, God uses His disciples to give him a miracle. Too often we get frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers our way. We tend to focus and pray longing for earthly issues to be solved, while God is focused on our eternal destination. Palm Sunday. I invite you to see God’s big picture; to see God and His will differently. To pray differently. Surrender your small expectations for His big plans.
A seismic world altering moment was just two weeks away. Yet, at this moment, after bringing Lazarus back to life, no one can fathom what is about to take place. The tears of joy are too overwhelming and the miracle to great. His disciples are convinced that Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom and can’t wait to see their place of importance. Not only had Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but healed ten lepers of their leprosy. Jesus is immensely popular. Yet, in two weeks, the disciples will deny Him, the crowd turn on Him and He will take his last earthly breath. A lot can happen in two weeks, more than we could ever imagine. The point? Whatever you are walking through, whatever is overwhelming you, know that it can change in so quickly. In an instant, a man blind sees, a woman with a blood issue for 12 years is healed and a cripple from birth walks. Needing a miracle? Looking for a glimmer of hope? Pray one more prayer. Believe one more day. Look no further than the possibilities in Jesus. Keep believing. Keep expecting. You may be just a few days or weeks from a mind-blowing, life altering, forever changing encounter.
In Acts 19 there is a story that we as Christians should take note of. The dialogue opens with a few men acting as if they know Jesus and have His power, trying to cast out an evil spirit. Hindsight allows us to see the sham that is taking place. Speaking to the evil spirit that possesses the man, the powerless man says, “I solemnly implore and charge you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The phrasing of the man reeks of something missing. The response of the evil spirit to the powerless Christian imposter says it all. The spirit says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” With that question the spirit physically attacks the man. The spiritually empty man runs from the house in fear with wounds and stripped naked. This story shouts a warning to people who profess to know Jesus but have no relationship with Him. Its people who act the part and say the right words, but their life is more symbolism than substance. Know this, those living symbolic Christianity eventually get exposed. You may not be assaulted or stripped naked physically, but an empty life eventually becomes visible to those around you. Paul warns Timothy of this in 2 Timothy 3 when he tells him to watch out for those “who have a form of godliness but deny its power.” Today I challenge you to be more than professing Christians, to be a person who has the true power of God. What does it require? An authentic relationship with Jesus and the power of the Spirit that was promised by Jesus before His ascension and experienced by the early followers in the book of Acts. Who are you? A professing Christian or a Christian who is living in the power of the Spirit. Regardless of what you say, your life will expose the truth.
Today, we reflect back and celebrate 17 years since Life inception. Churches don’t start at garage sales, but this one did. The garage sale thrusted us into a ladies Bible study and a once-a-week VBS. After a year and a few meetings at the Goddard School on 116th, Life launched on March 7, 2004. Mary and I had little pastoral training, but lots of faith, and though Gentry and Risa were seven and five, they seemed to have just as much faith. We lived on, and still do, the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5; “if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” With this as our mantra and faith that believed anything was possible, we went after Fishers with abandonment. We introduced people to Bagels and Bunnies, crazy VBS’s and the first Breakfast with Santa. We were in every parade, had booths at Fishers Freedom Festivals and in 2007, brought the Strawberry Festival to Fishers. If we could imagine it, we would try it. As much as we worked, we prayed, fasted and reached for broken people in need of Jesus with even more fierceness. The past few years have been challenging; a few losses, some hurts, and this past year was especially hard as everything came to a grinding halt, but we’ve stayed in the fight. Let’s hope the Bible numerologist have it right. They say the number seventeen symbolizes complete victory. If there has ever been a moment when it would be good to see complete victory, it’s now. Today, we reflect back, but only with hearts that look forward in faith. We’ve planted, watered and today we are anticipating that God will bring an indescribable increase and victory!
His name is Judah. He comes from good stock. David and Keah Cuautle have been with us at Life from its inception. Wednesday, after bible study Judah ran up to me, we fist bump, and he says, ‘my name is in the Bible.” Walking down the aisle we continue to talk and sensing he is really wanting to connect; I sat down and continued the conversation. He continues telling me about his name, he lets me know that the tribe he is named after, nearly wiped out the entire tribe of Dan. He was very impressed by this fact. I asked, “did you know Judah led Israel into battle? You’re a leader.” His response was classic. He said, “well, I don’t know about that, not too many people seem to listen to me.” I followed up with, “when you’re at school and it’s time for recess and you suggest something, do people do it?” Now seeming rather frustrated and agitated, he responds with, “well I’m always telling people what to do but no one seems to listen.” I couldn’t resist, it just came out, I said, “welcome to leadership Judah, welcome to leadership.” By this point he was finished and off to another person. I hear his next conversation and it starts the same way, “hi, my name is Judah, my name is in the bible…” So, what’s my point? Don’t miss important people and moments. I nearly missed the moment, but a small voice said, stop and listen. I’m glad I did. He got to share something very important about himself with me and I got a reminder of the challenges of leadership. Simply put, don’t miss big moments that seem small, you might miss something important.
Monday was a glorious day. In fact, it’s been a pretty good month. Snow, snow and more snow. As I write, over a foot of snow is still on the ground. There are great spiritual lessons in snow. First, snow has no prejudice. It falls everywhere and on everyone. Doesn’t matter your economic, religious or social status. Snow falls. Second, snow covers everything. It covers average and beautiful landscaped yards. Snow covers sidewalks and streets, leaves that weren’t raked and branches that have fallen. Snow finds every knuck and covers every cranny. Finally, the obvious, snow makes everything white. Gray, green, brown, regardless the color, snow turns it white. Isaiah says, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” What an amazing word picture when we put into context what a snow does. Jesus’ blood, like snow, has no prejudice. It covers everyone. No bias, no discrimination. Second, like snow, Jesus’ blood covers everything, no issue is beyond his blood. Whether a lie, a moral failure or something worse, Jesus’s blood covers it. Finally, Jesus’ red blood turns our sins white. We become justified and clean. He gives us a clean slate. His blood takes our sins and makes them as distant as the east is from the west. The old song says, thank God for the blood, thank God for the blood, it washes white as snow. I’m glad I can live in the power of His work and not in my futile efforts to save myself. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much, because it reminds me that His blood makes my life look like a fresh snow.
It’s hard to imagine that a mere hundred years ago, 90% of Americans were farmers. Today that number is 2%. The transformation becomes even more impactive when we assess how the cultural shift has impacted our lives. A hundred years ago electricity and lights were luxuries, only a few had ever seen a car, and the idea of air travel was a fantasy. Winter would slow nearly everyone. Fields would go dormant, cold and snow blew in, and life would slow. Winter was a time to pause; to read, reflect and bond with our spouse and kids. As culture shifted, we lost our pace. Gone was the winter pause and in its place came a harried pace, high anxiety and little time to pause or spend quality time with our spouse or kids. Today, the average couple spends 23 seconds in meaningful conversation, and most of our kids grow up in daycare centers. We are seeing and feeling the effects of a society that is stuck on turbo and in desperate need of a pause. In the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Jon Mark Comer list 20 things we should do to hit the pause button. Here are ten on this Valentine’s Day to help you regain your pace and reconnect with those who are most important.
- Intentionally drive in the slow lane at the speed limit. Eliminate the hurry.
- Get rid of all unnecessary apps. Only use your phone for essential purposes.
- Put your smart device to bed when kids go to bed.
- Don’t let news and social media set your emotional equilibrium.
- Regain time by only viewing social media on a desktop computer.
- Walk slower. One of the best ways to slow down our body is to slow our pace.
- Don’t sell your time to TV. Grab a book regularly. Go for walks
- Take a day once in a while and intentionally embrace silence.
- Pray and meditate on scripture and the things of God.
- Cook your own food and take time to enjoy dinners around the table.
In Matthew 7 Jesus speaks of two men who built houses. One dug deep and built on rock, while the other carelessly built his home on sand. Inevitably, a storm came and both houses were battered. Once the storm passed, the house built on rock was standing, while the house built on sand was destroyed. Jesus’ premise. Storms come to everyone. Those who build on strong foundations survive. It’s critical that we have a strong relationship with God to survive storms. Because storms come, God had the Hebrew people wear scriptures on their clothing to remind them of important principles, and He instituted the Passover as a reminder of how He provided their escape from Egypt. Now it’s 2021 and we face new challenges. Spiritual darkness is rampant, many are distorting God’s Word and we’re living in a world that is on information overload. How do we survive? Build your life on a strong foundation. Jesus called himself the chief cornerstone and said His Word was forever settled in heaven. That’s where we must start; by getting back to the basics and owning our relationship with Jesus and His Word. That is what The Search is about, finding ownership and getting understanding of God’s Word. Worship is energetic and emotionally charged, but like a good meal, it quickly dissipates, and we wait for the next refill. Inspirational messages are wonderful, they lift our faith, inspires us to love, show mercy, and embrace grace, but we need more. We need substance, foundation, structure. How does that happen? We must read God’s Word, understand, study, pray and live it. The Search. This is where it begins. This is where we take ownership, this is where we start building a strong foundation. This is where we say as David did, “your word have I hid in my heart.”
This past week in Tampa, Mary and I were enjoying a balcony breakfast of fruit and oatmeal. As we were eating, I threw three or four small blueberries off the balcony onto the parking lot below. I had hoped that a few of the birds might swoop down and snatch them up, but after a few minutes, nothing had happened, and we had kind of forgot about them. Suddenly, without warning birds came from everywhere. We’re not talking three or four birds, but 20 or 25 birds. My immediate thought was wow! Those three or four berries caused this? I was quite proud. It was a few seconds later that I realized it wasn’t my three or four berries, it was bread from above. Someone above us was throwing handfuls of bread off their balcony, and the birds weren’t drawn to my berries, but to the bread from above. What a moment of truth! Often, we feel like our work accomplishes so much; that our efforts, talents and skills make all the difference when actually, it’s His bread from above. God says cast the nets on the other side of the boat, we simply obey, and Jesus nearly sinks our boats with blessings. It’s not our fishing ability, but His blessing. Paul says it well when he says, “some plant, others water, but it is God that gives the increase.” What Paul was telling us is what we experienced that morning at breakfast. The possibility and the power is in God. That it is God that makes the difference. That God loves to take our empty vessels and small lunches and fill them and multiply them. The psalmist understood this when he said, “if it had not been for the Lord who was on our side.” God, let us regularly be reminded that it is because you are with us and for us that we are blessed and favored.
John 4 is where we find Jesus setting his sights on helping a fragile and apprehensive Samaritan woman. The story opens as Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, alone. He has sent His disciples to get bread. The setting is important, because if he isn’t alone, He likely doesn’t have a chance to have a conversation with the woman. It’s not that the woman isn’t broken, she is. It’s just that she is jaded and skeptical because of the bruises of life. She’s been hurt by five different husbands and the man that’s now a part of her life isn’t her husband. As the conversation begins, Jesus faces an emotional wall that is as high and thick as a prison wall. Trying to break through the icy stare, Jesus asks for water. He is met with a why? Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan for a glass of water. Don’t you know your type doesn’t talk to people like me. When Jesus offers her water she skeptically asks, how are you going to give me water, you have nothing to draw with. When Jesus explains it’s spiritual water, she judgingly questions, are you greater than our father Jacob? Every attempt Jesus makes to help her is met with a jaded and calloused response. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman reminds me of the difficulty we run into when we try to share the good news; the news that Jesus can bless and impact their life. It’s met with the same skepticism and jaded response. Why? They’ been hurt and they don’t trust. How do we overcome their pain? The same way Jesus did. Keep loving, showing compassion and offering mercy. Hopefully, at some moment, the walls crack, the heart softens, and the love of God comes pouring over their heart like a spring shower.
Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “for I know the plans I have for you… plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” If we take this verse literally, God has a specific plan for our life, and it is for good and is to give us a future that is filled with hope. If God has a plan for us, what hinders it from coming to pass? Satan, people, situations or circumstances? No. The biggest issue impeding God’s plan from happening in our life is us. Jesus lets us know His ultimate goal for all humanity in Luke 19:10 when he said, “I came to seek and save those who are lost.” That’s it. That’s the reason He robed himself in flesh, lived with the humanity He created, died on a cross, resurrected and ascended into heaven, so that everyone can be saved. But is that it? Is that His only plan for our lives? No, I believe God has a specific plan for each of us, but how? It begins by getting in alignment with God’s Spirit, getting in the flow of His purpose. For that to happen it requires that we have a hunger for His will to be accomplished in our life. It requires continually humbling, submitting and yielding to His leadership. It means being led by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. It means as John said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Regularly, daily, we must pray that prayer. God let Your plans, Your will increase and let mine decrease. Help me to yield my plans, ideas and concepts to yours. What awaits? Joy. Happiness. Calm. Diminishing fear and anxiety. A peace that passes all understanding. Get in the flow. Get in alignment with His Spirit and His plan. It will be life changing.
What do we do when there is a forecast of an impending snowstorm? We head to the grocery store. We load up on bread, milk, eggs and other essentials. We top off the car with fuel, head home with a trunk full of groceries, prepared for the storm. Wake up to a forecast that says rain and we grab a jacket and an umbrella. Being prepared is vital to surviving a storm, whether rain, snow or the storms of life. Why fast? Because storms are coming. It’s not a maybe or possibility, it’s not the question of if, but when will the storms hit. This year there will be unexpected job losses, sickness, emotional hurt, life disappointments and difficulties we don’t anticipate. Knowing storms are in the future, what do we do? We prepare. We pray. We fast. We make our relationship with God a priority. That’s how we prepare spiritually. Jesus went into the wilderness, full of the Spirit, but comes out in the power of the Spirit. What happened in the wilderness? He was tempted. He fasted. He came out ready for all the challenges lie ahead. Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, but before he ever preached a message, God sent him to an Arabian desert. What happened in the desert? He prayed and fasted. He was being prepared for the impending storms; shipwrecks, stonings, beatings, persecution and jail, all storms that lay in front of Paul. How did he survive? Spiritual preparation. What does 2021 hold? God only knows, but one thing I do know, there will be storms. Are you preparing? How we prepare today will determine how we handle the storms and if we will survive. Fast today because storms are coming.
It’s over! Now that it is, it’s important that we take a final look back and make some assessments. There’s been some casualties, some losses but more than anything, change. The way we live life is different. We wear mask. We avoid contact with others. We work from home. We do carryout. The list goes on and on. The way we do church is different too. We’ve sacrificed a lot, probably too much. No hugs. Very little expressive worship. Sermons end and we go home. Some have found it convenient to stay home. The trip that didn’t seem so long, now is, and we watch, if it is convenient. For others, what once was important doesn’t seem as important now, the Spirit outpouring and doctrine became irrelevant, so they attend a “nice” church. Some can pass people in the isle at the grocery store, Target or even set in restaurants, but church, even with social spacing, is too dangerous of a place to attend. We’ve given up a lot. But of all the things we’ve given up, one of the most dangerous is the altar. It’s what the adversary is always after, our altar. So much happens at an altar. We rejoice, repent, find encouragement, get deliverance and worship at altars. We are broken, find healing and praise together at the altar. The miraculous happens at the altar. The Spirit falls in an altar. We are refreshed, gain faith, are convicted and make new commitments at altars. But in 2020 we didn’t have altar services. They went dormant. A casualty of COVID. The 2021 challenge? Like Jacob, get back to Bethel, the house of God. Like Elijah, restore your commitment to building back up the altar. The altar. The success of your life and family depends on it
Now what? Today the presents have been opened and life returns to normal. It’s back to nine to five and real life. So it was after Jesus’ miraculous birth. It’s been days, weeks or months since the glorious entrance of God in flesh, Jesus, into the world. The shepherds have visited the stable. Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple where they are met with unexpected prophecies about Jesus’ future by Simeon and Anna. The Magi have traveled from a far with gifts and visited his home. But now what? I would love to say the shepherds became evangelist, spreading the good news and the Magi became the first missionaries, establishing great works as they head back East. But only heaven and time will tell. Life, for all we know, went back to normal. The only thing we know is that Jesus grew. We get a glimpse of his growth when they visit the temple when Jesus is twelve. Mary and Joseph go to a Feast in Jerusalem, and after the celebration, begin the journey home when they realize they had left him behind. Upon returning, they find him in the Temple mesmerizing the teachers of the scripture. Beyond that, nothing. Silence. Stillness. The gift went dormant. What do we do when God goes silent? When the seed has been planted but we have to wait. We do what Mary did. Luke 2:51 says, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. When God goes silent and life goes back to normal, treasure what you have experienced and what you know is coming. While we don’t know when the promise will come, we know it will…so, with no other choice we wait, knowing better and more magnificent days are ahead!
How many times this year have you heard someone make the statement, “I’ve lost hope.” Hope is what we desire to happen. In the Old Testament hope was based on a sacrifice and a priest. An animal was brought to a priest, he made the sacrifice and you left hoping it was enough. There was no personal touch. No individual miracle. No Word of hope for your situation personally. People simply lived in faith that the sacrifice and the priest were enough. That all changed when Jesus stepped on the planet. Suddenly hope became a reality. Blind men set on the side of roads hoping Jesus might walk by. A woman with a blood issue reached out to Jesus in hope that her body might be healed, and Zacchaeus, a chief sinner, climbed a tree in hope Jesus would come to his house. And because Jesus healed and touched these, and so many others, we have hope. Hope He will do the same for us. Hope that He might answer our prayer, show up at our house or do the miraculous. We know He has healed; we believe He can heal but we become doubtful that it’s His plan for us. And so, hope grows faint. In reality, often hopes are dashed. Prayers aren’t answered and the miracle doesn’t happen. What happens to hope then? Because of Jesus, hope still holds. Why? Because our faith isn’t based just on the earthly, but the eternal. While we hope for the earthly, our real hope is in the eternal. Titus 1:2 says, “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” Your hope? Pray like anything is possible but live for the hope of eternity. The Gift of Hope.
The Gift of Faith. It’s a gift that we have to exercise. It’s available in any given moment and in any situation. It’s a gift that is built on belief that the Bible is true, and God will do what he says and what he has done before. We’ve circled situations because the children of Israel circled Jericho. We’ve anointed prayer clothes like the early church did. We speak in the name of Jesus because Simon Peter and John did, and our faith says, “if it happened for them, it could happen for us.” Faith sees Jesus, the miraculous more than obstacles and impossibilities. A boat full of disciples saw a storm; they saw waves and lightening, heard thunder and slapping seas, but Simon Peter saw Jesus. Suddenly, faith overrides fear and common sense is taken over by crazy faith, and before you know it, Simon Peter is walking on water. That is the essence of faith, that the impossible becomes possible and the improbable becomes probable. Faith takes what Jesus said in Matthew 19 literally, “but with God all things are possible.” How much faith do you need to see the miraculous begin to happen? Just a little. As Jesus said, “the faith of a mustard seed.” Faith is about knowing “all things are possible with God.” The challenge is simply to have faith. Faith in discouraging times, difficult times, fearful times and overwhelming times. The question is not, whether something is possible or not, rather the question is will we exercise faith. It’s the question Jesus asks in Luke 18, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” The Gift of Faith. Are you using yours?
What do you believe? It’s an important question because what you believe becomes your truth, it becomes what you live your life around. As a society we are living in a time when beliefs are being fiercely challenged. The internet, access to information, and exposure to so many ideas and opinions are impacting life as never before. This is why personal ownership of belief is critical in this hour. Our beliefs can’t be based on religious tradition, church denomination or a pastor’s personal beliefs, it must be your belief. Your belief must come from a reputable source. It must be a source that has been proven true and has stood the test of time. Your belief must be something you have studied and can defend. I have always found my beliefs in God’s Word, but in today’s world, even that is being challenged. God’s Word has been eliminated from schools, mocked by media and is being explained away by educators and science. For it to be secure in our life, for our family’s future, it must be something we read, study and have ownership of. So, what do I believe? I believe that God came to this earth as Jesus. I believe that He healed people that were blind, deaf, lame and had diseases. I believe Jesus walked on water, multiplied bread and brought dead people back to life. I believe that Jesus was crucified on a cross, died and resurrected and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. I believe He sent His Spirit first to a group of people in an upper room and then to every culture and period of time. This is my belief, I own it and its what I build my life, my family and my future upon. What do you believe? It’s a choice. It’s God gift to you.
Why did I start a Christmas Series in November? Great question. Because it has been a long and difficult year and we needed some joy, something to make our hearts merry and a word to encourage our spirits. Nothing does that quite like a song, especially a Christmas song. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul encourages us “to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.” Christmas songs remind us of the hope found in Jesus. Sing Joy to the World, and you can’t help but feel the hope in Jesus. Sing Silent Night, Holy Night and calm and peace surrounds you. Other Christmas carols cause us to reflect on days gone by. Sing, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and whether you have a fireplace or not, or even if you have never tasted a Chestnut, you can still feel the warmth and nostalgia. Still other tunes take us to dreams of another place. Sing songs like Walking in a Winter Wonder Land or Let it Snow and whether you’re in Florida or the Rockies you want to grab the mittens and gloves and make a snowman or have a snowball fight. The simple point is this, Christmas and the songs changes the spirit of the heart. We become more reflective, kinder, and tend to have hearts that long to give. Proverbs 17:22 says that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” So, I invite you, click on your favorite Spotify Christmas list, pull out some old vinyl’s or dial up the Christmas radio station and start the joy early this year because as the song says, “We need a Little Christmas, Right this very Minute…”
Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness. In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!
Dungeons. Desert Destinations. Lion’s Den. Not what we would call precursors to new dimensions in our life. Often what feels like defeat is the tool God uses to bring about incredible change. Joseph’s dream is about leading his family, a thirteen-year dungeon destination doesn’t fit his model, but unless there is a dungeon, there is no baker and butler, and when the Pharaoh has a dream, there is no Joseph to interpret it. God’s plans often look peculiar, but if we trust His process, there is purpose. Moses’ forty-year stint in the desert seems futile and worthless, but that forty-year pause teaches him how to navigate the very desert he will lead the children of Israel through as God’s chosen deliverer. A lion’s den seems a sentence to certain death, but one night with a few sleepy lions, brings drastic change in the leadership in Babylon and jettisons Daniel to a powerful influencer. Have you ever considered that the difficult situation or problem you’re facing could be the tool that God uses to bring about great victory? I can’t answer that for you, but I do know what Joseph said looking back on the dark and trying period of his life, “what you (his brothers) meant for harm, God meant for good.” What are you going through? Look at it through the lens of possibility. Could it be that God is using your trial to work out something for your good? Only time will tell, but I do know this, often God uses our problems to propel us into new places. God, give us the strength and faith to trust in your process.
I recently read of a feud between to neighbors in California. One got upset with the other over a landscaping issue and has proceeded to continually play the Gilligan’s Island theme song over outdoor speakers just below the acceptable decibel level of the city ordinances. There is now a lawsuit. The power of persistence is amazing. In Joshua 6, God tells the people to walk around the city one time each day, with the priest continually blowing trumpets. The battle plan makes little sense, but Israel’s consistent obedience brought an indescribable victory. Jesus speaks of a widow in Luke 18 who consistently asked a judge to grant her protection, she was so persistent that the judge says, “I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” Want to know something else, God is consistent in His love for us. In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. While the son walked away from the father, the father never gave up on his son. Day after day he was watching, hoping and believing his son would return. In Luke 15:20, it says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We have a God who consistently looks for ways to love us and show mercy and grace toward us. It’s important that we realize that when we are not consistent, when what we say and what we do at church does not match up in our daily life, the gospel and the power of the Spirit loses credibility. Live a consistent Godly life. Live it before your spouse, your children and the world you are called to reach.
What we see is important, but how we see things is even more important. Our vision determines our direction and creates an environment of success or failure. Do you generally see with faith, hope and possibility or despair, hopelessness and fear? In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has told Ahab, “there is a roar of a heavy shower.” After speaking these words, Elijah sends his servant, seven times in fact, until he finally comes back and says, “I see a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Seeing takes faith and persistence. In Isaiah 6, after the highly popular king Uzziah dies and the nation is in moral decay, Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” In a difficult time Uzziah saw an all-powerful God able to overcome any adversary. What we see and how we see in difficult times is important. Want to have proper vision? Set the correct atmosphere. Three principles for great vision. First, make God’s Word your focus, in it you will see His plan, His power, His authority. You will see how big God is. Second, pray. In prayer we see our weakness and His vision and His strength. Finally, make God’s House a priority. When we don’t stay around people with right vision, we start seeing things the wrong way. Be around people of faith, vision, passion, excitement and worship. In 2 Kings 6, Elisha’s servant fearfully tells Elisha that they are surrounded by a large adversary, instead of being overwhelmed, Elisha prays a simple prayer to God, “God, open the eyes that he may see.” In this hour where we can become consumed by what we see at the surface level of life, my prayer is God let us see what you see. Today, I see a God who is in control, that God will never leave us or forsake us and a God who is on top of everything. What do you see?
Over the past few weeks we’ve watched as the leaves have fell from the trees in our backyard. We knew it was coming, the weather was getting cooler and the leaves had begun to change colors. We’ve watched as brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves, one by one, dropped to the ground. Some fell without any coercion; others fell when there was a gentle breeze. Some held on until strong winds came. Yesterday, with the heavy rain, yet another bunch fell. Yet today, as we look out the window, still many leaves remain. When will they fall? I’m not sure, it may be when another gentle breeze blows or it may take another strong wind or rainstorm. What I do know, at some point in the near future, I will look out to barren trees. But one thing I know, that without exception, nearly every year, there will be a few leaves that stay attached through the winter. What makes the difference? I’m not really sure, but my guess is they were just a tad bit more attached to the life source. Somehow, they tapped into the root system, held a little more water, gained a little more strength and they held strong. A good idea. 1 Timothy 1:4 says “in the later times some will depart from the faith.” We are living in different times; times like never before. Church doors closed, online church became the norm and accountability became optional. Now we’re beginning to see the effect. Some are drifting away, enticed by convenience and pleasure. My admonition; remain faithful to righteousness and godliness, make God’s house a priority and no matter what, stay connected to Jesus, your Life source.