Are You Done?

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.

Our Kids Can Thrive

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. 

A Visionary Life Changer

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.

Don’t Be Defined by a Label

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.

A Boogie in His Behind

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.

Sample Saturday

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.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

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.

Ask

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!

Seeing God

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.

Do the Right Thing

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.

Why I Believe in God. My Story

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.

There’s More to It

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.

Embrace Your Moment

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!

It Was the Biscuits!

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.

My Battle with the Wind

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.

Thomas L. Craft: Rest in Peace

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.

The Trouble with Sand

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.

Omaha: The Audible

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!

Flannel and Fall

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.

A Legacy of Faith

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.

Simply Blessed Beyond Belief

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.

Just Keep Searching

She had search for years, forty in fact. She had tried ointments and medicines. She had gone to doctor after doctor and tried every imaginable option. She was desperate for relief, for healing, for a miracle. She had spent more money than she could count, but no matter what she tried, the outcome was always the same, her sickness was still with her. When someone mentioned the healer Jesus, she was reluctant, maybe even a little sarcastic, but deep inside her heart there was still a measure of hope. When the word came that Jesus was coming to her town, she pushed passed her previous disappointments and headed to where they said Jesus would be. As she nears where Jesus is, she sees the crowd, and for a moment she considers turning around and heading home, but the same hope that had caused her to try every medicine, meet every doctor, and spend whatever it cost, said press on. So, she did, pushing through the crowd, she can only catch the hem of Jesus’ garment. What happens next is beyond her imagination. An indescribable feeling runs through her body, instantly she knows something has changed. No one has to tell her, no one has to verify what has happened, she knows. . . she gasps and whispers to herself, “I’m healed.” No one in the crowd knows, and if it had not been for Jesus pausing, she could have walked away whole. But Jesus stops, asking what the crowd and disciples think is an absurd question, “someone has touched me.” The disciples state the obvious, “Master, everyone has touched you.” But then Jesus clarifies, it wasn’t just a touch, but a touch of faith, a touch of hope, a touch that took virtue out of Jesus’ body and brought healing to the woman. Her life is forever changed because she never quit searching, never gave up. If you’re searching for answers to problems in your life, searching for a solution to difficult circumstances, search for Jesus and keep searching until you find Him. While you may not find your answer today or tomorrow, if you keep on searching and keep looking with purpose, you will find Him. And when you find Him, you will find the answer to so many questions and the solution to so many problems and difficulties. You can try everything you know to solve the issues you are dealing with, but when every other possibility fails, and it feels hopeless, know that if you haven’t tried Jesus, you still have hope, and He was your best option all along.

Closing a Chapter and Starting a New

For nearly 20 years as Pastor of Life and 35 years of ministry, Mary and I have built our life and preaching on four basic principles. These are based in the Word of God and are the foundations of our faith and belief. As we close our chapter here at Life, we remind you of them and encourage you to never let anyone move you away from them.

There is One God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 – Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one [the only God]!

  • God has many dimensions, but He is one.
  • God is multifaceted and multidimensional, but one.

The Word of God is Above All.

Luke 21:33 – Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

  • Make God’s Word priority above all and let it lead you through life.
  • Do not be swayed by books, men’s concepts, or religion. Stay in God’s Word
  • Read the Bible with prayer.

These two ideas are summed in John 1:1 where John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Prayer must be a Life Priority.

Matthew 21:13 – It is written [in Scripture], ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.

  • Pray first in every situation knowing prayer can change any situation.
  • Prayer will guide, protect, and keep you when confusion comes.

Water & Spirit Baptism is Essential.

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot [ever] enter the kingdom of God.

  • These are the words of Jesus, put them above every man and religion.
  • Believing, faith, and obedience is critical, but never leave this foundational statement of Jesus.
  • Acts time frame is from 30 to 70 and every epistle, which were written to churches and saints, were written between 30 to 70. We find clarity and growth in the epistles. There is one message and experience in Acts. Baptism in the name of Jesus and baptism in the Spirit with a language unknown.

As this chapter of our life closes, Mary and I want to thank everyone who has ever been a part of Life and allowed us to be your pastor. It has been an amazing journey and incredibly fulfilling to see so many lives impacted by the gospel. I will continue this weekly blog online and we look forward to what God has in the future for Mary and I. May God’s blessings and favor rest on each of you. Reach one more for Jesus!

Create the Atmosphere

Creating a spiritual atmosphere in your life and home is critical to your overall success. Whether it’s in your church, home, individual life, having the ambience of the Spirit is of upmost importance. David created an atmosphere of integrity early in his life. His ruthless band of men became enamored when David refused to seize the moment and kill King Saul, in so doing he created an atmosphere of trust in a group of men who trusted no one. Paul and Silas set in a jail bruised and battered with a choice between whining and worshiping. They chose to worship and dark, dreary, and oppressive jail became a sanctuary of praise. Changing the atmosphere opened cell doors, released other prisoners, and brought a jailer and his family to God. What atmosphere are you creating? Are you a part of bringing an electric atmosphere to Life Connections? Is your home a home where there is a negative or positive vibe? Do people walk away from you downcast or exhilarated? Each day we chose the atmosphere will create. At Life we’ve been intentional over the years to create two specific atmospheres. One of prayer and the other yielding to the Spirit. We understand that for any ministry to be impactive it must be saturated with prayer. We also know that everything we do, and in every moment, we must allow the Spirit to have liberty. Paul said in 2 Corinthians that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” These two atmospheres are not accidents at Life but have been intentionally created. They are our DNA and what we must make sure never fades or lose relevance. How about your home? What is the atmosphere inside your four walls? Take time this week to reflect and pray about the atmosphere of your home and then set to create a place that your friends and family will love to visit.

Wear the Word

It was just a small box. It was called a phylactery or tefillin. It was worn by Hebrews, a part of their clothing. The boxes contained a portion of scripture and were to serve as a reminder that God was with them as they went about their day. If they were weary or overwhelmed, the box reminded them at God would never leave them or forsake them. If they were under siege, they were reminded that God would fight their battles. If sickness came, it served as assurance that God was a healer of all diseases. At first it might have seemed to be a chore to wear, maybe even a little inconvenient, but over time, it likely became the first article they put on as they started the day. Once a person understands the power in knowing that God is with you, on your side, it changes everything. You go into every day, every situation, and every battle with a different confidence. I believe David understood this as he faced Goliath, hid from Saul, and fought battle after battle. When he said, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he literally had seen God’s favor and blessings fall his way. This is why every year we give students a towel, a wristband, or a trinket as they head back to school. It’s our way to remind them that they are favored and blessed, that they have a God covering, and that they can walk into school with confidence. This years band has Joshua 1:9 etched on it and says, “God is with you wherever you go.” We believe with all that they will face they need to know one thing, that every day God is with them! As they slip one on their wrist today, we pray that like the Hebrews of old, it becomes a daily part of their apparel. Wear the Word!

137 Golf Balls

For most of our lives Friday night at the Hudson home has involved pizza, games, or some crazy activity. This weekend was no different. After some pizza and banter, the conversation turned to what would be the activity of the evening. I’m not sure who suggested it, but the idea of golf ball hunting was brought up, and moments later Gent, Jake, Ris, and myself were in the woods. To give you a visual, it looked something like Easter for grown-ups. We scoured the woods looking for golf balls as though they were gold, and twenty minutes later, we strolled out with 137 golf balls! We celebrated with a photo session and perusing the mirage of colors and brands. As I reflected on our haul, I was amazed that 137 people, unless some had hit multiple shots into the woods, had chosen to leave their golf ball. Costing between $2.50 and $5.00 a piece, they were left because their value was not worth the time that it would take to find them. Jesus speaks of going on a search, not for golf balls, but for sheep. It’s the parable where 99 sheep are safe, but one has wondered away and is lost. The parable suggests that though He has 99 sheep, Jesus puts extreme value on one, so much so, that he leaves the herd to find it. His point? There are no unimportant souls, no unimportant people, everyone has value to Jesus. Important to know for ourselves and important to know about the broken and confused around us. Jesus cares, and if He does, we must. Recognize this today, no matter what you have done, you matter. Jesus is searching for you, reaching with grace and mercy . . . and, if He’s doing that for us, how much more should we be reaching for those in a world that is broken and hurting.

Just a Breeze

The temperature is 93, the humidity is 85 percent, and the “feels like” temperature is 107. Are you sweating and feeling the misery just by reading that sentence? Welcome to summer in Indiana. Where do you want to be when we have one of those days? I either want to be in an air-conditioned room or a vehicle with the A/C blowing full blast. If you can’t be in either one of those places or have a job that requires you to be outside for an extended time, what do you want? Just a breeze. A breeze is defined as a light, gentle wind. It’s enough wind to make the day bearable, give you hope, and cool your brow. If you can find a shade tree and a glass of tea or lemonade, you might consider staying there for a while. How important is a breeze? In Acts 27 Paul is on a ship headed to Italy when conditions begin to deteriorate, for a moment they pause and think of terminating the journey, but Acts 27:12 says, “when a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so, they weighed anchor and sailed. . .” Catch that! They were ready to give up, drop anchor, but a gentle wind changed everything, and they sailed on. Life has its challenges, discouragement comes, but if we catch a breeze, it changes everything. We often look to vacations, entertainment, and other stimulus to give us energy, but Simon Peter says in Acts 3:19 that the refreshing breeze we want is found in repentance. “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” How inspiring! How close are we to a spiritual breeze? As quick as we turn toward God and lean into His overwhelming peace and presence, a breeze of the Spirit will come and invigorate us. Catch a breeze!

Dormant, Not Dead

High heat and no rain have brought a swift change to our yards. It’s mid-July and they look like its late August, unless you don’t care about your water bill, and have been relentlessly watering. Green lawns that we were constantly mowing in May have turned dry and brown. But take heart, your yard is not dead, it’s dormant. It’s good to know. In most cases you won’t have to reseed, simply wait, and come Fall, rains will come, and your grass will turn green again. The brown isn’t a sign of death, but protection. Built into every blade a grass is the ability to defend itself when times get dry. It will live again. What a novel idea, one not just for grass, but for Christians as well. In life, dry seasons come, God knew that, so he built in safeguards. David explains this in Psalm 23 when he says, “when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” How can he have that confidence? Because he knows he’s got built in protection. He follows up the fear no evil with, “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” What David understood we must know; that we all have times of stagnation and dryness. In those seasons, God has not forsaken us, we have not committed the unpardonable sin, or somehow become God’s least favorite child, we are simply going through a tough stretch. It’s just a part of life. When these moments hit, know you’re not dead, just dormant. Stay faithful, keep praying, know that mercy and grace will sustain you, and say to yourself often, I’m not dead, just dormant.

Make a Difference

We first noticed him on our way to Saturday night prayer. The him, whoever he was, was about ten years old, standing in front of an elementary school, and wearing a dinosaur outfit. He may not have had the moves like Jagger, but he was definitely dancing creatively. Next to him was another young kid holding up a sign that said, “thought you might need a laugh, if you’re enjoying it, give us a tip.” I was caught off guard by both the dancing dinosaur and the ingenuity of the two to come up with the idea of a way to make money. After our time in prayer, we headed back home, but had to make a stop which took us a different route than the one we had taken to church. Honestly, we had forgotten about our little dancing dinosaur but as we head into downtown Noblesville, I see him again, this time at the town square. His dancing has become more animated and the kid holding the sign has now joined in. I wish I could tell you I stopped and left the two boys a tip, but I can’t, I drove on. But the moment has left an impression on me. In a world that is violent, divided over abortion and social issues, has a terrible war going on in the Ukraine, and has lost its moral compass, two kids said, let’s dance and make people laugh. Let’s dance for ourselves, dance for others, and dance so crazily that it impresses and impacts others. We need more of that, not just from kids, but from adults. It doesn’t take a dinosaur outfit, or Jaggers moves, just an awareness. An awareness that our world is reeling; it’s broken, lost, and desperately in need of someone who can help them see life differently. Ask God, what can I do to encourage, inspire, or lift someone who is heavy with life’s challenges? Then follow that inspiration and makes a difference.

Live in Liberty

Freedom. We have parades and shoot off fireworks to celebrate it. Yet I’m afraid freedom is a concept that we don’t totally grasp. It’s not necessarily a liberty to do anything, but more, the possibility not to be bound by anything. Early Americans didn’t want liberty to do everything, they wanted freedom to live without being controlled. Unfortunately, far too many who will wave flags and shoot off fireworks this week, are encumbered by bondage. Government and leaders are binding their citizens with humanistic ideas, political and social elites control society with carnal philosophies and beliefs, and the minority wants to set the standard for the majority. Beyond societal oppression, many are bound by the entrapments of this life. Countless are controlled by greed and gold. Others are bound to alcohol, drugs, and perversion. Far too many are overcome by sin that is destroying their lives and families. In Luke 4:18, Jesus said he had come “. . . to proclaim release to the captive. . .to set free those who are oppressed.” Jesus’ freedom liberates us from things that the devil had enticed and trapped us with. It’s Zacchaeus, insnared by greed, being freed by the grace of Jesus. It’s a woman lured into a moment of adultery, freed by the mercy of Jesus. His words to her as he frees her are important, “go and sin no more.” What does he give her? Freedom over sins control over her, the ability to have a different lifestyle, and live untangled from her past and mistakes. In John 8:36 Jesus said to the crowd, “the Son makes you free and you are free indeed.” What does that mean? It means because of Jesus we are no longer controlled by things that overwhelmed and mastered us. We are liberated from sins power and set free from our past mistakes. Live in liberty. Live in the freedom of Jesus!

Just a Whiff

The smells of life. They are all around us. Some good, some not so good. Smelling the savory smell of good food, flowers in a garden, or the scent of a candle in a store or home, immediately grabs our attention. There are smells we totally miss, and I was unaware I was missing them until we got our little convertible. Now it’s one of our favorite things about our little car. Driving along we will occasionally get a whiff of freshly cut grass, a backyard fire, a barbecue, or the fragrance of a flowering tree. It immediately arrests our attention and stops the conversation; all we want to do is take in the scent. Smells can take us back to special moments in our lives or days gone by. Almost every smell has a story. Imagine smelling the fragrance of the perfume that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet. A stale old room filled with sweaty people is suddenly overwhelmed by an aroma that is pleasant and refreshing. Even if you missed the moment when she anointed his feet, you were instantly aware by the fragrant change that now fills the room. I would imagine that from that day forward, any time anyone caught a scent of that amazing moment, instantly had a flashback to Mary’s amazing act. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “we are the sweet smell of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are being lost.” Whether we realize it or not, each day we put off a scent, a smell of God’s glory or the smell of this world. One is pleasant and refreshing, the other often old and unpleasing. Why do we need a regular time of prayer? It’s where we get the anointing that gives us the right scent. Prayer ensures that our family, friends, and the world we walk in gets the right whiff.

Got Your Back

This year I have a completely different take on Father’s Day. I’ve always celebrated my dad and how amazing he is. But this year I’ve watched my husband take on the role of “father” and it’s been such an amazing thing to watch. The first thing that I noticed was when he took on the role of protector. Newborn babies can’t do much to defend or protect themselves, so I think naturally dads take on this role. From the moment we pulled out of the hospital, he tried to avoid every pothole and waited until there was a gap the size of Texas to pull out in front of a car. I’ve always seen the same thing from my dad. I remember the day he tried to teach me how to ride a bike and how protective he was. I was terrified, but there was no way he was going to let me fall. He made sure I knew how the brakes worked and told me that I didn’t have to go fast. I just had to try. He was going to protect me, even if it meant he might get hurt. The same thing is true of God. He is our greatest protector. He sees all things and knows all things. He will give us all the grace we need and will even take the fall with us when we mess up. In Psalm 3:3 it says just that “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” This Father’s Day be thankful for your protectors and a God who’s got you back.

Risa Fontaine
Daughter of Pastor Jon
Wife to Jacob and Mother to Carter

Intentionally Impactive

Life’s vision involves three-segments. First, touch God every day. It may change daily, but includes Bible reading, prayer, worship, and devotion. Another segment of our vision is being involved in something that outlives you. A personal ministry, project, or a financial foundation; anything that will leave an imprint on the next generation. A final segment involves intentionally impacting someone’s life every day. That doesn’t mean grabbing a bull horn or bashing them with the Bible. It means being purposeful about making a positive impact on someone daily. Lately the Spirit has been prompting me to be more active in this area. So, I’ve been intentional. A cashier caught my attention with his amazing spirit and attitude, so I gave him a compliment. He lit up like the fourth of July, you would have thought I had given him a hundred-dollar bill. Making a run to the grocery, a group of elementary kids walking to a local park for end of the year festivities, spotted our little red car. They started giving us the “18-wheeler blow the horn motion.”  We gave them a beep, beep, smiled, waved and instantly the entire group exploded into laughter and cheers as we drove off. Finally, as we were walking through a park, I noticed a couple meandering slowly up ahead of us. Their spirit seemed heavy, so as we passed, I gave them a smile, “a good morning,” and instantly their countenance changed. The elderly lady said, “yes, it is” and before I knew it, I blurted out the first stanza of Psalm 118:24, “this is the day,” she responded with, “that the Lord has made, and I said, “I will rejoice,” and she completed it with, “and be glad in it.” We left them laughing and with a memory for the day. My point? Impacting others is simple, easy, and cost nothing. Start being intentional about impacting a world that is hopeless, hurting, and broken. Let your positive actions be the conversation at their dinner table.

Those Stupid Weeds

Spring. It is officially here. If you question it, go to any garden shop. Doesn’t matter if it’s Lowes, Home Depot, or a local nursery, you will be greeted by crowds. All ages and ethnicities with all varieties of plants and flowers in their carts. Drive through any neighborhood and you will see flowerpots and yards filled with an assortment of color: geraniums, petunias, and impatiens. Whether those who are planting realize it or not, they are planting things that require maintenance. If plants are to grow full and lush, they’re going to require fertilizer. Flowers will require getting up early or staying out late for watering. Fail to be disciplined and quickly your flowers and plants will wither and die. As spring turns to summer, other plants begin to appear, ones you did not purchase or plant. Weeds! They require no fertilizer or water, they just grow, grow, and grow. Getting rid of them will require Roundup, and lots of it. A gardener is always at war with weeds. There is so much God in gardening. Think about it, having a healthy and fruitful spiritual life takes work. There must be consistent watering of our hearts and spirits with prayer. We must fertilize our mind and soul with the sounds of worship. We hit the house of God so our lives can be strengthened by His Word and community. Get out of the routine and watch how quickly your spirit can become bitter or sour and heart callused and cold. Then, if the lack of spiritual discipline doesn’t get us, the weeds of sin begin growing. Jealousy drops seeds in our heart, lust gets in our eye, and within days, we’re inundated by the worldly weeds. Today’s challenge. As you work on your yard, remember your heart is a garden as well. Water, feed, and prune regularly!

Living Off the Spirit Grid

I’m a noticer. It doesn’t matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, I’m observing. It’s one of my ways of learning. This particular day found me on an interstate I had not been on before. The landscape is lush with trees and rolling terrain. It’s here I notice an Amish farmer plowing his field. He’s standing on a plow tied to four oxen. I marvel as I witness old life in modern times. As I’m watching, I notice power lines above him, massive lines, maybe 50 feet tall. These lines aren’t carrying energy to homes, they’re transporting power to cities. They are just above him to the east. I also catch a glimpse of a home, I presume is his, because there are no power lines running to it. As the moment recedes into my rear-view mirror, my thoughts reflect on his life, he’s so close to so much power, yet chooses to live without it. What an example of some Christians. Jesus said, “you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8), yet how many live without tapping into the power. How many plow through life with an old-world mentality, seeking peace, joy, and happiness in worldly treasures? We live with access to God’s power, yet often choose to live off the grid, trying to succeed without His life changing influence. How much power is just above us? Enough that would cause an entire city to say, “these are they that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and enough to cause people to lay the sick in the street that the shadow of Simon Peter might bring healing (Acts 5:15). God’s power, it’s not a matter of if He has it, but if we will tap into it. We have a choice, plow on our own or pray for His power.

Thump…

It all started early Monday morning. A thump on our window, and then another, and then another. . . and it has continued all week. What is it? One small yellow finch. I am assuming it’s the same one, surely there’s not another that wants to spend its entire day crashing its head into our sliding glass window. At this moment, as I am writing, I’m safe to say he (or she) is averaging a crash about every ten seconds. Occasionally, it stops, shakes itself, inspects its feathers, and begins again. It seems absurd, and I suppose at some point it will stop, but for now, “bird tv” is a part of our daily entertainment. We’ve scared it off a few times, but it returns, and continues its relentless attack on our glass. I would love to have a conversation with it about its actions and purpose, but obviously I don’t speak bird, and I’m not really sure it would accomplish anything. Reminds me of how we sometimes handle stress, anxiety, and worry. Like the bird, no matter how much sleep we lose, how much time we spend in a mental round-about, we just end up burning energy and wasting time, and accomplishing nothing. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus puts it bluntly when He says, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” What are we to do? We basically have three options. First, living like the yellow finch who is assaulting our window; spend your days stressing, worrying, using a lot of energy, and accomplishing nothing.  Second, trust God. David gives us valuable wisdom in Proverbs 3:5 when he says, “trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Finally, relax! There is not one thing that overwhelms God, and if He’s not overwhelmed, then give it your best effort to not let issues trouble you either.

Spring Into a New Beginning!

Spring amazes me with its stunning spender of yellow, pink, purple and white colors. It’s the moment God brightens the earth with yet another masterpiece of His glorious beauty. Spring air, accompanied by rain, produces bright green hues everywhere which provides the perfect backdrop for His kaleidoscope of color. With sunlight making its way through the cloud covering, I stand in awe of the miraculous creation of color God makes for us. He thinks out every process of this majestic canvas and He does this simply for us to enjoy. Winter can be cold and barren, bitter and stagnant. And then, Spring, with its glorious colors, reminds us of His desire to make things new and fresh. Often Spring is a time when God starts something fresh and new in us. It’s a time of new beginnings. As you venture through this Spring, allow God to form something miraculous in your life. Take the time to take in the beauty around you. Let Spring remind us that we too are a canvas of God, and we have the potential to produce beauty and growth. Growth that can change the world for someone else needing hope. Before you know it, these incredible colors will be gone. The blooms will blow away and new growth will turn to leaves. So, enjoy Spring, the time for growth and new beginnings, and ask God to begin something new and beautiful in you!

-Mary Hudson

The Power of Light

An obvious fact. The less light the more darkness. Turn off the lights in a windowless room and darkness dominates. One of the fascinating details the gospel authors mention is as Jesus is dying on the cross the sky grew dark. When the earthly presence of God went out (“I am the light of the world.” John 8:12), darkness rushed in. It’s important to note what happened during those three hours, because I believe there is a spiritual principle. We wonder why there is such darkness in the earth today, may I suggest that God’s light, the church has become dimmer. While there are more mega-churches, there are fewer people attending than ever. In 1950 nearly 70% of Americans attended church regularly, in 2007 that number had dwindled to 18%, and reports are that nearly 1/3 of those who were faithful to church before COVID have not returned. Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, says it is his belief that the actual number of faithful and active Christians in America is less than 5%. Not only did Jesus say that He was the light of the world, but that we, the followers of Christ, “were the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). Why the darkness? Why the hate? Why such an aggression of immorality? Why does it seem no one has the answer for all that ills our world? As a pastor who trusts God’s Word, I believe we are seeing the effect of the absence of light. Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, “when the son of man comes, will He find faith,” and the author of Hebrews warns, “let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.” Easter 2022. Make a decision to make God’s house a life priority.

I’ve Got This

The Triumphal Entry. It wasn’t an event; it was a statement. It was premeditated and calculated. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He knew His friends and foes. He knew what the day, Palm Sunday, would hold and He knew what the week would hold. Riding into Jerusalem on a colt was no accident, it was a declaration; to every Pharisee and religious leader Jesus was saying, I am in control. To every dark and demonic Spirit, He’s saying I am not afraid. It’s not a statement for the week, but a proclamation for eternity. The week would start with a Triumphal Entry and crowds crying, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and would end with crowds crying “crucify Him.” He doesn’t become enamored by the accolades nor discouraged by the jeers. He knew the moment was bigger than a parade or a cross, this was about who controls eternity. It’s about who would have power over death, hell, and the grave. It’s about sickness having dominance and darkness dominating the world. When the week comes to an end and He says, “it is finished,” He is not talking about His life, but the question of who was in control. As He breathes His last breath, He knows I am forever in control of eternity. Sin, sickness, disease, and death are now powerless. Satan, his schemes, and plans are forever thwarted. All things are subject to Him. The Triumphal Entry was an everlasting statement that said, I control everything, including my death. A good thing to know. Whether it’s in a court room or hospital room. Whether life or death. Jesus has triumphed and your life is safely in His hands.

Time for an Oil Change?

An oil change. It’s a necessary part of owning a car. It has to happen about every three to five thousand miles. Why? Because as good as the oil is, it breaks down.  What was originally strong, clean, and pure, over time becomes weak and dirty. Refuse to change the oil and eventually your car becomes sluggish and breaks down. Change the oil and you will notice that it has fresh power, renewed energy, and better gas mileage. You may have the finest car, equipped with every feature, and all the luxuries, but if the oil doesn’t get changed, it quickly becomes worthless. Fresh oil is a must! What is true of our car is true of our spiritual life. It doesn’t matter how long we have been in church, how well we look, or how much knowledge we may have of scripture, without a fresh touch of God’s spirit we will become sluggish, get weary, and break down. Are you lacking spiritual energy? When is the last time a touch of God’s Spirit has overwhelmed you or you got lost in God’s presence? When’s the last time you went to your knees in prayer and couldn’t leave? If it’s been a while, could it be that you need an invigorating anointing? Know this, your world saps your energy and steals your spiritual passion, and a fresh anointing is a must. David said in Psalm 92:10, “. . .I have been anointed with fresh oil.” What David understood was, that fighting giants, defeating adversaries, and living a God led life spends energy and wears down the soul. His solution to the daily grind? A fresh anointing of oil. Feeling weary? Lacking energy? Ask God for an oil change, for Him to send an energizing oil over your heart, soul, and life.

The Underdog Bandwagon

The Underdog. In last year’s March Madness, it was Oral Robert University, this year it is St. Peter’s. They come out of nowhere, usually a small college that no one has heard of, and though they have been invited to the event, they’re not supposed to win, but they do. And once they win, especially when your team has lost, the crowd jumps on their bandwagon. Everyone likes to see David beat Goliath. Somewhere along the line some self-righteous pharisee turned God into Thor, a God that is just waiting to hammer people with judgement when they fail. If you’re not blessed, it’s because you are not pleasing God. If you are going through difficult times, it’s because God is against you. When the woman was caught in adultery, the “rule” people were screaming crucify her, but Jesus’ jumps on her bandwagon. Rocks drops, screams of judgement go silent, and Jesus is on his knees saying, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Paul, struggling with his inadequacies, ask God to remove his thorn, instead God says, it okay if you’re broken, my grace is sufficient. Wherever you turn in the Bible, you see God rooting for broken people. Religion says cross every “t,” and dot every “i,” and then you are good enough, but Jesus throws party’s when broken people simply repent. Feeling like you don’t belong? Feel like you’re not good enough? Maybe you feel like you failed too many times. Know this, every time you have a win, every time you turn to Him, God jumps on your bandwagon. He is for you!

Rip Off the Label!

68 Teams. Four regions. In each, teams are ranked by computers and a handful of “in the know” people. Teams with ones and twos are expected to be there at the end of the tournament, 15 and 16’s are expected to make an early exit; just pebbles for the Goliath’s on the road to the Final Four. Except for one problem. Occasionally, a pebble forgets the ranking assigned by the professionals, and plays with a fire that can’t be defined by statistics. Instead of folding, they define themselves. It only happens a handful of times, but after a mind-blowing victory, when a “David conquers a Goliath,” you hear something like this, “no one gave us a chance, but we knew in our hearts we could do it.” We live in a culture that is label driven, and too many allow others to define who they are. Too often people are defined by the clothes they wear, the people they associate with, or the letters after their name. Yet, like a 15 and 16 seeded team, there are some who rip off their labels and define themselves in God. David was called too young, unproven, and unreliable, all which may have been true, but he had something that could not be measured. His family, peers and experts measured him by the world’s metrics, but David measured himself by something no one else could see, his God factor. He knew what God had done for Him and what God had called him to do. When that kind of faith is in place it doesn’t really matter the labels put on you. To someone today, do the same as David or a low seeded team, rip off the label and be who God called you to be!

And Just Like That

And just like that, it happened. The crowd was gone. In early January you would have thought the entire town of Noblesville had joined our health club. Whether it was seven in the morning or seven at night, the place was packed. February comes and the crowds were still steady. There was determination on people’s faces; they were going to get fit and lose weight. But as it often does, resolve and resolution fade into routine and old habits. Now it’s the committed. Those who show up day in and day out; those who are dedicated to making a change. This isn’t something new. Paul called out the Galatians, saying “you were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” It’s human nature to fade, to allow obstacles to overwhelm us and discouragements to defeat us. What is the difference between those who fade and those who fight? Often it comes down to just one thing, determination. We are awestruck by Paul’s incredible successes but realize Paul was given many opportunities to quit instead of continuing. Stoned, beaten, persecuted, misunderstood, shipwrecked, and jailed, all opportunities to quit. In 2 Corinthians 3:1 we see his resolve when we read, “I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again.” Paul went through bad times, often felt like a failure, and had seasons where so many misunderstood and opposed his teaching, yet he was determined. I will not quit. I will not be defeated. I will not give up. His determination, his passion and his vision pushed him past his problems and pain. How many churches would not have been established? How many books would not have been written? More importantly, how many lives would not know Jesus? When times are tough, don’t quit! Pray harder, fast longer, and be determined to finish what God has called you to do.

The Purpose of Fear

Our world seems to be giving us every opportunity to be scared, to live in fear. Many did, and some still, live in fear as COVID grips the globe. Anyone else race to the store to buy water and toilet paper when COVID derailed our lives? Ever get a call from the doctor’s office saying, “we need to run some test,” and where does our mind go? Often fear fills our mind and instantly we imagine the worst possible scenario. As war breaks out in Europe, for the first time, we have the ability to watch as a nation is being destroyed. In addition, there is a fear that at any moment we could wake up to the news that our country has been impacted by nuclear weaponry. What if I told you that fear is part of God’s design? That without fear we wouldn’t have the wisdom to avoid dangerous situations. Fear often protects us, but when fear gets out of control, it is sin. What fear should do is give us an opportunity to lean in and trust God. Jesus gives us a great illustration of what to do when facing fear in Matthew 14. We find Jesus’ disciples in the midst of a storm; one he had sent them into. As waves crash, lightening flashes, and disciples are panicking, Jesus appears. Suddenly everything changes for one disciple, Simon Peter. His focus moves from fear to faith, and in an instant, he is no longer fixated on the storm, but the God of the storm. Did the storm stop? Did the waves calm? Did the lightening cease? No, but Simon Peter’s focus changed and even though we often concentrate on him sinking, the truth is he ended up where everyone needs to end up when storms come. . . in the never-failing arms and safety of Jesus.

Are You Accessible

How accessible are you? Do you keep your cell phone by your bed at night? Are you constantly making sure its fully charged so you don’t miss a call or email? When it comes to checking texts, do you check once a day, once an hour, or once a minute. How about TikTok, Insta, or Facebook? Do you find yourself constantly refreshing or checking in? For some, being accessible is critically important, while for others, it feels better when you are off the grid. But let’s go back to the original question and ask it a bit differently, how accessible are you to God? Is your “spiritual phone” always on? Do you check in for a time of devotion and then shut it down for the day? Maybe occasionally breathe a prayer when there is an important meeting or at the lunch table. Does God have access to you at any time? Can He speak to you in the middle of a meeting, or when a waiter or waitress needs a word of encouragement? Does He have access to you when someone needs prayer in the moment? Can He stir you in the middle of the night or convict you in the middle of the day? Being accessible is critical to living a powerful Christian life. It’s not so much what happens on Sunday, but more so, what happens Monday through Friday that makes us dynamic Christians. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul challenges Timothy to be “instant in season, and out of season.” In essence, be ready to share the gospel, your story, and your faith in any moment. What will bring energy and life to your walk with God? Being accessible, being available to fulfill His will and purpose in your day.  Turn on your spiritual phone, keep it charged and see what God can do through your life.

The Importance of Being Present

From the beginning of the year, God has laser focused messages at Life on the importance of seeing correctly, of being aligned with your pastors and the Spirit. Luke shows us the importance of being present in Acts 1. After Jesus ascends into heaven the disciples are left with the task of replacing Judas. As they begin the process, they first set the criteria for filling the position. What was the criteria? It was this, that whoever filled the roll had to have been with Jesus from His baptism until His death. Why? They understood that if the person had not been present, that they would not be able to align with the vision that Jesus had given them. How important was being present? All we have to do is turn to the first verse in Acts 2. Luke’s first line says it all, “they were in one place and in one accord.” You can’t get to one place and one accord without being present. Faithfulness brought vision, which brought possibility, which allowed 120 to experience a miraculous moment which would lead to a moment in Acts 17 when a society said, “these are they who have turned the world upside down. A question. How can you be aligned with the passion and heart of your pastors and the Spirit if you aren’t present? Over the past six weeks at Life we have cast vision on how to live a blessed life. Beyond the teaching of being financially faithful, we have talked about the importance of expanding your vision. Currently, Mary is leading a powerful study by Beth Moore called Entrusted. She spent days choosing the series, prays and studies each week, hoping ladies will catch the vision that Beth Moore is communicating. The adversary is subtle, he knows the power of “being present.” He understands when people aren’t present, they can never catch their pastors’ vision. A few have legitimist excuses, you live far from the church, but for others, it is simply a matter of priorities. What causes people to become discontent or drift? Most times it’s not sin, simply not being connected. It isn’t a lack of vision that will cause some to fade, merely a lack of being present.

Make it an Experience

We were on a two-lane road in upper Michigan surrounded by pine trees and snow. Picturesque, but not necessarily the place to be when you are looking for lunch.  We came to a wide gap in the road when we saw a sign, “Antlers, A One-of-a-Kind Experience.” We started to pass it by, but something said, give it a run. What we experienced over the next hour can only be describe as “good food turned into an incredible dining experience. It all started with our waitress, Jan. A 50ish old red headed woman who could have sold ice cubes to an Eskimo. From the moment we met Jan it was as she had known us for 10 years, and it seemed whatever we asked for, she was determined to make happen. When I asked if they had sweet tea, she said no, but I can make it happen. I assumed that meant a pack of sugar, but instead she returned with a glass half filled with tea and ice, a cup of hot tea, and instructions of how to mix it so it would be as good as that “southern stuff.” Every dish was described as though it was the best that had ever been made and when we settled on the “Amazing Pot Pie,” we asked if we could split it, she said, “absolutely, but it might be a little small.” We were fine with that and then ordered our salad which involved Jan describing the favor of every dressing in detail. The meal presentation was top shelf, and the food was good beyond description. Stuffed like it was Thanksgiving, Jan somehow convinced us we needed one of the home desserts. We still don’t know how she did it, but somehow, she convinced us we needed two, one for now and one to take home. . . we bought both! For Jan, Antler’s was not a job, it was a passion. She didn’t just serve food, she created an atmosphere and made our dinner an experience. Her spirit and attitude made us wonder what it would be like if a church community had the same attitude, that church wasn’t just a Sunday thing, but a personal passion. How might it impact change someones concept of church?

Don’t Miss Your Moment

It started with a call from Risa on Monday morning. “Dad did you hear? We’re going to have a blizzard; they’re saying we could have 18 inches of snow and 40mph winds. . . it the blizzard you’ve always prayed for!” As many of you know, I am the blizzard guy. For years I’ve prayed for my kids to experience what I experienced in 1978. But this news created a problem. We had just arrived in Orange Beach to spend a few days with my parents. I was setting in the sun on a patio enjoying the warm temperatures and watching the waves. I was about to miss the answer to prayer and likely never live down the fact that I was setting on a beach after praying for a blizzard for years. As fate would have it, situations at the church forced us to return early Wednesday morning, meaning we would get to experience the blizzard. But, as it always seems to happen, the storm weakened, and we just got a nice winter storm. This week’s event spoke to my heart and reminded me how easy it is to miss moments that we’ve prayed for. It’s exactly what happened to five virgins. Reflecting on the story in Matthew 25, there were ten virgins waiting for a groom who was delayed. In a tragic ending, five virgins missed their dream moment by not being at the right place at the right time. Why be faithful to prayer and devotional time?  Why make God’s house our top priority? Because we never know when God may show up or answer a prayer. Whether it’s doing something, that at the moment seems important, like getting oil, or doing something innocent, like setting on a beach, as often as possible, be faithful to God’s house and your devotional time. Don’t miss your moment.

Do Your Thing and Keep on Walking

Same health club, same routine, but we were not ready for what awaited us this day. We hopped on our ellipticals and began our half hour journey to nowhere. As we’re walking, I begin to take inventory of those around us. First, I notice a man in front of us, probably mid-forties, in full business casual on the treadmill, he’s kick’ in it in what appears to be Sketchers, khaki pants with a belt, and a long sleeve polo. I give a head motion to Mary, and there’s instant laughter. Trying to gain composure, we look to our right and see a young lady on a treadmill, she’s wearing earbuds, gray sweatpants, a pink sweater, and a toboggan. The toboggan seems a tad strange, but it’s the fashion statement of the day, so we roll with it. What catches our attention is what happens next, within seconds after noticing her, she breaks out into full Michael Jackson on her treadmill. I’m now a tad stunned. Not to be a gawker, I look to the right of her to see someone who should not be wearing a two-piece workout outfit. She too is startled and staring at Michael Jackson in a toboggan doing her thing. Suddenly, as not to be outdone, she turns around backwards and attempts to run on her treadmill, thankfully this only last a few seconds, and she wisely decides to walk backwards instead. Don’t understand the purpose, but to each their own. Finally, trying to bring some semblance and normalcy back to the day, I look down our row to see a man going full speed on his elliptical with a towel covering his entire head…he sees nothing. Whether this is intentional we will never know. I continue to walk and think, I get the man with the towel on his head. My point in all this. Sometimes it’s just good to do your thing, keep on walking, and live for another day.

Let it Go

How far do you want mercy and grace to extend? Past your latest sin? Past your struggling weakness? Past your worst failure? Past your past? We’re all in when God stoops down, writes something in the sand, and forgives the woman caught in adultery. We love when Jesus cleanses the heart of the woman who has had five husbands and is living with a sixth man. But the real challenge comes when we must be like Jesus; forgive, extend grace, and show the mercy to others as he has done for us. What I’ve found is that it is much easier to receive mercy than to extend it. We hold on to grudges, are judge and jury, and hold on to pains that someone else caused. Is it possible that what made David a man after God’s heart wasn’t that he was perfectly Holy or righteous, but that he extended the same grace that God had extended to him to others? David had been pursued by King Saul for years, but when given the chance to exact revenge, he exhibited mercy. Saul is pursuing David and comes into a cave where David is hiding. David has the perfect opportunity to take Saul’s life, but instead, he cuts a corner off Saul’s garment and extends mercy. In another moment, Saul and his men fall asleep and David walks into the camp unnoticed. Standing over the problem of his life, instead of taking his life, he takes a few utensils and a sword and walks away. As we start this year, I encourage you to forgive, show compassion and extend mercy to those who have hurt you or have caused you pain. Why? Because if we want grace and mercy to go beyond our failures and shortcomings, we need to make sure it goes beyond what others need also.