As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving it should be easy to reflect on God’s goodness and give thanks. Though our country is in a difficult season, we’re still fortunate to live with countless freedoms and blessings. While it may not be your dream home, you woke up in a bed and looked up to see a roof over your head. As a chill begins to fill the air, we kick on furnaces, add blankets to beds and grab coats before we leave our homes. Today, we might ask, what do you want to eat or how can I lose weight, but probably not, I wonder if there will be food for me today. If you’re reading this devotion, it means you have your sight and you’re holding it in your hand, either physically or on an electronic device. Much of the third world walks to destinations, while we jump into vehicles and travel in luxury. Consider the blessings we have if we have health, family, and friends. Beyond the material and relational blessings, there is more. King David, who lived a blessed life, reflected on God’s goodness in Psalm 136. He doesn’t mention material or relational favor, but reflects on one blessing, “that God’s mercy endures forever.” In fact, so overwhelmed by God’s mercy, he repeats the phrase, “his mercy endures forever,” 26 times. I too say, thanks God, for your mercy. Beyond the physical blessings, wonderful family, and good friends, I’m grateful for God’s overextending mercy. Mercy to robe himself in flesh and give His life for me, grace that extends beyond my continual shortcomings, and love that is unfailing and infinite. As we gather this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks that you know a merciful, gracious, and loving God.
James Springer wanted a Happy Meal. The problem was that it was ten o’clock in the morning and McDonald’s didn’t start serving lunch until 10:30a.m. According to the news, Springer became upset when they told him it was too early for a Happy Meal, so upset that he threatened to kill all the employees. Thankfully, the authorities were called, Springer was arrested, and the crisis was diffused. The whole story is a sad snapshot of where our society currently is. We have lost the art of being content, and appreciative. The issue of contentment is not new, but one humanity has dealt with from the beginning of time. Eve is blessed with a perfect world, but Satan subtlety convinces her she is not enough, that she doesn’t have enough. David marries King Saul’s beautiful daughter, but finds himself discontent, and nearly loses the kingdom and his family in his pursuit of Bathsheba. What about you? Are you constantly in pursuit of something? Are you continually upgrading to the latest phone, bigger tv or latest style? May I ask, at what point will you find contentment? In Philippians 4:11 Paul says, “I have learned to be content.” Contentment isn’t something you arrive at once you get a certain item, join a social group or get an amount of money or fame. Contentment is a decision. That’s why Paul says, “I have learned.” This world always had us pursuing after the latest and the greatest. One of the best places we can come to in our lives, is when we come to the point where we can say to this world, “no, I don’t need that, that’s nice but I have enough, I am content.” Whether it’s a hamburger, fries, and soft drink in a cute little box with a prize or the latest must have item, learn to say, “I can be Happy without a Happy Meal.
Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness. In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!
Today we celebrate 15 years of Life. From a garage sale and weekly Bible studies in our home, to the Goddard School, to Brooks School Elementary and now, to its current campus, on 126th, it’s been quite the journey. It’s surreal to think that Life has been a church for fifteen years. In so many ways March 7, 2004 seems like yesterday. That was the day we stepped into Brooks School Elementary for our first weekly service. We were naive, young and unexperienced. I was 40, Mary was 36, Gentry was seven and Risa five. That Sunday about forty of us joined together to worship and over the next five years we watched as the congregation grew. Sunday services were at Brooks School and Wednesday’s in our home. In the fall of 2007 we got the miraculous call from the Coffey family, and I heard the words I’ll never forget, “we want to donate five and a half acres to the church.” Plans began to form, construction began in 2008 and in 2009. It was during that time that Bill and Anita James saw the vision and jumped in during our construction phase. In April of 2009 we moved in and later that year we celebrated five years with Pastor Chester Mitchell from Ashburn, Virginia. Finally having a home, Life began to grow and new team members came on board. Willie and Ashley Travis and Erik and Brittany Poling soon made Life their home and suddenly Life began to minister in new dimensions. 2010 and 2011 brought musical groups, Royal Taylor and The Experience Band. It was our time with the Experience Band that we met Korey Elkins and a few years later he began to lead our worship. In 2014, we celebrated 10 years as a church and our personal 25 years of ministry. Rex Johnson came from Austin, Texas and challenged us to “follow the Spirit.” The last five years brought both tremendous challenges and changes, but through commitment to prayer, following after God’s leading and continuing growth that brought amazing people to help, we watched as God did miraculous things. The growth brought challenges to our Kids and Youth ministry and it became obvious that we needed to expand. With the vision of our Board of Directors, Don Baldwin, Tarren Cruz, Milford Hudson, Andy Purcell, Lance Russom and Don Starks we broke ground in the fall of 2017. As we celebrate 15 years today, we have nearly completed Phase Two. Where do we go from here? We cannot rest, God has given us more to do! “Church without Walls,” taking life to the world through live video, is coming soon and plans are already complete for Phase Three; an expanded lobby and nursery, a social gathering space with a small café and several large educational rooms. Beyond that, who knows where God will lead. But today we stop to give Him glory for all He has done and celebrate 15 incredible years of Life!
To Abraham He is the lamb provided. To Moses He is the I AM that I AM. To David He is a very present help in a time of need. To the three Hebrew children He is the fourth man in the fire. To Isaiah He is the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To Mary He is Emmanuel, God with us, He is her baby, her son. To the blind, lame mute and diseased ridden He is a healer. To those overwhelmed by their sin and failure He is grace and mercy. To Simon Peter He is the Messiah, the anointed one, God with us. To John He is the Word. To the Pharisees He is a stumbling stone. To the disciples He is Rabbi, the teacher. To Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is a resurrecter. To Thomas, after seeing His nails prints, He is my Lord and my God. To Paul He is the God of all grace. To everyone who believes and comes to Him He is the Savior. To each and every individual, He is what you have needed Him to be and what you need Him to be. He is help, strength, courage, healer, deliverer, redeemer and most importantly Savior. But three days after His death He became something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since. He conquered death, hell and the grave. To the world, He is Risen!
Winter, we sense it coming; for many it is with dread, but there’ nothing we can do to stop it. There’s a chill in the air, leaves are falling and soon there will be a blanket of snow covering the ground. A quick look at the landscape and it would appear that many trees and plants have died, but in reality, they are very much alive. Life is no longer visible, but know, growth is happening. While many hate it, Winter is important to life. The best time to plant trees and plants, is the end of Fall and the beginning of Winter. While we love the spectacle of Spring with the flowering trees and shrubs, love the spade in the Summer and marvel at the fireworks of color in the Fall without Winter none of it would happen. It’s what happens in Winter, that makes every other season possible. Roots grow deeper, wider and stronger, stamina for the heat of Summer is developed and the eventual growth of the trunk and branches all happen in the Winter. While we see nothing, in reality everything is happening.
May I suggest that each of us need “Winter” in our lives, times when it may appear that we are dormant but in reality, great growth is happening. Maybe you sense a Winter coming or you’re going through a Winter right now, often it doesn’t make sense and others may misjudge your season. It’s the “Winter times” of life when it may appear that we are dying, that nothing is happening in our life or that we are “just existing.” In reality, your likely in one of the greatest seasons of your life; your growing deeper in faith, stronger in your relationship with God and developing spiritual energy that will bring an explosion of growth when the Spring of life returns. It’s in the Winter when we lose the old, grow deep and prepare for a new season. Let me encourage you to embrace the Winter times in your life. Kings had Winter homes where they retreated, Paul paused his evangelism for Winter and scripture even records that Jesus dealt with Winter. Are you in a Winter? Settle in. Build a fire, grab a blanket and get a good book. Enjoy the pause, embrace the rest and take time to grow deeper in God’s Word, prayer and your walk with God. No need to worry and fret, Spring will come, but only when God says your Winter is over.
Month of the Family 2017. Preparing the keynote for the month one man’s life came to mind, David. It was not David’s talent, skills, ability or accomplishments that grabbed my attention, it was David’s hunger and desire to know God and be in His presence. That hunger, desire and passion brought him a lineage that would bring the savior. Acts 13:22 says, “…I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.” David didn’t seek fame, education, riches, kingdoms or even to reach lost souls, David sought the heart of God. David longed for a relationship with God, to know Him, His heart. He searched for Him, wrote songs and sang about Him, and prayed to Him with a desperate desire to know Him and to be in His presence. That kind of life brings blessings, favor and possibilities for generations that follow in your lineage.
My desire is to have a legacy that seeks God. If I could ask anything of God it would be that He would give me the promise that me, my family and my lineage would have the following four passions in our Spiritual DNA until eternity. First, that my lineage would pursue a relationship with Jesus with all their heart, mind and soul; that they would have hunger for a relationship with Jesus, to know Him, not religion or doctrine, but Him. That they would desire His presence, to know Him more than anything or anyone. Second, that they would have a passionate desire for prayer and the Word of God; that prayer and reading the Word would be about knowing Him. Third, I would ask that my lineage would have a knowledge, desire and passion to be filled with His Spirit with evidence of speaking in a language they do not know. That unknown language confirms in a way that no religion or man can that God has come inside of them and will, if they allow, transform them and translate them when the trumpet sounds. Finally, that my lineage would always believe as the Hebrews of the Old Testament were taught, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one [the only God]!” (Duet. 6:4 AMP). That God is the Father, He is a son, He has and is a Spirit and His name is Jesus who has all power and authority. To understand, that through the name of Jesus, anything they ask is possible by the power and authority that is in His name.
What will your lineage look like? Will it be filled with people who were educated, great in sports, that had good jobs, lived in a nice home and drove expensive cars or were simply good people? My challenge this month is that you take on the responsibility of leaving a spiritual legacy. A legacy that will lead generations to eternity in Heaven. Return to God, make His house your highest priority. This month begin a new journey, fill your life and home with prayer, spiritual songs and seek Him with all your heart, in so doing you may leave a legacy that last until eternity!
Over the past month I’ve taken notice that many retailers are returning to age old tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving. I’m glad to see this trend because over the past few years it has seemed that Thanksgiving was disappearing, being discarded by greed and materialism, the very opposite value that Thanksgiving is all about. In a time that is so filled with anger and hate I think it’s important that we take time to pause and re
flect on the many blessing we have as Americans and Christians; to say thank you, I’m grateful and I’m blessed.
If we are not careful we’ll miss the fact that we are surrounded by so many awesome people and cultures who call Life their home. If we don’t stop or pause, we’ll miss something very special that is right in front of us. One of the great pleasures we all get to share in is the many cultures that make Life their home, our kids get to interact with people from the nations of Pakistan, Indonesia, Congo, Mexico and Guatemala just to name a few. Though I am a simple hamburger and fries or pizza guy, Mary and I been afforded to have cultural dinners from Pakistan and Indonesia and participate in a Pakistani wedding and let me say, if you haven’t been to a Pakistani wedding, you have missed something unique. There are so many wonderful stories here at Life and if we don’t slow down, we’ll miss them. Stories like the one of Scott Gascho carrying extra clothes in his car for 14 years so that if Keri ever decided to be baptized, she would have fresh clothes to wear afterwards. Now that is faith! Stories about our wonderful heritage, like the one we heard from Phil Yadon earlier in the year about the faith and miracles that was a part of his early life. I was so inspired by his testimony, my faith for miracles went to a new level for this generation. Stories about the prayers of Jim Coffey’s mom while he was a kid. Imagine neighbors setting out on their porches listening to her prayers as they filled the valley, waiting to hear their name as she called out each family.
May I encourage you to stop this month, put the brakes on all the things of life that you feel have to get done and get to know some of the great people who worship with you, who are a part of your church family. If we don’t, we’ll miss stories about how people met and married, how they came to their walk with God and stories about how God did the miraculous in their life. We’ll miss stories that will encourage our faith, strengthen our resolve and we’ll miss the opportunity to be blessed with new friends and relationships. Make a plan in November to hit the pause button. If you will, you’ll be more thankful, grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets,
and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers
By definition the word pastor simply means, a spiritual overseer. It is important that throughout our lives we have men whose job is simply to oversee our spiritual life and wellbeing. They are to give us guidance, instruction and principles from the Word of God to help us in our journey. They are to pray over us and be concerned about our eternal destination. This month I wanted to take a moment to focus, reflect and thank the men of God who have shaped my life, family and ministry.
I first want to recognize my dad as my first spiritual overseer. I’ve watched as my dad has led our family; navigating us through turbulent times. He taught me that church was not an option, it was a privilege. We made every service, every week. If there was a revival or a prayer meeting, we were there. If there was a call to fast, we fasted. When he saw that his son was struggling with church and God, he made the change to get me and his family to a better place. He never questioned or compromised doctrine, always stood for truth and when he was called to serve, he did. He sang, worked with youth, taught Sunday School, ushered and has served on church boards for over 30 years. An indelible mark he left on my life was one of the few times I saw him cry. I had just walked in for prayer before a Sunday night service. When I walked into the prayer room, he along with other board members were wailing and sobbing, I thought someone had died, but in reality it was that his pastor was leaving. This is the kind of love my dad showed me for God, church and his pastor.
The second man of influence is Pastor N.A. Urshan. He was a man of vision, he understood that the church must remain relevant, a man ahead of his time and a man who wasn’t afraid to go against the religious norm. He wasn’t aware of the influence that he was having on a 13-year-old life, he didn’t realize that one day I too would pastor and had no idea that his beliefs and ideals would become mine. We came to his church in a time where my interest in God was waning. It was a time where it seemed churches preached against everything that was “fun.” Pastor Urshan went against the grain. He understood who he was, he understood his time and he understood what it took to reach the next generation and the world; he preached more about a relationship than rules. It wasn’t too long after we arrived that our family got a TV, I went on my first gym bowling day and high school football game…I thought that I had arrived! He had young people in the orchestra who played basketball on the high school teams and young people who didn’t have it all together in the choir. My parents approached him about his methods at one point and paraphrasing him he said, “as long as they are here I have a chance for the gospel to change them.” It wasn’t but a few years later that I was filled with the Spirit and felt my call to the ministry. Now forty years later, I find myself pastoring much the same way as Pastor Urshan. I pastor as I do because I watched how Pastor Urshan never wavered off the doctrine yet had understanding for the need to stay relevant. I learned what he understood, that methods may change, but the message never will. Today, I try to mimic his methods in my generation and teach the next generation the same.
The third man of influence is Pastor James Larson. He came into my life at a critical time and tattooed my heart with a love for prayer and worship. He was 25 years old, was 6’8” and loved basketball and God. I was 15 and when I saw his passion for the things of God I decided that was what I wanted too. He had more faith than common sense, but his faith built what is still one of the largest church auditoriums in Indianapolis and tried whatever to get people to Jesus including billboards, commercial radio spots, bumper stickers and even an egg hunt in a park. But it was his passion for prayer that forever changed my life. Every Sunday night an hour before church he would be in the prayer room crying out for God to pour out his Spirit. He would circle and every once in a while you would feel his shadow as it stopped over you and you knew it was coming, his hands would go on your head or back and he would pray over you like Jesus was coming that night. He had all night prayer meetings and weeks of prayer and fasting and I saw how it changed the church and reached a community. He attacked the platform the same way, tambourine in hand and the spirit of worship in his heart. I know there were times when he had more stress and more problems than we could ever imagine, but when it was time to worship, he came to worship. He’s been away from my life for over 30 years now, but the influence of prayer he put in my life has shaped my beliefs and my ministry in a way like no other. If you wonder why I’m so driven for prayer, it was because of my pastor and his love for prayer. James Larson gave me the passion and understanding of the power of prayer and I if I can pass anything on to another person or generation, it would be the same. Pray.
Time prohibits others who mentored me from a distance but I must mention men like Pastor James Kilgore who taught me how to live and preach with humility and Pastor Anthony Mangun who gave me a passion for the world and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those men who influenced Mary, thereby influencing me. I recently heard a message by her dad, Pastor Wayne Odum, preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. She speaks so fondly of Pastor Kenneth Haney, his incredible faith and joining him and others at the church at 5 a.m. for prayer and it was Pastor Stephen Drury and his love for kids at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion that has created such a love for kid’s ministry in her. These, along with Paul Mooney, and so many others, God put in our lives to shape us, our family and me as a pastor. It is because of them that Mary and I are together, have the type of home and family we have, and love God and His church the way we do. We are a product of the wonderful men who have poured into us, prayed for us and shepherded us. We have been blessed by so many so that we could bless others, we’re thankful for our pastor’s, our heritage and what they have put in us so we could serve others.
* This blog is a part of a series called the Tribute Series, My Influencers.