Moving toward a new year, one of your purposes should be to create a culture in your heart, life and home that is growing closer to God. For your spiritual life to be authentic, your relationship with God must become personal; you must have ownership. One of the best ways to grow in passion and make spiritual changes is to read inspiring and challenging books. As you read, take time to pray and fast a day or a meal. Below are some suggested reads for 2019 that will change your life.
The Bible (Start with Proverbs and read as led.)
Draw the Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson
The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn (365 Day Devotional)
The Fasting Edge by Jentezen Franklin
Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala
It’s Not About Me by Max Lucado
Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt by Jentezen Franklin
The year, and especially the past nine months, had seen more twist, turns, ups and downs than a roller-coaster. It was more than they could have ever imagined. The announcement of their engagement had filled their lives with celebration, travel, gifts and preparation for marriage. Nowhere in their engagement script was a pregnancy. They were virtuous and God-fearing people. Their family had taught them the law with passion and they loved God with all their heart. But a visit of an angel to Mary brought news beyond comprehension. She was stunned and speechless, filled with joy but at the same time feeling the sting of the overwhelming challenges. To be the one chosen to be overshadowed by the Spirit and bring God to earth was the greatest of honor. To explain it to her family and soon to be groom was nearly an impossible task. Joseph’s angelic dream brings some strength and hope to the moment, but still there are doubts. Those doubts would visit often; the thought of divorce would surface in his mind almost daily. Resolve moves into both of their hearts and they decide they will believe in the words from Heaven. That the pregnancy was supernatural and that God was truly growing inside of a teenager from Nazareth. Though they believed, others didn’t. There were endless questions from their parents. Friends strayed and foes judged. There are whispers, innuendo and downright rude gazes. That an angel visited a young couple from Nazareth with a prophetic word, and teenagers at that, was just too much. May we suggest that there was even mockery. There is an incredible moment when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth; her baby leaps with joy inside her womb. There came flashes of hope when Joseph and Mary were alone and realized, it’s God in her womb. The end of the pregnancy brings yet another challenge. Herod has called for a tax, one that required families to return to the home of their birth. So, nine months pregnant, they begin a pilgrimage. It too is filled with challenges. Dangerous travel, poor weather and challenging terrain are all a part of the journey. Mary, days from birthing a child, must keep up with the caravan. For nearly two weeks, through rain, cold and wind they walk. Down mountain paths, across deserts and then a fifteen-mile ascent through rocky cliffs. When it seems as though it can’t get any more overbearing, it does. Bethlehem, a wide gap in the road on the journey to Jerusalem is their destination. They arrive in the small village only to find the family house already filled with relatives. No room in the house, they are relegated to the stable behind the house. Cold, damp, smelly; what place could be lowlier for the birth of any child, much less God in flesh. A stable, a place for animals now houses God. In the midst of all the hardship and difficulty, when no one could see the possibility, Joseph and Mary likely feeling hurt, lost and forgotten have no idea that the world changed. That night would be end of so much and the beginning of so much more. No one knew that in that moment the dateline would change from B.C. to A.D. No one knew that night that the sheep He laid among would never again have to die for the sins of a man. It was just a rough nine months for two obscure teenagers who believed the impossible could happen through them. Who could have imagined? Probably not Joseph and Mary. Whatever this year has held, whether hills and valleys, twist and turns you’ve walked through, know three things. First, the journey can be hard but you will make it. Second, regardless of how it looks in the moment, the impossible may be taking place in the midst of the most difficult situation. Finally, like Joseph and Mary, God has been with you, is with you and will always be with you. Christmas. The celebration of change!
The unexpected. It brings a myriad of emotions from screams to tears. Sometimes people faint while others dance. The unexpected, when the impossibility becomes a reality. One year we surprised our kids with a puppy. It was so far off their radar that when they opened the box they literally froze in shock. They were so stunned that they set in silence for what felt like five minutes. We nearly had to shake them back to reality, but when we did, the pandemonium was unbelievable. Dancing, shouting and screaming all ensued as the reality of the moment sunk in. The story of Christmas is about God doing the stunningly unexpected. An angel shows up in a forgotten little burg to a young teenager, calls her highly favored, and announces she will be the mother of Emmanuel, God with us. Unexpected. Simple and unassuming shepherds sitting on a quiet hillside tending sheep when suddenly there is an explosion of light and sound as the skies are filled with angels singing, Hosanna. Unexpected. I wonder how many people in the tiny town of Bethlehem were asking, “who is this teenage couple,” as lowly shepherds show up to honor Him and Magi come with mountains of gifts. Who could have imagined that God in flesh in the form of a baby had come to their town? Unexpected. Christmas and the gifts under the tree. They fill us with imagination, wonder and maybe the unexpected. They are to remind us of what Jesus did and can still do. The unexpected.
Keep your focus on your destination. Regardless of the circumstances, situations or difficulties, never lose sight that Heaven is your ultimate goal. The map is flat but the journey is not. There are twists, turns, hills and valleys. The more you journey the more the atmosphere changes. There are times when the skies are dark and the road slippery. There are times when the sky is blue and the sun bright and you feel nothing can stop you. The map shows opportunities but not the obstacles. There are times when the road is clear sailing and moments when the road is so congested that you are unsure if you can make it. There are days when it will feel like you go five feet and days when you will think you’ve traveled five thousand miles. The map shows the route but not the rough roads. There will be unexpected detours, times of construction, but always remember that when it gets rough, good times are just ahead. Take time to refuel. Enjoy the journey. Learn something in each opportunity and see the good even in tough times. Day after day, step by step, just keep going. You will make it to your destination and when you get there you will forget about the journey. What you wanted to see will be greater than all the struggles it took to get there. As the old hymn says, “it’s going to be worth it all, some beautiful happy day.”
Looking down at my meal as I got ready to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner I saw a full plate. As I looked at my plate I reflected on how much it was a representation of my life; full. What makes the plate of my life full is not the things of this world but the presence of God in my life and family. Our lives are full when we have a hunger for God and have a desire to spend time with God. Our lives are blessed when we understand that God’s Word brings such strength and power to our day and that we recognize our time in prayer as the most important time of our day. Our plates are full when we realize that we are fortunate to have an extended family that worships with us, prays for us and goes with us through the difficult seasons of life. Our plate is full when we understand that the most important thing that we can leave for our children is a spiritual legacy. A legacy that is built on the powerful name of Jesus and the absolute necessity of being filled with and living a Spirit led life. Do you have a full plate? Don’t look at your material possessions, but what really matters, your relationship with God. If you have a life that knows about Jesus and His work on Calvary, your plate is full.
A raindrop, pebble, rock or stone; no matter the object or size, it creates a ripple that the diameter, effect and end, no one knows. The impact of our lives, are much like a ripple. We serve God, share the Gospel, give money and tell our story, yet often leave this life not knowing the impact of our existence. Stephen is an example of such a life. The Bible simply says that Stephen was a man full of faith, full of grace and power and full of the Spirit. His life ends tragically with a stoning by wicked men. Those who witnessed his life likely talked about his potential and all that he could have done if God had spared his life. Yet, that day was just the splashing of a stone. The impact of his life had not ended, but just began. That day a young Saul watched his stoning and a ripple started in his heart. A ripple that would takes years to see its effect, but on a road to Damascus, everything changed. Saul becomes Paul, is converted, and the rest is history. Countless messages preached, missionary journeys, many churches established and twelve epistles written. All a ripple effect from a life that seemed to end so senselessly. When we get to Heaven I imagine Stephen will be shocked by the impact of his life. I have a feeling it will be the same for many today who read this story. Live a life that leaves a ripple.
I need new shoe strings. It’s not that I can’t afford them, it’s just that I haven’t taken time to go to the store. So, I deal with frayed shoe strings that get in tangled knots. Instead of taking a few minutes to make the purchase I find myself spending extended time trying to untangle the knots. What a picture of life. There are so many aspects of life that become complicated, not because God doesn’t have the solution but because we refuse to bring our difficulties to Him. Instead of saying, “God I’ve got a mess or God, this is broken,” we sit for hours, weeks and months trying to untangle, get the “knots” out, by our self. Jesus said, “come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden or overwhelmed and I will give you rest,” in essence just give it to me. How many times do we find ourselves wanting to talk it out with a friend or even worse, trying to fix it our self. Our lives will have areas that get frayed and there will be complications. Just like the solution to my shoe strings is to go to the store and buy a new pair of strings, the solution for our tangled and knotted messes is Jesus. Have complicated situations in your life that’s bringing stress? It’s time to simplify, take them to Jesus. He specializes in taking care of knots and tangled situations.
Moments of opportunity. If we miss them we may miss a life changing experience. They don’t come in neon lights, they come in common every day moments. They come disguised as an opportunity to make a difference in a life, to impact your child with an encouraging word, to take your marriage to a new dimension, to see a dream come to life or to take your faith and spiritual life to another level. Be careful not to miss your moment. Elisha hands king Joash a bundle of arrows and says, “strike the ground.” Joash, oblivious to the opportunity, strikes three times and misses a chance to utterly destroy Israel’s enemy. Agrippa, hearing Paul’s persuading testimony, says, “Paul, you’ve almost persuaded me to be a Christian.” As far as we know, Agrippa never became a Christian, he misses his moment. You never know when a moment or a season of opportunity is coming to an end. It calls us to live with spiritual awareness every day. Too many times we find an excuse instead of opportunity. We look at moments and think it’s too expensive or difficult but it may be too expensive or costly not to act. The woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years hears that Jesus is coming to town. Rather than making excuses, reasoning why she shouldn’t, she chooses to seize her moment of opportunity. In that one moment, her entire life is changed. May I suggest we follow her lead. Seize your moment!
This is the time of year we marvel at Falls colors. Fall, God’s personal fireworks show. Leaves. Red. Orange. Yellow. Brown. Green. It’s even amazing the number of shades of red, orange and yellow there are. No two trees, even if they are the same variety, have the same color. Watching the spectacular colors begin to appear here in central Indiana I began to think how everything that God creates is unique. Every leaf has its own personal pattern, every snowflake has its own distinctive design and as Psalm 139:14 says, “each one of us are fearfully and wonderfully made.” One of the things that concerns me when someone comes to Christ is when they lose their color, their personality. Why is it that so many become beige and bland? Jesus’ disciples were as full of color as a Fall in Indiana. Simon Peter, egotistical and arrogant. James and John were called the Sons of Thunder. Thomas was chided as a doubter. Simon was a zealot longing for the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Spirit filled and Spirit led but individuals. I would suggest that Jesus likes our personality. It’s what makes us impactive. It’s what makes us distinctive. It’s what makes us effective in His Kingdom. He didn’t want twelve cookie cutters. He wanted 12 cast of characters. Coming to Christ should change your heart, not your personality. I like to put it this way, you be you or UBU.
Leaves were swirling and branches breaking. Looking in our back yard our grill cover had blown off and our Adirondacks were scattered. Running errands, we saw lawn chairs that had blown across the street, construction signs tipped over and debris flying in all directions. Long before a wind advisory warning was ever issued it was obvious that the wind was blowing with a mighty force. As I witnessed the impact of the wind, my mind immediately went to the verse found in John 3, “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It made me think, when God begins to fulfill the promise that He will pour His Spirit on all flesh, it will be obvious. We won’t have to create it with lights and haze. We won’t need the latest spin from Bethel or Hillsong. It won’t be based on the charisma and personality of a man. It will be obvious. People will stream to altars; baptismal tanks will be disturbed regularly and the outpouring of the Spirit will be so impacting and life changing that it will be obvious that people’s lives have been overwhelmed by God’s Spirit. When God sends the wind, it will be uncontrollable, overwhelming, and there will be no need for a wind advisory to let us know it arrived.
When it comes to praying and understanding how God answers prayers there are two principles that we must keep in focus. Faith and endurance. Faith causes us to pray. Faith believes, ask and dreams that anything is possible with God. Faith knows God delivered a nation out of bondage in one night, that God parted the Red Sea, saved the Hebrews and destroyed the Egyptian army. Faith knows God shut the mouths of lions and stopped fire from burning three Hebrew men. Faith knows that Jesus healed the sick, opened the blinded eye and deaf ear, gave the lame the ability to walk and fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Faith knows God brought a young girl, a young man and Lazarus back from the dead. Faith knows that in our situation that God can heal, deliver, change anything or anyone and answer any prayer we pray. Endurance is the ability to wait. Endurance is the ability to not lose faith, get bitter or angry when the answer doesn’t come in our time or the way we expected. Endurance never doubts or wavers. Endurance stays the course when it hurts, when it gets hard or when we don’t understand. Endurance prays, prays and prays some more. Endurance never gives up. Endurance always believes. Endurance says there is no other option. Ask God to put faith and endurance in your spiritual life and you will go from, “can God, to God can!”
You can feel it in the air. A change is on the way. The nights are cooler. Trees are hinting of a change with peaks of color beginning to show on their leaves. Fall with all its splendor and glory is on its way. Soon we’ll be enjoying its colors, having bon-fires, taking hay rides, carving pumpkins and eating smores. If only it was that obvious when there was a change of season in our lives. Unfortunately, we frequently miss the signs of change when it comes to the seasonal changes in our lives. We often get caught off guard, sometimes overwhelmed or frustrated when there is a change of season. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” and then he goes on to describe fourteen different seasons he had experienced. His point? Life is not static, its fluid. Seasons are good, they bring wisdom, strength, faith and growth. It’s the cold of Winter that causes roots to grow deep. It’s the rains of Spring that brings growth. It’s the warmth of Summer that causes the branches to reach for the sky and it’s the splendor of Fall that shows us the value of seasons. Sensing change in your life? Embrace it. Its God love and grace that takes us from season to season or as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, from glory to glory.
Have you ever been asked, “what assets do you have?” The question often comes up when we’re getting a loan or making a major purchase. We answer with information about our bank accounts, cars, homes and maybe a retirement account. But are those really our assets, the things of value? If we take an honest look at what is valuable I would suggest the two greatest assets are our souls and our families. Jesus told a parable of a rich man who he called a fool because he had stored up worldly assets and had failed to see the value of his soul. Jesus also said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.” Solomon built the Temple, homes, gardens and zoos. His fame was known throughout the earth, yet at the end of his life he said in Ecclesiastes 12, “fear God and keep His commandments.” In other words, things don’t really matter, it’s all about the soul and how you are with God. Secondly, we must value are our families. Paul told the Corinthians, “follow me as I follow Christ.” Our children will follow who we are, what we value and the example we set. As the quote that was on our exit door said, “preach always, if necessary use words. Today I encourage you, guard your most valuable assets. Your soul and your family.
In the prophet Haggai’s day, God had brought His people back from failure and difficult situations. Instead of focusing on what God had done and the possibility, many of the people could only focus on “what was” and on their failures. Haggai’s message was, “the end was going to be greater than the beginning.” To someone today you need to know your best days are in front of you! But it’s a choice. How you view your situation is so important. We have a choice. Do we talk about the past, the problems and the pain? Do we give more power to the failure or the Father? Do we keep grace from covering us, mercy from mending us and forgiveness from freeing us? Do we live in the old house or move to the new? If we move to a new house mindset we see the possibilities in Jesus. In the new house there’s a God view instead of a guilt view. In the new house faith starts speaking, the gifts start working and we start living in the Spirit. In the new house there’s a different countenance on our face, different attitude in our spirit and conversations that springs from our heart. Your end is supposed to be better than your beginning. It’s time for someone to move into a new house.
Back to School Service. It’s the day we take time out as a church community to pray over our students. A prayer cloth is given to each student to remind them that God is surrounding them. We hope they leave today knowing that they can be a person of great influence in their school. Though the challenges are great, the God that is with them is greater. This time that our kids are living in reminds me of Daniel. He was a young man, in a foreign land, that faced amazing adversity yet Daniel 6:3 says, “Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him.” What an amazing statement about this young man. In the midst of a dark world, devoid of God, facing the temptation to blend in, Daniel elected to stand out. He was a leader among leaders. While many around him were talented, gifted and intelligent, Daniel stood out because of His excellent Spirit. Where did it come from? His time spent in devotion with God which created a strong faith in God. To every student, stand out! Stand out by having excellent character. Stand out by going the extra mile. Stand out by having the best spirit. Stand out by living out your faith. Stand out and see where God might take you.
Your heart matters. In fact, God is more concerned about your heart than anything else. While I’m not here to diminish the importance of living Godly and Holy, it is the inside that God looks at and it is the inside that will produce a true Christ like lifestyle. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah’s heart is to bring His people’s lives and families back to God. The problem is no one is qualified to bring them to repentance and they had missed the Passover. Hezekiah’s hunger is a month late and would have to be performed by an unclean person. God has a dilemma. He has people who have hungry hearts but don’t have it all together. Hezekiah confesses the errors of his people and asks God, “will you hear our prayers, will you heal us?” In one of the more amazing moments in the Bible the scripture said that “the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (2 Chron. 30:20).” What a moment of grace! Grace that is still available today. Five husbands and living with a sixth man, not a problem. Caught in the very act of adultery, not a problem. Thief and murderer breathing your last breath, not a problem. Grace showed up at a lonely well, at the screams of judgmental accusers and at the cross of a guilty man. Need grace today? Give Him an honest heart and His grace will show up.
The Dukan Diet. The Atkins Diet. The South Beach Diet. The Keto Diet. Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig. Nuitrisystem. So many diets, so many options all because so many of us have become what we eat. Too much sugar, too much starch, too many carbs, the list could go on and on. Our lives have been consumed by diets and fads all because of the fact that we simply need to be more disciplined and need help. Really it should be pretty easy, stay away from processed foods, sugars and eat a lot of stuff that comes from trees and the ground. What is true of the flesh is also true in the Spirit. Paul says all that is of the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Jesus said they that hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be fed. He calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and says that “all that come to Him shall never thirst again.” Basically, God says if we want to be spiritually healthy, if we want to have a right heart that it takes staying away from the world, pursuing Him, reading His Word and spending time. Getting worldly, carnal or feeling spiritually drained? Maybe it’s time to go on a diet. Get in His Word, get on your knees and get refilled with His Spirit.
Throughout the Bible we see the eagerness of God to be with His creation. It was God that came down to heaven in the cool of the evening to be with Adam and Eve. It was God that initiated the conversation with Moses about building a Tabernacle in the Wilderness and when it was finished, God that came down in power the moment it was completed. Solomon and his builders put the final touches on Solomon’s Temple and before there is a dedication or a festival, God comes down with such power that the priest could not stand and the pillars of the Temple shook. Over and over we see a simple principle. Build something for God to live in and He will come. The principle remains the same today. Build our lives, have a hunger and thirst for God, and He will come. He longs to dwell in us. We are called “the Temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corin. 6:19) which means that He longs to dwell in us. Simply make room, build a place in your life for Him and He will come.
Under Construction. It’s a sign that we hate to see when we’re traveling. Whether we’re headed to work or on a trip we know it means long waits and rude drivers. See the sign on a building and you know there’s temporary lights and walls and plenty of dry wall dust. While we hate to see those “Under Construction” signs, they are a sign of life and progress. It means something is growing, there is expansion going on or improvements being made. While we hate the process, we love the results. Whether a road with smooth pavement, a new shopping environment, or spacious addition, they all bring expectation and excitement. We’re willing to except that in real world life, we’re often less accepting when it comes to the human factor, but the fact is, we are all under construction. In reality, we should all have signs, maybe t-shirts, that say, “pardon our mess, under construction.” God hints at it in Jeremiah 29:11 when He says, “I know the plans I have for you.” Plans, that means a project, that construction is coming! Paul puts it another way in Philippians 1:6, “He who has begun a good work in you shall perform it.” What is Paul saying? You’re not finished yet. You are in process. So, pardon my mess, put on a hard hat and help, stop judging me in the middle of my construction. God is in the middle of making something awesome.
There are two moments in the Bible that scare me. It’s not when Pharaoh is pursuing Moses, David is facing Goliath or the Hebrew Children are being thrown into a fiery furnace. The first moment that grabs my attention is found in 1 Kings 22 when Josiah comes to the throne and looks to restore the love for God in his nation. As the priest are going through the Temple they discover a scroll, the Word of God. What we learn is that for years, likely generations, they had been operating in ritual and tradition. They had simply learned how to go through the motion, operating without Gods Word. The second moment that overwhelms me is Jeremiah 3:16; it is the last time the physical Ark of the Covenant is mentioned. Tradition says that Jeremiah was so concerned about the state of his nation and their lack of passion for God that he took the Ark and hid it in a cave. If true, that means for over 600 years those who ran the temple operated without the presence of God. Operating in ritualistic and judgmental tradition without the presence of God. That scares me. What happened in these two moments can happen in any life or society. We cannot afford to ever learn how to do church, live for God without His Word or His presence. Traditional, ritualistic and performance-based religion is the greatest danger we face. Ask God to give you a hunger to know Him.
Reading the book of John, a phrase caught my attention in the second chapter. It was the story about the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle. What caught my attention was the phrase, “Jesus was invited also…” It made me wonder, how many events had taken place where people didn’t invite Jesus. And why hadn’t He been invited? Were people unaware of who He was? Did people feel like He was irrelevant? Maybe He wouldn’t be interested in attending. We don’t know the scenario, the names or relationship but what we do know is someone said, “lets invite Jesus.” What a novel idea. Inviting Jesus. Whether a wedding, a day at the office, into a marriage or any other of life’s events, inviting Jesus is a good idea. Little did the bridegroom know he was going to miscalculate the number of guest and face potential embarrassment. The good news, he had invited Jesus and whether its turning water into wine, healing a blinded eye or forgiving sin, Jesus can take care of the problem. Let’s take the example of this nameless bridegroom and invite Jesus into the everyday events of our life. Who knows when we might need Him and if He’s in the room, anything can happen.
We often look at the failures of well-known people to feel better about ourselves. But if we feel good about the wrongs of others, we don’t truly know ourselves. For example, the Bible doesn’t tell us about the sins of David to weaken our sense of moral alarm, but to put all of us on notice. Though we have accomplished much in Christ, we must always be on guard. Satan is always looking for an opportunity to take us down. When we see the failures of others, it should cause us to be more aware of our own weaknesses and need for the mercy and grace that only comes through Christ. Only when we acknowledge our weakness do we become dependent on the strength of our God. One man said, “the Bible is just like a mirror. It shows me the need of my heart, for in it we see an accurate image, a portrait of me–every part.” As we continue to work on our lives from the inside out, take time to reflect on your life, it’s strengths and weaknesses and then pray that God will help you humble yourself before Him and ask Him to be the strength in your weakness.
Weeds. You don’t have to plant them, water them or care for them in any way. They just grow; anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I planted a garden and now I’m attempting to grow a garden. I’ve pulled weeds, tilled soil, bought garden soil, planted plants and kept them watered. This week I walked out to my garden and in just a few days the weeds had grown larger than my plants. What I’ve come to understand is that I have to be intentional about my garden. I have to regularly water it, pull the weeds and protect from insects and animals. What’s true in the natural is also true in the spiritual. It takes nothing for the cares of life, temptation and sins take over our life. They just show up. To have a spiritual life we must be as meticulous as we are with a garden. The soil of our soul must be enriched with the atmosphere of prayer and praise. We must plant the Word of God in our heart and keep it in our heart. David said, thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you. We must be committed to staying filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the power that fuels our spiritual growth and brings out the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. Be intentional, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:18, “be filled with the Spirit.”
We celebrate a few brave families today. We don’t know most of their names. They had a passion for freedom, to worship God freely and to live in liberty. They longed for their children to experience a life that they didn’t have. They sold their homes; kept only their most valuable possessions. They gambled that the risk would be better than the routine. Though they weren’t sure of where they were going or what they would face, something said it would be better than where they were. We need the spirit of those early settlers to invade our culture once again. People who are desperate enough to make changes and take risk to see that the future is different than the present. People who long for a move of God’s Spirit. People who will believe in prayer and are willing to go on a journey until they see an outpouring of God’s Spirit as it was in the book of Acts. A revival like Jeremiah Lanphier brought to New York City in 1857. A spirit moving like the one that happened in Azusa California in the early 1900’s that was so powerful that Time Magazine called it one of the 100 most significant events of the 20thcentury. God, give us a hunger to be free again. As the song says, “Do it Again.”
The purge. It happens in the Hudson home a couple times of year. We go through the entire home and we purge the closets, cabinets and garage. We get rid of stuff that we haven’t worn, stuff we haven’t used and things that have become obsolete or broken. Sometimes it’s hard. There is sentimental attachment. Sometimes we struggle because we remember what we paid for some things instead of what they’re worth. Regardless, each time there is a purge a lot of stuff leaves the house. After the purge there’s a since of clarity. We feel like we’ve streamlined life. There’s a sense that we’ve made it easier to access the things of value and importance.
David had a purge moment. It was the moment he realized he had things in his life that had taken him far from God. When Nathan brings an awareness to David about the junk and clutter in his life David goes to purging. We find it in Psalms 51. Here are some of the purging phrases David uses. Have mercy. Wash me. Purify me. Create in me. Restore to me. Deliver me. After the purge David’s life is different. He is broken and humble. He is a contrite man of worship. His trust is more solid and his faith stronger. Let me encourage you, do a summer purge. Get rid of junk in your heart, spirit and attitude. You will be amazed by how clean and streamlined your life will feel.
Bill Gaither’s song, “A Few Good Men,” is an amazing song that all men need to hear as we celebrate Father’s Day. The chorus says the following.
Men of compassion, who laugh, and love and cry.
Men who face eternity and aren’t afraid to die.
Men who’ll fight for freedom and honor once again.
He just needs a few good men.
Today, those words to that song have never been truer. Men were created for challenges, adventure and difficulty. In most churches today, men are the minority. It’s understandable why. Our songs and our messages have went soft. We’ve went from All Hail the Power of Jesus Name and The Old Rugged Cross to sloppy wet kisses and butterflies. Our messages are more about the love of God than the power of God. The return of manhood must start in the church. As men we need to go back and take a look at what God created a man to be. For example, Abraham, the Father of Faith. He was rugged. He fought for his wife and land. He bickered with his nephew over sheep. He stood up to the challenges of his day and built a family. He walked with God, taught his son how to worship and built a lineage that last until today. That’s a man who lived an adventurous and challenging life. Father’s Day 2018. Let it be the beginning of men who are men. Men of faith. Men who live for the challenge. He just needs a few good men.
Today graduates are closing one door and opening of another. Year after year it has been the daily grind of school. Making friends, complaining about lunch and wondering if you could make it to graduation. Today they stare at a future that is as broad as the horizon. It can be a bit overwhelming. So many options. So much uncertainty. And, if we admit it, a little bit fearful.
To navigate these upcoming challenges and the life that lies ahead there are three priorities that can make the journey easier. First, we must pray and read our Bible daily. Second, we must seek out wisdom from people whom we admire and have successfully walked the journey. Finally, we must take chances. Enjoy the journey. Dream big! Moses likely never dreamed that one day he would lead a nation to freedom. Joseph couldn’t have imagined that he would be second in command over a nation. David, from a hillside, likely never thought, my name will be a name that will be remembered throughout history. What will these graduates stories be? Only God knows. For our graduates it all begins today. One word. One sentence. One paragraph. One chapter at a time until their story is written. Pray that they write well.
The calendar says it’s still spring. The activities and heat say it’s summer. Heat and humidity are here and plants and grass are already gasping for water. What we need is a storm. A gully washer. A downpour. Though we enjoy the fun of the sun, we need the storms. Without storms we don’t get the necessary rain. Storms slow us down. Storms bring clouds to shade us from the sun, breezes that purge the dead limbs, and water to the areas that are in drought. What is true in nature is true in the spiritual. We enjoy the good times, when troubles are few and life is light. But then God sends a storm. Something that rocks our world, slows us down and brings us to our knees. Not always what we want, but often what we need. Without storms we can burn ourselves out. Without storms, areas in our lives that need a purge, would never be cleaned out. Without storms, the refreshing of God’s Spirit that brings our hearts back to life, wouldn’t come. Going through a storm? Be thankful. He see’s something in our lives that is dying. Something in our heart or soul that needs watered. He allows a spiritual rain, disguised as a storm, to come into our lives. He sees we need a pause. A rest. A time of refreshing. He’s the God in the storm and when it’s time He’ll say, “peace be still.”
Memorial Day. A day that we remember those who served and gave their lives for our freedom. Because of those who believed in the values of our country, for what it stands for, they fought and died that we might have liberty and freedom. We celebrate this weekend because they battled and struggled with enemies who opposed our beliefs. We don’t know most of their names and we can’t name many of the battles, but we can look back and celebrate their lives and victories that allow us to cookout, watch a race and make lots of memories. For there to be a memorial there has to be several components. There must be a cause, an adversary, a struggle or battle and finally there must be closure. In the closure we count our loses, remember the struggle and hopefully celebrate our victories. It is a time to honor, be thankful and remember the sacrifices. We are blessed to be Americans. We are blessed by those who served and died. May we never forget those who have and will continue to make America a great nation. God bless America and those who serve.
Two fishermen. One had two poles, the other a single pole. I watched as they cast their lines into the water. After what seemed like only a few minutes of casting the one who had brought two poles had stopped. Instead of casting, his poles were lying beside him and he was setting on the ground on his cell phone. The second fisherman, the one with a single pole, continued casting relentlessly. He had focus. He was going to catch a fish. Watching the two walking toward the pond, one might have assumed the man with two poles was the fisherman. The reality was, the man with the single pole brought something no one could see. Desire. He came to catch a fish regardless of the circumstances. What is true of fishermen is true of Christians. There are some who dress and look the part, but the moment things get difficult they wilt like a flower in the summer heat. Others have a passion like Paul who said, “oh that I may know Him.” Paul was determined that regardless of obstacles, shipwrecks, beatings or stoning, that He was going to pursue God with all his heart. A passion for God, it can’t be taught, passed down or learned. It must come from a heart that has desire. Pray that God will give you a passion to know Him.
Pot holes, chug holes, crater. Does it matter what we call them? They seemingly are a part of rites of spring in central Indiana. We try to avoid them. We swerve. We dodge. Invariably though, we hit one. There is no sound like the thud of tire hitting a pothole. Hit one and you’re praying that the hubcap stayed on and your tire isn’t flat. But a pothole does more. It damages the balance of the tire and knocks your car out of alignment. Hit one and in a moment a round tire is an egg making the ride anything but pleasant. Hit enough and when you let go of the wheel, your car can make a left or right turn without you even turning it. So, what do we do? We get to our local tire store or mechanic.
Much like central Indiana and potholes our spiritual lives have seasons, moments in life that can knock us out of balance or alignment. We’re traveling along and suddenly, bang, we hit a hard spot in life. Unexpectedly our life is out of order and our walk with God is going the wrong way. Again, the question, what do we do? Just like you would take your car to get repaired, we get our self to church. We get to an altar. Hit your knees. Cry out to God. Get realigned and refilled with the Spirit. Be confident. God can realign you and get your life in balance.
Garden hoses. They are made of multiple materials, come in any color you can imagine, and depending the length, can cost anywhere from $10 – $150. The thing is, no matter the color or the material, unless it is hooked up to a water source it doesn’t have much worth. Attached to a water source it fills buckets, gives water to flowers, keeps grass green and washes cars. A garden hose is not the source, simply the conduent. It is an iconic symbol of a Christian life. We live and breathe, not by our own ability, but God in us. To live an effective and successful Christian life, to have a marriage and home that is filled with calm and to be a person who impact others with the gospel we must be people who allow God to flow through them. It’s only when we are attached to Him, being a conduent that he flows through, that we have impact. Regardless of how talented, how distinguished our degree or impressive we look, we are simply an unattached garden hose if we don’t have His Spirit flowing through us. How do we do it? It happens when we ask God to get us in alignment. We must be aligned with His Spirit. His will. His plan. Get attached to the Spirit and let Him flow through your life.
It appears that spring has finally sprung. The grass is turning green. Flowers are beginning to pop and trees are starting to sprout their leaves. Winter is gone and it’s time to get out in the yard. It’s time to trim some trees, prune some branches, move some plants and plant new flowers. It’s time to freshen things up, clean some things out and get ready for the warmth of a new season. What if we did some spring cleaning in our spiritual life? What if we trimmed back some of the things that have gotten out of control in our lives? Pruned back some negativity and attitudes so new growth could bloom? What if we allowed God to move some things out of our hearts and put some new things in? Imagine what our hearts and souls might look like? David understood he needed a spring time. After a hard season in life, David’s prayer was, “create in me a clean heart, renew in me a right spirit.” What was he saying? Make my life happy, joyful and invigorating again. What a great prayer! Spend some time over the next few weeks in your devotional time thinking about what you want life to look like. Then as you are on your knees and in the Word, ask God to make you new again.
For the first time this Spring the windows were up. It was a little muggy but the smell of fresh air made the tradeoff worth it. Sitting on the couch I noticed a shift. The mugginess in the air is gone and there is a slight chill. A few hours later the temperature had dropped drastically and a cold rain was falling. In just a few hours there had been a dramatic change in the atmosphere. Know this, what happens in the natural can happen in the Spirit. A handful of fishermen are fighting a fierce storm. In a moment they find the cause is a prophet running from God. Jonah says toss me over and things will change, initially they resist, but as the storm rages they have no choice. They toss Jonah over and in an instant the seas calm. Paul and Silas, sitting bruised and beaten in a jail, not exactly knowing how they had got there. It’s dark, they’re in pain and in chains but a song service changes the atmosphere and suddenly they are freed from their prison walls. Jesus hangs on a cross. One moment men are mocking and gambling for His garment, but with the words, “it is finished,” the atmosphere changes. The skies grow gray and the earth quakes and those mocking suddenly are saying, “surely He was the Son of God.” Take hope! Regardless of what your circumstance looks like at this second God can change the atmosphere in a moment.
Obstacles; they are defined as something that obstructs or hinders progress. Every person faces obstacles, situations that obstruct or hinder our progress. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden became a part of our DNA and as a result every person is entangled and bound by sin. Regardless of how hard we try to live well, we fail. The obstacle called sin is not something we could overcome, it took a Savior, His blood and a cross. Only Jesus can free you from the obstacle of sin. The second obstacle every person faces is the obstacle of circumstances that brings to light or challenge our faith. These obstacles appear to be overwhelming, but if we ask for God’s help He will make a way of escape. This escape involves our participation, God makes a way but we must be willing to walk through in acts of faith. The final obstacle that every person faces is the obstacle of our own mind. We hear God promises but we live in doubt. God has promises, successes and blessings far beyond our imagination, the problem is they require us to believe, to act upon them, to live and walk in faith and in the Spirit. Today, I want you to know if you will trust and believe in God, He will help you overcome every obstacle in your life. Run your life with faith in God!
To Abraham He is the lamb provided. To Moses He is the I AM that I AM. To David He is a very present help in a time of need. To the three Hebrew children He is the fourth man in the fire. To Isaiah He is the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To Mary He is Emmanuel, God with us, He is her baby, her son. To the blind, lame mute and diseased ridden He is a healer. To those overwhelmed by their sin and failure He is grace and mercy. To Simon Peter He is the Messiah, the anointed one, God with us. To John He is the Word. To the Pharisees He is a stumbling stone. To the disciples He is Rabbi, the teacher. To Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is a resurrecter. To Thomas, after seeing His nails prints, He is my Lord and my God. To Paul He is the God of all grace. To everyone who believes and comes to Him He is the Savior. To each and every individual, He is what you have needed Him to be and what you need Him to be. He is help, strength, courage, healer, deliverer, redeemer and most importantly Savior. But three days after His death He became something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since. He conquered death, hell and the grave. To the world, He is Risen!
It was an amazing day. The weather was perfect. People had risen early to get the best place along the streets of Jerusalem. They had brought palm branches to wave and blankets to lay on the ground as the celebrities would walk past them. The disciples had borrowed a colt from a local farmer and there was a nervous excitement in the room while waiting on Jesus. Jesus appeared and said, its time, lets go. The Triumphal entry began. The disciples waved and smiled, crowds cheered and shouted “Hosanna,” as Jesus ambled down the streets of Jerusalem. It was as though Jesus was personally acknowledging every person as he smiled and looked into their eyes as they shouted His name. In this moment who could imagine the events that would take place in the coming days. That this crowd would turn on Jesus. That these smiling disciples would deny they ever knew Him. That His body would be beaten to a nearly unrecognizable state. That He would be hanging on a cross in five short days. That in seven days, He would conqueror death, hell and the grave and life would never be the same again. The Passion Week, a reminder that no matter the circumstances in your life, they can change in a moment, seven short days.
Have you ever mopped or painted yourself in a corner, got trapped in a car or been locked in a freezer? Odd questions, I know, but our family has experienced all of these scenarios. Painting a floor, I painted myself in, ended up taking my shoes and socks off to get out of the corner. Our son Gentry had a car where the front passenger door would lock and you couldn’t get out, talk about an uncomfortable feeling. Mary called one day from work and her and a co-worker had got locked in a freezer. Fortunately, someone freed them. Why do I bring up these moments? Because there are those who have painted their life in a corner, locked themselves in a life of bitterness. How? By holding on to unforgiveness. When we choose to hold onto unforgiveness, we build our own jail cell with bars made of bitterness, anger and hurt. When we choose to let bitterness and hatred live in our life, it doesn’t impact those who have hurt us, it hurts us. We become bound to emotions and feelings that steel joy, peace and happiness. There is only one who can free you from this jail cell, you! The moment you let it go, forgive, the door to freedom opens. You get a new lease on life, fresh joy, peace and happiness. Free yourself today, forgive. Let it go!
Life is more like a game of Monopoly than we realize. We go around a board year by year. We gain wealth to buy property and build assets. At the end of the game, regardless of who wins, everything goes back in the box. If all that we live for in this life is material possessions than we are basically playing monopoly. Whether we realize it or not all that we obtain in this life is simply leased. We strive to get the social status. We want a certain job. We buy the right home in the right community. We get the dream car. But it’s all just a lease. After whatever allotted time we have on earth, it all goes back in the box. If this is all there is to life then this life is very futile and worthless. Jesus said, “for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wealth, fame, success], but forfeits his soul?” On the other hand, if we believe that this life is only down payment on an eternal destination, then this life is much different. Things don’t possess and control us. We live, not for this life, but for life in heaven. It changes everything. It changes perspective. It changes goals. It changes aspirations and values. Life changes from a game of Monopoly to life with purpose. Start living today for the eternal instead of the earthly. Quit playing the game.
It’s important that we know our opposition. The adversary, our enemy, whatever you call Satan. Every Christian must be aware of his tactics, that he never stops trying to destroy. Understand that he is an opportunist and a isolationist. He is someone who questions God’s Word and twist and contradicts truth. He is the author of confusion, and a liar.
Once he has deceived and destroyed a life, he disappears, leaving a person alone with pain and sorrow. When Satan found Eve in the Garden of Eden, he used nearly every resource he had. As an isolationist and opportunist, he waits until Eve is alone, vulnerable and weak. As someone who twists truth and contradicts God’s Word Satan first words to Eve is, “has God said,” followed up with a direct lie, “you shall not die.” Once he had convinced Eve and she had surrendered to his temptation, his task is completed, he disappears and leaves Eve with her sin. Though the dispensations, environments and temptation are different, his ploys never change. He used the same tactics against Jesus and he plots the same tactics against us today. Know your adversary, stay alert, know his ways, and always be aware he is lurking as a lion trying to destroy your life.
Have you ever felt like you had so little to offer? Ever felt like you got the short stick when it comes to gifts or talents? Have you ever disqualified yourself? You are not alone. When God called Moses at the burning bush, Moses gave God four reasons for why he was not qualified. When Elijah asked for a cake, the widow said we have enough for my son an myself and then we’re going to perish. When Jesus is teaching a multitude of people when the disciples come to Jesus saying you need send the people away, we’ve searched, and all we have is five loaves and two fish. In each case God said just give thanks for what you have and give it to me. It’s the biblical principle of multiplication. God asked Moses, what do you have? Moses says, all I have is a stick. God said, that will do. The widow says all we have is some meal and oil and the prophet blessed it by the power of God and oil and meal never run out. When the disciples brought the sack lunch to Jesus, He gave thanks for what was provided and then He multiplied it. The principle is simple, focus on what you do have, acknowledge and give thanks for what God has provided, give it to Jesus and let him multiply it.
The eternal questions are the most important questions of life. Four questions that will determine everything about our destiny. Do I believe in God, not in a god, but the God, the one found in Genesis 1:1, the “in the beginning God?” Answering that question leads to the next. Do I believe in the Word of God; the Bible, that it is the infallible Word of God, that it is true and that it is the final authority? If I believe that there is God, that His Word is true then the next question is, do I believe there is a heaven and a hell and that each of us will arrive at one of those destinations? If I believe there is a heaven and a hell then the next question to ask is, what must I do to secure my eternity? If I truly believe there is an eternity then who do I want to answer the question about getting there? Do I want a religion, a religious institution, a church, a pastor, a friend or an internet source? I suggest you want only God to answer that question. The question answered by Jesus, God in flesh, in John 3 when He said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born of the water and Spirit he cannot enter in.” The real questions of life. Four eternal questions. Answer wisely.
Have you ever made the statement to a friend or God, “I feel so alone.” Alone, means to be excluded or isolated from others. When I’ve made the statement I’ve meant it from a negative viewpoint. I looked at it as if something was wrong with me but may I suggest that God calls and takes people to a place called alone.
Lot chooses the plains of Sodom and Abram walks with God alone into an eternal promise. Joesph is excluded from his family but ends up in a palace. Moses makes a mistake that takes him into a wilderness for a season, but it’s there he develops skills that will help in navigate the Hebrew nation to the Promise land. David spends time alone in a pasture and develops skills that will help him defeat Goliath and take him to the king of Israel. Jesus went into the wilderness alone and came out “full of the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes our perspective of alone is distorted or skewed, we see it as a negative or burden. May I suggest to you if you are going through a season of “alone” that you give God thanks for the season, it may be where God wants you. He see’s something amazing in you and knew He could call you to a place called alone.
If we ever get an understanding of how powerful God’s Word is, it would revolutionize our faith and prayers. Psalm 119:89 says “God’s Word is forever settled in Heaven.” That means when God speaks it happens. Genesis 1 makes it so clear when it says, “and God said.” When God spoke something it happened; it became. When Satan came to Jesus in the wildereness, Jesus simply responded to him with, “it is written.” No need to debate this Satan, you know its settled. When someone is around Jesus and becomes convinced of the power of His Word it changes their perspective and life.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she speaks to the servants at the wedding in Cana says, “whatever He says, do it.” She had been with Him and understood His power. A frustrated and tired fishermen by the name of Simon Peter is told to cast his nets again and fish, his words, “nevertheless, at your word.” Simon had experienced the power of His word enough to know, something is going to happen. I encourage you to ask God to give you revelation and faith in the power of His Word. We should expect to experience His Word to happen when we pray.
The Last Supper. It was Holy but at the same time it was human. Artist render it as Holy, we view it as Holy and it was, but there was so much humanity in the moment. As the disciples entered the room they had failed to follow the custom, to make sure guest feet had been washed. Setting in the room, the conversation was not about scripture or sinners, but about who would be on the right and left of Jesus, who would be important. Jesus enters, and without condemnaiton or judgement, takes a basin of water and towel and begins washing the feet of those that in less than 24 hours would turn on Him. One would betray Him, another would curse Him and nearly all would abandon Him. Though He knew their future, He washed their feet, broke bread and had communion with them. Twelve very imperfect men; men looking for power and position and men that had faith but would fail, and yet, Jesus by His actions was saying, take this communion, because you believe in me and undestand you need me. Communion is not about your perfection, but His. It’s about understanding, acknowleging and saying, I believe in and need the work of Jesus in my life.
This week much of the Life family will be participating in a fast. Fasting is a time when we pull away from the pleasures of life and turn our focus on God. Some will fast all food for a few days while others will restrict their diet like Daniel. Fasting shows God our hunger to know and grow closer to Him. When we fast we should try to mute worldly influences and focus on things that enhance our spiritual life. Even if you are someone who is unable to fast it is a good time to step away from social media, secular music, entertainment (movies, television) and sports. Taking a few days, a week, and for some, the next 21 days to read, watch and listen to media that will enhance your spiritual awareness will reap benefits through 2018. Read the Bible, books like Draw the Circle 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn and Storms by Jim Cymbala. In addition you can watch messages by Jentezen Franklin, Anthony Mangun and others on Youtube and make inspirational music the music of choice. While you will always be loved by God, fasting brings His favor and brings blessings. Lets take 2018 to another level!
Welcome to 2018! With each new year comes a blank canvas; its a time when we have new aspirations, make fresh commitments and vow to make changes in our lives. In the Bible the word for year is shannah and it can have two meanings. One definition is to duplicate or repeat, as in the repeating of the seasons year after year. The second definition is to change, as in things will be different. Wow! What a picture of the possibities in 2018. The two definitions are so polar opposite of each other and how the word is used and its meaning in the moment is totally determined by the person using the word. It brings me to a question, what will your year be like?
Will it be a year of repetition or a year of change? Our nature is to make new commitments but after a few days or weeks we often fall back into the same old routines and habits. Will this year be a repeat of the same old patterns or will it be a year of newness and change. Want to make it a year of change? Seek God with all your heart, choose to daily live differently, have bold faith, pray big prayers, and choose to walk after the Spirit one day at a time. If we change our patterns we can change our lives, our families and 2018 will not be a year of repetition but a year of change.