The Strength of Slowing Down

Reduce Speed. Speed Zone Ahead. Speed Limit 20 m.p.h. We’ve all seen these signs that warn us that our speed must change soon. You’re flying along, making great time, but suddenly the pace slows to what feels like a crawl. The signs seem to come at the most inopportune time, invariably showing up when you’re late or in a hurry. Here in Indiana, drive on a state highway or county road and eventually you are going to drive into a one stop light or no stop light town. You’ve been cruising along at 65 or 70 and suddenly you’re running 20. Often it feels pointless. Most of the small towns have little or no traffic, not much commerce, and rarely do you even see a person stirring. More than once I’ve seen Barney Fife, the one local police officer, setting with his radar gun pinging drivers or have an out of towner pulled over. I often tried to understand why the need for such a slow pace. Maybe it’s a way to bring some income to the town. Maybe town residents complained about the excessive speed, maybe a local business or restaurant hopes it gets notice by the slower speed, or maybe I am driving through their town in the slowest part of the day. We’ve all driven on an interstate and ran into the Construction Zone Ahead Signs warning of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars in fines for speeding. How many of those areas have you driven through not to see a piece of equipment moving or any human movement? Still, you drive with the fear that you will be the one that gets the fine, and your next vacation or big screen tv is gone to pay for a ticket. There is a point for these signs though. They are there for someone’s safety. There may be elderly people who do business or small kids that play in the small towns, so to protect them, everyone slows down. Obviously, construction zones can be dangerous areas. Workers risk their lives to make ours more convenient, so by slowing down they are safer and eventually our lives are better. Winter is the slow down sign for those who live where the weather turns cold and snowy. It almost feels like it’s God’s sign for humanity to slow down. It gets dark early, the cold nearly eliminates outdoor activities, and if we get enough, snow can make life come to a halt. It seems it’s then and only then, that we throw on some flannels, put a fire in the fireplace, grab a blanket, and grab a good book or watch a movie. Our lives run too hot. Text messages are expected to be responded to within minutes, emails answered the same day, and there seems to always be a pressing meeting that can’t be missed. What is missed when we fail to slow down? A spouse that needs you to put down your phone and give them some attention like you gave them when you were dating. A child who wants you to hear about their struggle with someone in their class or for you to be totally engaged as they show you their school project. A person hurting or discouraged that just needs a listening ear, not for you to solve their issue your way and zoom out of their life. Should I go on? There are so many reasons to slow down, but we don’t, we run through the signs and on to the next “important” event. May I encourage you to look and listen for life signs that are saying, slow down. They may help someone else, but you might find that if you heed the warning sign that your life becomes more peaceful. Isaiah said in Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait (slow down) for the Lord Will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Embrace the strength in slowing down.

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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!

My Friend Rob Cutter

Green Valley. It’s a neighborhood in Noblesville where I grew up. You might describe our little community as the “Mayberry” of neighborhoods. Everyone knew one another, kids could stay out all day without parents worrying about their safety, and summers were filled with lots of free time. When I was around eight, a new family moved in across the street, and I quickly built a friendship with Rob. We both love ball, it didn’t matter if it was a football, basketball, or baseball. If it was football, most often I was the receiver, and he was the quarterback. The Green Bay Packers were the team, I was Carrol Dale, he was Bart Starr, and whether it was two on two or three on three, we were unstoppable. Our real love though was basketball. God only knows how many hours we spent playing one on one, horse, limme, or around the world on the asphalt drive at his house. The competition was fierce, almost as if we were competing for championships, and I must admit, though he was a year younger, he won more games than he lost, regardless of what we were playing. If we played against others there was always one rule, “Hudson and Cutter couldn’t be on the same team.” Together we were unstoppable. Breaks from the court would mean Mrs. Cutters chocolate chips cookies, milk, and maybe an episode of Gilligan’s Island, but those breaks would be short and soon we would be back on the court. Though we were neighbors, occasionally we would have sleepovers. It was on one of those occasions that Rob showed me his dad’s office. It was filled with basketball plaques and trophies, and he would tell me that back in the day his dad was a really good basketball player. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully understood who Rollin Cutter was. The trophies and plaques were from his high school championship at Milan Hight School. To be specific, the 1954 Milan basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.” I now realize I wasn’t just playing against Rob, but the genes of his dad. As we grew older Rob became more dominant and slowly our time on the court began to disappear. By 1982, when I graduated and he was a sophomore, most of his evenings were spent at practice, whether it was football or basketball. His dominance wasn’t something I alone experienced, but now, others were as well. He became the starting quarterback for the Noblesville High School football team and starting center for the basketball team. He was so dominant that he was being recruited by colleges for both sports. He eventually chose football, going to Butler University, where he was their starting quarterback. Reflecting on my childhood days, I remember how frustrated I would be that my best friend, who was younger than I was, was always beating me. I often felt as though I was a failure, that I wasn’t gifted, and as much as I practiced, I just couldn’t beat him. As I have grown older, I’ve come to appreciate my losses on the court to Rob. Why? Because while I was losing, I was winning. As he has for so many, Rob made me better than I could have ever been on my own. His challenging play caused me to find myself on the winning side instead of losing when playing other competition. Beyond his talent is his impeccable character. He is one of the most unassuming individuals I have ever met, one of the kindest persons you will ever meet, and his successes in life far surpass what he ever did on a football field or basketball court. Rob, thanks for your friendship and congratulations on being inducted into Noblesville High School’s Hall of Fame. Your life has been a demonstration of how to live a life of integrity and you are worthy of the honor.

2023. Go Exploring!

Day one of 2023. A new beginning of sorts. A clean slate. A fresh piece of paper. The start of a new chapter. For some reason as this year opened, I reflected on one of the books by my favorite author, Bill Watterson. The books title is It’s a Magical World and it is a collection of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics. On the cover there is a fresh blanket of snow and Calvin and Hobbes have a large toboggan and big smiles on their faces. They are out to seize the day, enjoy the snow, and make new memories. Their expressions show no worry about issues of the day, only the pure excitement about what they are about to experience. For whatever reason my spirit resonated with the cover and how to approach 2023. While we could focus on the ills of society, dwell on the ugly in our world, or the problems in our marriage or family, today is an opportunity to change our focus. I think why I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes comic strips so much is because they make each day a new adventure. Rarely is he overwhelmed by the events of the day, instead he charges into each new day with childlike excitement. His imagination is filled with possibilities and his plans for the day are not dictated by the circumstances of his world. He is going to explore, create, and enjoy the day. Calvin is not the first to have this idea, in the Bible David said, this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). David suggests that it’s important how we frame each day. We can meander into a day with fear and anxiety, or march into it with zeal and excitement. Calvin and David both suggest the latter and so do I. 2023 is our next chapter to write. Depending on your age, you may have many chapters still to write, or for some, there may just be a few remaining. Regardless, it is a new chapter. The good news we get to choose what goes on the page and how we approach each day will determine the chapters content. Live today filled with expectation, faith, and zeal. Look for possibility. Create energy, laughter, and fun. Daily use the 126 variations of Crayola colors, not a pencil. Tough days will come but let them be a page in the chapter, not the storyline. The first page of It’s a Magical World has Calvin and Hobbes sitting on the toboggan at the top of a hill, Calvin looks at Hobbes and says, “it’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy. . . let’s go exploring! May 2023 be filled with faith, possibility, laughter, and all the excitement that God has planned for you. Go exploring!

Common and Kind to the Common

The first to see Him were not the blue bloods, the political elite, or those connected to the right social circles. In fact, the Wisemen, those who brought the wealth; gold, frankincense, and myrrh, didn’t arrive until Jesus was nearly a year old. The first to get an audience with God in flesh were shepherds, common men who took care of sheep. Jesus wasn’t born with a silver spoon in His mouth. He didn’t come from a family of movers and shakers or an aristocratic background, just a simple family from Nazareth.  The Nazareth, that when Philip told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth.” Nathaniel’s statement doesn’t leave you feeling like Jesus came from the right side of town. You would more likely find Jesus at a greasy spoon than any upscale restaurant in your local fashion district. One of the complaints the religious elite often had against Jesus was that he ate with publicans and sinners, common people. Jesus’ choice of leaders? Common Joe’s, fishermen and tax collectors. It seems it was almost a chore to dine with the who’s who. It’s as though He knew their agenda, not to build authentic relationship, but to broker deals and have influence. Jesus often seemed to be repulsed by their haughtiness, arrogance, and pride, maybe that’s why he gave so much time to the average person. He spent time with a broken woman at a well in the heat of the day, stopped for an old woman with incurable sickness, and more than once had to provide food to crowds who were either too poor, or didn’t have enough sense to bring food for a long day. His disciples tried to stop kids from getting to Him, but unlike them, Jesus didn’t see children as annoyances, but treasures. Though they were small and seemed insignificant, Jesus regularly paused and took time for them. In Philippians 2 Paul said, “that He made of himself no reputation,” and described Him as a servant, humble and common. Paul lets us know that Jesus would have likely spent little time creating his image, being a social media influencer, or rubbing shoulders with the clicks or “the in the crowd,” He was simply common. He was incredibly popular, but it never changed who He was. He kept His balance by praying often and never forgetting His purpose, to save the lost, broken, and hurting. It’s Jesus who we should pattern our lives after, not the latest concept or trendy pastor, just Jesus. While we’ve fell far short, this has been Mary and I’s goal from the outset of our ministry. At the college I worked at, everyone was always welcomed into my office, it wasn’t a place for the “big I’s and little you’s,” but a place everyone knew they could come for a listening ear. At lunch you would often find Mary and I sitting at the table with the students rather than with the staff, it just felt like the right place to be. As pastors at Life, we made sure that we took time for everyone. We consistently had lunch with “regular families.” We intentionally spent a lot of time with widows, students, and people who were hurting. They were our kind of people. We struggled and even avoided those who wanted to gossip, be in the know, or tried to influence us with their money or social standing. It felt so empty. Now, after 30 years of ministry, one of the greatest blessings is connecting with students or church members from years gone by and hearing them say, “you guys were so different,” we’ve never met ministers like you all,” or “you all are just so common.” We blush, smile, and say, thank you. It wasn’t an agenda, or learned concept, we were, and still are, just trying to be like Jesus. Common and kind to the common.

Tell Your World

I’m getting older and my musical taste is headed that direction too. I admit it, I like Rascal Flatts, especially at Christmas. When Mary and I are ready to put up the Christmas tree nothing sets the mood better than Rascal’s version of Go Tell it on the Mountain. Crank up their version of Joy to the World in our home and you’ve got instant Christmas spirit. If I’ve got to have something a little more traditional, give me their rendition of Hark, the Herald Angel Sing and I’m at Bethlehem. What cranks your gears? Who is your Christmas artist of choice? Maybe for you it’s a little Mariah Carey and Jesus, What a Wonderful Child or Carrie Underwood singing All is Well. Whatever your flavor, it’s time to bring out the Christmas music, the one’s that magnify Jesus’, and celebrate the birth of the Savior. This season is not about Santa and reindeer, gifts and greed, but God who came in a baby’s body to save a broken world.  If there is ever a time this world needs to know His story, it’s now. Our culture is confused, families are fractured, and our country is as divided as ever. There seems to be no solution, but for those who know Jesus and His story, even in the darkest of hours, there is hope. Why sing Go Tell it on the Mountain? Because people need to know the story of our Savior. Why blare Joy to the World?  Because you live in a world filled with despair and people need to hear that there is real joy in Jesus. So, dial in your Spotify Christmas list, play it loud, and play it often. Go tell it on the mountain, or at least in your world.

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 Home Town. Noblesville at Christmas

A holiday postcard. A Norman Rockwell Christmas painting. The Christmas song, “Silver Bells.” All will give you the essence of the town Mary and I get to call home. It’s Noblesville during the Christmas season. The light posts all have snowflakes, bells, and ornaments attached that light up in the evening. Santa’s house sets on the town square reminding you that Christmas will soon arrive. Drive through in the evening and the county courthouse is lit in red and green. On any given Saturday you may see an elf on the square, and you will definitely see families lined up to visit Santa in his cozy little workshop. If you come early, stop in at the Uptown Café, Rosie’s, or Erika’s for a homemade breakfast. If you aren’t able to catch breakfast, at least stop into Noble Tea and Coffee, and grab a mocha or coffee before hitting the quaint shops. Each shop has its own unique décor, and all make you feel as you just stepped into Christmas. There is the Logan Street Mall with nearly 50 local vendors and the Old Picket Fence Shop filled with antiques. If your taste is for something more of the retro style or Magnolia, step into Vintage Adventure or Persimmon’s Avenue and you’re sure to find something you can’t leave without. If you plan for a December weekend visit, you will want to take the kids on the Reindeer Express train ride. Still need more? Grab dinner at one of the many restaurants, I have an affinity for Grindstone Pub or a good Italian dish at Matteo’s. Finally plan on finishing off the evening with a horse driven carriage ride through downtown, a walk through the Christmas Light village, or some ice skating at Federal Hill Park. I may have a bit of a bias and be a little nostalgic but add a big snowstorm and you have the perfect opportunity to see a Norman Rockwell scene in person, and the place Mary and I get to call home.

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.

The Value of Sleeping in an Airport

My son Gentry has a zeal for life like no one I’ve ever met. He’s 26 and loves to travel the world. He’s been to countless National Parks, Ireland, and Iceland, yet ask him today what one of the highlights of 2022 is, and he would tell you a day trip with his dad. Unfortunately, the past year has been filled with much upheaval and one of the tragic results was me saying, “no” to countless trips that Gentry wanted to take with me. Finally, with our pastoral transition behind me, a little extra cash, and some spare time, I was able to say yes to a trip. First, I should say I am thankful that Gentry continued to ask me to go on trips; that he didn’t give up on me. He had every right to become bitter and resentful. What it spoke to me was, that more than any gift I could give him, he wanted to have time, make memories, and experience life with his dad. Again, a blessing I will forever be thankful for. As for the trip, it was short, just one day. It started early, 4 a.m. We were on a plane to Detroit by 6 a.m. and by 10:30 a.m. we were standing in Denver. He had rented a car, planned the day, and taken care of every imaginable detail. The day was amazing. It wouldn’t be a Gentry trip if it didn’t mean getting lost, we managed to do that within the first hour, trying to find a Dunkin Donuts. Somehow, we ended up in the middle of an office complex parking lot. Once we got our coffee, we were off to the Garden of the God’s, a state park just south of Denver. We walked, hiked, and climbed for a few hours, though both of us eventually admitted it was a little less than overwhelming, and that there were so many people on the rocks that we felt like ants at a picnic. From there things got much better. A much bigger venue, and a lot less people. Pikes Peak. We enjoyed every twist and turn, the scenic views, and ever-increasing snow. We ventured up the mountain to a little over 13,000 feet when we rounded a corner to see a park ranger. The news was not what we wanted to hear. Winds were blowing at 75 mph, with gust over 100 mph. Our journey had ended. We through some snowballs, got some pictures, and headed back down the mountain. The day was long from over though, from there he had planned our next expedition, downtown Denver. We saw Mile High Stadium, Coors Field where the Rockies play, and some local shops, before finding a restaurant and settling down for dinner. The day was over, so I thought, but Gentry had one more adventure for me to experience. Flights were tight, but he managed to get a us a flight to Houston, one caveat, we would have to sleep in the airport, something that he had done many times, but would be my first experience. I survived. I woke up understanding that there are some strange people in airports after midnight, sore, and very tired. By noon on Sunday, we were back in Noblesville setting at Chili’s, reliving the journey, and already embellishing the trip. Some simple observation. No matter how old they are, and no matter how busy you may be, take time for those who matter most. Make more memories than money. Give your kids, regardless of their age, the best you have . . . yourself.

The Bridges of Parke County

Parke County, It’s a fall tradition for Mary and me. We take a day, grab a cup of coffee at Urban Grounds in Rockville, hit a few shops in town, and then we’re off to the main attraction, to see the bridges. To be exact, thirty-one covered bridges. Some you have to walk; some you get to hear the clonking of wood planks as your car crosses the bridge. Nothing like taking a few hours to step into the past and enjoy a time that was much simpler and slower. There’s one requirement to experience the bridges of Parke County, you must leave the main roads, even the secondary roads, and drive on country, one lane, and gravel roads. The bridges of Parke County make you step away from the crowds, slow down, and enjoy nature and the beautiful colors of fall. I think that’s what Mary and I like best. Most of the bridges are on gravel roads, nestled in forest, farmland, and places that only those who are intentionally looking, will find them. The bridges of Parke County aren’t just about the bridges for us, it’s more about enjoying the atmosphere, nostalgia, and the dream of a simpler life. Driving on a gravel road slows your pace to about 10 mph, gives you time to reflect on the past, and have conversations you’ve need to have, but haven’t, because life just gets too busy. In my humble opinion a lot of us could use a drive to Parke County and the thirty-one covered bridges. You would enjoy the bridges, but the purpose of your trip wouldn’t be about them, but about getting off the interstate of life and letting your mind spend some time on a peaceful gravel road. It’s on the gravel road where you will get a sense of what’s important again, reconnect with your spouse, and see that there’s more significant issues than what’s happening on social media or getting to the next movie or game. The color of fall may be gone, and snow is on the way, but I still would invite you to put a trip down a gravel road on your calendar, or at least in the back of your mind.

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.

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, tyand 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!

God is In Your Story

“God is in This Story,” a brand-new song by Katy Nichole and Big Daddy Weave, if you haven’t heard it yet, cue it up. In essence the song says even though God doesn’t give us all the details, He is in the details. There is so much truth there. God gives Noah the plans to build an ark but not all the details of how the future would unfold. Though Noah may have felt abandoned, God was in the details and with him throughout the journey. Moses experienced God in a miraculous way at a burning bush, but once again, God doesn’t give Moses every detail. But as the pages of Moses’ life turned, God was with Him in every moment. David is anointed king in front of his brothers, but God gives him little, if any details, to the twist and turns that will be involved in His future. When David says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he is letting us know that though there are difficult times, God is in the details. Jeremiah says, “God knows the plans He has for us,” and though He knows our journey, rarely does he give us the full description. Why? Because if he gave us every detail it would overwhelm us. We would succumb to fear and anxiety and run from His design and purpose. So, in His great wisdom, He gives us bits and pieces, day by day, just enough so that we will have the courage to take the next step. This He knows, if we will keep walking, He can take us places far beyond our imagination and natural ability. Discouraged? Overwhelmed? Broken? Fearful? Take heart. God is in your details. God is in your story!

Beauty in it All

Sitting at my desk watching nature through our windows I’ve seen life at its best. A hawk chasing a squirrel who is trying to escape for its life. A yellow finch continually knocking on our window (this has been happening for weeks). I’ve watched a red bird feed her babies in a pine tree and a chipmunk nibbling nervously on something he found to enjoy. And sounds. Leaves whispering their own song as the breeze blows through their branches, birds humming a beautiful melody, and squirrels making noises I’ve never heard before, only because I’ve taken time to listen. Our orange hammock hanging on a tree nearby blows in the wind, it’s a place to enjoy a good book and nap. I love this more than ever, a new incredible lease on life, I see beauty all around me. I was in a very dark place two years ago and couldn’t capture this kind of beauty if I would have tried. I was paralyzed with fear and anxiety, trying desperately to pray through it and survive it. Now, two years later, the miraculous hand of God is again working in mysterious ways in my life, I see life differently. I’m forever grateful; there are no words that can express how incredible the God we serve is. I mean it, I truly mean it when I say, that I understand that there is a devastating anxiety that can paralyze a soul. It’s real. I was there and know what it feels like to think, this will never end. I know this subject is something we don’t like to talk about, something we want to sweep under the rug, and never bring up, but we can’t do that if we want to survive. God sees where we are at even when we can’t feel him. Never, ever give up, keep getting back up. Your breakthrough is coming, and you will find, like nature, there is beauty in it all.

– Mary Hudson

Indiana’s Fresh Corn and Tomatoes

It’s that time! What time is that you may ask? The time of year when fresh Indiana corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers hit the farmers markets and roadside stands. There is nothing a like a meal that consist of an ear of corn with a slab of butter, a cucumber and tomatoes salad, and a generous scoop of cottage cheese. Add a bowl of ice cream and you have a perfect summer evening in central Indiana. Mary and I have been anticipating this moment since spring, and last week, we got our first haul of Indiana’s goodness. What makes it so difficult is enduring hot house imitations while waiting for the fresh veggies to arrive. Drive down any country road and you will see stalks of corn and rows of tomato plants, but until they’re ripe, it’s slow torture. So much of life involves waiting, something that none of us are good at. Often, God doesn’t say “no,” but “wait,” and that sometimes is more difficult than a “no.” I often wonder how the lame man at the gate beautiful felt as Jesus passed him by day after day. While the blind got their sight, the deaf their hearing, and the crippled walked, the man at the gate set and begged with no relief. He had to hear the reports of the healings and know who Jesus was. Jesus goes to the cross, resurrects, and ascends into heaven and the lame man is still begging. How frustrated, discouraged, and hurt he must have been, but what he didn’t know was that it wasn’t a “no,” but a “not yet.” When all hopes seemed to be gone, God uses Simon Peter and John to say, “rise up and walk,” and when he least expected it, his prayer is answered, and a miracle is experienced. Getting a no? Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. You may have to wait, it may not look like what you expected, but your answer may be on its way!