In their day they were the dynamic duo. One was the pastor, the other the assistant. One was charismatic, the other the work horse. Both could hit a softball further than about anyone else I’ve ever met. Get them on the same team and they were unbeatable. Both had incredible talent and million-dollar smiles. They and their wives merged at the perfect time, built a multi-million-dollar building, and took Calvary Tabernacle to a different dimension. In their day, they were an unstoppable force.
There are people who just go together. Laurel and Hardy, Jordan and Pippen, and Siskel and Ebert. For me, in the early 80’s it was Jim Larson and Jim Brannon. An earlier blog recounts the impact of Pastor James Larson on my life, but the story would be incomplete without Jim Brannon. He was the secret behind the sauce. While Pastor Larson beat the tambourine and preached vision, Jim Brannon was the ultimate second man. Pastor Larson envisioned it; James Brannon made it happen.
I am not sure that Calvary Tabernacle’s current building gets built without him. He was comfortable with, and understood his role as Robin, the second man. Whatever it took for the church to succeed, he stepped up. He wasn’t scared of hard work. I saw him in mud filled holes, working on pipes, and on sky-high scaffolding. He also wasn’t afraid of making hard decisions, he often had to be the bad guy, make the tough calls, and because he was willing, things got accomplished. Ministerially, he served the Indiana Youth Department, preached when Pastor Larson was gone, and filled any void when he saw a need.
Before coming to Indy, he was an important cog in the success of the church in Stockton California pastored by Kenneth Haney. He served in many roles, working with the youth, assisting with construction, and doing whatever was necessary to see that the church succeeded. His agenda never seemed to be about titles or accolades, it was about stepping up, getting the job done, and seeing the Kingdom moving forward.
Leaving Indy in the late 80’s, he and his wife would start their own church in Livermore California. As with many areas in his life, he had to dig it out, make sacrifices, and hard choices. Those choices often brought criticism, misunderstanding, and difficulties, yet he and his wife never wavered in their commitment to the message they lived and preached. I know their work in at Christian World Church in Livermore has come with great sacrifice, heartache and pain. Yet, meet them and both of them will greet you with the biggest smiles, have you laughing uncontrollably, and one would think they had never experienced pain or had their hearts broken. Mary and I see them as giants of the faith and some of the finest Christians we have ever met.
Thank you, Jim Brannon, for doing what so many aren’t willing to do, be the second man. You set the gold standard for the role. You have led with excellence as a pastor, dad, grandpa, and businessman. I admire and appreciate you, and I am thankful for your example. You have not only been someone that I look up to, but someone I wanted to emulate. Mary and I are proud to be able to call you and Janet our friends. Your reward in heaven will be greater than you could ever imagine.
As I reflect on back on important people in my life and ministry there is a man that impacted my life in such a profound way and is the reason I decided to walk with God. I was twelve when my parents left a small church and brought me to a large church in Indianapolis. The pastor at the time, N.A. Urshan, while a great man, was in my eyes, old. He was in his early fifties, his messages seemed to be over my head, and church seemed to be all about what I couldn’t do. It was just a couple years after we started attending that pastor Urshan left for a position in St. Louis and a new pastor was voted in. The new pastor instantly arrested my attention. He was 25, had a smile that wouldn’t quit, was energetic, 6’7”, played basketball, and had a passion for sports. I was 15, loved sports, especially basketball and needed a person of influence.
Within months of James Larson becoming my pastor, I had surrendered my life to Jesus, was filled with the Spirit, and my life was forever changed. He was fun, charismatic and creative, loved to worship, and his messages were convicting, yet relative to me as a teenager. I didn’t think that fun and God could go together, he showed me differently. In his daily life I saw his humanity, he didn’t mind mixing it up when playing basketball, in fact, he instigated some of the fights during the games, he was highly competitive. Playing softball, he was brash, and could hit a ball a country mile. His messages often brought up the Minnesota Twins baseball team or the Vikings football, all which appealed to me.
Once at a men’s retreat, there was a pontoon on a small pond where we were staying. It was there for people to dive off of and there was a sign that said, please don’t sink the pontoon. I still see 20 or so men with him on the boat and him yelling, “coming on guys, we just need a couple more and we’ll have this thing sunk.” That was my pastor. He loved God, but he loved fun.
He and his wife were incredible people of prayer. My passion and commitment to prayer is directly a result of watching their lives. Multiple times a year we would have prayer and fasting revivals and every night the place filled to capacity. Miracles happened, lives were changed, but most of all, those who set under James Larson developed a lifelong love for prayer. Beyond the prayer revivals, he would be in the prayer room before every Sunday service, crying out, circling the room, praying, and pleading for God to move in the service. His passion for prayer was contagious, the place would be packed, so much so that people would be waiting in line to get in the prayer room. It was commitment to prayer that fueled my love for prayer, my ministry, and caused me to teach so passionate about the need to have a daily prayer life.
One word described his love for worship, tambourine. Leaving the prayer room, he would immediately head to the platform, grab his tambourine and lead 1500 people in worship. He loved the presence of God and showed others how to do it decently and in order. He had an uncanny ability to follow the Spirit, could easily call an audible in the middle of a service, and his messages nearly always had crowds in the altars, moved by the power of the Word. His worship made me a worshipper and someone who understood as a leader, I was to lead in worship.
James Larson had vison like no one I’ve met. He had the faith to build a new building when the church wasn’t sure there was enough money, brought the name Calvary Tabernacle to the forefront of Indianapolis, and reached the community in some of the most creative ways seen. He rented Market Square arena for a service, had life changing crusades, and did things that were so innovative. Who will ever forget the campaign, “Go to Heaven Indy.” He rented multiple billboards all over the city, had commercials on many local stations, and everyone had a “Go to Heaven Indy” bumper sticker.
He also understood there needed to be fun times for the church family. I fondly remember fall outings, church picnics, and spaces he created for the church family to make memories. His love for doing things outside of the box, for doing things that were original, is what gave me my vision and creativity as a pastor. He taught me to be original, not a copy, to do what no one else was doing, and it’s what propelled the many incredible events we did for nearly 20 years at Life.
Though he was pastor of Calvary Tabernacle for just ten short years, he is the reason I would go on to be in the ministry. Though his direct influence in my life was short, I’ve always considered him my pastor. He was part of the passion behind my teaching at Indiana Bible College and one of the men I tried to emulate as I pastored at Life Connection.
I saw him recently and though he had had just turned 70 and health not quite as good, nothing had changed. When he saw me, he jumped out of his seat with that same big smile, bellowed out my name, and hugged me like a big bear. Though he was never Mary’s pastor, she got the same huge hug. Then came the questions about my parents, my sister, and my kids. You would have thought I was his best friend. I think that’s how everyone feels after coming in contact with him.
Thank you, James Larson, for being one of my heroes of the faith, for teaching me to value prayer and the Word, and being a man of great influence on my ministry. I will forever be grateful.
For the last five nights I have wept nearly uncontrollably. The reason, watching an unpredicted revival taking place in Gainesville, Georgia at Free Chapel. It was supposed to be just a one-off Sunday evening service, but at the end of the service, after an incredible move of God, an impromptu decision was made to go another night. That one-off has now turned into five consecutive nights, with no end in sight as God’s presence keeps moving, people continue to stream to the altars, and their online audience continues to increase. It’s a revival of the old-fashioned revival!
While many churches are emphasizing shallow services that won’t scare or offend visitors, this week Free Chapel has been impacting hundreds of thousands as they invite God to do a sovereign move in their midst. It seems they have decided to follow the Spirit, preach a message few preach anymore, Jesus is coming, and invite people to come to an altar.
This should be sending shock waves through the religious community; it is going against what many don’t want to happen in church and some feel can only happen if you follow their rules. People are arriving over an hour to get seats, guest and young people are literally running to the front, and people are lingering in the altars for over an hour. There is emotion, tears, repentance, and people receiving the Spirit as in the book of Acts. Several nights this week I have had my face buried in the carpet of our family room, convicted by the Word and overwhelmed by His presence.
This is what Mary and I envisioned, prayed for, and desired to bring to Life for nearly 20 years. It was our passion. We wanted our kids and our community to see an indescribable yet undeniable move of God’s Spirit. We wanted people to see, taste, and experience a sovereign move of God that wasn’t about religious traditions and rules, not something manipulated or worked up by a worship team, simply a church allowing the Spirit of the Lord to have liberty. My tears have been an uncontrollable mix of joy and sadness. Joy that it is happening and I am getting to see and experience it, yet sadness that my kids aren’t engaged in it and that we didn’t get to bring it to Life like we so desperately wanted too.
I know writing an article like this will bring opportunity for some on both sides to discredit what is happening. Yes, Jentezen is human and his message may not be just like yours. Yes, his church has problems, but I have yet to find a church that doesn’t. But I do know God is doing something amazing through a man who is hungry for people to experience God’s glory. I know there are those who want everything controlled and will dismiss what is happening. They will point out to some bad experience they had at “one of those churches” and because they did, no one should ever experience something that is not sanitized and controlled. I also know this, there is a world that is desperately hungry for something authentic and they are tuning in. This week’s live online services at Free Chapel have nearly 50,000 watching each night. Each rebroadcast is being viewed by over 100,000. Watch parties are starting in states throughout the U.S. and churches are inviting people to their buildings and having church with Free Chapel as it is happening live.
This is what I want to you to know. I’m hearing messages on the coming of the Lord like I haven’t heard since I was a young man. I’m seeing people come to altars like I haven’t seen in years, and I’m seeing the Spirit being poured out like it was in the book of Acts. Interested? If so, check it out for yourself. Go to https://www.youtube.com/@freechapel. Once there, you can see when the next live broadcast is, watch any rebroadcast of the revival services, or catch a message from the series on Signs of the Times. While this blog may not be for everyone, I hope it blesses some. Just trying to reach one more for Jesus.
We’re three years out from 2020 and for some reason my mind recently wondered back to one of the most challenging years of our ministry. As for many, 2020 was a roller coaster for us personally and ministerially. We had just finished phase two at our church campus and there was tremendous momentum. The first month of January, when weather can make attendance a challenge, we were having regular crowds of over 250. Though we had just finished our new auditorium, crowds were swelling so much that we had to order additional chairs. Services were dynamic and powerful, God’s presence was rich and deep, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit.
Like many, I had a twenty-twenty vision for 2020, unfortunately, like most, I never saw COVID in my twenty-twenty vision. By April I was standing on an empty stage trying to preach like I was preaching to 300 but in truth, I was preaching to three cameras. We reopened the campus in May with two services and spaced seating but people were fearful and crowds were sparce. Slowly people began to return but church and life was different, people came late and left immediately, momentum was lost. I spent a lot of time setting at breakfast tables talking people through the challenges and fears. I realized that COVID was not only changing the way we did church; it was impacting relationships. People were hesitant to get together, they were distant, unattached, and confused.
As summer came and we were trying to figure out how to reconnect people, our family went through one of our darkest seasons, we found out depression is real, even if you are a person of faith. This moment helped us understand the importance of getting people reconnected. We navigated through that dark period and as fall came we began to focus on reconnecting people. Many had got lost as they were processing COVID. It was then we decided to do something out of the box; to make a personal house call to every member who called Life home.
From the outset of starting Life, one of Mary and I’s priorities was to make sure every person felt important. We had been a part of churches where there were clicks, where money meant preferential treatment, and a few got time with the pastor. We were determined to do our best to value and invest in everyone. It didn’t matter if you worked at a warehouse or skyscraper, you mattered. Through the years we set at breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables with everyone and nearly every Sunday took someone out for lunch and listened to their story. So, with this backdrop, we set out to make a visit to everyone who called Life home.
Christmas was coming, so we bought over 150 tins of Christmas cookies, ordered a bunch of Christmas cards, and began our journey. We didn’t quite realize the endeavor we had taken on. At the time, nearly 350 to 400 people were calling Life Connections home, and they lived all over central Indiana. For over three weeks, for multiple nights, we would hop in our SUV and make deliveries. We’d show up unannounced, ring door bells and hand people cookies and a Christmas card. Some weren’t home, so we’d leave them on their porch, but for the many that were, the expression they had when they opened the door and saw us was priceless. There were tears, hugs, but mostly big smiles. Many were shocked and I don’t know how many times we heard, “we can’t believe that you would come to our house.” We’d spend a few minutes with them, sometimes pray for them, and then off to the next family. We may have missed a couple of homes, if you are one, we apologize, but through the process we came to realize was that more than the cookies or the card, the gift we really gave was showing up, demonstrating that we cared about them, that they were important…that they mattered.
A church is not a corporation, it’s not programs, it’s not an agenda; it’s family. Some have good stories, some not so much. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are highly educated, some didn’t’ finish high school but often have more common sense. Some are introverts and some are the life of the party, but all want to be a part of the party, or at least invited.
What made Jesus so amazing is He made everyone important, something that the Pharisees never figured out. They preached one thing but lived another. They pretended to minister and care for people but had no personal interest in them. It’s what turned people off to religion and it’s a pattern in many churches today. Ministries that preach and have processes, but no real interest in spending personal time with people. Jesus took time for children, the broken, the widow, and hurting families. He went home with the sinners like Zacchaeus, across a sea to touch one man filled with a demon, and to Samaria for one woman who was going to a well alone. What Jesus preached is what he lived. If he did, shouldn’t we? Everyone matters.
It’s my current morning ritual, my grandson Carter and I taking a walk around Little Circle Road. It’s something he gets excited about, and I must confess, it’s something I look forward to also. This new ritual has brought several observations. The first is that I know where we’re going, but Carter does not. He is dependent on me. He loves the walk, but he isn’t really concerned about the destination. He enjoys the walk with me, trusts that I know where we’re going, and that I will get him home.
The second thing I’ve noticed is that what is little to me is big to Carter. Leaving our garage, Carter either crawls or wants my hand as he crosses over the little edge between our garage and the driveway.Every time we come to a crack in a sidewalk where it is uneven, once again, he either reaches for my hand or bends to crawl over it. What is small to me is immense to him. Here of late though, things have changed, he’s walked enough that he is now confident that he can get over what used to seem overwhelming. He slows, steps over them, and sometimes looks up at me with great pride. When he does, I make sure he knows I’m proud of him and his accomplishment.
The third observation is two-fold. First are dogs, big or small, loud bark or annoying yelp, scare Carter. To him, our neighbors’ dogs look like giants, they’re scary, and bring him fear, but me, I know the dogs, I know they’re all bark and no bight, and that they are actually friendly. Over time, I’ve helped Carter become comfortable with what he was fearful of, he now pets the giants. The second, things that are irrelevant to me, are treasures to Carter. Every trip Carter picks up multiple twigs, leaves and rocks and hands them to me. Maybe I should keep them, but most times, I discard them a few steps later. His valuables aren’t valuable to me.
The final reflection I’ve observed is that what seems like a small walk to me is a big walk to Carter. Invariably, at some point he stops, looks up at me, and raises his hands, he wants me to carry him. Like ice cream on a hot day, he melts my heart, and I gladly pick him up and carry him. Sometimes I carry him all the way home, other times he just wants a little break, he’s just a tad tired and needs a little rest. The journey that is a cake walk to me can be exhausting to Carter.
These experiences have given me some great insight to what it must be like for God dealing with me. Like Carter, I don’t know what a day will bring, but I’ve come to trust that Jesus knows my journey, and if I trust Him, he will get me home. Next, like Carter, there have been many obstacles in my life that looked enormous, but to God, they were small things. I’ve cried and he’s taken my hand and helped me through them. Now, after walking life’s road a while, I look back and see what was big then, is small now. Also, like Carter, I’ve faced my share of what I thought were giants, they looked big, barked loud, and intimidated me, but as I’ve walked with God, He’s taught me to, fear not, He is with me. Finally, as Carter, I get weary on my journey, feeling like I just don’t have the strength to go any further. It’s then, I’ve learned to reach out and up to Him, and He carries me. It may be what seems like an insurmountable storm, a weak moment, or just exhaustion, but God gladly wants to help me through.
In closing, my walks have caused me to reflect on Matthew 18, where Jesus picks up a child and says to the crowd, “truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” I’ll be honest with you; I don’t know if I have ever grasped what Jesus was trying to teach us like I have over the past few months. As I’ve walked with Carter, I’ve seen myself and my journey with God. I’m trying to embrace the journey, to see my storms as He does, to understand that what are treasures on earth are worthless in heaven, and to trust Jesus to get me home. My walks with Carter have taught me I need to work on becoming more like a little child.
Part of the reason I love living in Indiana is because of the four seasons and the taste each season brings. If you’ve never set out on your back porch or patio with a saltshaker and ate a tomato, I’m not sure you have really lived. There is nothing quite like eating a tomato like an apple, with the juices running everywhere. If you’re not a tomato fan, then grab a slab of watermelon and you can experience the same basic pleasure. You can even put a dash of salt on it if it suits your fancy. Mary and I always anticipate summer, especially the end of July through September when we make it a weekly ritual to pick up a half dozen ears of corn from a farmer just east of town. They’re picked daily, along with tomatoes and cucumbers, and set on an old wagon. No better dinner than a slab of butter, a little salt and fresh corn on the cob, a few sliced tomatoes, some cucumbers in vinegar, and a little cottage cheese or a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.
As good as summer is, fall may be even better. We’ve already had a few cool nights and Jake and Ris have got us started on one of our fall traditions, s’mores. I’m not the biggest fan, but the rest of the family can’t get enough of a gooey marshmallow and some melted chocolate, setting on a graham cracker. Again, I’d say you haven’t’ really lived if you haven’t licked some sticky, gooey, s’more off a finger or two. Fall brings incredible colors, and as the trees begin to turn, it’s a sure sign that it’s time for some fall favorites. Every year our church held a chili cookoff, it was the biggest event of the year. Nothing said fall like the Coffey Grounds, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, hot apple cider, hot chocolate, thirty or forty varieties of chili, and a hayride. For us it also meant the start of soup season, one of my favorites, and a sign that winter was on its way.
With winter it, means soon snow will fly, and again a chance to experience another unique Indiana food, snow cream. It was one of our kids’ favorites. When the BIG storm comes, the snow is deep and still fresh, it means snow cream. My tradition is, that no matter how cold the temperature or how deep the snow, I go out in the back yard with no coat, short sleeves, and bare feet to scoop up some fresh snow. My reward? A little vanilla, a little sugar, and snow means lots of laughter and some ice cream you’re likely never get to experience if you live down south. Of course, you eventually get weary of the cold and snow and by April you’re ready for some warm weather and spring.
Spring brings an array of colorful flowers, mulberries, and blueberries. If you’re a golfer and you’ve never played a few holes of golf without purple dye on your fingertips, you missed a real treat. A tad sweet, a little sour, they provide just what you need around the seventh or eighth hole, especially if the golf ball isn’t going so straight. By the end of spring strawberries are ready to be picked. We head to Spencer’s You Pick where they let you eat as you pick. I think they lose money on us. It’s the one day of the year when my entire day food choice is one thing, strawberries. After they’re picked you know what’s next, strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, or just strawberries and a little bit of chocolate and you are living in Indiana luxury.
I’m sure as some of you are reading this are saying, we’ll you haven’t tasted whatever it is in your neck of the woods, and you may be right, but you’ll be hard pressed to pull me away from Noblesville, Indiana and the four seasons of fine dining. I think I’ll grab the saltshaker and napkin, go outside on the patio, and enjoy a fresh picked tomato.
Three weeks ago, Mary and I set at a table at the Lahaina Fish House. We relaxed enjoying a gentle breeze as we watched the South Pacific waves crashing alongside our dinner table. We enjoyed some ciabatta bread with salted butter before Mary’s tilapia and vegetables came out along with my Greek salad. We finished off the lunch with an amazing piece of key lime pie and then strolled down the street stopping at a myriad of souvenir shops. We walked along the shoreline, admiring the yachts, sailboats, and cruise ships. We watched and listened to the laughter as kids played on the Banyan Tree in the middle of a courtyard, it had been an incredible day. Little did we know we would be one of the last to enjoy Lahaina and its storied history. We, along with the world, have watched how in hours, fire ravaged a beautiful town, took countless lives, and destroyed a hundred and fifty years of history. Fire shows no mercy. It doesn’t respect the wealthy or the poor, the educated or uneducated; it doesn’t care about your ethnicity. Fire destroys and purges everything in its path.
Years ago, while working at a Christian college, we sponsored a senior class and got to travel with them on their senior trip to Gatlinburg. We wanted to connect with them, make memories, so Mary stayed with the girls in their cabin, and I with the guys in there’s. After the first couple of days, they came to us and told us that they had pooled their money together and got us our own cabin. We were overwhelmed and grateful. We gathered our stuff, moved into the cabin, and as we entered, we noticed the cabins name, “No Problems.” It was a beautiful cabin, backing up to the woods, a spacious hot tub, and an amazing fireplace. The name and the cabin connected with us, so much so, that for years we would go back, often taking our kids to “No Problems.”
I’ll never forget in 2016 as we watched the news and saw the horrific fires that had broken out in the Smokies. I remember reading one particular story mentioning that Black Bear Ridge had been hit extremely hard. Instantly, I recalled that was where No Problems was located. I looked for the rental on the internet, but nothing came up, and I had a sinking feeling that No Problems had fell victim to the fire. The next visit we made to the area we took a drive up to Black Bear Ridge, when we rounded the corner, my fears were realized, No Problems was gone, and the forest behind It bare. Fire shows no mercy, it doesn’t value your memories.
While fires are terrible, there is one caveat to a fire. It purges. Though everything is lost, invariably life comes back, and often it comes back stronger. Forest fires purge the dead, eliminates the weak, and destroys the diseased. After a forest fire, growth is new, strong, and vibrant. In Gatlinburg, new cabins are replacing the old and new forest growth is emerging. In Lahaina, while it is abysmal now, the loss of life and possessions horrific, in time, new life will come. Beautiful buildings will replace the old, businesses will come back stronger, and there will be a new energy and excitement in Lahaina. While nothing will replace the past and its history, a new future lies ahead.
I share all this because there is an important spiritual principle to be garnered. When the Spirit fell in the book of Acts it was described as fire. It was a purging fire. It expunged out sin, weakness, and failure. Eleven disciples, who swore to be loyal to Jesus at the Last Supper, had failed miserably, and now, they sit in an Upper Room trying to piece life back together. They, along with 120 others, gather waiting on God’s promise. When it came, it came as fire, and it changed everything. Weakness was gone, boldness came, and a Holy power empowered them. It’s just days later that they stand boldly before the Sanhedrin, refusing to bow, and it’s a few chapters later they are described as people who have turned the world upside down. What happened? What changed? A fire. The Holy Spirit. It purged out the old and brought vibrant life!
Feeling weary? Feeling overwhelmed? Pray for a Holy fire to hit your life. It will change you forever. It will eradicate your past and bring you a vibrantly bright future. Discouraged by the direction of our country? Pray that God sends His fire, the Holy Spirit. It cleanses, it purges, it brings new life, and it makes all things new. God send us a book of Acts fire again.
Our recent travels took us to Maui. Before we left, we asked several who had been to give us some recommendations of what to see and do while we were there. The suggestions were as varied as a Ryan’s Buffet. Some suggested restaurants, others gave us sights that we shouldn’t miss. Nearly every list had one item on it, take the Road to Hana.
So, we did. We may be strangely wired, but I must say, it wasn’t for us. The eight-hour drive had a few beautiful views, the Garden of Eden was nice, and there were some scenic waterfalls, but overall, we were not impressed. Mary was not overwhelmed with the “best banana bread ever”, most of the stops were crowded to see much about nothing, there were long lines to cross one lane bridges, and the drive through the foliage got old after a while. And just so you know, the best part of the going to Hana is the journey, not Hana itself. After taking the Road to Hana I can now say “we’ve been there and done that, but we don’t have to do it again.”
That evening, after returning from our journey to Hana, we got a late text from someone with a final submission. It said, grab a sweet tea from McDonalds in Kaanapali, it’s like some you’ve never tasted. Take the western road, go North to Kapalua, and then continue to Kahului. The next day we grabbed breakfast, hit a few souvenir shops, and then Mary suggested we try the trip recommended in the text. Up to this point some suggestions had been singles, some strike outs, but this was a grand slam. First, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, the McDonald’s tea was amazing. I don’t know what was in it, but we went back for more before we left.
The road to Kahului was stunning! Some of the most incredible and amazing views we have ever seen. Around nearly every turn, and there were many, was another breathe-taking view. Indescribable views of the South Pacific, amazing hues of blue waters, beautiful mountains, small villages tucked in small valleys, scenic bays, and a breath-taking rock at Kahakuloa Bay. It was an incredible journey.
What our friend did not tell us was two things. First, the road was not for the faint of heart, and if I knew what I know after taking the road, I probably would not have done it. Many one lane bridges, but also several areas where there was only room for one car. More than once we had to back down the road, find a wide spot in the mountain, so the oncoming traffic could pass. It also worked the other way, several times other vehicles had to back up to where there was a wide spot so we could get through.
The second thing that we weren’t aware of until later was that by going on certain parts of the road, we were violating our car rental policy, there was a red box area that said, “do not travel.” Thankfully we made it, got to see some astonishing views, and have a story to tell. If you are thinking about taking the chance, cover your own insurance and make sure you take the north to east route and not the west to south. You definitely want to be on the inside lane and not the outside!
My life lessons from our trip to Maui? There were several. First, like the Road to Hana, the roads advertised and promoted by others are not always the best roads. Too many times the bright lights and shiny packages turn out to be pandora’s boxes. Second, though difficult, sometimes life’s greatest moments are often found on obscure roads that few are willing to take. Finally, if you want to experience the awesome and incredible you have to be willing to take chances and go where few are willing to go. Take the road less traveled.
Jesus made seven statements while hanging on the cross. We marvel as He says, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” and we are overwhelmed with His final words, “it is finished.” Yet for me, the most difficult and painful words spoken are when He says, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Several translations translate it as, my God, my God, why have you abandoned me. Of all the recorded words of Jesus, I see no words more painful than these. Forsaken. Abandoned. Both have a common definition, deserted and helpless. In Jesus’ final moments on this earth, as he surveyed the heaven and earth, he felt one of life’s most challenging feelings, abandonment. A week earlier He had paraded into Jerusalem to the cheers of thousands, disciples had committed to loyalty, but as he hangs on a tree, disciples have deserted, the cheers have turned to jeers, and His earthly body is reeling in pain. He is alone. Alone on a cross. Alone with the pain. Alone.
There is nothing quite like feeling abandoned, deserted, and helpless. Imagine the emotions of Joseph, as he is sold by his brothers to gypsies. The unbelief, the hurt. Pain in the heart is like no other. There is absolutely no hurt like being abandoned by family. Incredibly, he not only survives, but thrives. No bitterness. No anger. No self-pity. His life is a roller coaster of betrayal, but through it all, he keeps his spirit right and rises to power before men and God. In the end, his spirit shines bright as he is reunited with his brothers who had abandoned him. When many would get even, Joseph gave grace, saying, “what you meant for harm, God has meant for good.”
The Bible makes it clear that not every time we are forsaken will it turn out well. John the Baptist, related to Jesus, and his forerunner, finds himself in prison, days away from his head being severed and served to Herod’s wife. As he is waiting, he sends word to Jesus and asks, “are You the Coming One, or are we to look for someone else?” Does anyone else besides me sense that John is feeling doubt, feeling abandoned? Hey Jesus, we grew up together. I announced your arrival. I baptized you. Now, I’m in jail, my sentence has been pronounced, are you not going to help? The last words John hears from Jesus are “tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5 ESV). John, you’re on your own, miracles are happening and I’m telling everyone how amazing you are but there will be no deliverance. The story screams of the crushing reality that there are those who will see their life play out in disappointment and the feeling that God has abandoned you. Up for more?
May I remind you of Paul, the great apostle. The writer of thirteen books, fourteen if you are inclined to believe he wrote Hebrews. He is a three-time traveler of missionary journeys. The superstar of the New Testament, but do you get the sense there have been moments when he questioned, where are you God, or this is my reward for preaching the gospel? In 2 Corinthians 11, the Corinthian church gets a litany of all Paul has gone through for the sake of the gospel. For five verses he lays out his feelings of being abandoned and betrayed by men and God. His list includes imprisonments, countless beatings, five times taking 39 lashes, beatings by rods, stoning’s, three shipwrecks, eight times in incredible danger, hunger, thirst, starvation, and nearly freezing to death. Beyond this, Paul will spend five years in jail. In 2 Timothy 4 we get a taste of what prison life has been like. Writing to Timothy, he makes him aware that, not only has he been alone in prison, but those who were brothers, so called friends, had abandoned him also. You can hear the pain as he tells Timothy, Demas deserted me, Alexander has done me much harm, and that no one came to stand with him at his trial, I was alone. How does it end? Not the way we would want. No riding off into the sunset as a hero or spending his final years in Cabo on a beach. While no definitive history is written, it is likely, that since he was a Roman citizen, he did not die by crucifix, but was beheaded.
The lives of Joseph, John the Baptist, and Paul, along with many others, are filled with difficulty, hurt, and betrayal. Their lives make us aware that even when we are serving God, disappointment comes, and life can feel seemingly unfair. There will be hurt, brokenness may run deep, and it’s entirely possible to feel as though God has forsaken you. While this may not leave you encouraged, know that if you are struggling and questioning where God is, you are not alone. Feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and feeling alone are often a part of a follower of Christ lives. In fact, it is wholly possible that if you are dealing with any of these feelings, you are not out of the will of God, but right in the middle of His will and purpose.
The writer of Hebrews gives us this to lean in to, that even when we feel abandoned and alone, “that He himself said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” In this life we may be abandoned. Family may hurt or betray you, friends may abandon you, there will be hurt, but God has not forgotten you and an eternal destiny where there is no sickness, sorrow, abandonment, hurt, or pain awaits beyond the grave.
Who knew! One of my new favorite sports, pickleball, is making news, and it seems some have a vendetta against it. If you are not aware, pickleball is a hybrid between ping pong, badminton, and tennis. The court is larger than a ping pong table but smaller than a tennis court, and you use wood, plastic, or fiberglass paddles with what is basically a wiffle ball. Our family has been hooked for a couple of years, bought the equipment, and we love to get out on nice Indiana evenings and play a few games. The sport, which until recently had been a niche, began to gain momentum around 2020 with an estimated four million players. It has exploded with new estimates suggesting that over 23 million people are playing pickleball, a 150% increase in three years. If you’re a player, this explains why it’s become so difficult to find a court! But some of the news of late is not good, there are those who are right down irate about pickleball.
First, I was reading a report on noise pollution and how it is increasing in major cities and suburbs. Reading the list of noise complaints, I wasn’t surprised by the obvious factors, noises such as loud neighbors, barking dogs, and car alarms. It also listed the volume of traffic and accidents, but then came this, the number of outdoor pickleball courts and players. I was shocked! Pickleball, a noise pollution issue? It is a problem, and some people are seriously annoyed. The internet is filled with articles with people fuming and groups with disdain for pickleball. Communities are writing ordinances, neighborhood HOA’s are setting policies, and there are loads of websites suggesting how to curb the noise created by pickle ballers. They want noiseless pickleballs, carbon fiber or padded paddles, sound panels around the courts, and restricted pickleball hours. These people are serious, and they are radically charged about stopping pickleball noise.
The second issue, and one that is a bit disturbing if you are a pickleball player, has to do with the healthcare industry. It seems that pickleball injuries are creating an extraordinary amount of financial drain on insurance companies. One company, United Health, recently reported a higher-than-expected frequency of hip replacements, knee surgeries, and other procedures and believes many injuries are due to pickleball. One company is projecting that pickleball injuries are going to cost healthcare companies between 250 and 500 million dollars in 2023 alone. I am afraid they won’t let this continue. Can you see it coming? Name, address, email, do you smoke, do you drink, and do you play pickleball? Oh, you play pickleball, there will be a 25% fee added to your policy.
I say enjoy the sport. Exercise is good, good for the body and good for the mind. Being with friends and family, having fun and laughing, is as good as the exercise. If you don’t play, pick up some paddles, a couple of pickleballs, and get to a court. Do so wisely and considerately. Warm up, stretch before you play and if you play in an area where there is housing, be thoughtful. Finally, be watchful of trash talkers, most often they’re all bluff with no stuff, and watch out for ambidextrous players, they change the way you play the game.
As most know, Mary and I are big advocates of prayer, it’s been a staple of our ministry from its outset. Prayer, in its simplest form, is simply communicating with God. In some ways prayer is easy but in other ways it can feel very complex. Prayer involves intellect, emotion, and faith. Most often it is done in our normal language, but some have learned to pray in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is one of the most powerful forms of praying because the Spirit takes our flesh out of the picture, and we begin to pray and intercede in ways we wouldn’t have the courage to by ourselves. Another critical element to having success in prayer, yet is often undervalued, is the importance of listening.
We must remember that effective communication, whether interpersonal or with God, is two-way interaction. While many are good at interpersonal relationships, I am afraid that it’s a lost art when it comes to communicating with God. When we pray, many mark out a time, find their prayer place, and whether kneeling, setting, or walking, begin talking. We give thanks, make request, worship, but once we’ve finished our conversation, we feel as though we have given God His allotted time, we move on. There are two problems with this form of communication or prayer.
First, real communication isn’t giving someone an allotted amount of time, it is ongoing. If I scheduled only fifteen minutes, a half-hour, or even an hour with my spouse and then I moved on and didn’t communicate with her for the rest of the day, it would be disastrous. It’s cold, empty, and selfish. Healthy communication is ongoing communication. This is an imperative in personal relationships, and it is critical to having a successful relationship with God. If a relationship is going to be vibrant and healthy there must be ongoing access to one another. I encourage you today, do this with your spouse, make it a priority with your kids, but also make it a precedent that God and prayer will be more than an appointment on your daily schedule. Begin giving Him access to your mind and heart throughout the day.
The second issue of importance when it comes to having healthy communication is that it is two-way interaction. It takes both talking and listening and when it comes to prayer, way too often, it is a one-way conversation. Too many of our prayers involve simply acknowledging God, telling Him we love Him, giving Him our list, and then we’re done, off to the tasks of the day. May I ask this? When is the last time you have given God space in prayer to talk to you? When is the last time you’ve simply set quietly and listened? Would it probably not be good to give God as much time to talk to you as you talk to Him? How weary do you become when you meet with someone, and they do all the talking? They talk and talk, and when they’re finished, the meeting is over. Do you ever wonder if God feels that way about you? You do all the talking, and then you are off about your day, this is not spiritually healthy. Take time to invite God to speak to you and listen.
I am reminded of Job, a godly and righteous man, a man of prayer, a person much like many who are reading this. He made time for God, acknowledged Him, sacrificed, prayed, worshipped, but it appears his relationship with God was a one-way one. It wasn’t until trouble hit his life that Job had time to listen to God, and even then, it took nearly forty chapters before God was allowed to speak. Notice, when chaos hit his life, he talked to his wife and his friends. In fact, he talked, counseled, maybe some would call it having therapy sessions, with four men for most of the book. They would advise, he would respond. This went on for days! Finally, after all the banter from the so-called experts, Job allows God to speak. It doesn’t take God long to get Job’s attention, to clarify the situation. A couple of chapters, 77 questions, and Job has a new perspective of who he is, the purpose of his trial, and who God is. What couldn’t be fixed by counseling, his wife, his friends, and thirty-seven chapters of human discourse is solved by God in less than an hour.
I mention all of this because the past few years have been some of the most challenging in my life. I knew my default. When trouble came, I knew to go to prayer, to ask God, to trust Him, pray the scripture, speak in faith, and wait for answers. Days turned to weeks, weeks into months, and I found my prayer time had become repetitive, monotonous, and empty. Same prayer, same faith, and the same silence. It was only one day when I quieted myself that I felt God speak to my spirit, he simply said, “are you done?” My prayers had been one-way, I had spoken much, but listened little. Much like Job, I had talked and talked, but not given God any space to speak. In that moment, my prayer stopped, or at least I stopped talking. No more asking, faith speaking, or empty worship, just listening. I picked up my Bible, and He spoke. I listened to music, and He spoke. I sat quietly, and He spoke. I listened in my spirit, and I sensed Him leading me, suggesting books to read, and when I did, He spoke. I’m in a season of prayer right now where prayer looks very different. My mouth is shut but my heart, mind and ears are open. I am listening, and like Job, I am hearing and seeing God in ways like I’ve never experienced.
As I close, may I ask, how is your prayer life? Does it feel empty and void of life and passion? If so, maybe God is asking you what He asked Job, and what I feel He asked me, “are you done? Are you ready to listen?” If you are, and if you are willing, get ready to see a completely new perspective of who you are, what is going on in your life, and how amazingly awesome God is.
One of the more amazing human interest stories has been unfolding over the last few weeks and its had me transfixed. It involved the four children who survived a plane crash and then 40 days in the Amazon Rain Forest in Columbia. What makes this story, and their survival, even more remarkable was their ages, thirteen, nine, four and one. In conditions that would be difficult for adults to survive, remarkably, these four kids did.
When news of the crash hit, the Columbian government immediately sent troops in to look for survivors. They were able to locate the plane, found three adults who had died, but there was no sign of the children. The search eventually moved from days to weeks and with each passing day hope of their survival waned. Planes flew overhead, men and dogs searched, and helicopters hovered. They used all types of communication trying to connect with the kids, simple pamphlets were dropped overhead and a voice recording of their grandmother blasted from helicopter speakers. What kept the search active was occasional evidence that the kids were alive; a ribbon, small footprints in mud, or a scrap of food that had been discarded. Finally, on the 40th day, all four children were found. They were in relatively good shape, a few cuts, some bug bites, and obviously very hungry. The thirteen-year-old, Lesly, account of the adventures gives us insight as to how they survived.
First, it’s important to know that the kid’s family were indigenous. These kids were natives to the land, grew up around and were accustomed to difficulty, and knew some basic necessities for survival. Someone had invested in educating them in how to live in their world. Lesly had knowledge of the land, the environment, and some awareness of danger, both of people and animals. She somehow was able to navigate the rest of the kids to safe spaces for 40 days. We’ve learned that the area of the crash was filled with venomous snakes, panthers, leopards, and many other precarious animals, yet throughout the entire ordeal, not one animal harmed them. She was conscious of needing to be careful of men. The area was known to be a place where drug dealers and gangs would hide. During the 40 days, though the soldiers didn’t see the children, the kids saw them. Lesly would tell the smaller children to be silent and cover the mouth of the baby until they had left the area. There was 50lbs. of flour on the plane and Lesly was able make meals with it. She knew which jungle fruit was safe, and though the food was meager, they were able to survive. Finally, there are conflicting reports to the timing of their mother’s death, one account says she died instantly, while another says she survived four days. The account of the mom living four days says her last words were, “I’m dying, but someone will come and help you.” If true, what powerful last words of hope.
There are so many life and spiritual lessons to be gleaned from this amazing story. We see the value of a godly heritage and realize we must not take it for granted. We learn the importance of spiritually educating our kids, that if we prepare them, they can navigate the difficult world culture and climate they have been placed in. While it true that our kids are growing up in unprecedented times, this encounter gives us evidence that if we train up our children in the ways they should go, they can, not only survive, but thrive. These kids survived nearly impossible conditions, without any adult help, because they had been prepared.
Whether true or not, the supposed last words of their mom, that someone would come and rescue them, are words we must remind our kids of consistently. They must know that there is someone who can help them, that there is a helper, Jesus, His Holy Spirit, that can rescue them, protect them, and guide them to safety. Train up your children in the ways they should go.
Watching and trying to wrap my intellect around so much that is happening in our society right now, my mind went to Ephesians six where Paul warns the church in Ephesus that they were not battling against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness. It’s a warning that there is another world beyond us, a world where there is spiritual war transpiring, and it’s real. It’s Satan and the third of the fallen angels fighting a losing war against God and the two-thirds of angels that fight with Him. This warning wasn’t just for the church in Ephesus, but for ages to come.
I have no doubt that this world, the one we live in today, is experiencing this darkness, and that a portion of society has tapped into the darkness around and above us. It’s obvious by Hollywood’s incredible fascination and ability to bring mind-bogglingly dark themes to our minds, hearts, and homes. I have no doubt that they have tapped into, become enamored, and captivated by evil. To be able to create such vivid, detailed, vile, and demonic creatures and bring us such intense violence and evil concept to our eyes can only come from those who have tapped into darkness. Beyond Hollywood, our world is being forced to accept the immoral and repulsive values of a few. The depravity that Paul described in so many of his books has captured much of academia, corporate offices, and governments entities. It has moved into ordinary citizenry, to the point we don’t want to turn on the news, for fear we will see another demented person has shot up a restaurant, mall, or public place. Our major cities are war zones and entire streets are filled with zombie-like men and women, so strung out on drugs, that people are having to leave to find safe havens. The picture I’ve painted is dark, but it is not hopeless. I believe there is hope.
I believe that though Satan, his angels, and those who have embraced his wickedness are having incredible success, that there is, as Elisha said in 2 Kings 6:16, a spiritual army that is much larger than the one we’re feeling overwhelmed by. I believe darkness is limited and that God and the two-thirds of His angels are far superior and ready to engage and take over this battle. I believe our world is desperate to see and experience it! I believe that there are young men and women who are coming on to life’s stage that have been anointed and put in place, for such a time as this. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul is preparing a young Timothy, and I believe young men of today, for the last days and the perilous times that would come. He described the wickedness and baseness of their hour, but I note that his greatest fear and warning was there would be religion that had a form of godliness, but no power. Understanding Paul’s concern, it makes it imperative, that we pray for those who are stepping onto life’s spiritual stage today. We must pray that they have courage, that they will step out of conformity of religion, and take us where many are afraid to go. We must pray that they have the resolve to step away from traditional, model, and franchise Christianity, that they will lean into their anointing and calling; that they go rogue! They must tap into the power of God, and gain access to the two-thirds of the principalities and power that is around them. I am absolutely confident that there is a realm of untapped spiritual power. I’ve tasted it and seen a sampling, but I long for, and believe there is so much more.
There is a power in God and a force of angels that are at their disposal that is as real as the darkness their world is experiencing. I know because I have tasted it. Once I was in a Sunday service that was as bland and as normal as could be, but suddenly, without warning, with no manipulation, no musical hype, no cheerleading preacher, an overpowering move of God sent me and the entire audience to our knees, overwhelmed by God, I crawled off the floor spiritually exhausted some six hours later. I often reflect on a conference that Mary and I attended where we experienced God’s overwhelming presence so strongly that we couldn’t do anything but fall to our knees. I remember hours later, well after midnight, rising from the floor, forever changed. At Life Connections, where we pastored for 20 years, we had many Saturday night prayer services when God’s presence moved into the room, and we would be arrested by God for three or four hours. I sensed it again at Asbury this spring.
These are but a few of the samplings that we have experienced, and I believe that we only scratched the surface of God’s power, and that God has so much more for this generation. I believe that this generation, IF they reconnect to the power and absolute necessity of prayer, and IF, they will tap into God’s power and the forces of God, has the potential of experiencing one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power ever seen. God said there would be a generation that would do greater things than He, and I believe that this generation will tap in, go rouge, and follow the Spirit, has the opportunity to be that generation. That they could see something grander than the Great Awakenings or Azusa Revival.
For this to happen this new generation of leaders must experience what they have read about but few have seen. It’s what an older generation has seen little of, but what some has longed and prayed for. We must be positive, encouraging, and believe with them that they can tap into God’s power and the realm where God’s army is two times as large and unquestionably more powerful. We must be diligent in praying that Gods young leaders of today get so hungry for a move of God that they are willing, if they have to, to go alone to a place like Moses did. We need to pray that they will have the courage to stand like Elijah, with confidence and boldness to believe that fire can still fall from heaven and call it down. Their world needs a demonstration of the almighty God. We must have the courage to pray that they will have the passion to take us from our comfortable hour and fifteen-minute services to what Solomon experienced, a wall shaking, cloud filling, inability to stand in God’s presence experience. We need to pray that God takes these generational men and uses them like he did the three Hebrew children, where after a fiery furnace experience, an entire nation said, “the Lord, He is God.”
There are some incredibly passionate young men in cities where I pray God uses them in such a way that leaders of those cities say like they did of those in Acts 17, “these are they who have turned the world upside down, and they have come to our city.” Is it possible? I say yes. We got a glimpse of what is possible to those who tap into this power a few months ago in Asbury, Kentucky. A few young people started praying, tapped into something supernatural, and within a few days they had the attention of the world. People took vacation days to come, entire churches visited, national news media set up stages, all to see a move of God. The crowds swelled so large that there were traffic jams to get into the small town, people waited for hours in line to get into the chapel, additional meeting places had to be set up, and the city finally had to ask the college to close it down because it was overwhelming and crippling their community!
To every God believing person I’m inviting you to begin to pray passionately. Pray what Mary and I have been praying, for a move of God that is indescribable, yet undeniable. Pray that the spirit of the powerless church that Paul warned of is defeated. Our world, our churches, and we as individuals need to see God bring to the world stage His signs, wonders, and miracles. Pray for yourself, for your pastor and his wife, that we all will have the courage to go beyond conformity and tradition. Pray that that we all will tap into the two-thirds.
For some reason for most of my life I have been on the receiving end of pranks. Here are just a few, and believe me, this is just a sampling of some of the stunts that have been pulled on me.
In seminary, I was the student body vice president, and while setting a vision casting message in chapel, I suddenly began to hear voices, gathering my wits and trying to figure out where they were coming from, I stepped back from the podium to see a walkie talkie on the stand. In the audience was my “best friend” with the other walkie talkie, critiquing me and cracking jokes as I spoke.
One day during our pastorate I hopped into my car to the foulest smell. It was summer and the stench was somewhere between that of limburger cheese and spoiled garbage. I search for days for the source, with no success. On one particular Sunday when I had to pick up a guest speaker the smell was so bad that I went through a car wash and asked for extra scent to mask the smell. I picked up my guest, made it to church, but when we came out after service, I realized I was in trouble. I borrowed a car, made it through the afternoon, and the next day once again began the search for the source. It was a few days later, after leaving a hospital call, that I found the problem. My brother-in-law had taken one of his daughters’ dirty diapers and stuffed it up under my seat.
On another occasion, not to be outdone by her uncle, my daughter Risa, who’s foot odor could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, once stuffed her dirty socks inside my pillowcase. The first night I must have been too tired to care but by the second night I was once again on the prowl for the source of the stink. The smell was nauseating and the more I sniffed for the source the worse it got. When I found her socks in the pillowcase, not only did I have to wash the pillowcase, but the pillow too. The latest stunt is still an ongoing mystery. One of my favorite things about our current home is that it backs up to a golf course. After a long day, I love to walk through the woods and gather lost golf balls. Last week I was excited to get out after Memorial Day when the weekend golfers had played. As I was retrieving golf balls, I noticed that I had found several of them that looked the same, seemed odd, but I didn’t have my glasses on, so I wasn’t able to discern the logo. The next day our kids came over for the evening and were looking at my haul. I should have known that something was up because rarely are they interested in my discoveries, but as they surveyed my treasures, Gentry remarked, “hey dad, look at this one.” The golf balls that had looked curiously similar were golf balls with my face on them, and not only my face, but personalized with my name too. I still don’t know who the prankster is, I have my list of suspects, but I did surmise my kids were in on the prank. I have questions. First, who’s mind is this demented? Second, who chose the horrific picture? Third, who has time to think of this kind of prank. Fourth, who came out and shanked golf balls in the woods and when? And finally, did they hit more than the six golf balls I found?
As usual there is a life lesson in all this. Like the pranksters in my life, you will always have adversaries and situations in your life. Their goal? To get you out of rhythm, to continually attempt to distract you from your purpose, and to create chaos in your life. While you can’t stop these attacks and distractions, you do have a choice in how you respond. You can become angry. You can give up. You can become bitter. Or learn to take them head on. Laugh them off, learn from them, and move on. Perspective is important in life, and when it comes to pranks, I view them as a sign that someone loves me, the pranksters know I can take their shenanigans and they know that I will laugh it off. I also love that I can be the object that causes someone to laugh, that I can make someone else’s day a little lighter. Plus, they’ve made for some incredible illustrations and gave me some great stories to tell.Just for kids, vote for your favorite prank pulled on me and share a favorite pulled on you!
He was my first real pastor. He was a visionary beyond his years. A leader, not a follower. The impression he made on my life at a young age would last a lifetime and little did he know, nor I, that God was using him to groom me to be a pastor some thirty years later. He lived in what I would call the “golden age” of the organization he was a part of. It was a time when diversity of belief was embraced, not ostracized. A time when unity about what we believed was valued more than being divisive about what we didn’t agree on. It was 1976, I was twelve, when my parents left the small church they had attended for years to get me to his church, Calvary Tabernacle. My life would never be the same.
In a moment I went from a church of 50 and a youth group of two or three to a church of nearly a thousand and a youth group of a hundred. More importantly, we went from small vision to extra-large vision. We went from, what I felt was boring church, to nearly every service being like a major spirit filled event. He had all-night concerts with groups from all kinds of organizations and conferences with the best of contemporary speakers of the day from diverse associations. He had the best of ministry, powerful worship services, creative children and youth ministries, a radio broadcast, and two traveling and recording groups: the Calvary Four and the Calvary Brass. He continually brought in young and creative speakers. Just a few I remember were a 21-year-old fiery evangelist named Anthony Mangun, a crazy preacher and magician named Jeff Arnold, and a dynamic young minister by the name of Phil Munsey. He also brought in the best of his contemporaries. Hearing and seeing these men would be a part of what would lead me to my call to preach the gospel.
This visionary pastor that forever changed my life and shaped how I would pastor was N.A. Urshan. He lived in an era when most every organization had lots of rules, yet he seemed to follow his own path, and thankfully, in his time it was tolerated. I’m not sure he would have survived in the culture of his organization today. He was a revolutionary leader, not a follower. He was firm yet gentle, compassionate, kind, and full of grace. It sounds funny now, but at the time, the changes my parents made in our life and home once they started attending his church seemed radical. I went from not being able to go bowling to my youth group going bowling. I had a love for basketball, so when I found out the Butler boys were in the band and choir and still got to play basketball on their high school teams, I was sold. Beyond that, in a time when TV was taboo for many churches, at his church it was allowed. I will never forget when my family got our first TV. We had arrived! My mom once approached him over one of the “issues of the day,” make up and cut hair in his youth choir. His response left an indelible mark on my heart. He basically told her, I’d rather have people in my choir with some struggles than not in church, incredible wisdom. He was a man who was passionate about the Word, the name of Jesus, and the power of God. He was connected to his city, his times, and was respected by businessmen and civic leaders. In fact, in some circles it was the belief that if you wanted to be mayor in Indianapolis, you needed to go through Pastor Urshan.
One of the most profound moments with him in my life was when I was 15. I had not been spirit-filled but desperately wanted to play my trumpet in the band at the church. My parents arranged a meeting with him and in the meeting, he offered me a deal. He said, you pray in the altar after services, and I will let you play your trumpet. I thought about it for a moment, looked at my parents, and then him, and said, “no deal.” He looked bewildered and shocked and the look on my parents was one of horror. On the way home I was made aware that I turned down an incredible gesture from one of the most powerful men in Christianity, that I had made a terrible mistake, and I think they may have grounded me for the rest of my life. Many years later, after he had moved on to the role of superintendent of a Pentecostal movement, I ran into him while getting on a flight. I didn’t realize he was on the flight but as I was passing through first class to get to my seat a hand reached up to me, it was Pastor Urshan and he said, “excuse me son, aren’t you the Hudson boy, the young man that turned down my offer to play your trumpet in my band?” I sheepishly said, “yes sir,” I was the man and then briefly told him I was in seminary and was preparing to be a pastor. He smiled and said, “very good,” and I moved on to my seat. It would be one of my last encounter with him and even in that moment I didn’t realize how much he had impacted how I would pastor. Our last encounter with him was at an altar, he had been pacing the platform would suddenly he spotted Mary. He made his way over to her and said, “young lady a revival will come through you, it will involve women and children, and God has a special and unique anointing on you.” Those words have stayed with Mary and I from that evening on.
Today as I write its thirty years later. I’ve been in full-time ministry for nearly 35 years, and just recently closed out my pastorate. Pastor Urshan left this life nearly 20 years ago, just a couple years after we started Life Connections. If you were to ask me who I most tried to pastor and minister like, I would tell you, N.A. Urshan. While I loved the ministries of men like Anthony Mangun and James Kilgore, it was N.A Urshan’s ministry that I patterned my pastorate after. He was cutting edge, not afraid to go against the grain of tradition, had amazing integrity, and treated people with dignity and respect. He taught me to love the Word and how to present the Gospel with grace and class. Though you are in your heavenly home, I honor and thank you for teaching me as a young man to love the Word, to lead, not follow, to be my own person, and to have a unique ministry, not a copycat.
This man does not honor the Sabbath. This man healed someone on the Sabbath. This man doesn’t honor our traditions. This man eats with sinners. This man is a sinner. Just a few of the hundreds of accusations toward Jesus by the religious of Jesus’ day. It amazes me how religion wanted to define and typecast Jesus. He didn’t do what they did, dress like they dressed, or honor the traditions that they revered. Jesus was, well, just Jesus. If Jesus walked the earth today many religious people would reject Him. He wouldn’t fit their dogma, their traditions, or “holier than thou” judgements. He rejected their labels and taught others to do the same. Labels, they’re nothing new, throughout history people have tried to define other people, put them in camps, put nice little judgmental boxes around people. It’s easier that way. You don’t have to get to know them, just attach your definition to them, judge them according to your ideology and perspective, and move on. Jesus had to send His disciples away before He could meet with the woman at the well. Why? The disciples would have labeled her. She was a Samaritan, guilty. She had five husbands, guilty. She is living with a sixth man, guilty. She arrived at Jacob’s Well much past when others did, it’s a sign of shame, guilty. End of story! But that was not the end of her story, really it was only the beginning. Jesus gave her life, not a label, and she exploded with excitement. The very people she was avoiding that morning she was inviting to come with her to meet Jesus by evening. When Jesus defines you no other definition matters. Did they try to put another label on her, probably. But once you understand who you are in Christ labels don’t carry much weight.
Through 35 years of ministry, Mary and I have had people constantly attaching labels to us. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes we laughed, most times we just rolled our eyes and kept on going, not worth the energy to respond. We know who we are and that’s critical. How have Mary and I navigated the multiple attacks of religious people through the years? Simple. We never allowed others to define us by their judgements, self-righteousness, or traditions. We know that we are imperfect. We acknowledge that we have made mistakes and failed. We have failed people. We have made mistakes with our kids. We have disappointed saints we’ve pastored. We know we need Jesus every day. But, most of all, we have ownership of two areas about who we are.
First, we are people of prayer. God gave both Mary and I the gift of prayer. From the time we were teenagers, we have leaned in on prayer. Prayer is our lifeline and it’s the DNA of who we are. We were both consistent in morning prayer in the Christian colleges we attended. Up early before classes crying out to God to lead us and use us for His glory. After we married, we took on prayer shifts, were early to prayer before services, and were heavily involved in prayer meetings at the churches we attended. At the college I taught at, my mornings started in a chapel, praying hours before I ever stood before my classes. Once we became parents and pastors of Life Connections our mornings started early. Nearly every day of their lives Gent and Ris woke to Mary praying and watching me driving off to the church for prayer. There was no prouder moment as a dad, than when our kids began to drive, seeing them leave early for school, so they too could stop by the church and pray before going to class. Since 2011, unless we were out of town, Mary and I spent every Saturday evening at our church praying for God to do the indescribable and undeniable in our Sunday services. We circled our city once a month every Wednesday for 12 years, pleading that Life Connections would be the most impactive church in the city. Today, though we no longer pastor, one thing still remains. Prayer. You will find us somewhere, depending on the day, between three, four, or five a.m. and 9 a.m. in our prayer place, having devotion, consuming God’s Word, and being in God’s presence. It is who we are.
The second thing we know about ourselves is this, we are desperate for a book of Acts move of God. An old-fashioned, John Wesley shut the bars down revival. A Jeremiah Lampier city wide prayer revival. An unexplainable Topeka, Kansas God experience. An Azusa Street life altering move of the Spirit. We long to see services with healings, miracles, deliverances, and moves of the Spirit that are indescribable, yet undeniable. Not created, not manipulated, but a sovereign move of the Spirit that transforms our families, cities, and our country. We believe there is one hope and one hope alone for our world. A sovereign move of God’s Spirit.
This is who we are. This is our label. This is how we define ourselves. Some talk about us, abandon us, try to put their labels on us, and some have disdain for us, but we have not, and will not, be moved off of who we are. If I can leave one piece of advice to you it is this, never allow yourself to be defined by someone else’s opinion or others religious traditions. Don’t be defined by others and their judgements. Don’t let anyone else stick their label on you. Define yourself. Create your own label. Find out who you are, who you are in Christ, and pursue it with passion for the rest of your life.
Our home sets on the sixth hole tee box of a 497-yard par five. The tee shot on the hole must be nearly perfect as the tee box is guarded on both sides by large trees. If you get your ball through the narrow corridor of woods the hole opens up enough for your ball to hit in the fairway. But, if you hook it left, you’re in the woods, slice it right and you’re in the pond.
This past year 778 golfers either hooked or sliced their shot bad enough to lose their golf ball. I know because that’s how many golf balls I collected on the sixth hole last year. Who knows how many more were lost on the other 17 holes.
A few days ago, I was pilfering through my buckets of golf balls, and it struck me that over a course of a year, that if I had 778 golf balls, that meant there had been at least 778 bad shots on the sixth hole alone. It also hit me that even though I had heard several weird sounds after errant shots and more than a few curse words, as far as I know, I had never seen one person give up, quit, go to the club house, put their clubs in their car, and go home. No, though they hit a bad shot, they continued to play their round of golf. Why? Because one shot does not make a round.
While a bunch of poor shots can put you in a bad mood and cause you to have a bad round of golf, you can have a bad shot or two and still shoot a good score. Even more, you can have an off day, come back the next and shoot par.
That’s important to remember and it makes for a good life principle too. Not every day is every decision going to be right down the middle. Once in a while you are going to hook a decision or slice a choice. It might be a business decision, the wrong word at the wrong time with a spouse, or a bad moment with your children, but that decision, wrong word, or bad moment doesn’t have to define you or your life.
Too often we feel like failures because we’ve made a couple of bad decisions or poor choices, but we all have bad moments, bad days, and even bad weeks, but we must not allow those moments to define us, corrupt our spirits, or cause us to quit.
Our adversary’s objective is always to get us to think, that one choice, one bad moment, was your defining moment. Give up, give in, and quit. His goal is to cause us to become discouraged, to give up on our marriages, to say I’m a failure as a parent. I’m here to say, don’t allow a bad decision or moment define you. Keep fighting. Keep swinging. Keep playing the game. You can still win. God is for you!
How do I know? The Bible shows us. A woman had not one bad swing, but five, and was in the midst of another bad swing. She had five husbands and was getting involved with man number six. Society had discarded her, religion had likely abandoned her, but not Jesus. He shows up, adjusts her perspective, offers her grace, gives her hope, and by the end of the day, she is inviting people she had been avoiding in the morning to come and meet the man who had changed her life. This was no one day, happy, good feeling moment, this was a realigning of her vision and allowing her to see herself as Jesus did. That’s what God wants to do for you.
If 778 golfers can keep playing after a bad shot, if Simon Peter can go from a man of denial to a man of destiny, and Paul can go from a terrorist to an evangelist, then what is your excuse? Get up. Keep fighting. If you fail, make this life decision. That from this day forward I will get up one more time than I fall.
Spring in Indiana. You know it’s here when the trees begin to flower, colorful tulips pop up, and you see garage sales signs at almost every neighborhood entrance. Our family has been participators in garage sales for years, both hosting and going to them. I’m not too proud to admit that through the years we’ve bought clothes for our kids, tools, household items, and most of our lawn furniture at garage sales. We held our first garage sale in 2002 when our neighborhood had a community sale. Reflecting back, it’s hard to believe that a garage sale turned out to be one of the most impacting and life-changing events in our lives. In those two days, we bought some picket fencing from a neighbor, Steph Staats, and met an amazing Lutheran lady, Elizabeth Bocek, when she stopped at our sale. She bought a worship CD and asked what we did. When she found out that I taught at a Christian college she was ecstatic. She said she was going to go get her son and introduce him to me. Three hours later she came back with her son, and three months later he enrolled at the college. Steph too found out that I was an instructor at a Christian college and the next day she pulled up to our sale, honked her horn, and motioned to Mary to come to her van. She wanted to start a neighborhood bible study, asked Mary if she would run it, and the rest is a crazy history that would take way too much space in this moment. Though there is so much more to the story, that garage sale became the catalyst of what would become Life Connections. The lady’s bible study was an incredible hit, summer came, and the mom’s needed something for their kids to do during the study, so I took on the task of holding a weekly VBS for the summer. I recruited some students from the college to help and in the summer of 2002, we held our first VBS, Camp Blue Sky, so named for the street we lived on. We’ll forever be indebted to Micah Barley, Joe Landaw, Jamie MacDonald, Steve Bocek, and others who assisted us every Monday. We had games, activities, bible lessons, and of course tons of snacks. Some weeks we had over twenty kids attending and by fall things really began to explode. The bible study continued to grow, and though we weren’t fully grasping what God was doing, a church had been birthed. As more joined, we connected with the trendy bible study of the day, Purpose Driven Life, and by the summer of 2003 we were looking for a place to meet as a group. At a few of our gatherings, we had nearly 70 people in our home, with kids in our bedroom, youth in our garage, and adults filling most of our downstairs space. I’m not sure which, but on either a whim, impression from God, or just shear desperation, Mary approached the owner of a local preschool, the Goddard School, and he allowed us to use his facility for free! We held a few services there but soon realized we needed more space. Getting advice from one of my mentors, Pastor Chester Mitchell from Auburn Virginia, we moved into what would be our permanent location for five years, Brook School Elementary. In 2007, James Coffey graciously donated five and a half acres of land to us, and by 2009 we were on our new campus. It’s been 21 unbelievable years since that weekend event and there’s no way we could have imagined what God would accomplish from those two days. We would do over 15 VBS’s, a dozen Breakfast with Santa’s and Bagels with Bunnies, be in parades and community events, and host the Fishers Strawberry Festival for 10 years. A garage sale that would end up in a multimillion-dollar campus, one that would give us a twenty-year ministry where we would see thousands of lives impacted by the gospel, and that it would be the way that God would give us a legacy that would far outlive our lives. Our story will always be a story of how God took two ordinary people and their two kids, used a garage sale, and did the miraculous. Live in faith, in a way where God can write an indescribable and unimaginable story in your life.
Our home has been filled with the sounds of worship from the beginning of our marriage. Back in the day it was Kirk Franklin, Michael W. Smith and Phillips, Craig, and Dean. Our kids woke up to it, came home to it, and had to watch us seat dance in the car way too often. Still today, there are moments when we crank up the volume and get our dance on. And no, you can’t see it. There is one rule, no cell phones. We’ve recently discovered there’s a dance gene in our lineage. Each week we get to keep our grandson, Carter. He’s almost one now, and for the last three months he has begun to notice music. Sunday, we were with him at one of our favorite hamburger joints, Bub’s in Carmel. We had all just set down when suddenly it hits him, the boogie in his behind. Somewhere he hears music, and he is bouncing, waving his hands in the air, and occasionally doing the sprinkler. He fills the table with laughter, gives us a smile, and a look like, “what, don’t you hear the music too.” Carter’s love for music and the boogie in his behind has given he and I a common bond. He comes to visit often, free childcare for Jake and Risa, and purpose for Mary and me. Since we’ve discovered his love for music, I’ve made it my priority to peruse Spotify in search of something that might set off his boogie, and at the same time teach him some nursery rhymes and old school Sunday school songs. We’ve hit our common ground with a group called, Go Fish. It’s not the old, tired sound of kids, but a group doing some pretty amazing acapella stuff. They do some incredible remixes of nursery rhymes, Sunday school songs, and even some of the good old hymns. Carter’s current favorite is their version of “If you’re happy and you know it.” As soon as he hears the melody, it’s on, even before the first line of the song, he’s seat dancin’ and hand clappin’. We’ll kick on Spotify while he’s playing, suddenly, he stops playing with whatever toy he has, and begins busting a move. Some days it’s the Itsy Bitsy Spider and other times it’s the B-I-B-L-E song. But, what I love is that I’m getting to introduce him to some of the old school stuff too. He’s doesn’t realize it, but he does the same boogie with the Happy and you know it song when he hears, I’ll Fly Away, Victory in Jesus, and even one of my favorite seat dancing songs, Shackles on My Feet. How long will it last? I have no idea, but right now life can’t get much better than busting some moves with him. Paul had it right when he told the church in Ephesus, “Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord.” I only wish he’d went a tad further, dance and seat boogie often.
It was only 650 sq. ft. but it will always be pure gold to us. We were newly engaged and looking for our “first roof over our head” place. We were struggling to find a place, but God had a plan. One day, Tom O’Daniel, vice president of Indiana Bible College where I worked, asked me to come to his office. He began to explain that the college had recently purchased a home in hopes that the Dean of Students would live in it, but they had rejected the idea. He questioned our plans for housing and eventually asked if we would consider living in the home. He explained that it was in bad shape and needed some work. He told me to take a look at it, informed me that the key had been lost, and let me know I would need to break a window to get in. For us, a young couple just getting started, it felt as though he had just handed us a hundred thousand dollars. No apartment, no rent, and an actual home. I was weeping as I left his office, I immediately called Mary to share the news, and then headed over to break a window. Crawling through the kitchen window and landing in the sink, I quickly surmised that by saying, “it is in bad, shape” he meant it was a dump. Everything in the kitchen was covered with at least an inch of grease, dirty pots and pans filled the sink, and there was an indescribable smell. Moving from the kitchen to the front room I found the sources of the stench. Pea green shag carpet with trash strown everywhere and stains that looked as if someone had changed the oil of a car on it. The walls looked like they had been used for a sink, stain plastered spots with the odor of beer. Moving from the living room, it’s hard to believe, but it got worse, especially the smell. I held my breath as I entered the bathroom. A pink sink was attached to the wall with duct tape holding the pipe from the wall to the spout under the sink. The baby blue bathtub was covered with more rust than color. The walls were paneling, but instead of the stripes running vertically, they ran horizontal. Quickly I exited the bath to observe the two small bedrooms. The rooms were painted horrid colors, filled with trash and clothing, but I could grasp flipping them into great rooms rather easily. The task seemed a tad overwhelming, but I was excited about the gift, the opportunity, and taking on the challenge. So, long before there was Chip and Joanna, there was Jon and Mary.
My parents jumped in to help, I gathered some basic construction knowledge and started. We cleared trash, tore out carpet, and though I had never heard of Kilz, I quickly became a big fan. We “Kilzed” everything; walls, floors, and even the kitchen cabinets. Within a few months the dump had been transformed into our dream home. We would spend the first ten years of our life on Carson Avenue, bringing both of our children home there, and making some of our fondest memories there. But something happened about eight years into living in our miracle home. It became too small; our blessing had become a burden. Our family had grown, sleeping was becoming an issue, it was obvious each kid needed their own room. We did what we had to do, packed up the family room, made it our bedroom, and lived in our three-bedroom home, with a kitchen, and a bath until we moved. The house had not changed, we had. God had blessed us by giving us children, but the growth had brought challenges, and that meant it was time for a change, we needed a bigger place. But something else had happened, not only had our family grown, but our ministry had matured as well. Indiana Bible College will always hold some of our fondest memories, but without realizing it, we had outgrown it too. God had a greater challenge for us. It would mean change, change that would be difficult, but embracing God’s change is often the catalyst that takes you to better places. Though we were scared and there was much uncertainty, we began to pray for God to show us our next assignment.
Leaving 650 sq. ft. would take us to Blue Sky Drive and the beginning of Life Connections. The next twenty years would be some of the greatest times of our lives, there is nothing like starting with nothing and watching what God can do. God allowed us to experience incredible and amazing successes that forever changed our lives and let us experience many incredible miracles, too numerous to put in this space. But there was a moment when we realized we had come to the end of our season. It was again time for change, we had once again outgrown a ministry, this time it was Life Connections. Now, as we are transitioning from Senior Pastors to Senior Advisors, it’s a tad easier. Why? Because 650 sq. ft. taught us that if you want to continue to grow, live in vision, and experience all that God has designed for you, you must continue to outgrow where you are. What does our future hold? We really don’t know, but we are confident of this, “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.” 650 sq. ft. left a Hudson family principle in us and it’s this, always live so that you outgrow and outlive your life.
One of my main family objectives has always been to make sure that our home has been filled with laughter. Often that has meant being the source of silliness or the recipient of one of our kids pranks.
When our kids were young, I would often find myself pushing them on the swing in our backyard. One day one of our kids saw a squirrel and said, “dad, look a squirrel,” as I turned to look, a foot hit my backside. It was just a brush, but I heard a giggle, and I realized I had an opportunity to create laughter. From that simple moment came one of our kids’ favorite activities, “crazy squirrel.” I would push the swing, they would yell “crazy squirrel,” I would turn, they would hit my backside, and I would tumble, summersault, and flop like I had been hit by a two by four. Over and over, they would hit me, I would tumble, they would laugh, cackle, and giggle until they were in tears, and then I would hear, “do it again dad!” This became the swing set routine for years. I have tumbled, and flipped more times than I can count. To this day when Gent or Ris see a squirrel they still say, “hey dad, crazy squirrel” and there is the biggest smile.
My grandson doesn’t’ know it yet but soon crazy squirrel will return. I’m hoping I’m still fit enough, and even if it means being a little sore, I’m planning on flipping and falling just to hear the cackle and laughter of Carter. Why? Because there is no better gift you can give your family than laughter. It doesn’t matter how old your kids are, laughter is always good medicine.
How do I know? Saturday Mary, Gent and I took a quick day trip to Washington D.C. We visited a few museums and saw some landmarks. It was at one of those landmarks, the Washington Monument, when we decided to take some pictures. Gent had the iPhone, and I was waiting for Mary to get in place when I heard Gent say, “dad, hold your hand like this.” I saw the smile on his face, and I knew what was up. He wanted my palm turned up like I was holding something, I complied, and then the requests, “a little left, up some, over, down and to the right, yep right there, hold it.” And then it came, a roar of laughter and a big smile. I was holding the Washington Monument in my hand. I knew where it was going, it was just a matter of when, Insta. Didn’t care though. I made my twenty-six-year-old son laugh, created a memory for a lifetime, and reminded him that he’s worth any prank he ever wants to pull on me.
Too many focus on giving kids things that cost money, but one of the greatest gift you can give them, is the gift of laughter. It will remain long after you have passed. Still have doubts? Ask my daughter, Risa, about some socks that ended up in my pillow for a week and then get ready to see the biggest smile and tears of laughter. Here her story and then watch for my revised and corrected version in a later blog!
He was one of my influencers. His effect on my life didn’t come from meeting him, only by my perception of him from afar. In fact, I never met him, never shook his hand, or had an opportunity to talk to him. Regardless, I would say he was one of the most impactful people in my ministry. One of my hopes had always been to get an opportunity to meet him, but unfortunately, he passed several years ago, and I never got that chance. I only heard him preach a handful of messages, but each time there was a gentle, kind, and humble spirit that resonated from him. The intersecting moment came for me at a young minister’s conference I was attending in Louisiana. As the conference unfolded, some messages stirred my heart, others inspired my spirit, but it was the message by James Kilgore titled “Glory Robes or Sackcloth” that would change my life. As a young man I thought pastor Kilgore was old, but at the time he was probably only in his mid 50’s. He was somewhat short, had silvery white hair, and spoke with a classic southern drawl. What grabbed my attention this particular evening, along with 3000 others, was two things. First, as he stood to speak, he came with such humility as he made his way to the podium. He almost appeared to be uncomfortable as he stood before the crowd, and it was evident that he was burdened by what God was asking him to share. The second thing that overwhelmed me was the moment in his message when he put on a long fuchsia robe. Without much fanfare he began to speak about how he was afraid many ministers were living and ministering for glory robes. Today we would call it building our brand. Wearing the right clothing and shoes, running in the right circle of friends, projecting the correct social media impressions, preaching the latest trendy ideas. He wasn’t angry, no arrogance or condescending attitude, he was broken. When it would have been easier to preach something popular, he chose to preach the burden of his heart. He spoke of how authentic ministry must be about building Jesus’ kingdom, not ours. Forever I will remember him repeating the phrase, “oh, how we love to wear the glory robes,” but then he would follow up with, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What happened about halfway through his message is what has forever been branded on my heart. He stopped and disrobed from the beautiful fuchsia robe, put on a feed sack, and for the remainder of the message, he preached in that simple sack. He wept and cried as he talked about how he and his wife had sacrificed so they could share the gospel. He shared how early in their ministry they often lived on very little. He told how the two of them would fast. He would fast every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and his wife would say,”well, if you’re going too fast, I am too. He spoke about going to small churches who couldn’t pay them and how sometimes they would have little or no food. He spoke of starting a church from basically nothing, and helping people who he knew would never be able to repay their generosity. He cried as he talked about those who were broken and they had helped, only to be betrayed once success came their way. He said, in the end it was worth it all that some might know Christ. At some point it was too much for me. I didn’t need the end of the message, I crumbled to my knees. That night I wept for over an hour, when I rose from the ground, I was empty, there were no more tears to be cried. I made a commitment, I wanted to have a ministry like James Kilgore. Sometimes the emotion of the moment wears off and you go back to life, moved but not changed. This would not be the case after this message. I returned to the college in Jackson Mississippi where I was working. Every night for a week I would go to my office and listen to the message. I still would weep, overwhelmed with conviction. During the week I would spend evenings praying for hours, pleading, and promising God I would minister as a man in sackcloth if he would use me. God granted that request, and for 35 years Mary and I have had the privilege of living out James Kilgore’s message. We’ve lived simply. We avoided drawing attention to ourselves; never seeking the limelight. We’ve lived to put others and the kingdom ahead of ourselves. We’ve prayed and fasted unceasingly, only longing to see a sovereign move of God. We’ve cried and wept enough tears to fill pools. We built a church and served the people; rich, poor, educated, uneducated, and every culture. We cared for those who had, and those who didn’t, it didn’t matter. We loved and smiled when we were hurt, forgotten, and abandoned, and we’ve given when we didn’t have enough for ourselves. When we walked away from pastoring, we knew it would come with great loss, but also knew that the Kingdom had to be above our ministry and our future. Many were shocked when they heard the news, but know this about Mary and I. A long time ago we heard a message and decided we would be ministers in sackcloth. We made a commitment that above all, it was souls that would be important, and His Kingdom would be our priority. As I mentioned, James Kilgore never met or spoke to me, but from a distance his humble life forever changed mine. Maybe when we get to heaven, we’ll get to meet him and tell him the story, but for now I share it with you. Why? Because it’s important to realize you are impacting someone by the life you live. You may never have a conversation with them or share a dinner, but you’re being an influencer. Understand the life you are living, the story you are writing, what you are doing, may be impacting someone in a far greater way than you could ever imagine. James Kilgore, thank you for your influence from a distance, I am forever indebted.
* This blog is a part of a series called the Tribute Series, My Influencers.
Sample Saturday was one of the favorite days around the Hudson home when our kids were growing up. After a long week of work and activities we would take a Saturday morning and go to Sam’s Club to stock up on groceries. What it meant to our kids was running to every tasting stand to sample whatever was being served in the little cups. Whether it was crackers or cookies, fruit or energy drinks, chicken, hot dogs, or shrimp, we would hit nearly every stand, and some of them multiple times. Reflecting back, I smile at the simple ways we found to make everyday chores fun, but as I was reminiscing, I realized something else too, that Sample Saturday never satisfied us. We got just enough food to whet our appetites but not nearly enough to fill our stomachs. Often the end of Sample Saturday would mean grabbing fast food, even though we had eaten a ton of samples, we needed to find a place that served a full meal. I reflect on this because over the past three months Mary and I have been on a sabbatical. While on it, we’ve done something we’ve always wanted to do, visit other churches, see their systems and structure, participate in their worship environments, and hear the Word from different perspectives. It’s been quite the journey. As we’ve sampled nearly a dozen churches, we’ve walked away with a greater appreciation for the way we did church at Life Connections, the church we pastored for 20 years. Here’s a few things we discovered on our Sample Sundays. First, was the challenge of being a guest and simply navigating the entry. In nearly every lobby we got the feeling you get when you need to buy a new car but dread going to the car lot, or the feeling you get when trying to negotiate the vendor areas at a Flower and Patio Show. Overly smiley people, who wanted us to feel like they were our best friends, that wanted us to know that they were really cool, but too often made us feel like we were dealing with someone who was trying to sell us a fake Rolex. To every hospitality team, know three things. One, we want to come and find our seats unnoticed, discreetly, without feeling like we have to go through a receiving line at a wedding. Second, we really don’t need everyone in the building to know were “the guest” and we definitely don’t need everyone to clap for us, we’re really okay if you simply say, “if you’re a guest we’re honored that you’ve come to visit.” Finally, we don’t need parting gifts, i.e., your coffee mug, we have one from the other 11 churches we visited, and they are all going to the same place, Goodwill. Second, unless the church was self-consumed and out of touch with the rest of society, nearly every worship service felt like we were living in Bill Murray’s Ground Hogs Day movie. Same show, different building. Every venue had three pre-planned songs, no more or less, that featured a mixture of the latest trendy hits sprinkled with one of the 14 songs you hear on K-Love. Every show featured vocally gifted people who were trendily dressed, and each place had studio quality sound and lighting, but there was not much depth in the worship experience. Worship teams. Please! Get away from your script, learn to lean in and follow the Spirit, call an audible in the middle of worship, have a goal of creating vertical worship and ushering us into the presence of God where we lose track of our cell phones and our life issues. Cause us to lose track of time and take us to a place where we are consumed by His presence. We will gladly trade your incredibly talented singers and musicians for an experience that takes us into a place where we can cry, feel unexplainable joy, and sense the overwhelming awe of God’s glory and presence. Third, we were overwhelmed by the number of gifted pastors and their ability to share the gospel. There are some really amazing and talented pastors who are sincere and studied. We walked away from so many churches with incredible notes and relevant issues to work on in our lives. The one issue we struggled with was that there were too many series and messages that felt like we were setting through Ted Talks. Pastors. Make it personal. Be energetic, excited, and exuberant. Let us feel your passion. Let us sense your desperation and hunger. Let us experience God. Give us a fresh Word from Heaven instead of the latest trendy series, church growth program, or featured book. Finally, churches, would it be too much to ask that you make room for God. Way too many places had church down to a formula, a science, or an unbreachable schedule. In most places there was no liberty for God to move or a time for people to experience His overwhelming presence. Please make room for God moments, call an audible, have a suddenly. Rarely, in any church was there a place for a response to the Word preached, for someone to pray with another person, for an opportunity to make a commitment after being impacted by the Word you just heard. We don’t want some kind of crazed demonstrative response, only room for the miraculous, for healing, for someone to engage with a person who had had their heart stirred, for tears to fall freely, for the Holy Spirit to have freedom, for the possibility of someone walking away impacted by the power of God. We grieved as we left so many services, longing for more than a sample, more than Jesus light, more than an hour and fifteen minute gathering before the next service or returning the next week. We left many places brokenhearted and wishing people had the opportunity to experience a service where they could be impacted by the life altering touch of God’s presence. I am nobody, but if I could humbly offer a word to any pastor, lead or worship team, it would simply be this. Pray more. Be Spirit led. Be an original, not a copy. Focus on giving people more than a Sample Saturday experience on Sunday. Give them more than a little plastic cup of Jesus. To those looking for a church for your family I would say, find one that gives you a full five-course unforgettable feast. Find one that causes you to say, I came, I saw, I heard, I felt, I experienced, and I can’t wait to go back. Find a place that gives you more than a sample and a coffee cup, find one that causes you to leave saying, I encountered Jesus like I never have before.
Author’s Note: If you are a member of Life Connections, know that after visiting many amazing churches, Mary and I want you to appreciate how blessed you are to be a part of LC. What is happening through your new Lead Pastors, Philip and Annie Daigle is unique and special. If you are not a part of Life and you live in central Indiana, you should seriously consider planning a visit.
The week had been eventful. There was a euphoria in the air, strong rumor had it that Jesus was preparing to bring His kingdom to earth. What would eventually be called the Last Supper, was a meal that had been the crescendo to an amazing week. Expectations were off the chart. Excitement and faith were at an all-time high. That was Thursday, but then Friday happened. Faith turned to fear and excitement into astonishment. The unimaginable had happened. Jesus was dead, in a tomb, and the dreams of the disciples are broken like a crystal vase. Fridays are difficult and dreadful. Fridays are filled with hurt and pain. Fridays are packed with accusations and betrayal. Jesus faced all of life’s pain on Friday. Friends betrayed and abandoned him. Accusations were accepted as truth without question. There were emotional and mental attacks on his person, integrity, and character. He was mocked, ridiculed and made a laughingstock by the crowd who had gathered on Golgotha’s hill. The physical abuse he has endured was beyond imagination and more than anyone should ever face. As He hangs on Calvary, death will be a blessing. The pulsating pain running through his hands and feet are surpassed only by the throbbing agony brought by the thorns that are penetrating his brain. Every breath is torturous as his back, plowed open like a spring field, rubs against a cross that feels like sandpaper. The sky is now dark, his friends and family all gone, save his mom and John; death is but moments away. With one last breath Friday will finally be over. We all hate Fridays. Fridays when sickness, disease, and cancer ravages a body, death visits our family or a friend. We abhor Fridays when we’ve made terrible decisions, when divorce visits our marriage, and when we’ve been betrayed, mocked, or we are the recipient of ugly and untrue gossip. We hate Fridays when we did our best, but our children still turned from God. On Friday, sunsets can’t come fast enough, and the darkness of night will at least signal an end of the day. Saturday is different. The events of Friday are over. Jesus’ body is off the cross, it’s now wrapped in cloth, and the tomb is sealed. In the grave blood oozes through the fabric where the nails had pierced His hands, feet, side, and skull. The stone where he lies is stained with a pool of blood from the scourging of his back. This day there is no more pain, the accusations and attacks are mute, and now darkness and silence are Jesus’ only companions. While Fridays are unbearable, Saturdays can be as excruciating. Saturday, when cancer miraculously recedes but we are left with its traumatic aftereffects. Saturday, when we’ve survived the heart attack, but our emotions are drastically different. Saturday, when the divorce is final, and we are left to try to pick up the pieces and forge on. Saturday, when the death of a spouse, family member, or friend is final, and we now have to live life with the terrible void left in our hearts. Saturday, the darkness, and silence it brings, can be as overwhelming as the literal pain of Friday. Saturday leaves us with more questions than answers, more darkness than the darkest night, more uncertainty than we’ve ever experienced, and more fear than anyone could ever imagine. We know Fridays will end with finality, either healing or heaven, but Saturday leaves us with no voices of encouragement, no one to lift our faith, and no date of expiration as too when the darkness will disappear, and light will shine bright again. How do we survive Saturday? In the faith that there will be a Sunday, that what Jesus said will come to pass. That as He resurrected, your situation too can come back to life. You survive Saturday by remembering the blind being given their sight, the lame walking, and Lazarus being brought back from the dead. You survive Saturday by remembering the mercy showed by Jesus to a Samaritan woman with five husbands at a well, and grace extended to a woman caught in the middle of a wild sexual tryst. Saturdays are when God often leaves us alone but teaches us to know He is still with us. May I say that again? Saturdays are when He leaves us alone but is still with us. Saturdays may mean leaning in and waiting patiently, quietly, and humbly, praying, and resting in the fact that He said, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Saturday may last a day, a week, a year, or possibly even decades but no matter how lonely, how dark, how overwhelming, or how long Saturday is, know that there is a Sunday in our future (John 14:3, Acts 1:11). God went through Saturday to show us the way and that we too can survive our Saturday. Sundays, they happen in an instant. One moment death, the next resurrection and life. A move of the Spirit, an unexpected change in a person, a blessing that overwhelms, an opportunity that comes out of nowhere, or physical miracle that forever is your testimony. Sometimes a Sunday means an eternal ticket to an everlasting Sunday; no more pain, sickness, or struggles with this life. If you are experiencing or have lived in a Saturday, I encourage you to take on a new perspective this Easter, begin living with an expectation that your Sunday is on its way!
It’s two weeks until Passover and tensions are high. Some good men have tossed and turned for months losing sleep. They’ve had more meetings than Gen Z’s have collaboration sessions. Their issue? Trying to figure a way to rid themselves of a three-year problem. They have debated and discussed different possibilities for hours on end and they have finally concluded that the changes they would have to make would cost too much, so rather than change, someone else will. The seed of selfishness is always about us. Our comfort. Our titles and positions. Our rituals and traditions. Caiaphas’ comes up with the solution, “one man must die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (John 11:50). These were good men. Men of prayer. They dressed well, knew scripture, and really had a good grasp on doctrine and theology. In fact, in many ways they agreed with much of what Jesus said, but the changes He was suggesting were just too radical. They had to protect the past, secure their traditions, and safeguard rules for the future. Circumcision was an unnegotiable, leaving the sacrificial system absurd, and redefining the Law. . . heresy. The decision for one man to pay the cost to quelch this uprising appeared so easy. Religion is famous for abandoning those who don’t measure up to those who are self-righteous. Self-righteousness knows no boundaries. Those who must protect their traditions will reject anyone who suggest it can be any other way but theirs. It’s not a person, it’s a spirit, or spirits; selfishness, arrogance, envy, and pride just to name a few. Their spiritual comfort supersedes any broken person or lost soul. People are disposable. Whatever the cost, whomever we must abandon, whomever we must hurt, at all costs, we must protect our comfortable environments. So, Jesus becomes the cost of change. Abandoned and rejected, He hangs on a cross for no crime other than loving lost and broken humanity and changing the spiritual religious landscape. He welcomed too many sinners. Used too many broken people and didn’t wear their righteous robes. He was too common and His message too radical. He pays the price because the religious elite wouldn’t. It’s 2000 years later but the same spirits remain. The Jesus Revolution Movie wasn’t about the first or second time Christianity has rejected change, it has happened for centuries, and will until Jesus comes. It’s always easier to live in the atmosphere of comfort than the culture of change. Jesus dies, resurrects, and radical change explodes in an Upper Room 50 days later. But realize this, something else died when Jesus died. The religion of those who refused to change. They became a subculture, important only in their own minds. They became relics, obsolete, and irrelevant. Who goes to a church today where one of the questions for membership is, have you been circumcised? Anyone attend a church where they still wear gowns, tunics, and long robes? Anyone go to Texas Roadhouse and ask, “was the steak used as a sacrifice to idols?” If not, you’ve changed and would be rejected. These were the issues of their day, but not today. This lets us know that change is constant. Traditions are just that, traditions, not laws. They all eventually change or become irrelevant. I’ve walked into way too many irrelevant churches and stepped into too many restaurants and business that are no longer in existence because they rebuffed the winds of change. If you really want to live, not exist, you must embrace change. A warning, change is costly. Ask Nicodemus, his own crew abandoned and rejected him for making a change, following Jesus. Make a note of this; we know Nicodemus’ name but none of theirs. Mark 6 shows us that Jesus’ own earthly family struggled with the changes He was proclaiming, and that He could do no miracles in His hometown. Why? Change is hard and comfort is easy. Our adversary delights, embraces, and feeds on those who cling to their comfort. I know that in my own life change is hard because I love my old and comfortable ways. Change is painful because we know there are cost, that people will discard and desert you. Finally, change is difficult because it’s God challenging us to trust Him beyond what we can see or understand. Change is a must though if we are truly “seeking first the kingdom.” In our lives, Mary and I have always sought to embrace God’s challenges, to follow after the Spirit, and that has meant that we have had to embrace change. In every instance we knew it came with costs. I knew organizations would abandon me, and colleagues would reject me. We knew that friends and family would object and that some would call us “lost sheep.” Yet, we’ve never wavered in Truth and we’re still the same passionate people of prayer, who spend hours in the Word, and are consumed about broken and lost people. There were changes when I knew when I walked into the room I was going to lose people and there were changes where I knew was going to lose income and influence. But in those moments, what was always my priority was knowing, that if I rejected the challenge of change that God was asking me to make, that I would be out of His will and putting my comfort ahead of His kingdom. How about you. Do you live for your comfort? Do you live to please others? Or is His will and Kingdom above all? We must remember this, at all costs, the Kingdom is always more important than our comfort. That’s the message of Jesus on the cross.
Years ago, Jimmy Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor of the 1940’s and 50’s, left all his memorabilia to a midwestern university that very few had ever heard of. As the treasures were being gifted, he was asked, why are you giving all this to this particular university. He was questioned if this was the university he had attended? He replied, no. Another queried, did your children attend here? Another no. After several questions, someone finally asked, please share what your reasoning was behind giving such an amazing gift to this university. His reply was shocking, he said, “I gave it to them because they asked me for it.” No allegiance. No compensation. No expectations. They had the faith, the confidence, the audacity to ask. Sometimes the greatest blessings, the answers we need, are just a prayer, a ask away. God gives everyone the invitation to ask. Throughout the Bible you can see God encouraging people to ask. James tells us, “you do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2). Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives” (Luke 11:9-10). Paul tells the saints of Ephesus that God is able and ready “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephes. 3: 11). The Bible is filled with scriptures imploring us to ask. I’m afraid we often fail to ask because we feel unworthy, we feel our failures eliminate us, or in pride we try to solve situations on our own. God sets in heaven with unlimited power, resources and is ready to step up and step in, but we never ask. Sometimes I fear we fail to ask because we see a God with limits. We see Him as Amazon or Wal-Mart. He has a limited quantity of the good stuff, the miraculous and the blessings, but once they are gone, given to someone else, well. . . too bad, you missed out. Other times we compare our situation to others, we feel guilty and hesitate to ask. We want to pray for financial blessings, for healings, for family issues to be resolved, but think about how blessed we are compared to others in the world, and we don’t ask. We reason, why should I ask for blessings when others are praying for a war to be over, like in the Ukraine. We consider a spouse or child praying for physical abuse to go away, or a Christian in China or the Middle East praying for torture to stop, and think, how selfish am I? How could I pray for something enjoyable when families in Africa are without water and starving. While those are crisis level issues and we should join together with them for deliverance, it does not impact God hearing and answering your prayer. Your prayers, request, and asking has no connection to someone else’s prayer being heard or answered, they are independent of each other. Why were some blinded eyes opened and some not, they asked. Why did some lame walk and others remained crippled, they asked. Why was the Roman Centurions daughter healed, he asked. People often ask why are you and Mary so committed to prayer. The answer is easy. God said ask. He said he would do exceedingly and abundantly above what we could ask for think, and He said we have not because we don’t ask. We take Him at His Word. Regardless of the situation. Regardless of pain. Regardless of our failures and shortcomings. Regardless of how many times He has said no or wait, we keep on asking. Every time I pray, I ask God to pour out His Spirit on my family, our community, and our country. Every time I pray, I ask God to heal my body and Mary’s. Every time I pray, I ask Him to bless us exceedingly and abundantly in every way. Every time I pray, I ask God to give me a covenant, a contract, that until the trumpets sounds, that every person, whether by birth or marriage into our lineage, that they will experience the book of Acts experience. I pray that they will have a passion to know Jesus, that they will love His Word, and that they will value prayer. I invite you into the atmosphere of asking. No applications. No requirements. Just ask!
Rarely do we get a day with mid-sixties temperature in February in central Indiana, but a couple of weeks ago we had one, giving me a chance to get out to one of my favorite places, our back yard. Nothing too serious, no yard work, just some solitude and time to reflect and observe life. Setting there, my attention was arrested by some birds, a woodpecker, a blue jay, a couple of cardinals, and a handful of finches and sparrows. Watching them fly through the trees, I saw God. I saw the creative nature of my creator and His passion for distinctiveness. Their colors were vibrantly different, their songs remarkably diverse, even their flight patterns were unique. Each a distinctive example of His amazing creative design. Watching the birds, my eyes eventually drift to the trees. It’s winter, so the trees are obviously barren, and again, I see God. Normally leaves cover their branches, but today, with no leaves, I notice their imperfections, and that nearly every branch reaches toward the sky. My mind went to Romans 1 where Paul says, “does not nature itself teach us of God.” Each branch, it seemed, was reaching in exaltation for the heavens. I noticed that the ones that didn’t, had been hindered by other branches, and though constrained, they had changed direction, either turning toward the ground, or curling, trying to find another route upwards toward the sky. Turning from the trees, I see frost, and once again, I see God. Where the sun is shining, the frost is melted and there is a glistening dew, but where there is an absence of light, the cold chill of frost remains. What an amazing parallel to the power and love of God. Where His light shines in the world there is life, but where He is ridiculed and viewed with disdain, there is darkness and fear. I take a mental note; seeing God isn’t that difficult, it’s just a matter of having an awareness. Isaiah, an ordinary man, said, “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, His train filled the Temple.” He wasn’t some kind of spiritual superhero; just a man who lived sensitively to God. I wonder how many that day had the opportunity to see what Isaiah saw but were just too busy. I wonder too if Isaiah’s view is closer to all of us than we can imagine. That just maybe, if we too would take time, get off our devices, slow down, start looking, stop talking, listened, and lived more sensitive, that we too might see God in His splendor and power.
This weekend we watched the movie Jesus Revolution. It’s the story about Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie, two men who were integral in the Jesus Revolution movement in the 1970’s. I won’t wreck the story, but too surmise the movie, Chuck Smith, a pastor, is faced with one major life changing choice, to stay in the comfort and confines of religion, tradition and ritual, or the choice of doing the right thing and opening the doors of his church to a generation who was hungry for God. Chuck knew his decision would come at a great price, his reputation, friendships, and finances all would be affected, but he also understood the price of not doing the right thing. He chose to open the doors and he became a major player in the Jesus Revolution. Understand that doing the right thing is never easy. There will always be consequences and great cost. Though Chuck saw major success after making his choice, that is not always the case. Often doing the right thing brings pain, misunderstanding, and hurt. Doing the right thing may cost you your reputation, friendships, and often means times of uncertainty. It often cost more than we want to pay. It often goes against the grain of tradition. If you question that, take a look at the cost Jesus paid for going against the grain. In my early years of ministry, a situation developed where I knew I was going to have to make a decision, whether to defend a friend or allow a wrong to continue. It wasn’t easy, but I decided to defend my friend, knowing the cost would be heavy. Near the end of the story, I stood in the office of a minister who I highly esteemed, unwilling to compromise my integrity. I knew that my character would be attacked, that I would lose my job, and that my future held a lot of uncertainty. I had a young wife, two kids, and no idea of how we would survive, but as I walked out the door of his office that night I walked out with my personal integrity, self-worth, and dignity. I had done the right thing. I lost my job, but gained the attention of God. There are critical times in our lives when we must choose to do the right thing. There are seasons when we hurt our spouses. There have been times when I’ve hurt Mary and she could have ran, but she stood by me. Though difficult, she did the right thing. There was a moment in our life when Mary was incredibly fearful I was going to abandon her. She was sick, broken, and very afraid I was going to leave her, but I reminded her of the vow I made to her, “that for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, I would never forsake her.” Unfortunately, in difficult moments, too many people do what is convenient, not what is right. A few years ago, God challenged me to make a change at the church we pastored. I had prayed for months, fasted, and poured over scripture. I knew the challenge God laid before me was going to come at a heavy cost, but I also knew that if I didn’t obey, I would be living outside of what he had asked me to do. As I walked into the board room that night, I knew I was going to lose family, close friends, and it there would be financial implications. It would have been easier to bow to tradition, but that night I knew I had to do what God had challenged me to do, to open the doors of His church to more hungry people. It was one of the most painful and difficult seasons of our lives, it has cost Mary and I so much more than we wanted to give. We lost close relationships, were abandoned by ministers, and shunned by many, but we’ve watched the church go into another dimension because we did what was right, not what was easy. I must warn you, the challenge of doing what is right never ends. Two years ago, after a Wednesday night service, God spoke to my heart and said, you are finished, you have completed your task at Life Connections. I remember getting in the car and sharing my heart with Mary, we wept, there was unity, and even though we were filled with uncertainty, we knew instantly it was the right thing. We left the campus, called our kids, and asked them to meet us at our daughter’s home. We shared what God had spoken to us with them; we all wept, it was a painful and difficult moment. Even though they didn’t totally understand, they agreed to pray with us and said they would support our decision. The next day we began to pray for God to direct us on how to proceed. As the process began to unfold, we began to realize it was going to cost us more than we wanted, and it was going to bring more change than we anticipated. We knew the right thing was going to come at a great amount of personal financial loss. We began to understand that there was going to be a tremendous void in our lives, and that it was going to leave us with no certain future or direction. Truthfully, it would have been easier to meander along, to stay the course, to hold on, but it would have also meant we would have been out of the will of God, that we would be living selfishly, and so many in our community would miss experiencing what God had for them. We had no choice but to do the right thing. So, we did. We left comfort for uncertainty. This weekend, after being away from our church for two months, we were able to go back for the celebration and installation of the new pastors, Phil and Annie Daigle. It was absolutely amazing! The foundation we had built was being built on. There was so much life. So many people who were growing. So many new faces. We left confident that the future is bright and knowing what is hard for us is good for others. Know this, in your career, your life, and in your family it will always be easier to do what is convenient over what is right. When you do what is right there is no guarantee of success, no guarantee that it won’t be painful, difficult, or lonely, but we can attest to this, that when you obey God, you will always be able to lay your head on the pillow of your bed and say, I did the right thing. There is no greater peace.
Asbury. For decades it’s been known as a place of prayer, a place of revival, a place where God visits. Yesterday we took a drive to be a part, to experience a sacred move of God. As soon as we stepped on to the campus, we felt a different atmosphere. The line to get into the building was subdued, a reverence, a quiet hush, we were entering into something like we never had. As we entered Hughes Hall, we knew we had entered a different realm, something we had never experienced before. I didn’t want to see or be seen. Instantly, I wanted to set down in my seat and fade into the fabric of the authentic and genuine presence of God, and I did. I didn’t need to speak nor hear or be heard, I simply needed to listen. Listen to the voices, listen to worship, listen to the piano…listen to the Spirit of God. In this room there are no organizations, religions, doctrines or creeds, there is one focus, Jesus. In this room it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, the color of your skin, your social or educational background, what you are wearing, all that matters is Jesus. We are from different states and nations, but we are one in passion, a hunger, and it’s all about Jesus. The focus is not on miracles, signs, or wonders. There is no one pushing, prodding, or commanding you to worship or respond in a certain manner. While well known Christian leaders are showing up, they are not being recognized or acknowledged, they too fade into the fabric of what is happening. There is a pureness in the room, a clean desire for God’s presence. One phrase describes the rooms atmosphere, a hunger to be in God’s pure presence. The petitions of prayers aren’t about asking, simply praises of adoring, adulation, and about the wonder and splendor of the magnificent God we serve. If there is any request, it seems to be, “God forgive us of our sins.” There is no schedule here, in fact there seems to be no time. There was a beginning, but at the moment there seems to be no ending. The next song isn’t on a piece of paper and there has been no preparation, the moment is feeble and simply follows the flow of the Spirit, like a river flowing without boundaries. There is no pressure to stand or sit, no command to raise your hands or shout, just embrace the Spirit as it is speaking to you. In this place you feel humble, small, and insignificant, God is here, and He is being high and lifted up and His train is filling the temple. If one is not comfortable, not at home here, then you won’t be at home in heaven. No man, no person is the focus. There is no fleshy singing, no singer by action or by talent is saying, “look at me.” No keyboard, guitar, or bass player drawing attention to themselves, there is a unity of focus, the glory is going to Jesus and Him alone. Even as I write it feels so unsacred, but a scribe, an author, must write down what is happening today, so we don’t get lost in living in yesterday. This generation must know of these events and of a living God. Today, here at Asbury, as in heaven, so on earth, all glory belongs to Him who sits on the throne. This is what church across America should look like. This is what America needs. Please! As they are pleading at Asbury, bring the experience to your heart and home. Our world is starving for more than an hour and fifteen minute Jesus appetizer, more than a manipulated move, or a lifeless experience. Asbury is a cry from a world hungry for an authentic experience with God.
Setting three rows behind the student section in Hughes Hall at Asbury University, we are witnessing something uniquely amazing. God’s Spirit is being entertained by hundreds of young men and women under the age of 25 and thousands of people from around the world have come to join them. In front of me a young man has caught my attention. Ten years ago, I would have been appalled if my daughter would have introduced him to me as someone she might be interested in spending the rest of her life with. He didn’t fit my narrative, scraggly beard, and mustache. Long hair with a short ponytail sticking through a baseball cap he’s wearing backwards. He’s wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a sweatshirt and he has a smile that could melt butter. Some would call his attire disrespectful, but no one could deny that this guy is absolutely crazy about Jesus. He’s a yo-yo, but not in a bad way. The entire time we’ve been a part of the service he’s been standing and singing with all his heart, hands raised, setting in his chair weeping and repenting, or on the floor on his knees praying, often sobbing in brokenness or humility. When there is a call to pray with someone, he’s the first to interact with the person next to him, when there is a call to pray with anyone with their hands raised, he’s climbing over chairs, praying with as much sincerity as I’ve ever seen. When the service turns back to worship, he’s all in, totally engrossed in the moment. Suddenly, I hear him as he begins to pray in the spirit, not in a crazed way, but humbly and with so much authenticity. More than once you could sense that he was what some Christians would call, “lost in the Spirit,” overwhelmed by God’s presence. This young man is smart, sensible, solid and spiritual and he is really messing with pretty Christianity. The Pharisees of our day would surely reject him, he doesn’t fit their narrative. He doesn’t fit in the pristine Christian box of how Jesus would look or act. He wouldn’t be allowed to minister on their platforms or be a part of many ministries. I can hear them now, “nice guy, but he just doesn’t fit our narrative. Clean up, look the way we’ve designed Christianity to look, and come back and see us when you are Holy like us.” Funny, what the religious elite rejected two-thousand years ago is still rejected today. This young man makes me wonder how many of today’s “Christians” would reject Jesus and twelve ordinary men. I get the feeling Jesus and the disciples would be too messy for their narrative. After a day being a part of something very special happening in a small college in a little town in Kentucky we turn to leave. Our friend is back on the floor, weeping, sobbing, praying in the Spirit, and crying out to Jesus. My bet is he doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon, he’s got several water bottles and a small bag with some food. I’ve seen some peanut butter and crackers and some fruit snacks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are five loaves and two fish in there. Today I’ve decided I don’t own Jesus my way, His sovereignty, and the way He moves, or who He calls and uses. If you’re brave enough, pray, “God mess with my narrative.” We are living in an hour when God is asking religious people, will it be your way or mine; your narrative or mine. The real question is how will we respond? Our world is starving for more than an hour and fifteen minute Jesus appetizer, more than a manipulated move, or a lifeless experience. Asbury is a cry from a world hungry for an authentic experience with God.
I have been a follower of Jesus since I was 15 and I have been in full-time ministry for over 35 years. I’ve spent 15 years as an instructor at a Christian College and another 20 years as pastor of Life Connections. I’ve made it a priority to consume my Bible, not to study for a class or preach a sermon, but to know God. Since a teenager, I have been a man of prayer. I made prayer, learning to call and depend on God, one of the highest priorities of teaching in my college classes and I made prayer the greatest priority of the church we pastored in Fishers. For over 10 years Mary and I spent every Saturday evening praying for our Sunday services, asking that God would have precedence over any agenda or plan that we might have. I confess that nearly all my messages came, not from books or other’s sermons, but from being at an altar on a Saturday night searching for God’s will and a word for His people. We held monthly Prayer Services at our church for years and Mary and I circled our city on the first Wednesday of every month for 13 years. I have experienced the same Spirit filled dynamic that the apostles did in the book of Acts and been in many vibrant services where I have been overwhelmed by God’s presence. I have preached thousands of messages and prepared more Bible studies for college curriculum and our church community than you can imagine. Yet, I must confess I have seasons of doubt. Moments when I question God. Moments when I wonder, is there really a God, is He real. Sorry to be so raw, but transparency has always been a part of my life and ministry.
You may ask, why or how, could someone with all the study, time in prayer, experiences, and teaching have doubts and questions. First, I’ve seen too many wonderful people face heartache, pain, sickness, disease, and death that didn’t make sense. I don’t understand kids that are abused by their parents, war hurting innocent people, torture, famine, and the tragedy of natural disasters. I question why those who do evil succeed and have wealth, and those who do right live broken and struggle to make ends meet. Condemn me if you want, I’ve preached the messages you are preaching to me as you are reading this, but sometimes still, life just doesn’t make sense and it hurts. I know Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly,” and I’ve sang “by and by when the morning comes. . . we’ll understand it better by and by.” I struggle because I’ve prayed prayers for years, not days, not weeks but years that are still in the “wait,” or “no” categories. Some were selfish but others I am confident were not. In particular, I prayed as a college instructor that my students would experience an authentic move of God’s presence, no manipulation or hype, just a sovereign move that would be life altering. From the beginning of my pastorate, I prayed for myself, my family, and our community to experience an outpouring as in the book of Acts, Azusa, or like any moment in history when God overwhelmed the world with His presence. Now, after 20 years, and turning the church over to another minister, I anguish that we never got to lead people into the experience I had prayed for so desperately. So, how do I hang on? Why do I still believe? Two moments in my life.
One was an answered prayer. The answer came after a stage four breast cancer diagnosis in my wife, Mary, in December of 2015. Unfortunately, even though we had prayed, and even saw evidence of God’s working, Mary had to have a double mastectomy. It was three days after the surgery that we got the call from our very shaken cancer doctor, the words he spoke were spoken with confusion, disbelief, yet with glee, we wept uncontrollably when we heard him say, “there is no cancer in your limp nodes, I can’t explain it, but there is nothing.” He couldn’t come up with a logical explanation, but we knew instantly that God had healed Mary. Such a complete healing that after several follow-up appointments the doctor said there will be no radiation, no chemo, no five- or ten-year medicine’s, in fact, you never have to come back. Seven years later, she has still never returned.
The second life experience is my overwhelming reason I believe. More than my book of Acts experience, my knowledge of God’s Word, or Mary’s healing, it was a moment in a prayer service. These prayers services had been happening periodically for a couple of years. They were never hyped, no B-3 organ, no healing prophet, just organic prayer by people of faith for people who were sick, broken, hurting, and desperate. In this particular service I was one of several who had been invited to pray with those who would come to the front. We had been praying for people in cycles for over an hour and as the next group made their way to the front, a young man stood in front of me, I didn’t know his name, nor his story, and I still don’t. As I began to pray over him, and in a moment, something happened, not to him, but to me. My hand was on his shoulder and suddenly I felt a rush of electricity, a fire, a burning go through my body, almost like I had been shocked. I instantly stepped back, shaking, tears in my eyes, feeling overwhelmed, and honestly, confused. I sat down and wept, still feeling energy in my body and at a total loss as to what had just happened. The evening ended and when I got in the car, I told Mary about my experience. She was perplexed as well, but asked a question, “do you think maybe God healed you of your hay fever and allergies?” I remember saying, I don’t know, but I guess it’s possible.” For clarity, my hay fever and allergies were incredibly severe. I took the highest doses of prescription level Flonase and Claritin. I was allergic to dust, basically myself, and from July through October my eyes would swell shut, so severely that there would be days that I would have to cancel lectures. The day after my experience I woke up with no swelling or sneezing. The same thing happened the next day and the next. A week or so later I stopped using Flonase and Claritin and I haven’t needed or used either of them for over twenty-five years. I have no allergies and no clue when hay fever season is, except when I see someone else struggling. I am indescribably whole. Whole, not by a doctor or medicine. Not by a religion or a church. Not by a doctrine or creed. An experience. This is why I believe. It’s my anchor in my darkest hours and my deepest times of discouragement. An undeniable and unexplainable miracle and its why I never stop praying or believing in God.
The book of Acts covers from the ascension of Jesus to the death of Simon Peter and Paul. During the Acts timeline, Paul writes 13 books, 14 if you are of the belief that he is the writer of Hebrews. Simon Peter and James write another three, leaving just five books written after the Acts of the Apostles ends around 70 A.D. Nearly every epistle needs to be read through the prism of the book of Acts. The epistles are written during Acts to saints, people who have experienced the only Spiritual experience found in the 40 years that the book of Acts covers. I mention this because there is a word that catches my attention throughout the book. The word is suddenly, and depending on the version you read, it’s found over a dozen times. Luke wants us to know that much of what people witnessed in the book of Acts happened suddenly. It wasn’t planned, choreographed, or manipulated. The Spirit moved indiscriminately, at its own discretion, independent of any groups, agendas, or schedules. As we’ve started our sabbatical, we’re taking the opportunity to visit churches, something I’ve longed to do throughout my pastorate. I wanted to visit churches with different dynamics, see their systems, experience their services, and get a taste of their vision and passion. In some churches we’ve seen incredible vision, experienced great worship, and heard profound preaching and teaching, but left feeling like there was no room for the Spirit to have its liberty. Great experience, incredible talent, amazing messages, but no room for a “suddenly.” An hour to an hour and fifteen minutes and it was on to the next service or next week. In other venues we’ve left feeling like we were being hyped, manipulated, almost as if they didn’t need a “suddenly,” they could create a move of God on their own. Sing a song fast enough, repeat the chorus a dozen times, have a few timely key changes, and boom! A move of God. We left those services feeling like this was their Sunday routine. A lot of show, but not much substance nor dynamic growth happening in their lives. Different in style, but still no room for an authentic “suddenly.” In nearly every venue we’ve felt sincerity, God’s love, and a desire by each church for people to see Jesus and experience His presence. After some of our recent experiences, I returned to Acts to see when “suddenlys” happened. What I’ve found is that “suddenlys” happened in times of where prayer was the focus, “suddenlys” happened without scripts and programs. “Suddenlys” came without hype or manipulation and happened when people took time to seek God, were praying for His will, and were more concerned about God approval than what a crowd might think. As we’ve visited different church communities, we’ve heard this hunger communicated by others, “we just want to find a place where God’s presence can be experienced freely yet authentically.” Today, more than ever I’m sensing we need less polished, programmed, and planned church. We need less hyped-up, manipulated, and self-created services, and more desperate desire for a “suddenly.” We need more of what John 3:8 says, “like the wind blows. . . so does the Spirit.” Structure is invaluable, being relevant is critical, and doing things decently and in order should be properly balanced, but at the end of the day we need more divine intervention and more indescribable but undeniable. I pray that pastors, churches and more importantly, in each of our personal lives, we begin to desire more “suddenly there came a sound from heaven.”
Reduce Speed. Speed Zone Ahead. Speed Limit 20 m.p.h. We’ve all seen these signs that warn us that our speed must change soon. You’re flying along, making great time, but suddenly the pace slows to what feels like a crawl. The signs seem to come at the most inopportune time, invariably showing up when you’re late or in a hurry. Here in Indiana, drive on a state highway or county road and eventually you are going to drive into a one stop light or no stop light town. You’ve been cruising along at 65 or 70 and suddenly you’re running 20. Often it feels pointless. Most of the small towns have little or no traffic, not much commerce, and rarely do you even see a person stirring. More than once I’ve seen Barney Fife, the one local police officer, setting with his radar gun pinging drivers or have an out of towner pulled over. I often tried to understand why the need for such a slow pace. Maybe it’s a way to bring some income to the town. Maybe town residents complained about the excessive speed, maybe a local business or restaurant hopes it gets notice by the slower speed, or maybe I am driving through their town in the slowest part of the day. We’ve all driven on an interstate and ran into the Construction Zone Ahead Signs warning of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars in fines for speeding. How many of those areas have you driven through not to see a piece of equipment moving or any human movement? Still, you drive with the fear that you will be the one that gets the fine, and your next vacation or big screen tv is gone to pay for a ticket. There is a point for these signs though. They are there for someone’s safety. There may be elderly people who do business or small kids that play in the small towns, so to protect them, everyone slows down. Obviously, construction zones can be dangerous areas. Workers risk their lives to make ours more convenient, so by slowing down they are safer and eventually our lives are better. Winter is the slow down sign for those who live where the weather turns cold and snowy. It almost feels like it’s God’s sign for humanity to slow down. It gets dark early, the cold nearly eliminates outdoor activities, and if we get enough, snow can make life come to a halt. It seems it’s then and only then, that we throw on some flannels, put a fire in the fireplace, grab a blanket, and grab a good book or watch a movie. Our lives run too hot. Text messages are expected to be responded to within minutes, emails answered the same day, and there seems to always be a pressing meeting that can’t be missed. What is missed when we fail to slow down? A spouse that needs you to put down your phone and give them some attention like you gave them when you were dating. A child who wants you to hear about their struggle with someone in their class or for you to be totally engaged as they show you their school project. A person hurting or discouraged that just needs a listening ear, not for you to solve their issue your way and zoom out of their life. Should I go on? There are so many reasons to slow down, but we don’t, we run through the signs and on to the next “important” event. May I encourage you to look and listen for life signs that are saying, slow down. They may help someone else, but you might find that if you heed the warning sign that your life becomes more peaceful. Isaiah said in Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait (slow down) for the Lord Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Embrace the strength in slowing down.
Fasting. It’s become trendy. Social influencers and entertainers are embracing intermittent fasting as the latest weight loss craze. Twenty-one-day fasting is the rage in churches across America as a new year starts. While I appreciate the return to the focus on fasting, for many it has become more about being trendy than humbling ourselves or being changed. Community fast are biblical, the nation of Israel went on fast several times a year. These fast were solemn moments when individuals and nations pulled away from everyday life, humbled themselves, and surrendered their hearts before the Lord. Beyond community fast, the bible gives many accounts of people who fasted. Most of these fast were done in private and were the way people acknowledged their need for God and sought Godly direction. They didn’t have a plan for God but a humble awareness that said they desperately needed God to direct their situation. Jesus said, that when we fast, not if, that it should be done for Him, not to impress people or to appear religious. I’m afraid that much of the fasting done today has lost its focus. Too often fasting is done frivolously, the checking off a yearly box, and then moving on, life as usual. Biblically, the focus of a fast wasn’t supposed to be on food, or even the sacrifice. A fast was humbly acknowledging our need for God and asking Him to direct our paths. At some point, I began to understand that instead of focusing on one big fast at the beginning of my year, I needed to fast repeatedly. If you aren’t aware, we are constantly battling our flesh, and it must be humbled and submitted to God and His Word regularly. I came to understand that life has seasons, that we have moments when carnality creeps into the best of us, and for that reason, I needed to fast more frequently. For 25 years I began my year with a seven day fast of water only. I pulled away from pleasure, tuned into my bible with extra diligence, and spent extra time in prayer. It was always amazing how I came out of the fast; I felt clean, pure, and could see with different vision. Early on, I began to realize that I felt wonderful for a while, but it seemed that within a few months I was back to old thoughts and habits. It was then that I began to understand I needed more than a single seven day fast in my year. I decided to fast more frequently. I began to take a day in my week to fast and humble my flesh. A couple more times a year I would go on another three or seven day fast. It was a game changer. My spiritual life began to have consistency, the Word become more dynamic, and my times in prayer became more vibrant. For those who are fasting, congratulations! I encourage you to make it more than the trendy moment that happens every January, make it a regular discipline in your life. Pull away frequently from food or a vice, spend additional time in your Bible, and pray with the intention of knowing God. Your life will be forever changed. You will see and hear God in ways beyond your wildest imagination and experience His power in miraculous ways.
Not every season unfolds the way we might want it to. If we could choreograph our life there would be little pain, struggle, or difficulties. If we plotted our own lives, we would make sure that it was void of loneliness, fear, and failure. After 35 years in ministry, 15 in higher education and 20 as a pastor, I’m in transition, a new chapter of life. Gone are the deadlines, daily duties, and weekly messages. The new season is requiring that I learn how to rest and relax, take care of a grandson, and spend time exploring what my future might look like. To be honest, I’m not enjoying it. The rest and relaxation feels lazy and exploring the future is like looking for a needle in a haystack. As of now, I’ve decided to embrace my time with my grandson, Carter. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do realize that he has a lot more time in the future than I do. So, while it may not seem like the greatest challenge, I’m embracing my time with him with passion. While I might prefer to be writing sermons, it could be more important that I’m reading stories with inflection, sound effects, and silliness to a little boy. Truthfully, I’d rather be preparing for a new study series, but instead I find myself setting at a keyboard teaching Carter to play Mary had a Little Lamb and let him bang keys at every octave. I could go on, but you get the point. Why am I embracing the season with vigor? Two reasons. First, it’s what God has put in front of me, and I’ve always lived with the principle that whatever God gives me to do, I’ll do it with passion and excellence. Second, I embrace the moment because God knows better than I. Investing in Carter may be more important than I realize, I may be developing the next great author, speaker, or musician. Too many miss great opportunities because they view them as too small, but God said, “he who is faithful with the small things will be faithful with much.” It is important we realize that our lives are filled with ebb and flow, not every moment will be in the spotlight, nor will every moment be in the dark, it takes both to have a full life. Moses’ experienced three seasons in his life. The first was exciting and full of possibility, the last was filled with incredible successes. Moses’ most important moment was the middle season, the one that felt like failure, futility, and was filled with loneliness. It was there, in the desert, where Moses learned how to navigate the land, survive the wilderness, and manage people. Though he likely detested the season, he embraced it, and experienced a burning bush and received his ultimate calling. Difficult seasons often feel pointless and wasteful, and walking through them, we don’t view them as critically important to our lives. What are you walking through? While it may be overwhelming, painful, or confusing, it may be the very season that jettisons you into an inconceivable opportunity. Embrace the moment!
Green Valley. It’s a neighborhood in Noblesville where I grew up. You might describe our little community as the “Mayberry” of neighborhoods. Everyone knew one another, kids could stay out all day without parents worrying about their safety, and summers were filled with lots of free time. When I was around eight, a new family moved in across the street, and I quickly built a friendship with Rob. We both love ball, it didn’t matter if it was a football, basketball, or baseball. If it was football, most often I was the receiver, and he was the quarterback. The Green Bay Packers were the team, I was Carrol Dale, he was Bart Starr, and whether it was two on two or three on three, we were unstoppable. Our real love though was basketball. God only knows how many hours we spent playing one on one, horse, limme, or around the world on the asphalt drive at his house. The competition was fierce, almost as if we were competing for championships, and I must admit, though he was a year younger, he won more games than he lost, regardless of what we were playing. If we played against others there was always one rule, “Hudson and Cutter couldn’t be on the same team.” Together we were unstoppable. Breaks from the court would mean Mrs. Cutters chocolate chips cookies, milk, and maybe an episode of Gilligan’s Island, but those breaks would be short and soon we would be back on the court. Though we were neighbors, occasionally we would have sleepovers. It was on one of those occasions that Rob showed me his dad’s office. It was filled with basketball plaques and trophies, and he would tell me that back in the day his dad was a really good basketball player. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully understood who Rollin Cutter was. The trophies and plaques were from his high school championship at Milan Hight School. To be specific, the 1954 Milan basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.” I now realize I wasn’t just playing against Rob, but the genes of his dad. As we grew older Rob became more dominant and slowly our time on the court began to disappear. By 1982, when I graduated and he was a sophomore, most of his evenings were spent at practice, whether it was football or basketball. His dominance wasn’t something I alone experienced, but now, others were as well. He became the starting quarterback for the Noblesville High School football team and starting center for the basketball team. He was so dominant that he was being recruited by colleges for both sports. He eventually chose football, going to Butler University, where he was their starting quarterback. Reflecting on my childhood days, I remember how frustrated I would be that my best friend, who was younger than I was, was always beating me. I often felt as though I was a failure, that I wasn’t gifted, and as much as I practiced, I just couldn’t beat him. As I have grown older, I’ve come to appreciate my losses on the court to Rob. Why? Because while I was losing, I was winning. As he has for so many, Rob made me better than I could have ever been on my own. His challenging play caused me to find myself on the winning side instead of losing when playing other competition. Beyond his talent is his impeccable character. He is one of the most unassuming individuals I have ever met, one of the kindest persons you will ever meet, and his successes in life far surpass what he ever did on a football field or basketball court. Rob, thanks for your friendship and congratulations on being inducted into Noblesville High School’s Hall of Fame. Your life has been a demonstration of how to live a life of integrity and you are worthy of the honor.
Day one of 2023. A new beginning of sorts. A clean slate. A fresh piece of paper. The start of a new chapter. For some reason as this year opened, I reflected on one of the books by my favorite author, Bill Watterson. The books title is It’s a Magical World and it is a collection of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics. On the cover there is a fresh blanket of snow and Calvin and Hobbes have a large toboggan and big smiles on their faces. They are out to seize the day, enjoy the snow, and make new memories. Their expressions show no worry about issues of the day, only the pure excitement about what they are about to experience. For whatever reason my spirit resonated with the cover and how to approach 2023. While we could focus on the ills of society, dwell on the ugly in our world, or the problems in our marriage or family, today is an opportunity to change our focus. I think why I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes comic strips so much is because they make each day a new adventure. Rarely is he overwhelmed by the events of the day, instead he charges into each new day with childlike excitement. His imagination is filled with possibilities and his plans for the day are not dictated by the circumstances of his world. He is going to explore, create, and enjoy the day. Calvin is not the first to have this idea, in the Bible David said, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). David suggests that it’s important how we frame each day. We can meander into a day with fear and anxiety, or march into it with zeal and excitement. Calvin and David both suggest the latter and so do I. 2023 is our next chapter to write. Depending on your age, you may have many chapters still to write, or for some, there may just be a few remaining. Regardless, it is a new chapter. The good news we get to choose what goes on the page and how we approach each day will determine the chapters content. Live today filled with expectation, faith, and zeal. Look for possibility. Create energy, laughter, and fun. Daily use the 126 variations of Crayola colors, not a pencil. Tough days will come but let them be a page in the chapter, not the storyline. The first page of It’s a Magical World has Calvin and Hobbes sitting on the toboggan at the top of a hill, Calvin looks at Hobbes and says, “it’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy. . . let’s go exploring! May 2023 be filled with faith, possibility, laughter, and all the excitement that God has planned for you. Go exploring!
The first to see Him were not the blue bloods, the political elite, or those connected to the right social circles. In fact, the Wisemen, those who brought the wealth; gold, frankincense, and myrrh, didn’t arrive until Jesus was nearly a year old. The first to get an audience with God in flesh were shepherds, common men who took care of sheep. Jesus wasn’t born with a silver spoon in His mouth. He didn’t come from a family of movers and shakers or an aristocratic background, just a simple family from Nazareth. The Nazareth, that when Philip told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth.” Nathaniel’s statement doesn’t leave you feeling like Jesus came from the right side of town. You would more likely find Jesus at a greasy spoon than any upscale restaurant in your local fashion district. One of the complaints the religious elite often had against Jesus was that he ate with publicans and sinners, common people. Jesus’ choice of leaders? Common Joe’s, fishermen and tax collectors. It seems it was almost a chore to dine with the who’s who. It’s as though He knew their agenda, not to build authentic relationship, but to broker deals and have influence. Jesus often seemed to be repulsed by their haughtiness, arrogance, and pride, maybe that’s why he gave so much time to the average person. He spent time with a broken woman at a well in the heat of the day, stopped for an old woman with incurable sickness, and more than once had to provide food to crowds who were either too poor, or didn’t have enough sense to bring food for a long day. His disciples tried to stop kids from getting to Him, but unlike them, Jesus didn’t see children as annoyances, but treasures. Though they were small and seemed insignificant, Jesus regularly paused and took time for them. In Philippians 2 Paul said, “that He made of himself no reputation,” and described Him as a servant, humble and common. Paul lets us know that Jesus would have likely spent little time creating his image, being a social media influencer, or rubbing shoulders with the clicks or “the in the crowd,” He was simply common. He was incredibly popular, but it never changed who He was. He kept His balance by praying often and never forgetting His purpose, to save the lost, broken, and hurting. It’s Jesus who we should pattern our lives after, not the latest concept or trendy pastor, just Jesus. While we’ve fell far short, this has been Mary and I’s goal from the outset of our ministry. At the college I worked at, everyone was always welcomed into my office, it wasn’t a place for the “big I’s and little you’s,” but a place everyone knew they could come for a listening ear. At lunch you would often find Mary and I sitting at the table with the students rather than with the staff, it just felt like the right place to be. As pastors at Life, we made sure that we took time for everyone. We consistently had lunch with “regular families.” We intentionally spent a lot of time with widows, students, and people who were hurting. They were our kind of people. We struggled and even avoided those who wanted to gossip, be in the know, or tried to influence us with their money or social standing. It felt so empty. Now, after 30 years of ministry, one of the greatest blessings is connecting with students or church members from years gone by and hearing them say, “you guys were so different,” we’ve never met ministers like you all,” or “you all are just so common.” We blush, smile, and say, thank you. It wasn’t an agenda, or learned concept, we were, and still are, just trying to be like Jesus. Common and kind to the common.
I’m getting older and my musical taste is headed that direction too. I admit it, I like Rascal Flatts, especially at Christmas. When Mary and I are ready to put up the Christmas tree nothing sets the mood better than Rascal’s version of Go Tell it on the Mountain. Crank up their version of Joy to the World in our home and you’ve got instant Christmas spirit. If I’ve got to have something a little more traditional, give me their rendition of Hark, the Herald Angel Sing and I’m at Bethlehem. What cranks your gears? Who is your Christmas artist of choice? Maybe for you it’s a little Mariah Carey and Jesus, What a Wonderful Child or Carrie Underwood singing All is Well. Whatever your flavor, it’s time to bring out the Christmas music, the one’s that magnify Jesus’, and celebrate the birth of the Savior. This season is not about Santa and reindeer, gifts and greed, but God who came in a baby’s body to save a broken world. If there is ever a time this world needs to know His story, it’s now. Our culture is confused, families are fractured, and our country is as divided as ever. There seems to be no solution, but for those who know Jesus and His story, even in the darkest of hours, there is hope. Why sing Go Tell it on the Mountain? Because people need to know the story of our Savior. Why blare Joy to the World? Because you live in a world filled with despair and people need to hear that there is real joy in Jesus. So, dial in your Spotify Christmas list, play it loud, and play it often. Go tell it on the mountain, or at least in your world.
I’m not sure if I have a finicky palate or a limited palate, whatever it is, I’m extremely happy when my meal involves pizza or hamburgers. That said, Mary has broadened my palate substantially over the past 30 years. She’s gotten me to eat all kinds of vegetables, casseroles, and countless other dishes. I’ve often told her that her kitchen is my favorite restaurant, not because it saves me money, but because the way she prepares dishes is better than about any restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. To me, her ability to prepare about any dish with just the right seasonings is second to none. As we move into the Christmas season, people are anticipating her sugar cookies, and I guarantee you that there is no way you can eat “just one.” With all the bragging about her cooking, I must say she has had a struggle with one of my favorite breakfast dishes, wait for it . . . biscuits and gravy. For years she tried to get it down, but hers often turned out too salty, peppery, bland, but most often, too sweet. When I worked at Indiana Bible College, I would brag about the late Pat Liford’s biscuits and gravy. They were so good that I got her to set the weekly biscuit and gravy meal around my class schedule. This made the whole biscuits and gravy thing worse for Mary, to say she is competitive is an understatement, and this became a battle she was determined to win. She eventually went to Pat, asked for her recipe and the rest is history, sort of. I remember the first time she made Pat’s recipe; I tasted it while it was simmering in the pan and I remember saying, “that’s it, you’ve got it figured out.” I was so excited to sit down and enjoy Mary’s biscuits and gravy. I cracked open a couple of biscuits, layered a heavy covering of gravy, and dug in. To my surprise something had happened between the pan and the plate, the gravy had a sweet flavor, something that I, as an official connoisseur of biscuits and gravy, totally disliked. It was then we discovered the problem, not just for the moment, but probably for years. Mary’s struggle with biscuits and gravy wasn’t her gravy, it was the biscuits! She had been buying a sweet biscuit, while nearly everyone else used a southern or buttermilk biscuit. The gravy she had made may have been fine, but the biscuit was changing the taste. Like our biscuit and gravy problem, I wonder how many are struggling trying to fix problems, not realizing they are focused on the wrong issue. We try to fix ourselves when we need God’s help. We stay in frustrating relationships blaming ourselves when it is often others creating the problem. We get into difficult situations, trying to make them work, when it really isn’t supposed to be a part of our life. What are you dealing with? What has been a struggle for a long time? Maybe it’s not the gravy, but the biscuit.
A holiday postcard. A Norman Rockwell Christmas painting. The Christmas song, “Silver Bells.” All will give you the essence of the town Mary and I get to call home. It’s Noblesville during the Christmas season. The light posts all have snowflakes, bells, and ornaments attached that light up in the evening. Santa’s house sets on the town square reminding you that Christmas will soon arrive. Drive through in the evening and the county courthouse is lit in red and green. On any given Saturday you may see an elf on the square, and you will definitely see families lined up to visit Santa in his cozy little workshop. If you come early, stop in at the Uptown Café, Rosie’s, or Erika’s for a homemade breakfast. If you aren’t able to catch breakfast, at least stop into Noble Tea and Coffee, and grab a mocha or coffee before hitting the quaint shops. Each shop has its own unique décor, and all make you feel as you just stepped into Christmas. There is the Logan Street Mall with nearly 50 local vendors and the Old Picket Fence Shop filled with antiques. If your taste is for something more of the retro style or Magnolia, step into Vintage Adventure or Persimmon’s Avenue and you’re sure to find something you can’t leave without. If you plan for a December weekend visit, you will want to take the kids on the Reindeer Express train ride. Still need more? Grab dinner at one of the many restaurants, I have an affinity for Grindstone Pub or a good Italian dish at Matteo’s. Finally plan on finishing off the evening with a horse driven carriage ride through downtown, a walk through the Christmas Light village, or some ice skating at Federal Hill Park. I may have a bit of a bias and be a little nostalgic but add a big snowstorm and you have the perfect opportunity to see a Norman Rockwell scene in person, and the place Mary and I get to call home.
Over the past month I have been in battle with leaves. Though the number is somewhere in the tens of thousands, it seems as though I’ve blown and raked a million of them. Every time I think I’ve won the battle a wind blows, and more leaves. They come from trees, neighbors’ yards, the golf course, wherever. My frustration is multi-faceted. One problem is that trees don’t release their leaves at the same time, instead, it is a process that starts in mid-October and finishes at the end of November, at least I hope it’s finished. Another problem is that some people care about leaves, blow and rake them, and others don’t. You can see the issue here. The leaves of people who don’t care end up in the yards of those who do. I will forgo chasing this rabbit, but needless to say, I wish everyone cared about leaves. What I’ve come to realize is this, the real issue is not leaves, but wind. If the wind didn’t blow, the leaves would fall, be blown and raked, and that would be the end of it. But the wind turns it into a never-ending battle. Soon the issue will change, instead of leaves, it will be snow. Snow, in itself, is beautiful, changing drab gray days and landscapes void of color, into winter wonderlands. But wind changes the game. Depending on the amount of snow and the strength of the wind, you can have drifts that are three and four times the height of the amount of snow. A 12” snow with wind can easily produce three-foot drifts. Gentry and I experienced the power of wind a couple of weeks ago at Pikes Peak. As we neared the top, we were stopped by a ranger that said we couldn’t go any further up the mountain. What was the issue? Snow? Yes and no. Though the road was clear where we were, and there was only eight or nine inches of snow on the ground, the winds ahead were 75 mph with gust of 100 mph. The peak had become undriveable, The winds were so strong that the small amount of snow had closed the road. My point here is simple. Sometimes, the issue is not the issue, that what we are dealing with is not a person or issue, but a spirit. The battle is often like the ones we fight with leaves and snow, we’re not really fighting snow and leaves, but wind. Paul told the church in Ephesus, you are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but powers, darkness, and wickedness in the heavens. Paul is warning us that there is spiritual warfare above us. How do we deal with this war, with issues beyond our control? Do two things. Pray and wait. Isaiah 40:31 says, “they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.” What are you going through? Who are you battling? The person, the issue, is not really your problem. Your battle is with a wind that is trying to overwhelm, discourage and defeat you.
My son Gentry has a zeal for life like no one I’ve ever met. He’s 26 and loves to travel the world. He’s been to countless National Parks, Ireland, and Iceland, yet ask him today what one of the highlights of 2022 is, and he would tell you a day trip with his dad. Unfortunately, the past year has been filled with much upheaval and one of the tragic results was me saying, “no” to countless trips that Gentry wanted to take with me. Finally, with our pastoral transition behind me, a little extra cash, and some spare time, I was able to say yes to a trip. First, I should say I am thankful that Gentry continued to ask me to go on trips; that he didn’t give up on me. He had every right to become bitter and resentful. What it spoke to me was, that more than any gift I could give him, he wanted to have time, make memories, and experience life with his dad. Again, a blessing I will forever be thankful for. As for the trip, it was short, just one day. It started early, 4 a.m. We were on a plane to Detroit by 6 a.m. and by 10:30 a.m. we were standing in Denver. He had rented a car, planned the day, and taken care of every imaginable detail. The day was amazing. It wouldn’t be a Gentry trip if it didn’t mean getting lost, we managed to do that within the first hour, trying to find a Dunkin Donuts. Somehow, we ended up in the middle of an office complex parking lot. Once we got our coffee, we were off to the Garden of the God’s, a state park just south of Denver. We walked, hiked, and climbed for a few hours, though both of us eventually admitted it was a little less than overwhelming, and that there were so many people on the rocks that we felt like ants at a picnic. From there things got much better. A much bigger venue, and a lot less people. Pikes Peak. We enjoyed every twist and turn, the scenic views, and ever-increasing snow. We ventured up the mountain to a little over 13,000 feet when we rounded a corner to see a park ranger. The news was not what we wanted to hear. Winds were blowing at 75 mph, with gust over 100 mph. Our journey had ended. We through some snowballs, got some pictures, and headed back down the mountain. The day was long from over though, from there he had planned our next expedition, downtown Denver. We saw Mile High Stadium, Coors Field where the Rockies play, and some local shops, before finding a restaurant and settling down for dinner. The day was over, so I thought, but Gentry had one more adventure for me to experience. Flights were tight, but he managed to get a us a flight to Houston, one caveat, we would have to sleep in the airport, something that he had done many times, but would be my first experience. I survived. I woke up understanding that there are some strange people in airports after midnight, sore, and very tired. By noon on Sunday, we were back in Noblesville setting at Chili’s, reliving the journey, and already embellishing the trip. Some simple observation. No matter how old they are, and no matter how busy you may be, take time for those who matter most. Make more memories than money. Give your kids, regardless of their age, the best you have . . . yourself.
Parke County, It’s a fall tradition for Mary and me. We take a day, grab a cup of coffee at Urban Grounds in Rockville, hit a few shops in town, and then we’re off to the main attraction, to see the bridges. To be exact, thirty-one covered bridges. Some you have to walk; some you get to hear the clonking of wood planks as your car crosses the bridge. Nothing like taking a few hours to step into the past and enjoy a time that was much simpler and slower. There’s one requirement to experience the bridges of Parke County, you must leave the main roads, even the secondary roads, and drive on country, one lane, and gravel roads. The bridges of Parke County make you step away from the crowds, slow down, and enjoy nature and the beautiful colors of fall. I think that’s what Mary and I like best. Most of the bridges are on gravel roads, nestled in forest, farmland, and places that only those who are intentionally looking, will find them. The bridges of Parke County aren’t just about the bridges for us, it’s more about enjoying the atmosphere, nostalgia, and the dream of a simpler life. Driving on a gravel road slows your pace to about 10 mph, gives you time to reflect on the past, and have conversations you’ve need to have, but haven’t, because life just gets too busy. In my humble opinion a lot of us could use a drive to Parke County and the thirty-one covered bridges. You would enjoy the bridges, but the purpose of your trip wouldn’t be about them, but about getting off the interstate of life and letting your mind spend some time on a peaceful gravel road. It’s on the gravel road where you will get a sense of what’s important again, reconnect with your spouse, and see that there’s more significant issues than what’s happening on social media or getting to the next movie or game. The color of fall may be gone, and snow is on the way, but I still would invite you to put a trip down a gravel road on your calendar, or at least in the back of your mind.
Hero of the faith. Humble Servant of God. Visionary Leader. An Investor in Young Men. A Passion for Lost Souls. The list could go on and on. No one stands alone but on the shoulders of others, and I stand on the impact of T.L. Craft. He is why I was allowed to spend 15 years at Indiana Bible College and 20 years as Pastor of Life Connections. He believed in me, gave me a chance, and invested in me, as he has done for so many. I loved the days when I was in the office, and he would call and tell me to meet him at the golf course. This is where he poured so much wisdom into me as a young man. I don’t know if it was his way of emptying out the stress of pastoring or that he sensed that God had a specific plan for my life that prompted the calls. Regardless, I’m grateful for those days that we chased the little white ball together, but more thankful that I listened to his wisdom and insight on those hot Mississippi days. As an emerging minister, having an elder that poured into my life made such a difference in my life and eventually impacted how I would pastor. He once told me, “Jon, you can sheer a sheep a 100 times but you can only skin them once.” I never forgot that piece of advice. It saved me many times from making “in the moment mistakes,” and potential repercussions of acting in frustration. Prayer was always a priority at his church, something that left an indelible mark on me, and I will never forget experiencing the most sovereign move of God I have ever seen in one of his Sunday services. I have talked about that service my entire ministry and longed to experience something similar to it again my whole life. So saddened by his passing but thankful for getting to be a part of his incredible life. Rest in peace Pastor and enjoy the place you preached about so often.
* This blog is a part of a series called the Tribute Series, My Influencers.
Sand. I have a love hate relationship with it. I say this because the beautiful sandy shores of Orange Beach was my home last week. As I set on the beach enjoying the gentle breeze, watching waves, enjoying family, and reading books, I also had to deal with sand. I must admit that I enjoyed playing games, drawing sketches, and taking walks with Mary in the sand, but there was another side of sand I didn’t enjoy. It was everywhere I didn’t want it to be, in my lunch, stuck to my skin, and eventually into nearly everything we owned. I got home and found sand in my luggage, our car, and clothes. What I’ve determined is sandy venues are nice places to visit, but not a place I necessarily want to live. In Orange Beach, like so many other beaches, it appears that homes are built on the beaches but look closely and you will see that nothing is built on sand. The homes are built on wood foundations that go deep below to soil. Luxurious condominiums that rise into the sky are set on foundations that go as deep as they are high. There is a parable where Jesus talks of how we should build. In the parable Jesus speaks of two builders who built homes. One built on sand and the other solid ground. Jesus says that after the homes were built, storms came, and the home that was built on sand collapsed, while the one built on strong ground, stood. Notice, the problem wasn’t the material, the problem was the foundation. This parable causes me to ask, what are we building our lives and culture on? Things, people, and ideas that shift, change, and move like sand, or on principles and values that have stood the test of storms, time, and difficulty? There is a current of religious culture that feels very sandy. It says have the right look, connect to the right people, have trendy social media, and you will draw a crowd and that makes a successful church community. Don’t rock the boat or make people feel uncomfortable. While it looks good, it’s sandy. No conviction. No call to altars or repentance, and definitely, no allowance for the Spirit to have any freedom in a service. Shudder to think that they might allow signs, wonders, or miracles to work, it might alarm the sinner. Keep the environment controlled and comfortable. It’s sand. What will stand the test of storms and time? Pretty simple. Anything built on the power and Word of God and anywhere there is passionate prayer, and the Spirit is allowed to have liberty.
Payton Manning. He doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as some. He didn’t have a canon for an arm, and he may not have looked like some kind of physical specimen, but he will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the position of quarterback. What he lacked in strength, he made up for in preparation and study. No one knew their playbook or the opposing defense better. He would spend hours on end studying, not only his playbook, but watching film of opposing teams’ defense. He knew the subtleties of opposing players. He could tell if a blitz was coming by which hand a player put on the ground. He knew how teams would disguise their coverage to the point, that he often told opposing teams’ players that they were out of position before snapping the ball. When a game started, he had scripted his first 25 plays, knowing the opposing team’s tendencies. His intellect of the game was and still is, incomparable. But probably his greatest ability was to call an audible. Regardless of what he had scripted, how much he had prepared, if he noticed a nuance in a defense, he would instantly change the play. It didn’t matter how much he had practiced or scripted, if he saw a weakness in a defense, he audibled. His code word was “Omaha.” If his teammates heard it, they knew Payton was changing the play, if the opposing team heard it they knew they had been exposed. At the word Omaha, defenses would panic and scramble to try to make a change in their scheme. Payton’s ability to go off script allowed him to destroy defenses, and sometimes it seemed, he could score at will. We as Christians, in church services, in our daily walk, we need to know when to call an audible. We need to know when the Spirit is leading us toward a defining moment. As they would each day, Simon Peter and John were on their way to prayer, but this day would be different. As they were walking, they heard the Spirit say, today I want you to stop at the beggar’s station, speak a word, and pick up the beggar. By obeying, by audibling, a miracle took place and an explosion of growth moved through the church. Plan your day, plan a service, but once we’ve got it all together always be ready for a “Omaha” moment. It’s often when we go off script that we see the miraculous and experience the supernatural!
The array of colorful fall leaves. Pumpkins. Crisp Nights. Bonfires. Warm apple cider. Hayrides. Just the words and you want to throw on a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. After a long hot summer, there is nothing like that first forecast of fall temperatures. At the Hudson home the first hint of fall means it’s time for the fall décor. Suddenly our home has more foliage than a small forest, pumpkins are on the porch, and fall pillows and a farm truck fill the bench in our entry. It’s amazing how just a subtle change in temperature can have such an impact on our life. May I suggest the same can happen in your spiritual life. A subtle change can alter the course of your family. Start your day with a few moments of devotion or throw on some worship music and watch what can happen. Often your heart, spirit, and even your attitude changes. Things that might annoy you or set off tension in the home suddenly disappear. The kids getting up late is met with a gentle response. The spouse who forgot they had an early morning meeting, instead of being met with a rolling of the eyes, is met with a cup of coffee and a kiss. You see more sunshine, more smiles, and have more grace on those around you. Why not give it a try? As easy as it is to accept the changing of the seasons when the temperature changes, so it can be when we change the atmosphere of our life. As we pull out our flannel, rekindle your faith. Let’s make a change, not only our wardrobe and décor, but the atmosphere of our homes.
January 12, 2012. It’s the 12-5 Pittsburgh Steelers against the 8-8 Denver Broncos in the playoffs. It had been a back-and-forth game, and as fate would have it, the game would go to overtime. The overtime last just one play. Tim Tebow would find Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown, and in an instant, the game was over. The Denver players celebrated, fans went delirious, and Tim Tebow raised his hands in jubilation, but almost instantly, viewers watched as he quickly bowed his knee. No one should have been shocked, it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be his last. He was known for kneeling. It happened in college games, it happened at public events, and I’m sure it happened in his private life. At any time and in any place, when there was a moment to give thanks or honor, Tebow would kneel. In a very simple way, Tebow’s actions somewhat mimicked the actions of the patriarch, Abraham. Abraham was a man of altars. In his youth, Abraham understood his need for God’s guidance, so he built an altar at Shekem. As he grasped his dependence on God, he built a second altar, this one at Bethel. In Hebron, he builds a third altar, this time realizing God was his friend, that God was not against him, but for him. He builds his final altar at Moriah, showing God his total commitment to Him. While we often reflect on Abraham’s faith, it was his altars that was a demonstration of his faith. Throughout his life Abraham bowed, he acknowledged God and his dependence on Him. Not only did Abraham build and live at altars, but he also instilled the value of an altar in his son. As they head up Mount Moriah, look at Isaac’s question. Isaac asks, “dad, we’ve got the wood and we’ve got the fire, but where is the sacrifice?” If there is no example, if there is no training, there would have been no question. How about you? Do you still build altars? Are you training your family to live near an altar? Are you giving them a legacy of appreciation?” An altar, not a one stop moment, but a continual, life enhancing value that must be visited often. If we do, it will sustain us through every phase and challenge of our life.
As Mary and I close out the chapter as Pastors at Life Connections and enter into the next phase in our lives I felt it necessary for those we call friends to hear my heart and voice. Here are my thoughts as close a beautiful chapter and enter an exciting next phase of our lives. As you read, I simply want you to see the blessing of God that has been on our lives and invite you to take inventory of yours and see how blessed you are. Sometimes seeing blessings is just a matter of perspective.
1. Blessed to have Godly parents. Mom and dad, Milford and Alice Hudson, set the foundation that everything my life is built on. Julie Hudson Robinson, my amazing sister, and I owe everything we are to them.
2. Blessed to grow up and now live in Noblesville, Indiana. If you’ve ever wanted to live or go to Mayberry, you’ve got to come to Noblesville. It’s where I learned the value of common sense and how to live just being myself.
3. Blessed to set under amazing pastors. Pastor Nathaniel Urshan taught me how to minister with balance, pastor James Larson taught me to pray and then pray some more, pastor T.L. Craft taught me endurance, and pastor Paul Mooney taught me how to laugh and be creative.
4. Blessed to go to Jackson College of Ministries where I was impacted by Darrell Johns and Ron Cooper. It’s here I met my lifelong and best friend Robert Tisdale.
5. Blessed when Mary Odum Hudson kicked her shoes off in the Indy Hyatt and introduced herself to me. It would be the beginning of the greatest privilege in my life, to be her husband. To share life and more incredibly good times and laughter than a person could imagine is my greatest honor.
6. Blessed to have two amazing children, Gentry Hudson and Risa Hudson Fontaine and now a son in law Jake, and a grandchild, Carter. Gentry and Risa are not gold, they are the highest class diamonds, they have such incredible depth as Christians and are two of the finest people I know. Keep the truth and principles we have lived before you and taught you. Your future is bright!
7. Blessed to teach over 2000 students at Indiana Bible College. This will always be something we will point to as highlight of our ministry. To be trusted as a young couple to impact students in a powerful way, to see moves of God in their lives in my classes, and then watch as they grow into incredible ministers is one of my greatest treasures. You will always be family, not just students.
8. Blessed to start Life Connections, a Spirit filled and led church that didn’t have all the walls of religion and didn’t shun hurting people who loved God. We didn’t require all the religious entanglements, but we did teach the gospel, the power of prayer, and the value of being authentic. It has been an incredible journey. We’ve had over 2000 people pass through our doors in our 20 years. Life Connections was always a hospital. Many people came hurt, were healed, and then moved on to do greater things. To those who have stayed, I would say I got to pastor some of the most amazing people in the world, it is a privilege, not only to be your pastor, but be your friend. Thank you for sharing your lives with us.
9. Blessed to go through some incredibly difficult and dark times. We’ve faced personal attacks, attacks on our character and integrity, cancer, diabetes, sickness, and emotional darkness and stood strong and came through without bitterness by the grace of God. Without these challenges we would not have been able to minister to people with faith, grace, mercy, and unconditional love. As Paul said, we glory in our weakness and infirmities, they made us who we are.
10. Blessed to see Life Connections transition to Pastor’s Phil and Annie Daigle. We see an amazing and incredible future for you all. Stay on your knees in prayer, build altars, keep the faith and truth, and stay authentic, there is no ceiling on the future if you do. We’re blessed to call you all our pastors.
11. Finally. We are blessed as we step into the future. While we don’t know where it leads or what it looks like, because of the blessings you just read about over the last 30 years, we are certain that it will be blessed and favored. Our life and ministry has not been built on titles, positions, or positioning, but on being humble and willing servants and seeing the Kingdom advance regardless of the struggle, pain, and hurt. We know we have purpose and we know some of our greatest adventures lie ahead. We love you all and look forward to sharing the future together.